Strategy games are able to test you as a gamer in more ways than most other genres are. They usually put you in a precarious situation to test your methodical thinking, strategizing, and tactical thinking through developing assets and managing resources to resolve a hectic scenario which is usually a battle. Some go even further and test how well you would build a nation’s power through colonization, exploring maps to find new places to settle, engage with your rivals on the battlefield, and even with diplomacy. Whatever their method, strategy games are an excellent way to see how you fare at the forefront of a major campaign with lots of assets to manage. Now, developers Tindalos Interactive and publishers Focus interactive hope to test your command skills themselves with their new real-time strategy game: Etherium.
Your objective is to harvest all the Etheirum possible to fund your efforts while decimating your rivals in battle. You take control of one of three major factions: the Consortium, which is a corporate empire that seeks to expand its reach for economic gain. They have the best spies and can sabotage enemy structures and reroute Etherium reserves. The Intar who are religious fanatics that see Etherium as the ultimate source of evolution. They can foresee and even generate catastrophic events which gives them a huge advantage in battle. Finally there’s the Vectide who are made up of a single consciousness which resides in life cells fueled by Etherium. They have the best technology and can raise larger armies than their rivals. Each of these factions will feel very different to one another and will require different strategies and tactics to successfully lead them.
In Conquest mode you begin on a galaxy map similar to maps found in 4X space strategy games like Galactic Civilizations or Endless Space. You build a fleet from your home planet and send them to the next planet to attack. Planets sometimes highlight special bonuses including relics and extra Etherium which can be gained if the planet is conquered. You also engage in minor combat with other ships in a turn-based fashion.
You’re given cards which add special bonuses to your fleets. You can also access the research panel, opening a big research tree where you can put resources to unlock more powerful units to send into battle. You’re able to research more powerful vehicles, infantry, air units. and eventually the mighty and humongous Colossi of War to use on the battlefield and bring some serious hurt to your enemies. There is much to see and interact with on the map and the main battle hasn’t even started yet. Exploring all that’s on offer will no doubt prepare you for what you’ll be getting into when your army touches down on the surface.
You start out with a mother base where you’ll begin deploying troops to capture territory and attack other factions. You’ll need to capture territory if you wish to expand you military capabilities, preferably with Etherium nearby. You build colonies on monoliths with your comms units and you can add extensions to them which expand your unit cap, enable automatic repairs, add a new landing zone, or add a research tier which enables you to use what you’ve researched in battle.
All this eventually leads to your battle-plan of taking out the enemy for good. You can either send all your units to rampage through the map, taking all the Etherium for yourself and destroying the enemy mother base, or you can subtly build orbital cannons and destroy the enemy mothership engaged in battle with your own ship right above you. In addition to units, you’re given command skills including orbital strikes, spying and even signaling a retreat which will turn the tide of battle greatly in your favor if used at the right moment.
As well as the three main factions, there are minor factions found on the battlefield that can be as dangerous and must be dealt with one way or the other. They are Raiders (technological advanced tribes) Parasites (insectoid creatures) and Guardians. You could charge in with your army and destroy them, but Etherium gives you another option where you can actually rally these factions to your side, thus strengthening your army by adding allies and giving you a greater variety of units. Using your units, command skills, and your upgrades through your extensions will turn your faction’s army into the most technically advanced and fearsome fighting force the galaxy has ever seen.
Depending on the kind of map you’re playing on, there are all kinds of severe climatic events including blizzards, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, and other nasty weather disasters. They’ll drastically change how battle is played. Some events almost block your field of vision while others can destroy your units entirely. It’s not just the enemy you need to outwit if you want to emerge victorious in battle.
The enemy AI is rather vicious even on the lower settings. It literally throws everything its got against you in great numbers whilst quickly adding to its research tiers and throwing more advanced units into the fray. Sometimes it gets clever and sends a massive strike force to attack your front lines whilst sneaking a smaller force behind your lines to attack your bases. This is especially prevalent in skirmish mode, as all the research tiers are unlocked meaning that the AI will do everything it can to bring out the most advanced units as soon as possible. As a result some battles become a mere test to simply hold your ground. You’ll need to act quickly if you want to hold the line, amass a strong fighting force. and hit the enemy fast and hard.
Battles are tense, raw and very, very exciting. Watching infantry, tanks and everything else duke it out with an opposing army never gets old. You’ll be gripping at the edge of your seat, pondering heavily if your strategy of ambushes, defense lines, or even brute force will prevail. It’s especially enjoyable watching the enemy’s mother base or capital ship blown straight to hell signaling a decisive victory. It’s gratifying when your cunning strategies and tactics play out beautifully and overcome even the most unbalanced of odds.
Battles are incredibly fun in multiplayer with four other players engaging in ferocious battles to see who will come out on top. Etherium has a lot going for it and thankfully it all delivers very nicely. However there are issues with this game that makes you feel that much is missing and more could have been done to make it all even better.
The visuals in the game are mixed bag. The unique art direction makes everything from the units and building to the maps look bright, vivid, unique and colorful. You can even see battle raging in the sky where colossal battleships are engaged with each other when you’re on the battlefield. The problem is there aren’t many technical effects like HDR, ambient occlusion, or even sharper textures which emphasize how good the art direction is. Units and buildings look great but the environments, while varied, aren’t wholly interesting enough to interact with. Laser blasts, missiles and explosions don’t display enough visual splendor to the raging battle that is going on. The sound design emphasizes deafening sounds of canon fire and massive explosions, but the musical score is rather forgettable and doesn’t set the mood during the heat of battle.
Battle maps are unfortunately very small and don’t feel like grandiose battlefields when playing in them. This may be an advantage to some since the maps are smaller which means frantic battles happen much sooner while others may feel that the scale is rather small compared to something like Supreme Commander or Starcraft.
There has been much focus on providing a thrilling ground war, but events in space only act as a prelude to the ground battles. When you see the battles between the starships above you, you’ll be disappointed that space battles did not get as much focus because that battle looks just as exciting to take part in as the battle on the ground. The galaxy map could have been the chance to perhaps focus on space battles, with large fleets engaged in real time combat where you would be using the same mechanics as in the ground battles. Instead, battles finish within seconds and it’s usually just one starship against another, which feels like a truly missed opportunity.
Conquest mode itself does feel like it’s padded on and holds less importance than the battles themselves. This mode could really have been expanded with some elements of 4X gaming like colonization, exploring the galaxy, and even diplomacy, despite the faction’s animosity towards each other. Instead, the galaxy map really just feels like preparation for the next battle instead of something that requires just as much attention. As a result, conquest mode doesn’t really feel like a true conquest.
Eitherium is a strategy game that’ll test your nerves and demand that you act quickly to become the most feared strategist and tactician on the field. This game is indeed tough and using all assets at your disposal along with sharp wit have you coming out of each battle as the victor. The visuals are rather average, and there may have been things that could have been improved, but what this game has will more than satisfy any strategy enthusiast looking for plenty of strategic options from three very cool looking factions to use in some frantic and thrilling battles.
Now go pick up Etherium, ready your men and commence the attack, commander. That Etherium isn’t going to harvest itself.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Etherium for the PC provided by Tindalos Interactive.