The Star Wars Kid strikes again.
When you are fifteen years old, you can get away with a lot of stuff. Believe me. When you’re thirty, though, no one looks the other way when you bash in their mailbox with a baseball bat.
So precocious fifteen-year-old young writer, Christopher Paolini, whose swords and sorcery novel Eragon was published to head-patting approval, seems immune to the rumors of plagiarism floating around the corners of the internet (like this one!). Of course, plagiarism is a tough charge, but it is also a misunderstood concept, especially when you’re too young to know that not every novel has a gifted magical boy wonder whose uncle has been killed and is mentored in ancient fighting ways to defeat the evil empire plaguing the universe, err, land.
But we gamers really don’t care whether or not Eragon is a Star Wars rip-off set in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. If the book can succeed by taking ideas from another franchise, then maybe the game can succeed the same way?
[image1]Sadly, though, Eragon doesn’t benefit from the sum of its parts. It’s sometimes pretty, especially in the PS2 and Xbox versions, but it’s also too shallow in almost every respect—from gameplay to story to length to replay value. Eragon is the cliff-notes version of many similar games, such as Lego Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (hmmm...). The basic stuff of those good games is there, but all the interesting parts have been abridged and the rest lacks imagination.
You play as Eragon [pronounced “Aragon”—suspicious?], a young man raised in the Shire [oh, it’s not called the Shire, or Tatooine for that matter, but it’s easier this way, believe me], who is quickly swirled into an epic war when he discovers a blue egg. The blue egg doesn’t contain a message from Princess Leia, but it does introduce Eragon to his pet dragon and an Obi-Wan-like mentor. Eragon, it turns out, is the only one who can save—get this—the princess who is held captive by the evil emperor’s dark arts henchman. Eragon is the last of the dragon-riders [cough, Jedi, cough] and as he goes on his adventure, he develops his special move-things-with-his-mind powers. He doesn’t sleep in a disemboweled Ton-Ton . . . but there’s always the sequel!
The game is a strictly linear progression of stages which begin with Eragon killing bad guys and end with Eragon killing the last bad guy. These stages are divided into two types, hacking and slashing foot missions and dragon-riding flying missions. Fighting is much better than flying, though if I had a dragon, my feet wouldn’t touch the ground.
Two attack buttons, a jump, and a block are the basics of the genre. Added to these moves are the super-powerful bow attack and the special Jedi-like powers. There are a few easy combos to learn, and some neat-looking finishing moves that seem to trigger automatically. At first, these finishing moves are impressive when the camera zooms in on Eragon tripping a baddie and then mercilessly puncturing his chest with his sword, but those close-ups get old after the thirty or fortieth time.
At which point you might be five or ten minutes into the game. While the mix of shooting with your auto-aim bow and timing parry-attacks is handled fairly well, the overall mix of fight versus anything else is dismal. The foot missions are almost entirely just genocidal kill-o-thons and are almost never challenging. There are no power-ups, no role-playing elements at all, and no incentive to kill things other than to get to the end of the level. The shooting and hacking might be handled adequately in themselves, but there’s nothing to give the action any spice.
[image2]An argument might be made for your “special powers,” one of which allows you to use specially-marked buckets of spears to telekinetically fling spears at bad guys. Another sets bad guys on fire, causing them to run off bridges and cliffs screaming. The special powers are a kick to use at first, but they get old quick, and they don’t amount to much but instant-kills. Many of your special powers will help get past obstacles—all of said obstacles are also specially marked. There’s not a lot of mystery in Eragon.
Only rarely will you meet anything other than the rank-and-file bad dude with a sword or bow. There is really only one “boss fight,” and the lack of tactical strategy in that one fight makes it the most boring ten minutes of the game. The boss simply has a lot of hit points.
Many bad guys, at higher levels, have armor and shields which make them more difficult to take down, but once you learn the “set ‘em on fire” spell, nothing really gets in your way. The only time you’ll have to think about which button to press is in fights with the gigantic Kull creatures. Knocking them over is easy, and then you can get on their back and ride them into a wall or over a cliff. That bit, at least, is pretty fun.
But where riding bad monsters is fun, riding your own dragon is not. In the ill-designed flying missions, you awkwardly pilot your dragon around obstacles, shooting bad guys with your bow and blowing fire haphazardly while knocking over big chunks of scenery. The problem with the flying is that your route is on rails—the damn dragon already has a plan, and you can only move him around on the screen during the route. Remember After Burner? That’s the cutting-edge mechanic here.
Compounding the frustration is the problematic lack of depth perception between the dragon and the environment. It is almost impossible to tell whether a rocky outcropping is big and far away or small and right in front of you. And since you’re on rails, sometimes you think you’re evading a mountain before the rails switch and run you right into it. Eragon might not be piloting drunk, but it doesn’t matter when his dragon has been swilling 151 (note: GR mostly does not endorse suicidal behavior).
The game’s unique visual style similarly veers drunkenly from good to bad and back again. The cut scenes are rendered in trippy 2D collage-like graphics. It merges nicely with the in-game engine, in which characters and objects also have an odd cardboard-cut-out look. However, once you’ve played a bit, the cut-outs stop looking cool and start looking wooden and cheap.
[image3]Still, Eragon's lush backgrounds do look good, especially on the older systems. The 360 version is nearly identical graphically to the other versions, so that says both good things about the PS2 and Xbox versions and bad things about the 360 version. The 360 version also includes two extra levels, one of which actually incorporates a few lame puzzles (the only attempt in the game to do so).
The game features the actors’ voices, so it’s a notch above what you might expect from such an otherwise weak effort. However, they have nothing interesting to say. An ear for dialogue and the finer sounds of the English language has clearly not developed in a writer who names his villain “Galbatorix.”
There’s no online play, which is as surprising as discovering that your Ford Fiesta doesn’t have anti-lock brakes. Cooperative play is available, though, and while it isn’t the most graceful thing (the camera can have a hard time, and both players have to walk through doors simultaneously), it does make the game a bit easier.
Though it doesn’t need to be easier at all. Eragon is a breeze in six to eight hours, and no part, even the final battle, really tasks any of your elite or even rudimentary gaming skills. There is little replay value—the only unlockable items are interviews with the game’s dull creators which are unlocked by finding the “secret egg” in each level. There’s a “super secret” bonus for collecting all the eggs, but I need to play that much Eragon as much as you need to go buy it.