We take Saphira for a little hands-on test drive in Eragon.
Soon to be one of the hottest topics in schoolyards everywhere, Eragon the game, based on the movie (December release) will be hitting stores in a couple of weeks. CCC had the opportunity to play through the X360 and PS2 builds of the game and in doing so, discovered the existence of a large fanbase who love the Eragon books and universe. As every action has a reaction and for every good, there is a bad, we also unearthed those who feel Eragon is about as derivative of every fantasy novel and movie as you can get. All I can say is, it’s better than the trilogy of books I’ve never written.
Based on the books of Christopher Paolini which were started when he was only 15 years of age, Eragon is the story of a 15-year-old boy (Eragon) who lives in the small town of Carvhall in the land of Alagaësia, which is ruled by the evil king, Galbatorix. Galbatorix was once a dragon rider who had helped to keep the peace of the land, but when he lost his own dragon and was denied another, became corrupted by madness. The esteemed order of Dragon Riders was then crippled by the king’s actions and dragons were thought to be extinct.
One day in the Spine Mountains, Eragon discovers an egg which he believes to be a blue stone and attempts to trade it or sell it to no avail. Eventually the egg hatches and a small dragon appears from within. Eragon cares for the dragon, named Saphira, in secret but the king knows of this sacred egg and sends his evil henchmen, the Ra’zac to retreive it. Eragon’s uncle is killed and the village razed in the onslaught, but Eragon manages to escape with Saphira. Mentored by Brom, the village storyteller, Eragon vows to learn the order of the Dragon Riders and its use of swordfighting and magic.
With all of the fantasy elements securely in place and the recent resurgence in popularity of classics such as The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it only stands to Hollywood reasoning that the time is right for Eragon. Considering the large fan base and the oodles of cash to be made from the movie, DVD, game and toys, who in their right mind would argue? Besides those who oppose Eragon, that is.
Who better to craft a game featuring swords, magic, elves, dwarves and dragons than Stormfront Studios who thrilled gamers and impressed game critics with their console adaptation of EA’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers? If you’ve ever heard the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” you’ll immediately understand why Stormfront was chosen as Eragon plays eerily similar to The Two Towers title. That’s not a bad thing by the way. Better to shadow a bonafied hit then attempting to reinvent the wheel.
Players will jump into the role of Eragon (or partner via co-op play) as he learns the ropes from Brom, his mentor. The opening level will show you the ropes in regards to sword and bow & arrow combat and traversing the environment by jumping, climbing and shimmying. The areas to play within are linear paths although there is some freedom of movement. The camera is fixed, which in our preview build, doesn’t always leave you with the best camera angle, but for the most part it’s really just hinting at where you need to go next in case you can’t figure that out on your own.
The combat engine consists of two buttons for quick and strong attacks. While that may not sound like an awful lot to work with, Stormfront made sure to keep you busy. Combinations of these buttons when swordfighting will provide a few necessary combo moves such as grapples, stuns, knockdowns, and knockbacks. If an enemy has been grappled, Eragon can pull off a few cool finishing moves that are executed in slow mo for your viewing pleasure. The bow is used for eliminating enemies both near and far and can even be charged for precision aiming to ensure that it will locate its target if he happens to be out of close range. As the game progesses Eragon will learn magic skills (requires recharging over time) which can be used to push and pull enemies, which is great for discarding enemies who are launching attacks from higher ground or even for just shoving them off a ledge instead of having to fight them at all. More magic attacks are available as you progress such as a magic arrow attack which will clear an area of enemies and a force move that blows enemies backwards while providing the added bonus of relieving guards of their shields. In certain areas you’ll even be able to call on Saphira for direct attacks. I don’t want to spoil all of Eragon’s secrets so I’ll leave it at that.
As a Dragon Rider, you’ll eventually be required to ride Saphira and you’ll be given a training level in which to hone your skills. You had better be good as the training level ends quickly and you are thrust into Dragon combat. While riding Saphira, Eragon’s magic is limitless so he’ll be able to fire magic arrows at enemies virtually non-stop, while attempting to avoid obstacles and capture doves to replenish Saphira’s health. The Saphira levels are linear in nature, but there are a few branching paths you can take to mix things up a bit on subsequent playthroughs (all levels are available for replay once you’ve beaten them). Should you decide to tackle the game with a cohort, one of you will fly the dragon, while the other fights. You gotta love co-op action. Not only is better to play with a pal, but it totally keeps that shiftless, no good Player 2 from raiding your fridge or bending your comic book covers while you’re caught up in trying to save the world. It might also, in extreme cases, stop Player 2 from hitting on your mom. Ewww….
Creating all of these various control configurations must be a daunting task, but Stormfront rose to the challenge. Whether you’re fighting with Eragon or flying with Saphira, the control never seems out of your grasp even though there are quite a few different moves you can perform. Combos seem a little hit and miss at times but that could be a byproduct of the hectic battles that you’ll find yourself in. Let’s put it this way, later in the game there isn’t a lot of breathing room. Those looking for a good challenge will certainly find their skills tested especially if playing alone with your AI partner. Thankfully Stormfront has taken mercy on you and provided checkpoints throughout the levels so that if you should fail in your quest, you won’t be punished by having to return to the beginning. The AI of the enemies is quite good later in the game where they will use shields and other evasive maneuvers to avoid your attacks. They’ll also attack in large numbers, hence the challenge I just mentioned.
Visually the game looks very good (I previewed the PS2 version) – the various animations of the fighting is extremely well done and fluid. While many of the enemies are cookie cutter, you’ll find that each variety of enemy has their own movesets which become much more involved throughout the game. The environments are somewhat generic, especially the towns, but they get the job done. Saphira’s levels however, are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, even on the PS2. You’ll swoop through the caverns and over the forest and mountains with the camera following you like an Imax film. I actually got a little dizzy and I’m only playing on a 20” tv. Very impressive. The soundtrack and voice acting are also of high quality and as an added bonus the actors from the movie have given their digital onscreen counterparts their voices.
Eragon the game is shaping up quite nicely and the more you progress, the more the game takes on its own personality and you’ll know longer be thinking about how it reminded you of The Two Towers. With 16 levels (the X360 features exclusive extra levels), unlockable movies that take you behind the scenes, 2-player co-operative play, hidden eggs and tons of action, whether you see the movie or not, have read the books or not, Eragon might be a game that you (and a friend) could really sink your teeth into.
Please note: This preview was based on the console and PC versions of Eragon. The handheld versions of Eragon will all be completely different. Eragon on PSP will feature primarily dragon flight battle, the DS version will be an action RPG while the GBA title will be a traditional RPG starring 3 characters from the books and movie.
Experience the authentic Eragon universe in the official game of the 20th Century Fox film.