Eragon is 20th Century Fox's big fantasy epic movie for this winter, following in the footsteps of The Lord of the Rings, and expected to do big business at the box office. The movie follows Eragon, a young farm boy who discovers a dragon egg and goes on to become a Dragon Rider. After his parents are killed by the dark forces in the kingdom, Eragon and his dragon Saphira set out to bring peace to the realm. Based on the bestselling book of the same name, the film is said to be more Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter, and that goes for the video game too.
In development at Stormfront Studios for Xbox 360, Xbox, PlayStation 2 and PC, and Amaze Entertainment for handhelds, I took a look at the console versions to see if Vivendi Games have a hit on their hands. Stormfront Studios have plenty of experience in the hack 'n' slash genre, having previously worked on Demon Stone and Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. Eragon is from the same mould, but gameplay mechanics are said to be more in-depth than in previous titles.
As a single-player or cooperative adventure, you battle through a series of fairly linear levels, taking out enemies using a variety of combo attacks, magic, and your dragon Saphira. Button bashing is of course a plausible way to fight, but the game features a three-button combo system, and a number of finishing moves. This is a game aimed at an early teen audience, so don't expect any Mortal Kombat-style finishers, but the right combo will allow you to perform a couple of deadly moves.
Throughout the game your character will gain experience and become more adept at fighting. You'll also be able to use magic, with a shoulder button or trigger acting as a modifier, allowing you to use magic with the attack buttons. Magical abilities include throwing fire, repelling enemies, and attracting enemies to you. More powerful enemies won't go down without a fight, so it's also necessary to make use of the dodge and block controls from time to time.
The traditional hack 'n' slash levels aren't ideal for a dragon, but you can call on Saphira at certain points, who will swoop in and take down the enemies in the targeted area. You're told when this is possible, so it feels a little gimmicky, but it's still fun. When Saphira attacks, the camera switches to a more cinematic angle, giving you the best shot of the action, and this is something the developers have tried to achieve throughout the game.
You do of course get to ride Saphira, and these levels are very different to the on-foot sections. Flying along a semi-linear path, you must defeat the enemies in the area, either through the power of Saphira or your own magic. Saphira, being a dragon, can obviously breathe fire, but can also use a devastating tail attack to wipe out enemies below. The level on display required Saphira to burn a number of oil pools, killing the enemies in the blaze. Gameplay here was simple, but it had a Panzer Dragoon vibe to it; albeit without the more advanced targeting system.
With likenesses and the voices of many of the main characters in the film, including Eragon, Arya, and Durza, fans of the movie will get the Hollywood feel on the small screen. All versions of the game are looking sharp, although the Xbox 360 version is by far the prettiest of the bunch. As well as running in HD, it features normal mapping and other fancy effects to bring the world to life. The 360 game will boast two extra levels: one on foot and one as Saphira. It still shows its current-gen roots, but at least effort is being made to make it more than a straight port.
Ergaon the movie isn't due out until mid-December, but the game will arrive in November, no doubt on a wave of hype surrounding the movie's impending release. Given the expected success of the movie, the game should fair well too. Don't expect a revolutionary gaming experience, but the target audience should lap up the fun gameplay and impressive production values. Look for more on the game leading up to its November release.