Reviewed: December 12, 2006
Released: November 14, 2006
Many gamers – especially those of us in the “older set” – might not be all that familiar with the current Eragon book series being written by prodigy author Christopher Paolini. The storyline follows the fantastical adventures of 15-year-old boy named Eragon who one day happens upon a glowing stone – a stone that actually turns out to be a dragon egg. The egg hatches, the boy names the dargon Saphira, the boy becomes the dragon’s master – and wallah; we have our dragon-riding hero.
One day, Eragon’s home is attacked by the army of the malevolent king Galbatorix. Eragon sets out with his brother Brom, as well as his massive dragon, to settle the score with the evil king and all of his men.
Borrowing heavily from the Tolkien’s masterworks, the Eragon books are widely considered to be Lord of the Rings-lite, and a perfect read for the younger set. And this is especially due to the fact that the author was only 15 at the time he wrote the book in the series (coincidentally, 15 was also the age that Paolini graduated from high school). The kids are digging Eragon, and the adults are starting to take notice.
It’s only natural that with the recent popularity of the Rings and Harry Potter movies, that Hollywood would pick up the series and crank out yet another attempt at a blockbuster film. Eragon – the movie – features the likes of Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, and John Malkovich.
And where there’s a movie comes a game, and Vivendi and Sierra have teamed up with developers Stormfront Studios, to bring us Eragon on the Xbox. And while Eragon definitely exhibits the trappings of the few good movie-to-game transitions (the Lord of the Rings series, namely), the game ultimately suffers from a bit too much “been there done that” repetitive action.
The storyline of Eragon follows fairly close to the plotline of the movie – our hero, along with his brother Brom (at least in the early stages), sets off to find revenge against the evil Galbatroix. Along the way, the two – played either with an AI partner, or two player single-screen co-op – face up against dozens of burly minions of the evil king.
The majority of the combat consists of straightforward button-mashing swordplay. As enemies circle Eragon, he can utilize a respectable library of melee moves and combos to either inflict damage or push them back (and hopefully off a ledge). Downing an enemy will leave a small amount of health-reviving mana that Eragon can absorb to keep his health meter always near the max.
The repetitive nature of the simple hack-and-slash combat can be broken periodically with one or more unique grapple moves – which act to momentarily slow down the action to zoom in the camera, showcasing a dramatic finishing move. These finishing moves start off somewhat lackluster in the first few levels, but as the game progresses, they more gory and satisfying.
Eragon is a crack archer as well, and able to squarely hit targets from exceptional distances – thanks, of course, to an extremely forgiving targeting system. And when I say long distances, I mean long distances – given the fact that the game sports fixed camera angles, with no camera adjustment or first person targeting allowed, a majority of the archery that Eragon performs throughout the game is targeted at enemies that are completely unseen, and off-screen.
The game accomplishes this feat by representing the off-screen enemies as a series of icons along the edge of the screen, which go from blue to red as Eragon peppers them with an endless supply of arrows, then disappearing completely as each is eliminated. Aiming is completely automatic, with the degree of precision and power is determined by how long the firing button is held (it begins to shake when maxed out). Once the gamer gets into a rhythm, it is quite easy to blindly fire a steady succession of fully charged arrows, oftentimes downing entire armies of invaders before they ever appear on the screen.
Eragon also has the ability to utilize a number of powerful magical spells, which can be used to augment the repetitive combat. One of the coolest of these magical attacks appears early on as Eragon can magically fire wooden lances, impaling the enemies and downing them with a single blow. What’s so neat about this magical attack is that it can be performed rapidly during hand-to-hand combat to down a foe or series of foes very quickly – plus the whole impaling thing is cool.
Most of the dragon interaction takes place as Eragon calls for scripted help throughout the game – from which Saphira appears, smokes a few enemies, then disappears. The fact that almost all of this is performed via cutscene is disappointing as it would have been cool to have a classic Rampage moment on the town – oh well.
As for the dragon riding – what could have easily been the best aspect of the game has turned out to be the least enjoyable aspect. Now I’m not saying I am a dragon aficionado or anything, but games like Spyro: A New Beginning and the classic Panzer Dragoon Orta do dragon flying right – big, fast and fun. It seems like the developers tried too hard to make Eragon’s dragon flying something different, and it simply lacks any sense of size, speed or power.
Many of the puzzles are quite simple and involve shooting arrows or magical powers at specific targets – thereby rotating beams, or breaking ropes – then followed up by some form of jumping feat. These targets are almost always labeled with special icons to easily draw attention to their importance. While the puzzles are passable, they are nowhere near as intriguing as what you would find in a similarly themed Lord of the Rings or Prince of Persia title.
And that’s really the problem with the gameplay of Eragon – once the excitement over the unique melee combat and the special grappling moves has faded, it is hard to find the game any more than a mediocre romp through a completely predictable story. There’s very little visceral excitement to be had, an the game begins to feel more and more like a chore as it progresses along.
Eragon looks fair on the Xbox – definitely sporting the drab “PS2 port” look, but holding up nonetheless. The game flows at a steady pace, without succumbing to visual slowdown or stutters regardless of how many onscreen enemies or flaming arrows are filling it up.
While the game is visually presented in three dimensions, the actual gameplay is a sort of hybrid of a 2D scroller – with most of the background areas appearing to be borderline pre-rendered fare. As so, the environments do look great, and the developers did an excellent job of creating believable wood tones for the structures that make up the levels. Also of note are the visuals created to show the raging fires in the pillaged towns, and the eerie shadowing used in the forest levels.
Most of the enemies and objects are repeated regularly throughout the game, but there is still a fairly sizable library of character models from which the developers have to choose for each given situation. The animations are fluid and responsive, and really add a cinematic flair to the game.
For a game that was made for a blockbuster epic movie that was made for a best selling fantasy book series, Eragon just never seems to reach the epic audio production we found in the similarly derived Lord of the Rings titles. Sure, the game features a comparable orchestral soundtrack and some honest-to-goodness movie actor voiceovers, but all in all, Eragon just lacks the rich production values of EA’s classic Rings series.
Maybe it is the fact that the voiceovers seem either phoned in, or simply clipped from the raw film footage, and lack any connection to the onscreen emotion. Maybe it’s the fact that a select number of three and four word phrases are repeated over and over and over throughout the game. Maybe it’s the fact that all things audio don’t really seemed to be mixed together in correct proportions. I don’t know what it is, but Eragon just doesn’t cut the mustard on the audio front. Not bad, but definitely nothing to write home about.
Eragon is a nearly full priced game on an (ok… this is the first time I’m going to write this about my beloved Xbox) obsolete gaming system. While most developers are unloading the last generation games at $29.99 or less, Eragon will set you back nearly forty bones.
For a mediocre movie to game translation, $40 is just too much coin to drop for a game that can be played from end to end in a single weekend of casual gaming. That’s right, it seems that as soon as you realize exactly how repetitive the gameplay is – the game abruptly comes to an end. Really, it is a blessing in disguise – but a bit too soon for a full-priced game.
I can’t say I’m a fan of the Eragon book saga, as it just doesn’t match the level of timeless quality of the Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, or even the Harry Potter books. Now that I have played through the video game, I can safely say that the same sentiment applies for the games. EA has done an awesome job with their Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter games, and the Narnia games features some cool team play.
Eragon might be a solid play for a weekend rental, but I wouldn’t recommend shelling out forty bucks for it.