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Etherium / 12th of April 2015

Etherium, perhaps unsurprisingly, reminds me an awful lot of Gas Powered’s Supreme Commander, but perhaps that is to be expected, after all, it is a space faring RTS with an emphasis on resource management, but sadly there isn’t really much else to say by way of positives on the game. That’s not to say that it’s truly horrendous, it isn’t. Unfortunately, it simply falls into a bracket that’s almost as bad, it’s just so utterly mundane, and in all honesty, it simply doesn’t feel as though it’s a finished product.

Developed by Tindalos Interactive, Etherium gives players the choice of one of three different factions to join at the start of the game, these being the Consortium, the Intar and the Vectides. The three of them do battle over the scarce amount of resources that have been placed on planets scattered throughout the galaxy by a group of inter-dimensional beings. Each group naturally has their own units, and to their credit, Tindalos have done a good job of ensuring that they all feel fairly well balanced when players take them into the throes of combat.

An interesting aspect of the game, is the way in which additional units are unlocked. Across the six planets on which this inter-planetary conflict takes place, players have access to only a very limited number of slots in which to employ upgrades, which means that they will have to value certain characteristics above the others. Maps are split into different sectors, and to extend into these, players must send out communications teams so that additional buildings can be constructed. These structures can also be extended to earn such bonuses as additional income or units, but these additional bonuses are lost, however, should the building be destroyed, which makes defending them a high priority.

As one might expect, players drop down into the midst of planetary disputes, raising arms against foes to battle over, and this can be done in one of several ways, including the more tactful development of orbital weaponry to sort out an opponent’s fleet. Worthy of mention, though only just, these planets that can be fought over play host to several effects of their own, such as blizzards and sandstorms. Though sadly, it must be said that these are hardly game changing additions. However, should the developer be rewarded with the opportunity to create a sequel, this is an area where they should perhaps devote some more attention to create a more dynamic, and exciting playing field.

Tindalos have also added secondary factions into the game, these usually occupy two or three sections of the game map, and they can either be bested in combat or bartered with, doing the latter will see their forces join up with your own, so they can have a substantial impact on the outcome of a game.

A major drawback to Etherium, however, is that for a real-time strategy title, there isn’t really a heck of a lot of strategy in it, the bulk of the gameplay can simply be boiled down to micro-management, with the game insisting that the player spend an extensive amount of time creating each and every unit. Shockingly, a whopping five clicks of the mouse are necessary for each one, there no keyboard shortcuts available, and no there’s no opportunity to set up production lines either, so every one of them must be created individually. Personally, in an RTS, I would prefer to spend my time knee deep in corpses, which probably makes this Etherium’s most disappointing attribute, and trust me, there are more.

The AI employed in regulating the actions of these units is also quite confounding in its stupidity, marking it as some of the worst that I have ever witnessed in any game. The player controlled units will attack CPU ones, but only if they themselves have been fired upon, so leaving groups of troops on guard duty can seem fairly pointless, especially if your opponent manages to attack the target directly and bypass your forces. Even the original Command and Conquer was built more intelligently than this, and it does mean that your opponent can, and will, get the jump on you, and probably on several occasions too. Like the tedious production process necessary to bring these shambolic units to life, controlling them feels long winded and intolerably frustrating, needlessly drawing the player’s attention and time away from the areas where they would much rather be focused.

Sadly, in terms of the game’s visuals, Etherium is also a bit a disappointment here too. Texture quality is frighteningly poor, and the animations employed across the full spectrum of units are utterly abhorrent and antiquated, to compound the matter, there are audio issues too, which typically see the thunderous footsteps of a heavy mechanised vehicle appearing well out of sync with its actual movements. There’s really no excuse for the game to perform so poorly in this regard, and that is despite playing it on its maximum settings.

Sadly, there aren’t, nor will there likely be any opportunities to play against an opponent outside of the CPU, the global community is almost non-existent, and this does mean that the chances of there ever being a sequel are very slim to say the least. Etherium certainly has some positives going for it, but it simply doesn’t stand out among the rather crowded RTS genre, so despite the excellent secondary factions and building upgrade options, it’s rather hard to recommend on the whole. Despite this, there’s still a lot of potential in Etherium, so it would certainly be nice to see a sequel that can expand upon this to create a superior, and more consistent experience.

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