Dragon Age 2, Back to the Future, Brandon Sanderson, Chuck Hogan

Well, howdy there, lil' cowpokes, and welcome to the return of a semi-regular update thingamajig I used to do here on Giant Bomb.  Now, I know most of you pardners have some going-ons of your own, so let's giddy-up and get on with some quick thoughts, shall we? 
 
Today, I'm gonna be shootin' rounds at Dragon Age 2, Back to the Future (the Telltale game), Brandon Sanderson's latest in the Wheel of Time series The Towers of Midnight, Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain, and various thoughts on television shows I've been watching lately.  So let's grab some vittles, pull up a stump, crack open a sasparilla, and hunker down for a spell. 
 
DRAGON AGE 2 
 
Despite the lack of a strong central narrative, Dragon Age 2 is one hell of a sequel.  Other than the new approach to the combat system, it really just more or less expands on elements introduced in Dragon Age: Origins, fleshing out the world introduced in that spectacular little gem.  In this case (as in the case of New Vegas), this use of older tools allows the developers to expand upon what made the original great.  
 
Dragon Age 2 really shines when it comes to your party and the staggering number of side-quests and missions available.  Although the same environments are recycled a bit too often, I found myself drawn into the struggles of poor and rich alike, especially when some of the choices I could make weren't quite as clear-cut as in prior Bioware games.  There is still the three-tiered system of good, neutral, and evil choices (essentially), but the choices now have consequences and costs that hindered my ability to just play out the black-and-white Bioware characters I've become used to.  My party members didn't make this any easier, as picking between what's good for them and what's good for the world as a whole can sometimes be blurred, belying underlying attachments to the cast of Dragon Age II I didn't realize I had. 
 
The party chatter goes a long ways towards this as well.  Bioware smartly dropped most of the central protagonist's dialogue in favor of a natural evolution of storylines, doled out in small bits and pieces as time goes by in the world.  Instead, the party will chat amongst themselves frequently, trading barbs or jests depending on who is in your party and what choices have been made.  This dialogue alone makes me excited for my next playthrough, as I'm genuinely curious as to what reactions and consequences will take place when I make certain choices. 
 
The combat system does take some getting used to, but I think the changes Bioware made are generally smart ones.  It's a quicker pace, obviously, which isn't always a good thing as some remnants of the older PC RPG roots tend to shine through (particularly in a drawn-out boss fight).  Those fights were meant for a more deliberate, slower time of strategic gaming.  Don't get me wrong - they're actually the best fights in the game - but they do jar with the intended quickening of the battles.  I still needed to maintain a very deliberate pace when it came to battles, as quicker fights don't necessarily mean the game has become any easier. 
 
All in all, if you've been reading the doom and gloom types who have been saying that this game marks the end of Bioware as we knew it, don't listen to them.  It's a really great game that's obviously trying to find that line between its roots and what gamers want in a modern RPG. 
 
YOU MADE A TIME MACHINE... OUT OF A DELOREAN? 
 
I'm just gonna get this off my chest now.  I'm a Telltale fanatic.  And I'm a Back to the Future fanatic.  Seeing those two joined at the hip just gave me paroxysms of pleasure when I read the previews.  Playing the game was even better.  Although I'd have loved to have heard Michael J. Fox (one of my personal heroes, for reasons I won't go into) do voice-work, I think the actors they've hired to replace originals are fantastic.  Of course, hearing Christopher Lloyd as Doc again gives me goosebumps.  It's reliving a joyous part of my childhood again in a new format. 
 
The episodes themselves smartly focus on story, jokes, and characters rather than obscure puzzling.  I've never really found myself struggling with Telltale games as a whole, but this one seems even more breezy.  That might not be to your particular taste, but in my case, that's perfectly all right.  I'm in this one for the story and return to the world I so greatly enjoyed as a kid, and in that regard, I'm 100% pleased. 
 
A TROLLOC, AN AES SEDAI, AND AN OGIER WALK INTO A BAR... 
 
Towers of Midnight is a case of the whole being greater than the parts.  Sanderson, understandably, hasn't quite managed to make the intricate characters of Robert Jordan's novels read like themselves, but the guy sure does a fantastic job with the rest of it.  He has a magnificent grasp of the world Jordan so carefully crafted, and his deft touch with combat scenes is highly enjoyable.  Sanderson adds a level of tension to this one that I haven't feld in a Wheel of Time novel in some time.  I'm going to try not to get into specifics, but you should be warned that there will be LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD. 
 
Perrin's part in this novel is a bit of a slow burn, starting off dreadfully slow and ending in a fantastic crescendo straining with blood.  It's nice to see some forward motion in his character development as well, as he's been a little stiff in the last few novels.  Sanderson's best touch in the novel is definitely done with Rand, surprisingly enough, whom I haven't cared about in nearly eight or so novels.  Rand becomes likable again, something sorely needed before the end of the series is met.  Mat is perhaps the hardest character for Sanderson to write, as his jokes and dialogue occasionally feel forced and cliched, though he has the single most hilarious bit of the novels as a whole in a particularly well written letter to another character.  Despite the difficulty in grasping the character, Sanderson puts Mat through his most harrowing moments yet, ending the novel in a heart-pumping manner that leaves me wanting the next in my hands right now. 
 
CHUCK HOGAN NOT AS COOL AS EITHER PART OF HIS NAME - NEWS AT 11 
 
Chuck Hogan's The Strain reads like a bad, bland beginner's guide to apocalyptica.  Emotions are  forced, characters are given no room to grow, and at no point did I care one bit about any person in the novel.  And when you're reading something as supposedly sweeping as this, that's a bad, bad sign.  Hogan's novel reads like a bad medical thriller with a few horror-light elements tossed in for good measure.  The characters are direct nods to Bram Stoker's Dracula, complete with a vampire-slaying professor.  But none of these characters are relatable, given instead to cliched methods of storytelling.  It's a classic example of the author telling instead of showing a story, and it aggravated every sensibility of my being.  There's a level of condescension to the writing as well, as Hogan stops frequently to explain various facts and phrases that could have easily been adapted into the story without such blatant explanations.  The mark of a great storyteller is that he or she can weave a complete tale without needing to stop to pander to an audience.  Hogan fails completely at that, and if it wasn't for my masochistic need to finish most every novel I start, I'd have dumped this one after a few dozen pages. 
 
IN LIVING COLOR 
 
No, no, no, this isn't a blurb about that old sketch comedy show.  These are just some quick (really, I rpomise) notes on TV shows I've been catching up on. 
 
-Eureka is good, silly fun.  It's light enough that I can keep it on in the background as I write.  It wouldn't really be my cup of tea if it wasn't for the brilliant premise and the fun lead characters.  I can't recommend it to everyone, but for me, it's a fun diversion. 
 
-Castle is much the same.  The police procedural usually irritates the holy hell out of me, but Nathan Fillion's charm and the decent writing makes this one tolerable.  I can't stomach more than an episode or two at a time, but for what it is, it's not bad. 
 
-Mad Men is very well written and acted, but I can't tolerate the existentialist bullshit.  I've never been able to get into fiction that relates to that intolerable belief, and this is another example.  If you believe in it, more power to you.  Just let me know if you write it, so I can keep the hell away from it.
 
-I missed out on 3rd Rock From the Sun as a teen, mostly because of our nearly 4 year lack of cable or satellite, but now I'm catching a few episodes of it here and there.  Watching John Lithgow and the rest of the crew play is just amazing.  As a former actor who loves watching great actors get a chance to completely ham it up, this is a treat.  Not a show I'm sure I'll watch through its entire run, but I'm enjoying bits and pieces of it.

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Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Well, howdy there, lil' cowpokes, and welcome to the return of a semi-regular update thingamajig I used to do here on Giant Bomb.  Now, I know most of you pardners have some going-ons of your own, so let's giddy-up and get on with some quick thoughts, shall we? 
 
Today, I'm gonna be shootin' rounds at Dragon Age 2, Back to the Future (the Telltale game), Brandon Sanderson's latest in the Wheel of Time series The Towers of Midnight, Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain, and various thoughts on television shows I've been watching lately.  So let's grab some vittles, pull up a stump, crack open a sasparilla, and hunker down for a spell. 
 
DRAGON AGE 2 
 
Despite the lack of a strong central narrative, Dragon Age 2 is one hell of a sequel.  Other than the new approach to the combat system, it really just more or less expands on elements introduced in Dragon Age: Origins, fleshing out the world introduced in that spectacular little gem.  In this case (as in the case of New Vegas), this use of older tools allows the developers to expand upon what made the original great.  
 
Dragon Age 2 really shines when it comes to your party and the staggering number of side-quests and missions available.  Although the same environments are recycled a bit too often, I found myself drawn into the struggles of poor and rich alike, especially when some of the choices I could make weren't quite as clear-cut as in prior Bioware games.  There is still the three-tiered system of good, neutral, and evil choices (essentially), but the choices now have consequences and costs that hindered my ability to just play out the black-and-white Bioware characters I've become used to.  My party members didn't make this any easier, as picking between what's good for them and what's good for the world as a whole can sometimes be blurred, belying underlying attachments to the cast of Dragon Age II I didn't realize I had. 
 
The party chatter goes a long ways towards this as well.  Bioware smartly dropped most of the central protagonist's dialogue in favor of a natural evolution of storylines, doled out in small bits and pieces as time goes by in the world.  Instead, the party will chat amongst themselves frequently, trading barbs or jests depending on who is in your party and what choices have been made.  This dialogue alone makes me excited for my next playthrough, as I'm genuinely curious as to what reactions and consequences will take place when I make certain choices. 
 
The combat system does take some getting used to, but I think the changes Bioware made are generally smart ones.  It's a quicker pace, obviously, which isn't always a good thing as some remnants of the older PC RPG roots tend to shine through (particularly in a drawn-out boss fight).  Those fights were meant for a more deliberate, slower time of strategic gaming.  Don't get me wrong - they're actually the best fights in the game - but they do jar with the intended quickening of the battles.  I still needed to maintain a very deliberate pace when it came to battles, as quicker fights don't necessarily mean the game has become any easier. 
 
All in all, if you've been reading the doom and gloom types who have been saying that this game marks the end of Bioware as we knew it, don't listen to them.  It's a really great game that's obviously trying to find that line between its roots and what gamers want in a modern RPG. 
 
YOU MADE A TIME MACHINE... OUT OF A DELOREAN? 
 
I'm just gonna get this off my chest now.  I'm a Telltale fanatic.  And I'm a Back to the Future fanatic.  Seeing those two joined at the hip just gave me paroxysms of pleasure when I read the previews.  Playing the game was even better.  Although I'd have loved to have heard Michael J. Fox (one of my personal heroes, for reasons I won't go into) do voice-work, I think the actors they've hired to replace originals are fantastic.  Of course, hearing Christopher Lloyd as Doc again gives me goosebumps.  It's reliving a joyous part of my childhood again in a new format. 
 
The episodes themselves smartly focus on story, jokes, and characters rather than obscure puzzling.  I've never really found myself struggling with Telltale games as a whole, but this one seems even more breezy.  That might not be to your particular taste, but in my case, that's perfectly all right.  I'm in this one for the story and return to the world I so greatly enjoyed as a kid, and in that regard, I'm 100% pleased. 
 
A TROLLOC, AN AES SEDAI, AND AN OGIER WALK INTO A BAR... 
 
Towers of Midnight is a case of the whole being greater than the parts.  Sanderson, understandably, hasn't quite managed to make the intricate characters of Robert Jordan's novels read like themselves, but the guy sure does a fantastic job with the rest of it.  He has a magnificent grasp of the world Jordan so carefully crafted, and his deft touch with combat scenes is highly enjoyable.  Sanderson adds a level of tension to this one that I haven't feld in a Wheel of Time novel in some time.  I'm going to try not to get into specifics, but you should be warned that there will be LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD. 
 
Perrin's part in this novel is a bit of a slow burn, starting off dreadfully slow and ending in a fantastic crescendo straining with blood.  It's nice to see some forward motion in his character development as well, as he's been a little stiff in the last few novels.  Sanderson's best touch in the novel is definitely done with Rand, surprisingly enough, whom I haven't cared about in nearly eight or so novels.  Rand becomes likable again, something sorely needed before the end of the series is met.  Mat is perhaps the hardest character for Sanderson to write, as his jokes and dialogue occasionally feel forced and cliched, though he has the single most hilarious bit of the novels as a whole in a particularly well written letter to another character.  Despite the difficulty in grasping the character, Sanderson puts Mat through his most harrowing moments yet, ending the novel in a heart-pumping manner that leaves me wanting the next in my hands right now. 
 
CHUCK HOGAN NOT AS COOL AS EITHER PART OF HIS NAME - NEWS AT 11 
 
Chuck Hogan's The Strain reads like a bad, bland beginner's guide to apocalyptica.  Emotions are  forced, characters are given no room to grow, and at no point did I care one bit about any person in the novel.  And when you're reading something as supposedly sweeping as this, that's a bad, bad sign.  Hogan's novel reads like a bad medical thriller with a few horror-light elements tossed in for good measure.  The characters are direct nods to Bram Stoker's Dracula, complete with a vampire-slaying professor.  But none of these characters are relatable, given instead to cliched methods of storytelling.  It's a classic example of the author telling instead of showing a story, and it aggravated every sensibility of my being.  There's a level of condescension to the writing as well, as Hogan stops frequently to explain various facts and phrases that could have easily been adapted into the story without such blatant explanations.  The mark of a great storyteller is that he or she can weave a complete tale without needing to stop to pander to an audience.  Hogan fails completely at that, and if it wasn't for my masochistic need to finish most every novel I start, I'd have dumped this one after a few dozen pages. 
 
IN LIVING COLOR 
 
No, no, no, this isn't a blurb about that old sketch comedy show.  These are just some quick (really, I rpomise) notes on TV shows I've been catching up on. 
 
-Eureka is good, silly fun.  It's light enough that I can keep it on in the background as I write.  It wouldn't really be my cup of tea if it wasn't for the brilliant premise and the fun lead characters.  I can't recommend it to everyone, but for me, it's a fun diversion. 
 
-Castle is much the same.  The police procedural usually irritates the holy hell out of me, but Nathan Fillion's charm and the decent writing makes this one tolerable.  I can't stomach more than an episode or two at a time, but for what it is, it's not bad. 
 
-Mad Men is very well written and acted, but I can't tolerate the existentialist bullshit.  I've never been able to get into fiction that relates to that intolerable belief, and this is another example.  If you believe in it, more power to you.  Just let me know if you write it, so I can keep the hell away from it.
 
-I missed out on 3rd Rock From the Sun as a teen, mostly because of our nearly 4 year lack of cable or satellite, but now I'm catching a few episodes of it here and there.  Watching John Lithgow and the rest of the crew play is just amazing.  As a former actor who loves watching great actors get a chance to completely ham it up, this is a treat.  Not a show I'm sure I'll watch through its entire run, but I'm enjoying bits and pieces of it.

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Posted by ArbitraryWater

I still haven't gotten around to reading Sanderson's wheel of time books. I assume they're good (I liked the Mistborn trilogy and Warbreaker, overreliance on Deus Ex Machinas to resolve the plots aside), or at least have managed to get the series out of the rut that Jordan kind of dug for himself? I mean, at some point I realized that Mat was the only likable character in that massive cast of assholes (or in the case of all the female characters, stuck up shrews who constantly, constantly get naked or tortured in some way that screams "author appeal"). If what you say is true, and Rand is somehow not an emotionally dead douchebag/pimp, then maybe I'll take a looksie.
 
But, as I started reading those books in middle school, I've been wondering if they are actually good, or if I was just at a time in my life where the first pulpy fantasy novel I encountered was the one I enjoyed (because I started reading the Sword of Truth series, and MAN are they every pulp high fantasy cliche rolled together in the most half assed way possible). I should probably read more books, but I don't think I'll re-read the earlier titles in the series to find out if I'm right or not.
 
Oh, and I'm with you on anti-existentialism. Just to throw that out there. I had to read The Stranger for class, and I don't think I've hated a book more strongly. Oh yeah, and I think Dragon Age 2 is cool as well. Video Games?

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw
@ArbitraryWater:
Sanderson has done an absolutely admirable job with the novels.  My complaints against him in this blog should in no way deter you from reading them, but keep in mind that at heart, they are still very much Wheel of Time novels.  As such, there is a ton of wasted description, unnecessary detail, and all the fat that came with the first dozen or so novels.  However, things are very much coming to a head plotwise, and we're even given a glimmer of hope that the series will end relatively soon.  Mat's plotline still continues to be one of the most interesting ones of the series, but like I say, Sanderson's grip on his dialogue and jokes feels a touch awkward, as though he gets the jokes but just can't quite tell them himself.  The women of the series lose a touch of that strange abused sexuality you mention, though they're still the weakest writing (thanks to Robert Jordan's setup and not through any fault of Sanderson's writing - he actually seems to have a better grasp on women than Jordan ever did).  Perrin becomes a little less single-minded and evolves, and Rand definitely becomes less of an emo douchebag.  The plot advancements are, at this point, loose ends being tied up before the Last Battle, which is a great thing in some cases and disappointing in others. 
 
All in all, though, I'd say Sanderson has been the breath of fresh air the series has needed for a long time.  It appears that they're setting up the world to possibly continue on past the main novels, which is understandable and maybe even a sound idea, so long as future novels beyond the Last Battle are NOT directly related to the main bajillion novels.  I really wouldn't mind seeing Sanderson explore and play with the world rather than being limited by what Jordan set up. 
 
As to whether or not they're actually good, I think so.  I started reading them as a young teenager, and I've since reread the first ten or so several times.  Although the books obviously have their faults in being overly wordy and rife with certain poor character developments, the quality of the writing stands among some of the best in modern fantasy literature.  I have an English degree and consider myself very well read (at least in terms of fiction, poetry, and plays), and I'd say that we've seen something of a true revolution of new, extremely talented fantasy writers in the last five or so years.  That includes Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch, whom I consider to be the standard-bearers of this new generation, as well as redoubled efforts from older authors like Tad Williams, who continues to be one hell of a writer. 
 
And to be honest, I have sort of a soft spot for pulpy fantasy novels, but I wouldn't necessarily classify any of the authors listed above as pulpy.  To me, those are the modern cream of the crop, but of course, that's entirely a matter of opinion.
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