Etherium (PC) Review

By Ofisil 30.04.2015

Review for Etherium on PC

The worst kind of videogame isn't the no-question-about-it bad or narcoleptic mediocre one, rather one that, had it used its resources better, could very well be one of the best of its kind. Etherium is such a title, and that's a real shame because lots of good ideas are hiding underneath its rather shallow exterior and many flaws - ideas that could catapult this space-themed real-time strategy amongst the genre's elites, if only Tindalos Interactive had taken advantage of them. Unfortunately, what the gaming community has got on its hands is something decent, yet oh-so forgettable.

Etherium is an extremely valuable substance that is extracted from the eggs that some extra-dimensional creatures lay on a handful of planets, where three spacefaring species are constantly waging war in order to gain control of this much coveted element. Interesting as all this may seem, though, the plot is nowhere to be seen. Conquest, the typical Campaign mode, provides a brief description of the capitalistic humans, the Intar zealots, and the insectoid robots, called The Vectides, and that's about it. Of course, the heart and soul of any RTS lies in its gameplay, however, before asking whether it is any good, does it stand out from the rest of the competition? The answer is that while Etherium doesn't reinvent the wheel, it does offer a fresh take on some traditional mechanics.

Screenshot for Etherium on PC

Maps are divided into sectors that can be captured by sending specialised infantry units to build a minor base on them, expand control on the battlefield, and enable etherium extraction if any eggs that are available. Each of these structures can have up to three slots, where various upgrades can be placed, a limit that, especially in the beginning of a match, forces players to think a lot about what improvement to sacrifice in favour of another. Furthermore, the same restrictions apply to the turrets that can be placed on each captured area. Should all be infantry-killers or would it be better to also have one that is better at damaging vehicles? Should there be focus on aerial units, distant enemies, or hidden infantry? It's a great, well-implemented, and fun system that encourages a lot of strategic thinking.

While this is, undoubtedly, the best feature here, it's also the best great example of how Etherium frequently let's its good aspects go to waste. The reason for this is the small amount of available upgrades, something that can make things feel rather repetitive after a while, and, secondly, the fact that there is only one species-specific upgrade. Speaking of species, while their look and background is a not-so-subtle nod to StarCraft's Terrans, Protoss, and Zerg, there aren't exactly many differences between them, since apart from a very tiny amount of unique units and command skills, (AoE powers or boosts that use slow-recharging command points), each faction has pretty much the same kind of tools at its disposal.

Screenshot for Etherium on PC

Fortunately, even with all these problems, this remains a true strategy game that permits different approaches towards victory. Combatants can focus on traditional expansion or "turtling," relying on a large low-tier army or a small amount of elite units, slowly wearing out enemy forces, or commencing a full-scale aerial blitzkrieg, and so on. It's also possible to assimilate neutral factions by sacrificing a certain upgrade, or even create some turrets that attack the enemy fleet in the sky, which is a really nice variation of the classic Wonder victory of the Age of Empires series. Finally, a slightly more advanced technique involves disabling any bonuses that a rival gets from a minor base by destroying any sectors that keep it connected with the rest of the captured territory.

Apart from the typical Skirmish, there is also the Conquest mode, yet both use the same few maps - four for each of the six planets. Now, why six and not just one? The only difference, besides their look, is that each one has a certain weather hazard that affects the gameplay in various ways, like the sandstorm that slows-up armies, or the hurricane that hinders unit production. Apart from the normal battles, Conquest has a turn-based section that takes place in outer space, where the player can attack an enemy fleet, use a political card that grants a small temporary bonus, or try to capture a territory on a planet in order to gain whatever boosts it holds, especially Technology points that can be used to unlock the various units and upgrades for the actual battlefield.

Screenshot for Etherium on PC

Conquest, however, has three flaws. First of all, it's not possible to save while the AI plays, which translates to one-to-three matches of about 20 minutes each. Secondly, the mode as a whole lacks the required depth to really be interesting, and feels as if it just scratches the surface of something far better, and, finally, the AI is quite bad - unlike in the maps where, even on the easiest setting, it's relentless to the point of annoyance. The reason for this, however, has less to do with the CPU's skill and more to do with Etherium's last, and most serious, flaw - the awful amount of micromanagement.

The enemy starts expanding a millisecond after the battle begins and frequently knocks on the rival base's door within a minute. Furthermore, while human-controlled units just stand like morons unless attacked or commanded otherwise, the AI ones have lightning-fast reflexes, attacking the moment the enemy dares to come within range, and withdrawing in the nick of time. Of course, the CPU doesn't have to deal with the awful UI, where three clicks are needed just to create one unit, and then a couple of seconds for it become active, while the enemy massacres the stupid front line, which is waiting to be commanded by the player. Micromanagement is a necessary evil in RTS, but this is simply bad. Therefore, and although Etherium can be fun - addictive even - it won't be long before it becomes a tiresome and repetitive marathon against the CPU.

Screenshot for Etherium on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

While far from being bad or broken, Etherium disappoints more that it bores or annoys. It does so because it initially shows promise, but then throws it out of the window, since the few good ideas that exist aren't adequately explored. Even worse, the major focus on micromanagement, along with the somewhat unfair enemy AI, tends to decrease the fun factor quite a lot. Hopefully, the developer is taking notes on the many, generally negative reviews that its product has received, in order to create a far better sequel, or at least a gargantuan patch that would change a lot of things.

Developer

Tindalos Interactive

Publisher

Focus Home Interactive

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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