All my life, I’ve loved fantasy books. I’ll read anything written by Tolkien, Robert Jordan, or the Weis and Hickman books from the Dragonlance series. I’ve taken up countless days of my life reading these finely crafted tales of Frodo, Rand al’Thor, and Raistlin Majere. I wanted to give this background before stating I’ve never read Eragon or seen the movie. And after playing the 360 version of the game tie-in to the movie, I have to say, I hope the book and movie are good, because this game is AWFUL.
To begin with, this game comes from a good pedigree, so you’re expecting good things. It’s a fantasy title, which should help in the effort to make a decent adaptation as people have been making wizards and warrior type games for as long as there have been video games. Plus, it was developed by Vivendi, who made some really good game adaptations of the Lord of the Rings movies. Unfortunately, in a rush to cash in on the pre-release buzz of the movie, the game shipped early, and you can clearly see it in the game play.
What probably doesn’t help gamers who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, is that the story is not that original to the fantasy realm. A farm boy discovers he has special powers, and it’s up to him to use those powers to save the world from certain doom. Take the same story line and insert The Force for magic, an X-Wing for a dragon, and R2-D2 for a dragon egg, and you have Star Wars: A New Hope.
Most of the combat in this game reminds me of 80’s side scrolling Double Dragon type fighting: Find opponent, hit opponent several times, he dies, and then move onto next opponent. Most of the games 18 levels are thankfully short, so it doesn’t quite seem like endless hack and slash, but it has all the boredom of button-mashing combat without the sweeping scope of an overwhelming opponent (aka Ninety-Nine Nights). You can fight with either a sword or bow (and as you progress through the game magic). There’s a poor check-and-balance solution to weapons combat: what the sword gives up in distance, the bow gives up in power. I can’t tell you how many arrows it takes to kill an enemy from long distances, because after a while I mostly stopped trying. What makes it worse is that combat also has some bugs. Sometimes you’ll be sword fighting, and find you simply can’t hit an opponent, no matter how many times you swing through it.
Once Eragon discovers his powers, he begins to develop his magic, and herein lies the only “fun” of the game (if you can call it that). From moving objects to the required magic arrows, magic is probably the best part of combat. There are some decent attack powers that allow the player to sling enemies about, or set them afire, and then laugh as they run stupidly off the edge of cliffs. While the results are decent, the whole of the magic system seems tired and trite.
Whereas a game like Gun was somewhat saved by its exciting mounted combat, Eragon takes what could have been the best part of the game and turns it into a flying hack and slash, using dragons breath and magic instead of bow and sword to dispatch enemies. It reminded me a lot of the flying in the N64 version of StarFox, except without creativity or excitement. Flying loops through a level fighting the same baddies over and over isn’t much fun.
I had hoped that with John Malkovich as the movies main villain, we’d at least get some decent dialogue from a man who is exceptional at delivering it. Not so, as he doesn’t have a single spoken word in the game, so far as I could find. I have to believe the voiceover work for the game done by the actor who plays the movies title character was literally pulled from outtakes for the CG sections of the movie, because they are terrible. At least the background music isn’t half bad, but most of it feels like it is stolen from the movies score and used slightly in the wrong places.
Despite being a 360 title, visually is where Eragon really gives up the ghost. While some of today’s “self-adapting” camera angles can be frustrating to the point of making games unplayable, the only thing worse is leaping back in time to the day of fixed position cameras. This is truly frustrating because even though I finished the main game in about 7 hours, I probably could have done it a lot sooner, if I could see where I was supposed to go next on a couple of levels. The developers seemingly ask you to take a leap of faith that a platform you can’t see and aren’t sure even exists is right where it needs to be for you to move forward. In addition, there are times where you can wind up out of position in combat and not see who you’re fighting, which is maybe the worst of all the sins committed in this game.
As for the graphics themselves, I almost don’t even want to go into that. How many times can I fight monsters with exactly the same character models? While non-unique enemies isn’t uncommon to games of this genre, it only adds to the feeling of “been there, done that” as you play through each level. Add to that the lack of quality animations for a 360 title (with the exception of a couple of very violent and bloody “fatality” moves), and you have a very visually unimpressive game.
The controls are so generic I won’t bother to get into them. After 2 minutes playing it will feel like every other action/adventure game you’ve ever played. So at least you won’t be slowed down by the control setup as you make your way through level after level.
In conclusion, the 360 version of Eragon is simply one of the worst games I’ve ever played. I can’t recommend this game to anyone. But I can especially tell you who the game isn’t for: fans of the Eragon novel, fans of fantasy movies, books, or games, or the general gaming public as a whole.
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