RTS games have long since been dominated by the StarCrafts and Warcrafts of the world, leaving no room for any up-and-comers to take the throne. Tindalos Interactive and Focus Home Interactive’s Etherium hopes to take the throne with a RTS game that combines gratuitous space battles with planetside skirmishes. Does this underdog hit the mark, or are you better off sticking with the greats?
Etherium’s big hook can be found in the title itself – Etherium. Three neutral factions – The Consortium, The Awakened of Intar, and The Vectides – are all vying for this precious resource. Sub-factions also exist, which can also be destroyed or recruited depending on your method of play. There is a lot of material to work with here, but unfortunately most of Etherium’s story is presented via still voiced-over slides. It just feels like a wasted opportunity.
Etherium has two different components to play with in its single-player Conquest mode. The first, its space battles, are a unique way to preface each battle. Presented in an overhead view, these turn-based battles have you fighting off enemy fleets and stalking out the next planet you want to wage war in. It’s a welcome addition, one that would benefit more from being a little more fleshed out.
And then there are the land skirmishes. This is the bread and butter of Etherium, and should be more familiar to those weaned on more traditional RTS games. All of the set pieces are there – you can lead troops into battle, capture settlements, wipe out units, all of that fun stuff. The ultimate goal of these battles is to claim “Victory Points,” which involves meeting a bunch of regular and hidden objectives that vary from destroying enemy fleets to taking over territories. It’s a similar system to that found in Company of Heroes, which is somewhat derivative but welcome.
On that note, Etherium does not differ from the competition in many ways. The key difference lies in your method of play. Battles revolve around taking over different territories on the map and building bases to mine for Etherium. This means that troops will often be hard at work taking over the map rather than fighting ruthlessly in battle. However, the AI in the game fights with a burning vigor, forcing players to switch up their method of play. This might seem like a way to change up the game, but it leads to a disjointed method of play and makes battles feel like they are far longer than they have any right to be. Ironically, most battles last no more than 20 minutes.
The fact of the matter is that Etherium doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the competition. The new concepts it does bring to the table (like its space battles) are a breath of fresh air, but they are not fleshed out enough to make enough of an impact. Etherium isn’t a terrible game, but it isn’t a noteworthy one either.