This review is spoiler-free.
I have waited in great anticipation for the release of Ready Play Two, and now that the time has finally arrived, was it worth the wait?
In terms of the story, I was very eager to see what direction they would go, and while the opening act is a bit of a slog at times, it does do a good job in reintroducing you to the world and where our characters are now. When ‘the event’ occurs, the story really picks up and from that moment on the time flew by. The story is really well-paced in the second and third acts, even if there are few moments in which the story stalls a little. The format of the book will be familiar, with lots of references and the follow-up explanations force-feeding you the knowledge so that you can understand its relevance. I know this was a big criticism of the first book, but if it doesn’t bother you, it’s not an issue, it wasn’t for me anyway. This time around they switch from classic 80s video games and adventure movies to the world of John Hughes movies and 80s pop icons, so there are refreshing aspects in terms of the pop-culture focus.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy this book a great deal, but it does have its shaky moments. So, what are the main negatives? Well, apart from the slow-burner moments of the first act, I think the story has two main flaws. First of all, if you enjoyed that character of Wade (Parzival) in the first book, you might find him a lot less palatable this time around. At times, in the first act, he becomes very unlikable and, to a point, quite redundant. I thought that this would be weaved into the narrative that ‘power corrupts’, now that he is the most powerful person on the planet. If it did head in that direction, the story would have been taken to another level, instead it is just brushed aside as the second act begins. A strange story and character decision for sure! Then we come to the second issue, and that is the fact that this time around the obstacles to overcome just seem far too easy and pose no real challenge, despite the fact that Wade is now half the character he was at the end of the first book.
Despite Ready Player Two going backwards, in some respects, I do think Cline has learned a lot from some of the mistakes and missteps of the first book, although some lessens have remained unlearned, and while these are not off-putting, they could have been more refined. Look, the Ready Player series is never going to be Shakespeare, it is what it is and every valid criticism that can be thrown in the direction of the series is probably valid, to at least some degree. At times it does read like bad fan fiction and drowning you in pop-culture references. Remember this? REMEMBER this?? REMEMBER THIS??? – Yet despite its obvious faults, Ready Player Two, on the whole, works. It’s silly, over the top and nonsensical guff, but somehow it still manages to strike a chord with me. At times it was highly enjoyable and had a plethora of brilliant character and story moments.
Wil Wheaton is not David Rintoul nor is he Steven Pacey. But Wheaton works well as a narrator for Ready Player Two, just like he worked well in both Ready Player One and Armada. His voice just seems to fit the aesthetic and characters within Ernest Cline’s stories. His range of accents and female voices are nothing to shout home about, but that does not hinder the listening experience as the characters are still easily defined and unique. I find a lot of American narrators struggle to separate their characters, but with Wheaton? This is not the case. The idea of an Ernest Cline audiobook without the vocal talents of Wil Wheaton is just too alien to even comprehend. Long may the two work together!
So which is better? Ready Player One or Ready Player Two? Well, to be honest, if I could mix elements from both books that would be the one I’d choose! The premise of the first book is now very familiar to us, so Ready Player Two lacked the moments and ideas that made Ready Player One so enjoyable. But Ready Player Two benefits from the lowered ‘Fan Boy’ and ‘Bro’ overtones that sometimes overpowered the first book. Basically, I don’t feel as if I’m drowning in nerdy male testosterone this time around! The female characters, LGBTQ+ representation and wider social issues are vastly improved.
Overall, Ready Player Two is a highly enjoyable audiobook with a fun and engaging story filled with characters that you can invest in. The narration fits perfectly for the story and Wheaton continues to go from strength to strength with every audiobook project he takes on. Cline, for the most part, has learned from his past mistakes and this reflects in the improved ideologies and more likeable, new, characters. If you enjoyed the first book, this will be right up your ally, if you didn’t? Then there is probably not enough changes to convince you to give the series another shot. The Ready Player series is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it.