The war for giant, extra-dimensional alien eggs begins.
Etherium, the new RTS title from Tindalos Interactive and Focus Home Interactive, offers a simple reason for futuristic warfare, yet perhaps one of the most common reasons for any type of conflict – greed. Extra-dimensional creatures come along and lay their eggs on specific planets, and the three factions involved in the game all want to harvest the eggs for the valuable Etherium within.
There is no deep and meaningful story here, no epic narrative to follow, just a simple case of greed. A revealing cut scene at the very beginning of the game explains the set up for Etherium in a successful way, and then the player is free to choose from the three available factions. A tutorial is available to guide the players through the various mechanics of the game, and it is worth working through just to save some time once the game begins proper.
The three available factions have their differences, although in the interest of balance they also have plenty of similarities. There is the Consortium, basically business men with their own private army, interested only in profits. Then you have the Intari, a fanatical race centered around Etherium. Finally, there are the Vectides, a race born of the Etherium itself. Each of the factions have their own version of infantry, armoured vehicles and air units, and massive war machines which make a big dent in the later game. They also bring their own bonuses to battle, which makes for a slightly different game depending on which faction you choose.
There are also a couple of secondary factions that may be encountered during the course of a game. These factions can be either convinced to join the player, adding more power to the players army, or wiped out to prevent their joining another faction. Having either of these secondary factions joining your cause really does make a difference, which is why it is so important to ensure they don’t join the enemy.
The maps upon which battles take place have various themes depending which of the six planets they take place on. These themes, which provide quite unique looks, are not purely visual and bring with them environmental effects as well. Lakes freezing over to provide an alternate route to the enemy, sandstorms forcing units to hold their ground, or volcanic eruptions that threaten your units, all force the player to adjust their plans on the fly.
The maps are divided up into different sections and expansion will see the player sending a specific unit into an uncontrolled sector and setting shop. Once captured, the player can start extracting resources or setting up other constructs that can bring in more units or allow research for the more advanced technology. The chance to build is always limited, so players will have to think carefully about the long game and what they need. Interestingly, there is the option to build giant cannons which can basically harass the enemy fleet in orbit and eventually cause their destruction, which is a win condition for those who can see really far ahead.
The battles themselves are really enjoyable, but can get a little confusing in the early game. The player controls squads of units and identifying which units are which is something which comes through time spent in the game. The AI in battle is nicely implemented, with the enemy making fairly intelligent decisions when facing the player, and adjusting tactics according to the players actions. Inevitably though, the enemy does become predictable and it doesn’t take too long for the player to learn exactly how to beat them.
Alongside the Skirmish mode, in which players simply jump into battle, there is a campaign mode which has the player controlling their fleet and choosing which planets to attack. This Conquest mode is turn-based and adds a welcome extra layer to the game. With objectives offered, the chance to research and the ability to spy on other factions to learn where their research is going, and even playable cards to provide some randomness, Conquest ties all of the real-time battles together into a reasonably satisfying whole.
Without any major story to keep players invested, Etherium is purely about conquering the enemy. There is nothing wrong with that, but with so many other RTS games available, it really could have done with something to make it stand out. There are some nice ideas here – the Conquest campaign mode does a good job of bringing random battles together, and the environmental hazards certainly add some random consequences to the battle – but otherwise the game is fairly standard. Despite this, Etherium is well made, nicely polished and solid to play.
It may bring little new to the genre, but Etherium is still a very enjoyable RTS and is worth considering by anyone who fancies harvesting giant space eggs.