Developer: Tindalos Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Strategy, Real-Time
Platform: PC (Steam)
Release Date: March 25th, 2015
The developer passed along this game ahead of the release, asking us to embargo any images or video prior to March 25th. Which is fine with me, because I was playing a bunch of games at the same time and I wasn’t planning on really putting a ton of time into the Conquest mode of Etherium until around the release date anyway. I had played it a bit here and there, testing different elements and seeing how I felt about it after giving it time to stew in my head. I even played it again right before I wrote this review, to make sure I’m not leaving anything out.
Tindalos Interactive worked on Etherium for a long while, trying hard to bring something new into the Real Time Strategy (RTS) market. Most gamers know that the RTS genre is somewhat played out, after hundreds of Command and Conquer clones swarmed the scene in 2002. Even the fans of Command and Conquer were tired of Command and Conquer sequels by then. Only StarCraft seems to hold any interest anymore. Etherium tries to build upon the old with some new, giving people a fresh feeling after years of a nuclear winter sweeping through, removing even the vaguest husks of bad games that were left behind.
The back story is supposedly three factions spend centuries traveling around the galaxy collecting a rare element known as Etherium. What makes it rare is that the factions have to time it just right so they can show up at the planet when strange extra-dimensional alien eggs are “laid” in the sand near Monoliths (strange cylindrical structures). Special harvesters are built around the eggs to tap the element. The factions then drop into orbit, usually at the same time, and start attacking each other in space. Meanwhile, their shuttles land on the surface, creating bases and outposts to harvest Etherium. Of course, entire armies are landing as well, to fight over the desolate surface, hoping to be the last army standing. Players are basically a commander on a battleship above the atmosphere commanding the action on the ground.
The maps are divided up into zones, each controlled by a Monolith. The players start with their capital base, a large sprawling factory, opposite of each other. They must quickly spread out, so they can capture as much territory and harvest as much Etherium to expand their army. The thing that separates Etherium from some of the other RTS games of the past is the ability to build facilities directly into your already existing ones to deploy a range of other tactics in combat. Everything from being able to build more units to better units, from deploying units further afield to repairing units within range of the facility. Since it can take time to move units around the map, being able to deploy more units faster is key. It’s not true base-building of the previous generation, but more or a limited chess game depending on your current control of the map.
There are other real-time obstacles that you must surmount when playing Etherium. One is the alternating weather that can pop up sandstorms at a moment’s notice. You barely get time to react before a huge rending cloud descends on the map, weakening or outright destroying your ground units. Mercenary raiders are another problem, especially if you don’t take steps to bribe them to switch to your allegiance early in the game. They can send a few groups to harry you or your opponent, being a thorn in the side to a player who is stretched thin across the large map. The single player AI is incredibly smart, shoring up gaps with turrets and constantly probing for a weakness in your own defenses. Terrain may play a huge part, with units sneaking around in vegetation (although they are also hampered in speed for doing it) or having to find other ways to cross annoying hostile environments.
A few options that open up with certain expansions to your facilities is the ability to use Command Points to activate powerful, helpful bonuses. One such power, for example, gives you a large bonus to your Etherium cash grab, while another might allow you to orbital bombard the enemy who is sitting around in one spot too long (maybe blocking the only approach to his base). You can also employ shuttles to pick up your units and drop them off in other locations, which can be safer and faster than normal travel overland. You can use your radar to spy on the enemy or into areas shrouded with fog of war. Last but not least, you can build a gun to shoot back at the fleet in orbit, weakening your opponent levitra professional online until such time you swoop in for the kill.
For a genre that has sort of fallen into the abyss lately, overshadowed by Blizzard fare and multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs), Etherium tries very hard to be unique and bring back some fun. It does suffer slightly from the turtle style game play (both sides slowly moving around under the shell of swarms of units, not moving too quickly or too suddenly), and I found the multiplayer aspect was virtually non-existent at the time of release. I’m not sure what I was expecting, to be honest. It does abide by the rock-paper-scissors combat format, with the occasional lizard and Spock to override the obvious choices. There’s enough experimentation with all three factions to keep the game interesting for a long while, if you are into this sort of lost game type. The fan base seems small for Etherium, so maybe that’s the one large flaw in the game, period.
Overall, the game looks nice, sounds nice, and the AI is tough to beat. There’s plenty to do, plenty to try and some fun locked in Etherium. Patience wins out in the long run here, and if you lack patience, it’s probably better to find another game to play. I wish there was more background to the game – more … lore in the setting. I could grok that we’re mining alien eggs for special material, against other factions with vastly different objectives and powers. I just wish I knew WHY it was so important, or how these three factions came to be. That’s what I liked about Command and Conquer – the weird background stories and many cut-scenes that gave you a feel for what was at stake. Etherium asks you to take a lot at face value, and it’s a good amount of value.
I just wish they sold the game to everyone else a little better.