Developer: Tindalos Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: March 25, 2015
Focus Home Interactive provided APGNation with an early-access code for the purposes of review.
Etherium is a new real-time strategy title from Tindalos Interactive that features grand battles between three futuristic factions as they compete and fight for the precious resource, Etherium. Every 1,000 years, inter-dimensional monsters lay eggs across 6 planets in the galaxy. Each of these giant eggs contains the priceless material of the title’s namesake. Players take command of one of the three factions, fighting tooth and nail to control the source of Etherium in the galaxy.
The Consortium are a faction of humans from earth, a mega-corporate empire who maintains economic dominance through the gathering of Etherium as well as through the use of a shadow network eliminating competitors and dissidents among the human civilization. While fighting for the Consortium players command their vast private army who give their lives to feed the greed of the organization. The intro movie also gives some flavor that there is some sort of a class system among members of the Consortium and that funds are more important than the lives of their employees.
The Intari are a kind of technologically advanced warrior monks who treat Etherium as a religious idol with their entire existence revolving around the substance. Etherium grants the Intari various supernatural abilities, such as being able to see the future. The leaders of the Intari deem Etherium to be the key to the future of their civilization, and every laying cycle they wage a fanatical crusade to control as much of the substance as possible.
The Vectides are a mysterious civilization of creatures who have literally become Etherium. With technology vastly outclassing that of the Consortium or the Intari, the Vectides merge with Etherium which allows them to share consciousness with Etherium in other devices. The massive army of the Vectides are drones, controlled by Vectides far away currently merged with Etherium. The Vectides fight for Emperium is to preserve literally their existence and way of life.
Etherium features several modes of gameplay including multi-player matches and instant action skirmishes, but the main draw of the game comes in the form of the conquest game mode. Players take on the role of one of the factions and compete against the two other factions to claim victory. Players win conquest by gaining a certain number of victory points. Victory points are earned through a set of randomly generated objectives that range from controlling certain territories, to destroying an opponent’s invasion fleet. Factions take turns in conquest mode, building or repairing invasion fleets, attacking territories on one of six planets, as well as playing political cards to sway the odds in their favor. Each turn factions generate research points which are spent to unlock units to use in planet-side conflict.
Attacking or defending a territory on a planet begins the real time strategy portion of Etherium. Combat takes place on one of the six different planets each with their own unique environmental designs and maps. Each team starts with a main base hub and an infantry squad. Dotted across the map are control points, or obelisks as the game calls them, that can be captured through the use of infantry units. The main hub, as well as any captured control points, have a set number of upgrade slots. Buildings can be constructed in these slots that increase the amount of funds generated, head nearby units, increase the max number of allowed units at a time, or increase the technological level among others. The key element here is the finite number of upgrade slots per control point so players must choose carefully when investing in upgrades.
Victory is achieved in one of two ways. The more traditional being destroying the opponent’s home base, and the second being constructing orbital cannon upgrades on command points that bombard the invasion fleets in orbit, eventually forcing them to retreat and granting your forces victory. Players construct armies of varying unit squads ranging from light infantry, heavy tanks, aircraft, and heavy colossi, each with their unique strengths and weaknesses to conquer objectives across the map. Each faction also has unique commands to issue to assist in combat, such as calling down orbital airstrikes, repair drones, or a full march command to speed up the movement of units.
Each planet and map have unique elements other than just the art style. Weather effects are present across all maps such as sandstorms that damage infantry, blizzards create frozen bridges across the previously impassable water, and volcanic eruptions create rivers of lava that damage any units caught in the wake. Also present on most maps are secondary factions who are aggressive towards both players. These secondary factions are either giant flying bugs called parasites, unfeeling auto-repairing borg-like machines called guardians or cyberpunk Viking-like raiders on light buggies. Players can either destroy these secondary factions or gain control over them by converting upgrade structures to their control. Each building converted speeds up the process of swaying the secondary faction, but at the same time players lose any bonus of that upgrade structure until the secondary faction is swayed.
When I play real-time strategy games, one of the caveats I tend to always employ the same strategy of hiding behind a wall of turrets until I build up a vast army and form a wave of death across the map. However, the core mechanics behind Etherium discourage and punish this play-style, as players can only build a set number of upgrades per command point. In order to build up any kind of army or reach any kind of technological level you have to expand and protect a growing amount of territory. This forces players to make difficult decisions in regards to what is important. I had to really weigh what I believed was more important on the fly which drew me out of my comfort zone.
What really drew my attention to Etherium was the conquest mode. I love the turn based strategy mixed with real time strategy, with out of battle choices and conquests of territory giving passive bonuses towards overall victory. The variety of ways to earn victory points also was a added bonus, making objectives more complicated and unique rather than just killing everything that’s not you. This grand scheme of conquest also gave major meaning to the conquering and defending of territory with each skirmish battle planet-side. Rather than just being an individual level I had to clear to beat the campaign, each territory held significance because of it’s victory points and bonuses to the war effort.
When I first read the general plot of Etherium, I groaned a little bit on the inside. A sci-fi futuristic real time strategy game where three factions battle it out across the galaxy sounds a lot like another game I’m sure we all know. But Etherium does an excellent job of distancing the backgrounds of each faction away from your generic humans, aliens, and more alien-like-aliens into some unique factions. However other than a brief slideshow introduction and opening cinematic the game never expands on this, and each faction feels very similar to one another during gameplay. Factions share nearly all unit types and the differences between factions are slight at best. The unit responses for every unit is the same generic affirmatives, making the setting feel somewhat bland. The unique elements presented in the opening cinematic were lost in the actual game, which was a grand disappointment for myself.
Despite the multitude of choices in regards to victory for each battle, several elements are either very ineffective or downright meaningless. Mounting a defense and using orbital cannons to secure victory sounds nice in practice, but sacrificing so many upgrade slots to win a decently timely manner either weakens your faction to the point of being easily overrun, or if you have enough upgrade slots to successfully bombard an opponents fleet and maintain a defense, then you already control most of the map already and a direct final assault is a faster key to victory. Colossi dominate on the battlefield, but require so many research upgrade slots and are so expensive that typically by the time you construct one you’ve already pretty much already won the map.
Secondary factions are horribly unbalanced, especially in the early game when technology is limited for both teams. While the raiders are useless, converting either the parasites or the guardians pretty much guarantees victory. Early matches the AI doesn’t combat air very well, so the flying monstrosities that are the parasites wreck havoc and can never be stopped. Not only do the guardians automatically repair and reconstruct shortly after being destroyed, but they hit units and buildings like they’re made out of paper. I don’t doubt that the developers will patch the game for balancing in the future, but for the version I was playing gaining control of one of these secondary factions means you already won the game.
Final Verdict 7.0
Etherium will fill the hole that real time strategy players are hoping to fill with a new unique title, but the game lacks the staying power of other classic real time strategy games. Tindalos Interactive did an excellent job building a solid sci-fi real time strategy game with all the essentials, but Etherium is somewhat forgettable. Some unique game elements will interest players for a short period of time, but without the personality of other real time strategy games I can not help but wish there was just a little more to Etherium than what I played. It’s not that Etherium is a bad game or is poorly designed, it just lacks a spark that makes it a memorable title.