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READY PLAYER TWO Review: A mixed return to the OASIS

The journey back into the OASIS might not be everyone’s cup of tea…

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Ready Player Two

I absolutely adored Ready Player One. Both the film and the book. In fact, both heavily influenced my University dissertation back when I was a student. So, to be able to read Ready Player Two on the day of the release was a huge deal for me. It took me just over a week to read and I’ve been collecting my thoughts.

To put it simply. It was a mixed bag. However, for the most part, I was enthralled and transported straight into the OASIS. Certain aspects dragged the book down, but it didn’t really hinder my enjoyment too much. When I was reading, I tried to process it a bit more intensely. This is my first book review. Usually, I would simply turn off and escape to whatever realm I was being transported to. However, this time I wanted to be more observant when it came to the structure and the form of the book. Did it change how I felt about the book? Not really, but I did find myself noticing things that I normally would have overlooked

So, what is Ready Player Two? Of course, I will be avoiding spoilers as best as I can so I’ll try to summarize the sequel as lightly as I can.

Following the result of the first contest in Ready Player One, Wade Watts, Samantha, Aech and Shoto are living in luxury with their new found fortune. As owners of the OASIS, they’ve been bringing entertainment to the entire world. With the planet ravaged by famine, war, and environmental crises, the ever-growing population are in need of an escape and a constant flow of new content. When a new piece of gear enters the market, the world and the OASIS are thrown into chaos. Wade and the team are forced to unite once more to defeat a familiar face before they wipe out the entirety of the OASIS population- both Avatar and user.

This synopsis truly is an over simplification of what happens in Ready Player Two. But I don’t want to reveal some of the reveals, twists, or changing dynamics. Going in blind, like I did, really makes it worth it. When I read the official synopsis a few months ago, it seemed like a repeat of the first book. While there are indeed similarities, this is an entirely new story that takes what we learnt in the first book and ups the ante. This has an interesting impact on the book. On one hand, I found it to be incredibly surprising and engaging. On the other, I couldn’t shake the feeling that a seeming tame story about gaming has become quite far-fetched.

The first book dealt with greedy corporations, the ability to grant wishes, and the joy of gaming and escapism. Wade was a simple kid who wanted Halliday’s fortune to bring everlasting happiness to the world and to himself. Innovative Online Industries (IOI) wanted the OASIS to make money. Now, we’re dealing with a potential apocalypse and new technology that could launch mankind in an entirely new direction. That’s not to say that Ready Player Two should have been realistic. We’re dealing with Science Fiction, after all. But when you look at both stories, the progression is quite jarring.

Ready Player Two is out now!

Bouncing off from the first book, the state of the characters is also something that is rather jarring. But again, this has a dual effect. Both pros and cons. You’d imagine that the characters we originally got attached to found their own happiness and formed everlasting relationships. Not quite. Some of the characters, particularly Wade, go through a massive shift in terms of their characterization and their dynamics with the supporting cast of characters.

I loved wade. He was a people person. He looked out for the little guy and wanted to preserve the joy that the OASIS offered. Wade’s quest for fortune has an opposite effect that fundamentally changes him. I found myself comparing him to Nolan Sorrento. Which is something that I never thought I would do. This may leave a sour taste in the mouths of hardcore fans. For me, I thought it was an intriguing development. It made me question how I would respond to such a drastic change and I personally thought it was somewhat accurate.

Being in a position of power can make people think they are above others. Wade is a casualty of this idea. The money, the fame and the responsibility change Wade as a character. It’s almost as though he becomes the villain of his own story. This is Wade’s story, and he isn’t exactly the hero we envisioned him to be to begin with.

Having said that, the reverse transformation to the Wade we know and love is more satisfying knowing that he started off as a version of Wade that I think he would have hated. It’s not easy to forgive or forget some of the things that Wade does, but his gradual realization that he has gone down a dark path is quite endearing.

In terms of the story, it was a mixed experience. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the twists and I was fully engaged in some of the riddles and the imaginative ways they were solved. However, some aspects come across very cliché and predictable. When dealing with futuristic technology and the harmful implications, I was hoping for something new. Unfortunately, Cline depends on a trope that we’ve seen many times before and he doesn’t really attempt to make it unique.

Overall, I really liked how this story unraveled. There are plenty of surprises in store and the stakes are definitely high. In comparison to Ready Player One, I’d argue that they are astronomical. Returning back to Wade, Ready Player Two does a really good job at changing our perspectives. The characters and heroes that we originally worshiped are plagued by dark secrets that drive the narrative in a really cool way. I think this allows for various receptions. Drastically changing a character can either be deemed as a betrayal or as a bold move. I loved what Cline did with certain characters, but it is hard to deny that part of me was hurt by the unraveling revelations.

What I found particularly compelling was the timing of this story. We’re currently drifting through a rather confusing and bizarre reality. Some of us have been at home for months, unable to work and enjoy life’s pleasures. That’s something that these characters experience on a day-to-day basis and the OASIS and the evolving tech bring about questions concerning the human condition. When faced with difficult situations, our immediate desire is to escape. The OASIS provides this escape but also blurs the boundaries. Is the OASIS a saviour or a villain? Is it improving life or is it causing us to neglect what is considered important? Questions like these become very relevant in the story and it just made me wonder about our own unique experiences with grief and our individual habits when consuming media.

I will say that this sequel is far from perfect and it seems as though a lot of people are rather disappointed. I wasn’t fully disappointed. In fact, I’d say overall I was actually really happy once I finished that final page. But I understand where the criticism is originating from. Ready Player Two is haunted by inconsistencies and plot points that appear out of nowhere. I won’t mention them but one in particular was actually a very cool twist that proved that Wade is still a force to be reckoned with. However, it appeared from nothing. It would have had a fantastic payoff if the seeds were planted early on.

In addition to that, the writing can come across quite inconsistent. Most chapters are filled with rather large chunks of description. Description isn’t a bad thing. But when it is limited to “he did this” “she did this” “then this happened” it can really slow you down as you are presented with a list rather than a fluid piece of text.

This is particularly more evident in some of the long-winded challenges. While dealing with the complexity of certain challenges that require more attention to truly form a decent image, Cline will go on to deconstruct some of the “Easter Eggs” that are mentioned. Thus, resulting in very chunky paragraphs and, to an extent, a level of distrust. Rather than allowing the audience to find these references themselves, a large majority of them are explained and spoon-fed to us.

This isn’t always the case. In fact, it helped me occasionally. Some of the things that are mentioned went way over my head so to have a guide was actually quite useful. However, it felt very much like an awkward game of tennis. Constantly jumping from references to the story and vice-versa. At times it was hard to keep up with what was important to the story and what was simply a fun little nod.

When I read Ready Player One, I found myself looking up many of the references because I was unfamiliar with them. Ready Player Two actually brings in more recent references. But it seems as though the majority of this book is like marmalade. You either love it or hate it. The charm of the first book really originates in its seamless and clever acknowledgement of pop culture from the 80’s. Steering into references that a more mainstream and recent reader can acknowledge can broaden the target audience, but at the same time it can diminish that charm. What doesn’t help is the cluttered nature of these Easter Eggs. Some of them are fantastic, some of them went over my head once again, and in some cases, there are simply too many. I really appreciated the mix of references because I felt included.

Much like the first book you have everything from movies, music, games, books and boardgames. You also have references to anime, Lord of the Rings, John Hughes, The Force Awakens, Prince, and Superman. There’s something for everyone but the encumbered format chips away at the overall enjoyment.

If I were to pick my favourite world in Ready Player Two it would be the world set in Tolkien’s universe. It is filled with brilliant nods to The Silmarillion which I loved and it was really nice seeing Wade interact in a world that I knew. The OASIS allows you to travel to worlds that you love, but both books primarily focus on the world’s that were important to Halliday, Og, and Kira. That obviously can’t be helped. But when a challenge takes place in an environment that you are well-versed in, it is a really fulfilling feeling.

Considering that some of the lore set before The Lord of the Rings is targeted to the more dedicated and enthusiastic Tolkien fan, I thought it was a very nice twist. It could have been set in the Peter Jackson universe or it could have been set within the events of the actual books. But to go directly to The Silmarillion was a very interesting move and the few chapters spent there were an absolute joy to read.

Ready Player Two was a fun and engaging read, I cannot deny that. I laughed, gasped, and struggled to find a decent place to stop. To put it simply. I really enjoyed it. But there is no escaping the fact that Cline’s sequel is inferior compared to Ready Player One. While he does attempt to replicate the formula that was fundamental in Ready Player One’s success, unfortunately it doesn’t work out all too well. References and Easter Eggs are constantly thrown at you, many of which are needlessly explained. The writing comes across very repetitive and clunky. Readers are either going to love it for its surprising endeavor into Halliday’s life, or dislike it for its altered depiction of many beloved characters.

I think the best way to judge this book is to just read it yourself. There will be things that will irk you but there will also be things that will make you smile. It is down to you to decide what those things are.

Have you read Ready Player Two yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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