Reviewed: December 17, 2006
Released: November 14, 2006
Iíll have to admit Iíve never read the Eragon books, but when a 15-year-old kid can write a fantasy epic like this and get it turned into a movie one canít help but take a mild interest. Any gamer can pretty much attest to the fact that when a movie is turned into a video game it has a slim chance of being any good, even when itís packed with swords and sorcery and dragons. But that didnít stop Sierra from trying.
I canít help but feeling slightly duped after playing Eragon on the 360. I had played an earlier build of the game at GenCon earlier this year on both the PS2 and the 360 and was very impressed with what I saw. But playing a single level carefully chosen from an entire game is apparently no way to judge the finished product. If it was, this game would be getting an 8 or 9.
Sierra is mixing up the Eragon content between all the various systems, giving handheld platforms RPGís and flight sims while the PC and consoles get a more traditional action-adventure game with plenty of swords and sorcery. The 360 hopes to sweeten the deal by tossing in two exclusive levels and a special boss, but exclusive content canít hide the repetitive gameplay and last-gen graphics that doom Eragon to become another classic example of why movies shouldn't be made into videogames.
Stormfront Studios chose to build Eragon on their existing Lord of the Rings engine. Granted, they expanded it heavily making a single level in Eragon the size of 8 levels in Two Towers, and they also added some verticality to the gameplay by including multi-tiered levels and the inclusion of aerial attacks courtesy of Saphira, your dragon companion. But there is just no denying (or hiding) the fact that Eragon is a last-gen product mocked up to look like a 360 game.
Eragon is not only short in content; the entire presentation is rushed. Having never read the book I had to rely on someone who did to tell me just how rushed it was. The first several hundred pages are encapsulated in the opening movie and Eragon will be tossing spells around like a wizard within a few short levels Ė something he didnít even do until the second book.
Itís almost as if the designers are relying on the player having already read the book, which is probably a mistake since that only makes the game even more disappointing, or at least as disappointing as the movie, which also suffers from rushed storytelling Ė or at least thatís what I hear. Iíve heard so much negative feedback (from Eragon fans) about the movie that I refuse to pay to see it in theaters.
Eragon is quite deceptive and at first you will have a great time. From the first level I remembered the fun I had at GenCon, hacking and slashing, and waiting for the camera to zoom in for those brutal finishing moves. The controls are simple, but so is the gameplay. Eragon only has a few basic commands and these are combined into a few meager three-button combos that quickly loose their thrill after the first few hundred times you perform them. And once you learn the timing for the unblockable jump attack, youíll have no reason to try anything else.
Hopefully youíll enjoy the default command set since you canít change anything in this game. Itís been quite some time since Iíve seen a game with as few options as Eragon. Other than inverting the flying part of the game and toggling vibration you cannot change the controls.
The camera can be problematic at times with its fixed and/or scrolling style that takes away any type of control from the player. I donít mind fixed cameras in games like Resident Evil where the director is trying to establish mood or set me up for a scare, but in an action game like Eragon, a static camera is unforgivable, even when you spice it up with quick handheld zooms for the fatal beat-downs.
Even worse, much of the exploration and challenge is taken out of the game with numerous and frequent hints and on-screen icons that basically take you by the hand through the first half of what is already a short and linear story mode. And once you graduate past the 2-3 hour tutorial youíll find there is really nothing new left to discover. Youíll have learned all of the attack and spells and summoning Saphira has all the charm of calling in for an artillery strike.
Even spells are lacking. Youíll learn only a few (push, pull, shield, fire, environmental) but you learn them all relatively soon in the story and thatís it. You canít increase their power or learn new spells. Eragon basically dumps everything in your lap in the beginning leaving nothing to entice you to continue playing.
You can earn new weapons and armor upgrades as you make your way through the story, but these mysterious bonuses arenít tied to the story. You just get a notification after the level that you got a new sword or better armor with no indication why. And these upgrades are only good for what lies ahead since you are unable to replay previous chapters with your new equipment.
Eragon offers three difficulty levels, but the enemy AI is so stupid that it doesnít really matter which one you choose. The hardest of the three will offer a slightly more challenging experience for the seasoned gamer, but for the most part, Eragon is way too easy, especially for a game this short. And even going back and trying to find those hidden eggs in each level is hardly incentive to replay this repetitive button-masher.
Saphira is supposed to be a huge part of the story but you can only summon your dragon companion at scripted times as noted by the dragon icon floating in the background. A mini-cutscene is triggered where the dragon swoops in and destroys an object or kills some enemies and then itís back to hacking and slashing for you.
Eragon offers a few levels where you actually get to ride the dragon, but it doesnít work nearly as well as the PSP game, mostly due to the camera problems that plague the ground missions. Controlling Saphira is hard enough, but when you throw in that unpredictable camera that can slam you into objects thus causing real damage, these levels become more frustrating than thrilling.
I was impressed with the 360 version of Eragon when I first saw it at GenCon, but much of that was because it was playing alongside the PS2 version. Having seen the Xbox version itís obvious that the 360 has only received the minimum in visual tweaks. The textures are slightly better and you have the ability to play at 720p or 1080i, but for the most part, the character models, animation, and overall art is last genÖgood last gen but still last gen.
I was impressed with the combat animation, especially on the finishing moves that are often highlight as the camera pushes in for a close-up view on the fatality. But given the lack of commands and combos, these animations are limited and grow repetitive halfway through the game.
There are some nice lighting effects but a lot of this is natural light like sunlight and torches. Special effects are surprisingly weak and lack the punch of similar games. The fireball is especially disappointing.
The overall presentation screams low budget from sterile menus to the static art style for the cutscenes. Iíve already mentioned the troublesome camera during gameplay but itís worth mentioning again since it definitely makes Eragon look and play like a game that was created several years ago.
Eragon has some excellent music that fits with the fantasy theme of the content and gameplay. It never really seemed to cue itself to any specific events on the screen Ė it just played in the background and was fairly uninvolved.
Special effects are minimal and limited to the gameplay, which basically means a lot of sword clashing, twang of a bow, and pounding thuds of melee. Fire crackles, water splashes, and wood splinters (oh does that wood splinter), but the greatest opportunity for sound design Ė the spellcasting, seems to have been given the slightest attention. Spell effects were underwhelming at best.
The dialogue seemed authentic and Iím guessing it was ripped from the book or movie script. The actors (from the film) did a fine job delivering their lines, but the rest of this below-average game simply overshadows any moments of excellence in acting. Worse yet, much of the dialogue is lost in music and the only option for sound was overall volume. You have no way to boost individual elements like music, effects, or speech. You had better be pretty confident in your Dolby Digital mix if you start taking away features like this.
Most gamers will hack their way through the 16-level solo adventure in 6-8 hours and that includes spending a few extra minutes on each level locating that lone secret egg, assuming you even care about unlocking the bonus content, which includes an ad for the move and some ďmaking ofĒ movies.
For that extra $10 the 360 version also features two bonus levels and a special boss, but there is no real reward system or reason to replay the game after the initial pass. There are 37 objectives required to earn the 1000 Achievement Points but they are all ďsecretĒ, so you donít even know what to do to earn them until after you have earned them.
Eragon supports cooperative multiplayer so you can tackle the adventure with a friend who can drop in and out of your game at any time. There is no online support (like Gears of War) so your partner will have to be in the same room as you, but it does add a bit to the game. Eragon doesnít get any harder with two players, so you end up hacking your way through the game even faster than if you were alone.
Loyal fans of the books will probably want to check this game out, but in actuality those are the same fans that will suffer the most disappointment. Having never read the book or watched the movie I was able to approach Eragon from a purely gaming standpoint and was totally disappointed. Not only did it not live up to the franchise material upon which it was based, it just wasnít a good game.
Eragon is short, linear, easy, and failed to engage me past the first or second level, by which time you have pretty much seen and done most everything you are going to do in the game. Sure, they mix up the environments and throw in some clumsy dragon levels, but at the end of the day or the game (whichever comes first), youíll come away with sore thumbs and a serious mood of regret for having spent any time with this lifeless adventure.