Developer: Tindalos Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Rating: T for Teen
Etherium, the newest game from Tindalos Interactive, is an RTS that doesn’t make familiar mechanics too difficult while also trying out some new things. The game has its typical three factions–humans, high tech (almost spiritual) aliens, and bug-type aliens. Etherium does add newness to the RTS genre in the form of a space map where you command your fleet and take over territories while fighting off other species’ space ships. Furthermore, you don’t actually go into the RTS portion of the game until you have to attack or defend a region on a planet from one of the other species.
The game starts with a cutscene on mars, where some humans are working on a container field around a pearl-looking egg that gives off energy called Etherium. In addition to this cutscene, voice-overs provide backstory for each of the factions (particularly whichever one you choose to play as).
The humans are your typical “super-corporation-now-controls-everything-and-our-resources-on-earth-are-running-low-so-we-must-find-new-resources.” The Intar are a religious, highly advanced race of aliens who look at Etherium as a way to transcend into the next form of enlightenment. The Vectide race are advanced technologically, but are physically weak, and thus use Etherium to strengthen themselves, which causes them to become more powerful and develop a hive-like mindset.
The story is nothing to write home about, and it’s very similar to things we’ve seen in previous RTS games. That being said, these types of creatures and tropes have become staples to the RTS world, in much the same way that elves and ogres are staples of high fantasy and role playing games.
Violence: Some violence takes place when you engage in combat with enemies, with an occasional blood splatter when you kill them.
Language: There is some strong language in the opening scene (sh*t, f***), though it is the only time I can remember any strong language being used in the game.
Spiritual Content: The Intar, as mentioned previously, are a race of aliens who see Etherium as a means of transcending to the next form of enlightenment.
This is where Etherium tries to stand out from the rest of the RTS games released this year. The game has a conquest (or main game) mode, wherein you start by building a space ship and then moving it to the closest planet to farm for Etherium. From there, you can play politic cards or fight other ships that are around the planet. Once you have completed this phase, and another species has taken over a territory or tried to attack one of yours, you go into the RTS portion of the game.
In the RTS part of the game, rather than managing resources, you focus on micromanagement. There are different towers in the game, usually positioned next to an Etherium sphere. Once you build a base on the tower, you can add some extra buildings onto it and work on securing it with turrets around the area, the goal being to build a capture unit and move to the next tower, eventually finding the enemy base and destroying it.
The voice-over work in the cutscenes is really good, though that’s the most worthwhile audio. In general, the audio quality in-game is sub-par at best. Occasionally, gun audio overlaps itself when you engage another unit in combat, for example.
The graphics are decent but nothing spectacular, so if you have an older machine and can’t play some of the newer RTS games like Gray Goo then you might want to look at Etherium. The characters more often appear to “float” than actually walk along the ground–something common among even the higher tech units. The biggest problem in the presentation of Etherium, however, is that the system screen can be confusing when you first start the game; even after putting a few hours in, it’s far too easy to click on the wrong tabs.
One cool mechanic is that, depending on the world and map you play, environmental effects occurs. For example, while I was playing one map, an electrical storm popped up that stopped me from being able to call in any sort of reinforcements from the mother ship above.
Etherium tries some new things that are, for the most part, actually fun. The conquest mode is a big surprise and helps add some new life to the genre. Ironically, the conquest mode might also be this game’s biggest problem, as many of its important aspects are given “average” development, while one or two are handled more masterfully. Another big problem is that Etherium’s online player count has taken a hard nose dive since the game’s release, and is currently peeking at 50 players per day; thus, if you’re wanting to play an RTS online, you might want to look for similar alternatives. With Etherium’s price being lower than some of the other, newer RTS games, however, you could easily talk some friends into picking it up if you really enjoy the single player mode and want to play some online multiplayer as well.
If you are still playing on an older PC and want to try a new RTS, then definitely pick up Etherium; you will get a decent game for just thirty bucks.
The Bottom Line
If you are looking for a new RTS game to play and have an older PC, you can't go wrong for the price. For anybody with a newer machine, there are other games out there more worthy of picking up.