“…while Etherium may not be a full on hit, it certainly shows a significant stepping stone on the path which these developers have set out to follow…”
I took my time reviewing Etherium. The new real-time Sci-Fi strategy game from developers Tindalos Entertainment and published by Focus Home Interactive was being reviewed by gamers and critics alike all over the Internet whilst I was playing. The common factor between all of these people and myself was that nobody could seem to decide if this was a game that people would like, or people would not. With probably some of the most mixed responses you will ever see for a strategy title, some of you are no doubt wondering whether this is a game that you should or shouldn’t play. Hopefully, I am going to do a better job than some others have of telling you!
So what is Etherium all about? Essentially, it has a similar back-story to titles such as Supreme Commander; there is an intergalactic war over a powerful energy giving resource which several, quite different factions have an interest in obtaining. This war wages across several planets, and your role is to select a faction to take command of and secure this resource by any means necessary. Put in brief like that, it all sounds very exciting, and many of you like myself will probably give the game a shot for that reason. In fact, the faction system is quite well thought out, with each option having various tactical bonuses and unique units which can be utilised during a fight. This can include things like weather manipulation and super-powered orbital weapons too, so you have some pretty big, pretty cool choices to make from the offset. Unfortunately however, some of the gameplay is less exciting than the scenario which sits behind it…
Like I said in my introduction, nobody online can make their mind up about Etherium, and once case of this is when comparing it to other real-time strategy titles. Some have said Age of Empires, which personally is my absolute favourite of the genre. These people are wrong. Others have said Command and Conquer, which is certainly closer to the mark, but not quite on the spot. Supreme Commander, which I mentioned previously for having a similar back story to this game, is a close comparison as well. What Etherium doesn’t have that all of these did however is a unique, clean and well developed style of play. Some might argue against this, but allow me to explain my reasoning behind this opinion, and then feel free to form your own.
The main premise in Etherium is to take control of sectors on the map. You do this by establishing communication points in empty sectors, which requires you to build a unit and walk them over to empty tactical positions. Your second job is to try and take and maintain control over any sectors containing the one and only important resource in the game; Etherium. Job number three then is to simply despatch the enemy, which you can achieve by wiping out their ground forces or forcing their fleet into a retreat. The goals of play are simple and effective then, and leave you with no difficult questions about how to tackle the job ahead. There is just one problem however, and that is that things quickly become quite tedious…
It is easy to figure out what you need to do, but doing it takes a lot of effort. There are no shortcuts in Etherium; every unit must be produced individually, controlled directly and requires your full attention to get a job done. At some points this can feel less like hardcore strategy and a little too much like the intergalactic babysitting of three toddlers who refuse to share their Etherium and thus you cannot take your eyes off them. This might sound like a harsh analysis, but it is just. For example, you cannot roll units off a production line ready for a fight – you have to produce them one at a time. If you want to travel a long distance quickly, you can call for an airdrop to collect and deliver units, but it feels like this too is something which could and should be automatic. When you are in a fight, your units do not do so well in the area of thinking for themselves either, and so at some points you have far too much to try and focus on at once, and the thrill of strategy gaming takes a sharp turn towards hard work.
It would be unfair to say that Etherium’s gameplay is exclusively bad however, as it does also have some very strong elements to it as well. I very much liked the dynamic weather effects which could massively influence the game. There are six different worlds to fight on in Etherium, and each has its own ecosystems with different challenges and dangers to consider. Sandstorms for example could pick up at random on one planet and halt your movements. On another, volcanoes would erupt and block any air deployments. Blizzards on a third planet could sometimes freeze water on the map and create new pathways to the enemy and vice versa. This is a great idea and Etherium employs it really well, and this is not the only very good idea in the game either.
Rather than having several types of building which you need to construct in order to deploy different types of unit or research different improvements, Etherium challenges you to manage a very limited space in order to succeed. Your starting base, and any subsequent bases you build, has only a limited number of construction points which you can choose to build upon. Yes, this idea has been seen before, but Etherium plays on it very well in its own way. You can construct, for example, several research-focussed facilities on your base, which will allow you to research bigger and better technologies and do so faster, but in doing this you may need to sacrifice some level of production ability. How you choose to manage your space then can change the tide of a battle, so it is important to think carefully about what you need and when. Unfortunately, the research side of things does also need a mention however for once again being a bit slow and tedious, and thus we are reminded of what is a very mixed gameplay experience in Etherium. This is perhaps the main reason why people cannot decide what to think of it…
There are one or two other issues which it is important to mention about Etherium. While they do not impact directly on gameplay, they do in combination form a blow to its credibility in the real-time strategy genre. Firstly, its tutorial is more of a sub-tutorial. It covers some of how you play the game, but not all of it, and it leaves you feeling like there must be a second one up next. In some ways, it is easier to jump straight into the game and learn for yourself than follow it, because this gives you a much more fulfilling sense of what the game is actually like. The graphics of the game also have issues, most notably surrounding its animations. Walking animations are the most noticeable, with units seemingly floating along and the sounds of footsteps not even fully lining up with what you can see. The overall sound effects of the game seem to have been given only minor considerations too. On the graphical side of things however, it is also necessary to note that Etherium as a whole has a unique and well thought style which is bright and exciting to the eye, but some crucial elements are what let this side of things down. Finally, there are very few people playing online, and it is particularly difficult to get a 2-player game started, let alone a 4-player one, which loses a crucial element of what the game offers. Again then we have a mixed array of feedback to trudge through then.
Perhaps this is a good time to summarise then, as there is a lot to take in here. You can undoubtedly see why people have struggled to make a consensual analysis of Etherium, but here is what I think. Etherium has some strong points which form very good grounds to build upon. Tindalos Entertainment are young as developers and this game is only their second major title to be released, so it is reasonable to expect some elements to not quite be at their fullest potential here. Etherium is very mixed in terms of what its good points and its bad points are, and as a game that probably doesn’t place it among the best of them on the market at present. There is however plenty enough merit in the title for it to be taken forwards, worked hard upon and for the next instalment or next title to come out of Tindalos Entertainment to be something new, improved and exciting. So while Etherium may not be a full on hit, it certainly shows a significant stepping stone on the path which these developers have set out to follow, and that if nothing else can be its legacy.
- An interesting background which provides clear goals during play.
Well thought out faction choices offer good variety and exciting advantages.
- Very cool dynamic weather effects mechanic which genuinely impacts play.
- The game forces you to think carefully about how you manage your base’s space and the development of your campaign on each planet.
- A relatively good looking game which is bright and varied in style.
- Clear signs of a promising and up and coming future for the developers.
- Gameplay elements such as excessive management requirements quickly become tedious.
- A lack of some automated processes and shortcuts unnecessarily extends gameplay.
- Armies are stupid and need constant attention in order to fulfil simple tasks.
- The game’s tutorial fails to teach you all of the ropes and does not manage to give a good impression of the way that the game as a whole truly flows.
- Very questionable animations and sounds in some places discredit the game.
- Very few people are online to play with (NOTE: This is not a criticism of the developers or the game itself, but does still serve as a negative factor).
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.