Genre: Beat 'em Up / Flight
Developer: StormFront Studios
Release Date: November 14, 2005
For most multi-platform releases, you can usually point to a particular version of the game as the "best." For Eragon, it's unquestionably the X360 version of the title, which contains a significant amount of extra material and graphics that are nicer than its current-gen breathren.
Eragon's gameplay is entirely solid, and actually a very enjoyable spin on the long-since-tired beat 'em up genre. The dragon flight levels not only add challenge and graphical interest, but also help keep the gameplay varied and fresh. Eragon plays out a bit like a marvelous 3D storybook, where you travel from puzzle to battle to story event.
The actual combat engine is in the vein of the Two Towers game. It revolves around chaining together combinations of the face buttons to crate a startling variety of melee attack combos, which you can use in conjunction with context-sensitive maneuvers to kill bad guys. You can also draw your bow and attack from range, which adds even more options to your repertoire of potential attacks. You can soften up enemies from a distance with arrows and then move in for the kill with melee attacks, or spend longer setting up your shot so you can take enemies out with headshots. Obviously, if an enemy attacks you while you're preparing a bow shot, your concentration is going to be disrupted, and you'll be helpless to fight back. The game has a sophisticated array of defensive techniques available to you. You can block attacks, or execute fancy dodge-rolls that help you evade a lot of attacks entire. You can even dodge-roll while keeping your bow drawn, although you can't focus a shot while rolling.
Eragon, the protagonist, gets a few additional elements to play with in his fighting style. In a single-player game, your challenge is managing the flow of enemies well enough to use them to their utmost effect. In a two player co-op game, the emphasis is often on having player two (who has only physical attacks) protect player one from enemies during puzzle-solving or magic-using sequences. Eragon's amount of magical power is throttled by his blue magic meter, which is fully consumed by acts of magic and has to fully recharge before he can try another. Eragon can use magic to move various objects at context points, ranging from building platforms to swinging cranes to undoing locks. He can use magic on enemies to push or pull them, which can interact with the character's environment to result in context sensitive effects. If you push an enemy into a fire, he'll be set ablaze and take damage. Pushing or pulling enemies so they topple down chasms is the fastest and easiest way to get kills, especially on very large enemies like Urgals.
Otherwise, Eragon is physically outmatched by most opponents, and he can't win through brute force alone. Magic can be used with arrows to clear out groups of enemies that are far away, or to simply break down the guard or do lots of damage to a nearby enemy that you're having a hard time damaging. Finally, at certain contextual points, Eragon can summon up his dragon Saphira to do a variety of things, like smashing through enemies or removing obstacles. Eragon keeps gaining magic throughout the game, and both players find they have access to more melee techniques in later levels. Toward the end of the game, the challenge of Eragon is really figuring out which aspects of your arsenal are best suited to a given situation. It's not always obvious.
A short synopsis of the Eragon plot is told between levels in the form of trippy, impressionistic cut scenes that make use of woodcut and painting-like still images along with the full-motion 3D CG used in the game. The overall effect is extremely reminiscent of the rotoscoped sequences of Ralph Bakshi's animated "Lord of the Rings" from the '70s, although it seems genuinely artful in the game. Storywise, the synopsis mostly serves to bookend particular fights and gameplay levels, which means that you can play the Eragon game and not be entirely spoiled for the film or book. Much of the cinematic feel of the game is expressed in the way the levels play out, which is a pleasant change of pace from titles that bludgeon you endlessly with storytelling cut scenes.
Camera angles are static, which actually heightens the cinematic feel and makes for some interesting "okay, what here is a ledge?" type puzzles. Replay value comes in form of hunts for "secret eggs" hidden in every chapter of the game, which you can replay freely. You can also opt to replay any chapter playing either alone or in co-op mode, and generally you will find that you perform much better with a human controlling your partner. If you have any Eragon-loving children in the house, they'll probably derive hours and hours of enjoyment from blasting through the game with different combinations of their friends.
Eragon was in development for several years as a title primarily for the Xbox and uses the older engine StormFront first used in their Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers beat 'em up game. Eragon on the 360 certainly looks far too good to be an Xbox title at points, especially when you get to the dragon flight levels. Since they use a new and totally different engine than the beat 'em up aspects, the graphical quality increases enormously during these segments of the game, and you get a taste of what an Eragon with an engine fully rebuilt for the 360 could've looked like.
Eragon does some things that have become fairly standard for recent licensed games. The game is loaded with voice clips spoken by the actors from the movie, many of them context-sensitive and really quite funny (if you kill soldiers by throwing them over railings, sometimes you hear them shout "I regret nothing!!", a reference to the "Space Mutiny" episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000). Often tutorial information is conveyed via the voice-acting, while other times, it's just amusing little quips about whatever the character just did. There's a surprisingly huge variety of voice clips to hear, so they never become tedious.
The background music, an original soundtrack composed by Stormfront's internal sound team, consists of extremely rousing, epic symphonic suites and marches. There are also some Celtic-flavored pieces with female vocals that are more than slightly reminiscent of Enya's contribution to the soundtracks of the "Lord of the Rings" films. The music sounds like it came straight out of an epic sci-fi movie, and it accentuates the action perfectly and does a very good job of matching the game's action.
Certain levels take place with Eragon flying on Saphira's back. These levels play out like a high-speed StarFox or Panzer Dragoon, and have player one firing Eragon's magic arrows while player two controls Saphira's movement. In time, Saphira can eventually breathe fire and use contextual moves to affect enemies on the ground. These levels are pretty straightforward but spectacular nonetheless, and can result in some really fun co-cop moments with both players likely cursing and shouting at each other for how they're managing their half of their controls.
Eragon isn't a game that will change your life or keep you hooked to your TV for 60 hours, but it is a really fun co-op game where you and a buddy can wreak havoc on big orc-like critters with sick-looking neck snapping and gut-stabbing moves. Give Eragon a chance when it drops in a few weeks. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
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