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Mass Effect 2 Early Game Review

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Let's face it, if you haven't bought Mass Effect 2 by now, it's not because you're waiting on my review.

Don't look at me like that.

I want to write it, so you're going to read it.

At the time of this writing, I'm somewhere around halfway through the game. I've heard reports of the total playtime being between 20 and 50 hours, based upon how much you do. Judging by the fact that I'm already sitting at around 20 hours, I guess I know which end of that scale I fall on.

I'll give the "tl;dr" version first. Mass Effect 2 isn't perfect, but it's damn close. The few minor flaws are more than outweighed by everything the game does right. Each individual element may not hit spot-on, but the total package is one of the best games I have ever played.

Technically, the game is nearly the best available. The music is so fantastic, I almost want to buy the soundtrack. BioWare, once again, has delivered the best voice acting you'll ever find. Graphically, the game is gorgeous, but but not without its faults. Just like the first game, ME2 uses the Unreal Engine 3, though with an extra 2 years of development time. All the problems present in the first game are gone. There's no more texture pop-in and the shadows aren't as butt-ugly. Unreal Engine 3 renders "ugly" things really well. The Krogan, Turians, Batarians, Salarians, all the truly "alien" races look phenomenal, as well as the "used" areas of the game. The pretty, clean-lined sci-fi areas are beautiful and wonderfully lit, but they lack the detail and polish of the more realistic areas. The humans and "prettier" races just seem a bit off. Whether a limitation of the engine or BioWare's programming, the faces just don't seem right. The combat animations are perfect, but for some reason, Shepard's out-of-combat movement looks like he belongs in the Special Olympics.

Again, it's not perfect, but it's so good that it doesn't detract from the overall game.

BioWare is the best in the business at writing stories. ME2's scope is so grand, it's almost too much to wrap my mind around. BioWare has not created a story, not a world. They've created an entire universe. The planets, the races, everything meshes together. I'm sure if I spent a weekend reading through the Codex, I would be further amazed at the amount of detail. With all the groundwork laid in the first game, ME2 better develops the individual characters. Every member of your crew has feelings and a reason for being there. They have good and bad qualities, as well as real issues. Each crew member has their own side mission that really expands the character. The only issue I have here is that the side missions are too easy to acquire. I'd rather see them as part of the dialog progression, much like in Dragon Age: Origins.

Shepard is pure win this time around. He's focused on the mission. So much so that, occasionally, the "neutral" responses will result in Renegade points. The dialog interrupt system is fun. At certain points in conversations, you can pull a trigger to interrupt the scene with either a Paragon or Renegade response. It gives the player more control over the story interaction and adds a bit of fun to the dialog segments. The characters are more animated during conversations, as well. They will get up, walk around and otherwise physically react to the conversation. The only odd part is everyone having to "reset" back to their original positions for the next dialog thread.

Gameplay has been discussed to death many times over. Some people call it "dumbing down" while others "streamlining." Some lament the loss of some RPG elements in favor of more of a pure shooter. Honestly, I'm entirely in favor of the changes. The shooting in the first game was a bit clunky and the action was slowed down with the constant menu diving. In ME2, it's pure action, and smooth as can be.

The equipment customization is done almost exclusively between missions. I have two of the special armors, the Blood Dragon and Collector sets, but I'm not even using them. Customizing Shepard's standard N7 armor is too much fun. Finding new pieces for weapon damage or shield strength, deciding which to use and making my Shepard unique is the highlight of the changes for me, thus far. Weapon customization is a bit of a mixed bag. You don't buy new weapons, but rather find new versions. Unfortunately, they're few and far between. Almost twenty hours in, I'm still using the starter Sniper Rifle and SMG. Researching weapon upgrades is a nice touch, but too linear for my taste. There's a standard progression you follow, with no choices to be made. The thought of choosing your weapon loadout, deciding between accuracy, damage or other effects would have been a great use of the system. As it is now, you definitely feel more powerful, but in a game that's all about choice, having such a large part of the game completely on-rails is a bit disappointing.

The best thing to come out of this system, though is it upgrades your entire crew all at once. Without having to maintain each individual character's equipment, you're free to choose whoever you want to bring with you for each mission. Fighting Blue Suns? Bring "Archangel" and Miranda. Blood Pack? Grunt and Mordin are a great team. ME2's combat is so reliant on weapon, ammo and skill choices, that this feature is vital to strategic gameplay. And you better have a strategy. Enemies are no joke. I've noticed my Infiltrator has far less survivability that in the first game. Proper skill usage and cover management are vital to success. At first, I was unsure about the new "heat sink" system, but now I see it helps balance the game. My Infiltrator used the Sniper Rifle almost exclusively in Mass Effect. Only getting ten shots without having to find some more clips makes me save that powerful weapon for when I really need it. It's a big shift and takes some time to get used to, but it leads to a better game, in my opinion.

Then there's the planet scanning. Nobody likes planet scanning. You need to scan the surface of every planet you come across, searching for resources if you want to research upgrades. This takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R. While more realistic and less annoying than the old Mako segments, it's not necessarily better. That said, I've found a few ways to make it more bearable. First, make sure to research the Scanner Upgrade ASAP. Then, instead of holding down the scan button, click it while moving the reticle. You'll get a quick scan of the surface, and still catch the major deposits, which is all you really should be looking for. It's a waste of time and probes to search for every tiny deposit. With this method, I can take a planet from "Rich" to "Depleted" in 2-3 minutes. I could do without the system altogether, but I've at least found a way to make it reasonable.

At the end of the day, Mass Effect 2 is just a brilliant game. The whole truly is more than the sum of its parts. It's more of a shooter than an RPG at this point, but that's irrelevant. It's fun, it's engaging and it tells a great story.

Dragon Age: Warrior Dual Weapon

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(For a full listing of Character Guides, please go here)

Dual Weapon Warriors are similar to their Two-Handed brethren in some respects, but differ vastly in gameplay style. While Two-Handed is all about using your skills to the fullest, Dual Weapon is more about pure DAMAGE. Throw up your sustained abilities and auto-attack away. Since Warriors don't get a Backstab bonus, they can deal maximum damage with little micro-managing.

Party Members

Alistair starts with several Weapon and Shield points, but can be switched to this rather easily.
Sten starts with a couple Two-Handed abilities, but this is an option.
Oghren and Spoiler all come with too many points already in Two-Handed skills, switching them over would be difficult.


Strength: Maximum - Damage, damage, damage. Bring the pain.
Dexterity: 36 - Dual Weapon talents need Dexterity to learn.
Willpower: Minimum - You need to put a great deal of points into Dexterity, so you would have to take points away from Strength to pump your Willpower. This is why Dual Weapon Warriors are pretty much auto-attack machines.
Magic: Minimum - Nearly useless
Cunning: 16 - This is the minimum amount required for max-rank Coercion (for your main character) and Combat Tactics (for your companions).
Constitution: 15-18 - As a front-line fighter, you're going to take some damage, but you only need enough to survive a few hits, hopefully.


Templar: Odds are, you won't want to be splitting the good one-handed weapons between two characters. If so, and you roll without a Rogue, this is a very viable secondary specialization.
Berserker: You get mad and hit stuff. Berserker is the primary damage-dealing Warrior Specialization. The fact that you'll be using very few active abilities makes the reduced Stamina regeneration a non-issue.
Champion: A solid Secondary Specialization. Rally is yet another Sustained ability to add to your arsenal.
Reaver: Reaver's stat bonuses are defensive in nature and their abilities aren't very impressive. It's an option, but not recommended.


Instead of listing EVERY talent, I will just point out the important ones, both good and bad.

Powerful: Definitely
Death Blow: This is very nice to have, but you'll have to spend 2 points in useless talents to get there. Definitely pick it up, but save it for later.
Precise Striking: This ability is PHENOMENAL if you get it early enough.
Disengage: Enemies target characters in heavy armor before those in light armor. Since Warriors walk around with tons of metal strapped to their backs, this could get you out of trouble from time to time.
Perfect Striking: Like Death Blow, a solid ability that can wait until later in the game to pick up.
Dual Weapon Moastery: Get this ASAP. This will allow you to wield a sword or axe in your offhand instead of a dagger. A MASSIVE damage increase for a Strength-focused Warrior.
Dual Weapon Sweep and Whirlwind: The only active abilities that I suggest for Dual Weapon Warriors. Your Stamina is at a premium, so you may as well use it to dish out as much damage as possible. Warriors have an advantage over Rogues here. First, they'll deal more base damage with these attacks. Second, if they happen to draw aggro, they can take the hits.
Momentum: This is why you won't have any Stamina to work with. Fire your AoEs, pop this baby and carve up some Darkspawn.

Massively Effective

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Tuesday marks the launch of one of my most anticipated games ever: Mass Effect 2.

Normally, I'm not one to be drawn into hype all that much. For months, I've been in a "media lockout," ignoring all videos, screenshots, etc. When I started replaying the first game, I lifted the ban, and wow. I pulled up some of the Class Reveal trailers and fell in love. The one that changed the game from "anticipated" to "HOLY CRAP COME OUT NOW" was the Sentinel trailer:

It's not the class, itself. The Sentinel really doesn't do it for me. The GRAPHICS on that Tech Armor just completely blew me away. Of course, the game as a whole is mesmerizing, but that one little effect put me over the edge. Since then, I've been devouring anything I can get my hands on, as my friends and unfortunate Twitter followers can attest.

So, looking ahead, what are some features and changes of Mass Effect 2 that I'm interested in?


Not really "ammo." Like the previous game, basic weapon ammo is unlimited. There are special ammo types that you can use, much like the first game, but this time around, they actually matter. Incendiary burns through armor, Disruptor eats enemy Shields and Cryo can freeze foes. Additionally, BioWare has added in an exhaustible "clip" system. Instead of overheating and shutting down, weapons this time around will use consumable Heat Sinks. This adds a slightly more tactical approach to gameplay. These Heat Sinks will supposedly be plentiful, but still limited.


I haven't looked much into the story to avoid potential spoilers, so this is mostly conjecture. BioWare has shown that the Normandy will consume fuel this time around when exploring the galaxy. I have two theories on why. One, Shepard and crew are operating "off the grid" and want to avoid the Relay System. Two, they're operating so far outside Citadel space for some missions, that there simply are no Relays. Either way, this gives the player decisions to make. Do you go to Planet A or B? Perhaps you simply can't do both at this point in the game. What do you stand to gain/lose from your decision?

Additionally, due to fan complaints, they have scrapped the Mako. I didn't have any issues with the Mako itself the first time around. I found the designed Mako segments on the primary missions to be a fun change of pace. However, the topography of the uncharted planets made exploration in the Mako a chore. This time, you land in a shuttle directly at your objective. They have added a new exploration vehicle, the Hammerhead, which will be available, as well as several missions using it, as free DLC shortly after the game's launch. (More on this later)


BioWare is taking a very Dragon Age-ish approach to your crew. You can choose whether or not to recruit crew members. Additionally, your choices will influence their opinions of you and you will often have to choose sides between one crew member and another. The roster of potential squadmates has expanded from six to ten. (eleven counting the Free DLC character) All (living) characters from the first game return, some as recruitable, some as NPCs.


Instead of picking up new weapons and parts from fallen foes, Mass Effect 2 takes a different approach. You will have to collect designs and resources and choose which upgrades you would like to research. Again, this gives the player choices, which are the core of this game. Focus on one weapon type or upgrade across the board? You can also upgrade the Normandy, and you better if you want even the slightest chance of living through to see the third game.


Mass Effect came out in the early days of DLC. It was fun, but lacking. Mass Effect 2 jumps in feet-first. Before moving on, a word of sanity. ME2 was essentially complete several months ago. The game has taken time to pass Microsoft Certification, print, package and ship. So, Day 1 DLC is not stuff they purposely left out of the game, rather new content they've been working on since they finished it. ME2 is using a new feature called the Cerberus Network. Every new copy of the game, digital and physical, comes with a Cerberus Network Access Card. Gamers who buy pre-owned can purchase their own access for $15. This is a great way to work around the money lost through the pre-owned and pirate markets. I'm all for developers getting paid for their work. What's the big deal? All Cerberus Network DLC is FREE. This includes the already-announced Hammerhead vehicle and eleventh crew member, Zaeed. Of course, the game will also offer paid DLC, presumably in the form of additional missions and expansions.


I played through Mass Effect twice, taking wildly different paths. I'm going to break down some of the differences which may or may not carry over.

Sam Shepard was a Renegade Infiltrator. Max Shepard was a Paragon Soldier. Both played on Normal difficulty, with Sam reaching Level 50 and Max Level 52.

(Cookies to whoever gets the joke here)

**SPOILER WARNING if you're one of the three people yet to play the first game**

Squad: Sam used Wrex and Liara, while Max used Kaidan and Garrus. These decisions will likely mean nothing in ME2, though they influenced other decisions I made in the game.

Survival: Sam let Wrex live, as he was a valuable member of his squad and chose to sacrifice Kaidan. Max also let Wrex live, being a nice guy and all, and chose to sacrifice Ashley, as he was using Kaidan as an active squadmate.

Romance: Sam was too much of a jerk for the ladies, while Max charmed his way into Liara's heart.

Sidequests: Sam explored every planet in the galaxy, in an attempt to get the Asari Ally Achievement after inadvertently screwing up the early-game sequencing required. Max did everything that came his way, but didn't waste time exploring on his own. Conversely, with his slow-ass running and the jacked-up layout of the Citadel, Sam missed some of the sidequests there because of the excessive Rapid Transit use, while Max took his time and completed everything he could find.

Interactions: Sam knocked out the biased reporter, supported the Terra Firma party and ignored poor Conrad. Max put up with the reporter and got screwed, declined the Terra Firma party and was exceptionally nice to Conrad. Sam exterminated the Rachni Queen, while Max let her live. There are several other smaller decisions that escape me at the moment.

Endgame: Sam sacrificed the Council, while Max saved them. It's been so long that I forget exactly who Sam chose for the Human seat on the Council, though I believe they both chose Captain Anderson.


At the end of the day, it would appear BioWare has crafted the most engrossing storytelling experience I've ever seen. In many games, you're given decisions that affect the game, but don't have too much lasting effect. No matter how much of a jerk you are, you still end up saving the world in Dragon Age: Origins. The only difference is how you go about it. In Mass Effect 2, Shepard could fail if you make bad decisions. Crew members, even Shepard himself/herself could die, and likely will. Your choices can and will shape the story of the game.

Mass Effect 2 will likely be one of the best games of the year, and could end up being one of the best of the generation. As I've said before, I won't believe something is impossible until BioWare tells me it is.

Fight for the Lost

Dragon Age: Warrior Two-Handed

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(For a full listing of Character Guides, please go here)

Two-Handed Warriors may lack the pure damage of a Dual-Wield build, but they make up for it in utility.

Party Members

Alistair starts with several Weapon and Shield points, but can be switched to this rather easily.
Sten, Oghren and Spoiler all come with points already in Two-Handed skills.


Strength: Maximum - Damage, damage, damage. Bring the pain.
Dexterity: 18 - Minimum requirement for a couple talents. Your Attack rating (Accuracy) comes from a combination of Strength and Dexterity, so this will not hurt.
Willpower: 25+ - As I mentioned earlier, Two-Handed Warriors are about utility. You need a good amount of Stamina to keep flowing. Adjust to whatever fits your playstyle, but don't go too high.
Magic: Minimum - Nearly useless
Cunning: 16 - This is the minimum amount required for max-rank Coercion (for your main character) and Combat Tactics (for your companions).
Constitution: 15-18 - As a front-line fighter, you're going to take some damage, but you only need enough to survive a few hits, hopefully.


Templar: If you choose not to roll with a Mage-killing Rogue, this would be a Secondary option.
Berserker: You get mad and hit stuff. Berserker is the primary damage-dealing Warrior Specialization. Just make sure to pump that Willpower stat a bit, especially early on.
Champion: A solid Secondary Specialization. Your Two-Hander will likely have more mana to spare than your tank to keep Rally going.
Reaver: Reaver's stat bonuses are defensive in nature and their abilities aren't very impressive. It's an option, but not recommended.


Instead of listing EVERY talent, I will just point out the important ones, both good and bad.

Powerful: Definitely
Death Blow: This is very nice to have, but you'll have to spend 2 points in useless talents to get there. Definitely pick it up, but save it for later.
Precise Striking: This ability is PHENOMENAL if you get it early enough.
Disengage: Enemies target characters in heavy armor before those in light armor. Since Warriors walk around with tons of metal strapped to their backs, this could get you out of trouble from time to time.
Perfect Striking: Like Death Blow, a solid ability that can wait until later in the game to pick up. Once you pump your Strength, you shouldn't need too much more Attack.
Pommel Strike: One of those great utility abilities. Use this to cancel a Mage's casting. Also, when an ally is in a "grab," like those you see from Ogres and other, nastier enemies later in the game, this will free them.
Indomitable: Own the battlefield. Use this. Always.
Stunning Blows: This makes Zev slightly useful if he has the talent that gives automatic backstabs against stunned enemies.
Critical Strike: Really not that great. This should be happening decently often enough without the Stamina cost.
Sunder Arms and Sunder Armor: These deal very good damage IN ADDITION to their debuffs.
Powerful Swings: Seems nice, but you'll already have a few Sustained Abilities running, and Indomitable is better.
Two-Handed Sweep: Your only AoE, try to get this as early as possible. Between this and Warcry/Superiority from Champion, you can keep groups of enemies at bay for a while, though you may need to Disengage afterward.

Dragon Age: Warrior Tank

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(For a full listing of Character Guides, please go here)


Unless you're using Shale in his Stoneheart form, you'll need a Warrior for tanking.

Party Members

Alistair is ready to go in this role.
Sten starts with a couple points spent in Two-Handed talents, but could be switched to tanking with minimal loss.
Oghren and Spoiler join your group too late in the game to be effective tanks, with several points already spent in Two-Handed talents.


Strength: 42 - This is the requirement for wearing the heaviest armor in the game. Anything beyond this is wasted, since it will only increase your damage, which is less important than your defensive abilities.
Dexterity: Maximum - Dexterity increases your chance to dodge attacks, as well as the amount of damage absorbed by armor. Every extra point you have should go here.
Willpower: 20-25 - Honestly, whatever you're comfortable with. Tanks use several sustained abilities, which will eat up your Stamina pool. The last thing you want is to be unable to use Taunt in an important situation. Your choice of Specialization will also factor in here.
Magic: Minimum - Nearly useless
Cunning: 16 - This is the minimum amount required for max-rank Coercion (for your main character) and Combat Tactics (for your companions).
Constitution: 20-25 - Again, whatever you're comfortable with, as well as adjusted for difficulty. Though, keep in mind, you only gain 5 HP per point.


Templar: Alistair comes pre-loaded with this, so many think it's the Tanking Specialization. In reality, it isn't that useful. All of a Templar's skills are for use against Mages, which is a job better suited for your Rogues.
Berserker: Berserker talents are offensive-oriented. While not bad, your Stamina is better used elsewhere.
Champion: THIS is the Tanking Specialization. War Cry decreases enemies' chance to hit, which is very handy for a tank. Superiority gives War Cry a knockdown effect, and makes it invaluable. Rally & Motivate are great, but only if you invest in extra Willpower to offset the upkeep cost.
Reaver: Reaver is a decent SECONDARY Specialization, because of only one skill. Frightening Appearance increases the effectiveness of Threaten and Taunt, two vital Tanking abilities.


Instead of listing EVERY talent, I will just point out the important ones, both good and bad.

Powerful, Threaten and Taunt: Of course.
Bravery: Grants several offensive and defensive bonuses when engaging more than two enemies. This will be often.
Death Blow: While a Stamina return seems like a good idea, your tank will rarely be getting the killing blow.
Precise Striking: You have to get this as a prerequisite for Taunt. Additionally, it's a decent ability to use early in the game when you don't have a full compliment of abilities to drain your Stamina.
Perfect Striking: While this seems like a great ability to generate aggro, the Stamina cost is not worth it.
Shield Bash, Shield Pummel, Overpower and Assault: Nice aggro-building skills, and the stuns and knockdowns are very handy. However, use them sparingly to conserve Stamina and focus on your defensive Talents first.
Shield Defense and Shield Wall: Should be your top priorities. They do not stack, so Shield Defense should be cast aside once you get Shield Wall.
Shield Cover: Useful early on, but unnecessary once you have Shield Wall and better gear.
Additionally, all Passives in the Weapon & Shield tree are mandatory.

Dragon Age: Origins Character Builds

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Over the past several weeks, I've had several people asking me for advice on Dragon Age: Origins. Instead of repeating myself, I figured I'd make a few blog posts with the info.

As has been my style, this post will be the central database for the guides.


Dual Weapon

Comics for Noobs: Thor

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Variant cover to Thor (v3) #1

Of all the characters to ever grace the pages of a comic book, Thor is by FAR my favorite. No character is more true to his ideals, more heroic than Thor.

Thor made his Marvel premiere in Journey into Mystery #83 in 1962. I'm going to dispense the usual character backstory on this one. If you want to know more, go read a freaking book. That's right. Marvel's Thor is not a hero with mystic powers or a guy pretending to be Thor. He is the ACTUAL freaking Norse God of Thunder.

Thor stays relatively true to the mythological roots. Odin, Loki, Balder and the rest are all there and intact. The only place where Marvel really deviates is Thor's "alter ego." While it would be funny to have an ancient God roaming the modern world, that would get a little old after a while. So, they took a bit of liberty with the story. Odin, wishing to teach his son humility, trapped Thor in the body of a mortal, Donald Blake. This dual-personality gives Thor a connection to the mortal world. Otherwise, what reason is there for a God to take notice of human problems? It's worked for almost 40 years, so I guess it's a good call.

Much of Thor's power is derived from his hammer, Mjolnir. Forged from an unbreakable metal and enchanted with magic from Odin himself, Mjolnir is one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, capable of controlling the very forces of nature. Mjolnir bears an inscription: Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of ... Thor Very few people other than Thor have been able to even LIFT the hammer, much less USE it. Some, such as the always-awesome Beta Ray Bill, even proving to be Thor's equal.

The Norse myths center around the battle of Ragnarok, in which the Gods and heroes battle the forces of evil at the end of the world. The world is reborn and everything starts over again. In the comic continuity, Thor managed to stop the Ragnarok Cycle. None of the Gods would be reborn, but being Gods, they weren't really dead, either. Their spirits wandered the void, eventually attaching themselves to human hosts. Thor, used to this as Donald Blake, set out to free the Aesir and rebuild Asgard, free from the threat of Ragnarok.

This is where J. Michael Straczynski started his 2007 relaunch of Thor.

And that, Comic Noobs, is where you should start, too. Thor, Vol. 1 Yep, no fancy subtitle, just freaking THOR. Though, be sure to read Civil War first if you want to avoid some spoilers.

Questions? Comics can be very confusing to new readers. Feel free to email me at samodeanhc(at)gmail(dot)com. If I can collect enough questions, I would love to publish them in a Q&A Session post! Please specify if you would like the question answered publicly or privately.

Book Review: The Gathering Storm

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I don't think I've ever been happier to have a book in my hands than The Gathering Storm. Especially considering it was almost never written.

For those who don't know, Robert Jordan, the author of the previous 11 Wheel of Time books, passed away in September of 2007. Jordan's wife and long-time editor, Harriet, chose Brandon Sanderson to finish the story, giving him all of Jordan's notes and unpublished chapters to the proposed final book, A Memory of Light.

Realizing that Jordan still had too much story to tell, Sanderson and Tor Books decided to split A Memory of Light into three books, The Gathering Storm being the first.

Bottom Line: Egwene al'Vere saved The Wheel of Time.

Writing the series, Jordan became a victim of his own creativity. Around the 4th volume, The Shadow Rising, Jordan started expanding the cast to critical mass. With all these characters running around, some got lost and some just ate up chapters. After 3 books of huge plot developments, book 7, A Crown of Swords started a small decline for the series. Now, with all these characters, they all have to DO something, GO somewhere.

Jordan spent so much time explaining what each individual character was doing that the main plot slowed down to a crawl. The focal point of the fan's anger: the Aes Sedai.

Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Suian, Leane, Elaida, Alviarin, Cadsuane and so many others just brought the plot to a crawl. Nobody cared about the women plotting how to control (and hopefully save) the world. They cared even less about the girls running around like idiots trying to clean up their own messes.

The fan favorite characters Mat, Perrin, Thom and The Forsaken all shined in their too brief and infrequent segments, which made it even more maddening.

Book 10, Crossroads of Twilight started bringing the story back in line and Book 11, Knife of Dreams brought the pace up to a comfortable level.

So, with a large portion of The Gathering Storm focusing on Egwene and the other Aes Sedai, it looked like we were in trouble. Miraculously, Sanderson made this part of the story very engaging and entertaining, by the halfway point, I was actually upset when the focus went back to one of the other characters!

So, yes, Egwene al'Vere saved The Wheel of Time.

The rest of the book is Sanderson setting up Jordan's chess board. All the pieces are in place for the endgame to begin. The Aes Sedai have found direction, Rand has gotten his head out of his ass, and long-dangling plot threads are being picked back up.

For those who have avoided the series for the past 20 years, now is the time to start reading. There are only 2 books left, to be released later this year and next. Robert Jordan's writing has influenced every fantasy author of this generation, it would be a shame to miss out on it.

Corruption, Part 5: Breaking

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(Read the previous entry here or refer to the Fiction Index for a full listing.)

Corrigan sat in his cell, shocked by what he just heard. This woman, this Warlock asking for his forgiveness? Baring her soul as if some sort of kindred spirit?

She was responsible for his capture. Leave forgiveness for the Priests. Paladins deal in Retribution.

His mind seemingly made up, Corrigan tried to get some rest. Normally, Corrigan could capture a few fitful hours of sleep. Tonight, even that was denied him. He was constantly awakened mere seconds after drifting off. He could not remember the nightmares, but the terror stayed with him. After several nightmares, he no longer wished to rest.

So Corrigan waited. They would be coming for him.

In time, after what Corrigan assumed would be daybreak, he was given a breakfast of bread crusts. Was it Sylphine? She did not speak, so he had no way of knowing. Were there other Warlocks tasked with feeding him? Did he even care? Should he?

The day passed, like any other. Occasionally, exhaustion would overwhelm Corrigan and he would drift off to sleep, but the nightmares were still there.

His evening feeding drawing near, Corrigan heard the familiar sound of footsteps, but not the soft ones he was used to. Somebody new was coming to his cell. His world shattered with a screech. Rusted metal grinding against itself. The door to his cell was open.

"Rise, Paladin."

Corrigan remained sitting. "Come make me, Warlock."

"As you wish, boy." The Warlock raised his palm and there was a brief glow to his hand. Corrigan was overcome with revulsion. He was choking in his cell and knew, just knew that he had to get out to live. Scrambling out, he found himself on his knees before the Warlock, gasping for breath.

"That wasn't so difficult, was it? Now, will you come along willingly, or should I persuade you some more?"

Corrigan hated the thought of submitting. Even worse, though, was the idea of being manipulated into doing what his captors wanted. One way or another, he was going to follow the Warlock, it may as well be on his own terms.

They left the cells behind. The halls beyond were bathed in torchlight. Corrigan could never have dreamed in his previous life just how happy he would be to see an actual torch. The hallways twisted and turned, actually leading farther down. In time, Corrigan found himself in what looked like an apothecary's laboratory. The Warlock led him to a table at the far end of the lab, used his power to restrain Corrigan and strap him down. Confident that Corrigan would not be going anywhere, the Warlock departed.

"Make this easy on yourself and submit now, Paladin."

Corrigan must have been exhausted to the point of delusion. He could have sworn the shadow in the corner was speaking to him.

"I promise you will not like what follows. This is your last chance."

The shadow moved. It unfolded itself, gaining a vaguely human form, but somehow off, like a bad reflection in dirty water. "What... are you?" Corrigan asked.

"What am I? Boy, I am a fragment, a whisper, an echo of what you could be. Submit yourself willingly now to become the host for my master and you will possess power previously unknown to any mortal."

Become the host for my master. What madness was this... thing... speaking. Suddenly, Corrigan remembered a discussion with his old mentor, Rondrey. The Legion.

"I will never submit to you or your master, DEMON. My faith in the Light is strong."

The Shadow Demon chuckled, "The Light? Where is your light now? If the Light favors you so strongly, let it strike me down right now!" The demon paused, raising his hands, as if physically reaching for the Light itself. "No? Too bad for you."

Why had the Light abandoned Corrigan when he needed it the most? Even here, outside his cell, he still could not feel its warm glow, always in his heart.

"This is your last chance, boy."

"Do what you will. I fear nothing you or your kind could do to me." Corrigan lied. For the first time in his life, he was truly alone, and he was terrified.

"Your choice. You will submit to me before my work is done. It is not a question of 'if,' merely 'when.'"

The Shadow Demon drifted to the door. He had legs, at least in form, but apparently felt no need to actually use them. He touched the door with his hand and it was opened from the other side by the Warlock guard from earlier. The Warlock stepped aside to allow... something into the room.

"Paladin, allow me to introduce you to my associate, Shaamon."

Corrigan was momentarily dumbfounded by the beast in front of him. Larger than any dog he had seen, with skin thick like leather. The size of the beast alone would have been striking, but its dominant feature was the two tentacles protruding from its back.

A Felhunter.

Me Rite Gud

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I was digging around Google Analytics the other day, looking at some stats from my old blog, when I happened upon something unexpected.


Phoenix_Fire is a student studying interactive media. He decided to start a blog, Fight Fire with Frostfire, exploring various aspects of online life.

In the above post, he examines the writing style of a blogger. Me.

After reading this article, I started thinking. It's important to draw the distinction between an "author" and a "writer." An actual AUTHOR would look at my work and lose their lunch.

I was going through some old fiction posts the other day as part of a side-project I'm considering. Reading through some of those old posts, with this new perspective in mind, I had a revelation.

My writing style is a jacked-up, back-asswards MESS.

But it's an AWESOME mess. All my stunted paragraphs and "one-line turnarounds," as Phoenix_Fire calls them, serve as a visual representation of the pace and flow of my writing. This was not intentional, just the way things worked out for me, but now has become my thing.

But so what? THIS. IS. SPARTA THE INTERNET. There are no rules here. If an AUTHOR submitted something like this, their publisher would throw them out a window. Luckily, I'm a WRITER. This non-traditional form of media calls for some non-traditional writing.

I just may be good at this thing, afterall.

Fellow writers, I would love to see your thoughts on your own styles, especially in the context of "online media" as opposed to "traditional media."

Comics for Noobs: Iron Man

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The full listing of Comics for Noobs posts can be found here.

Tony Stark, aka Iron Man is one of my favorite comic characters. He has no superpowers of his own. All of his power is a direct result of his own intelligence.

Iron Man is a great character for Comic Noobs. If you've seen 2008's Iron Man movie, you know Iron Man. The movie nailed the character and backstory perfectly.

Early Years

First introduced in Tales of Suspense #39 in 1963, Iron Man was given his own ongoing title in 1968.

Very little of his origin has been changed over the years, short of being retconned to a more modern setting. One of the world's foremost weapons designers, Tony Stark is kidnapped by warlords and pressed into service. Seriously injured in the attack, Stark creates the first Iron Man armor to both save his life and help him escape. In contrast to the movie's plot, Tony Stark would not reveal his identity as Iron Man for many years. Early on, Iron Man was seen as Stark's personal security force, battling enemies of Stark Enterprises. In time, he moved on to larger threats.

Every great hero has their own personal demons to overcome. The Hulk has his anger. Spider-Man has the guilt of letting his uncle die. Iron Man has spent most of his life battling alcoholism. The man in possession of the world's most powerful weapon was often unable to pilot it. During the years he was battling his illness, the Iron Man armor was worn by Stark's good friend James Rhodes. Once Stark was ready to be Iron Man once more, Rhodey was given his own suit of armor and became known as War Machine.

Modern Day

No hero has been more integral to the current Marvel Universe than Iron Man. Following the New Warriors disastrous attempt at apprehending several supervillains, Stark (now publicly recognized as Iron Man) was the leading voice of the Superhuman Registration Act. This led to the Civil War. Stark's Pro-Registration side was victorious and Tony was selected by the President as the new director of SHIELD.

Tony Stark is one of the smartest men on Earth. Unfortunately, political maneuvering is not one of his talents. Every crisis was a problem to solve. Sadly, every solution caused more problems to pop up. He had a plan, but completely ignored the human element involved. He was more interested in what "had to be done" instead of what "should be done." The Secret Invasion hit Stark particularly hard. SHIELD was disbanded and the most powerful man in the world lost everything, including his entire armory. He has spent the last year on the run from his successor, Norman Osborn, who has even gone so far as to use a version of the Iron Man armor, calling himself the Iron Patriot.

There is one title I recommend to Comic Noobs. Invincible Iron Man. Launched in 2008, Invincible Iron Man was intended as a perfect starting point for new readers. It took the Iron Man character, complete with his current role in the Marvel Universe, and inserted him into the setting more familiar to movie viewers. The movie characters, who also exist in the comics, became his supporting cast. It is a great way for readers who no nothing about the character outside of the film to learn about the Iron Man comic readers have loved for years. Additionally, Matt Fraction is one of Marvel's best new writers and Salvador Larroca has been one of my favorite artists of the last several years.

Questions? Comics can be very confusing to new readers. Feel free to email me at samodeanhc(at)gmail(dot)com. If I can collect enough questions, I would love to publish them in a Q&A Session post! Please specify if you would like the question answered publicly or privately.