During the recent Sierra press event in Palm Springs we had an opportunity to check out a work-in-progress Xbox 360 version of Eragon. Currently scheduled for release in December, Eragon is an aerial combat game that will follow the storyline of the upcoming Stefen Fangmeier movie (based on the books of Christopher Paolini) of the same name. Eragon is a fantasy adventure film set in the land of Alagaesia, which was protected by powerful dragon riders (think Jedi) for thousands of years until one of them (think Darth Vader) turned bad, convinced others to join him, and anointed himself king.
In Eragon the game, you'll assume the role of the movie's titular hero: a young farm boy (think Luke Skywalker) who goes walking in the forest and finds what he believes to be a polished blue stone. The emergence of a dragon hatchling from the stone some time later makes it clear that the stone was in fact an egg, and when Eragon realizes that he shares a telepathic bond with the dragon--named Saphira--he decides to become a dragon rider and save the empire. One of the most interesting features of the game is that Eragon is never without a companion--whether it be his mentor Brom, the mysterious swordsman Murtagh, or Saphira--and all three of those characters can be controlled by a second player in cooperative mode. On this occasion, though, we were playing solo, which meant that the aforementioned companions--the human ones at least--were controlled by the CPU.
The first level that we checked out took place in a lush forest complete with waterfalls and a fast-flowing river that Eragon and Murtagh were wading through when they were ambushed by urgals. These troll-like creatures were armed with a variety of melee weapons and weren't at all shy about attacking in numbers. Fortunately, Eragon's combat controls are easy to pick up, and so we had no problem defending ourselves using a combination of quick attacks, strong attacks, jump attacks, grapples, combos, and special finishing moves. The dodge and evade commands came in very handy when we got embroiled in a fight with two or three urgals simultaneously, and when an enemy appeared on a hill above us and started firing flaming arrows in our direction, a flashing blue icon on the screen told us that we had the option to call Saphira down from the skies to take care of him in cinematic fashion.
Next up was a level set in what appeared to be the ruins of a desert temple, where we encountered our first kull. Standing around three times as tall as Eragon and his companion, the kull is a powerful ogre-like enemy large enough that you can climb onto it during a fight. We even watched a Sierra representative who was playing the game "ride" on the shoulders of a kull and steer it off the edge of a cliff to its doom--leaping off the beast to safety just before it fell. The kull's demise was a perfect segue into the next level that we checked out, in which our heroes were attacked by a gang of urgals while climbing a mountain path. The level felt quite different from the two that we'd seen previously, simply because so much of our movement around it was vertical rather than horizontal. All of the on-foot levels that we saw during our time with the game appeared to be heavily combat-based, but we're told that a number of gameplay sequences will involve stealth and/or puzzle-solving.
Adding even more variety to the proceedings in Eragon are four levels (one of them exclusive to the Xbox 360 version) in which you'll be flying around on Saphira's back. Early in the game, the dragon's main method of attack will be to whip enemies with her tail, but in the level that we played she had matured enough to breathe fire, which was particularly effective against the enemies who had foolishly taken up positions in oil fields. Our route around the level was set on a predetermined path, but we had plenty of freedom to move around within it to target enemies and to avoid the fire from their bows, catapults, and trebuchets. In addition to Saphira's attacks, the moves in our arsenal included a screen-blurring speed boost, a magical shield, and Eragon's ability to launch mystical arrows.
Eragon is shaping up to be an enjoyable action adventure game that should appeal to fans of the genre, of the fiction, and of the upcoming movie. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game soon.