by JoWooD Productions
Originality in the realm of PC games is a rare quality. Most games that are released tend to have been derived from an earlier title in the genre. Occasionally though we are surprised by a title that dares to experiment and give us something that we haven't experienced before. At first glance Etherlords looks like a 3D version of Heroes of Might and Magic, however once you start playing the game you realise that many aspects are nothing like it. The game is described as an 'exciting, bold, new gaming style blending the best of turn based strategy and trading card game play.' This may sound strange but believe me this is an accurate description of the game and the most wonderful part of it is that is not only works as a combination but works extremely well.
The game is based around the battles between four races. There's the Chaots, the Kinets, the Vitals and the Synthets. Each race has their own specific spells and creatures so your strategies will differ according to which race you pick to play as. The Kinets, for instance, can control the mighty dragon whilst Synthets prefer to use mechanical creatures in combat.
As we mentioned earlier it does resemble Heroes of Might and Magic in some ways. Your base is a castle and you have to employ Heroes to attempt to defeat your enemies. As well as battling, your heroes have to collect resources. These resources are needed to create spells, buy runes and support heroes. There are two types of resources. There's non-accumulating resources, which disappear at the end of the day if not used and accumulative resources that can stockpile if not used. The most precious of these resources, which is non-accumulating, is ether. If the ether supply becomes insufficient it can have detrimental effects on casting of global spells, such as creating a new hero, and other important gameplay aspects. Some resources can be claimed without a battle but more often than not a battle will need to be fought in order to obtain those precious resources.
The extra special part of the gameplay is the battle method. Rather than adopt the rock-paper-scissors method that so many strategy games use, and to be honest it has become very mundane as a result, the games developers chose to adopt a battle system that closely resembles that of a trading card game. If any of you have played a trading card game such as Magic the Gathering or Pokemon then you'll know exactly how it plays. Each Hero has a certain amount of spells that can be cast. The spells can be either creatures that can be summoned or enhancing spells that can improve your creatures or damage your rival or his/her/it's creatures. In the card games you need to fuel your attacks with some kind of energy card. In Etherlords, ether is used to enable all spells. If you don't have sufficient ether to cast the spell then you can't cast it. You also need runes to enable you to cast the more advanced spells.
The combat is broken up into rounds. First you cast your spells and attack, if you can. Secondly your opponent will attempt to block your attack by bringing a creature to his defence. Your attack is then made. Thirdly the enemy will plot their attacks and finally you can try to block the enemy attack before the attack is carried out. This continues until one of the combatants is eliminated.
The combat mode is so engrossing that the game's designers included a duel mode which concentrates completely on battles. You can also elect to play one of the missions that are available or take part in one of the two campaigns that are on offer. One of the disappointments with the campaign mode is that you can't take your heroes from one level into another. This is a shame as it takes the shine off all the time and effort you invest in building up a hero. For those of you who like to play online the game allows you to set up a match through Gamespy which makes the whole process a lot easier.
Graphically the game looks like it has used the Quake III engine, it hasn't but it does look like it. The territory map looks really good and you can zoom in and revolve the map. The battle graphics though, are where the visual effects really shine. The spell animations are as fantastic as those seen in the Final Fantasy battles. The creature animations and the visual effects that can be witnessed in these battles are nothing short of spectacular and set the benchmark for a strategy game.
Text feedback in the game, like in most strategy games, has been well done. The introduction hasn't been subtitled but to be honest it doesn't really tell you anything anyway. In the campaigns the verbal introduction to the levels are fully subtitled and you can read them at your leisure. Once inside a scenario the mission objectives can be accessed from the main menu. The manual has been well written and goes to great length to explain the game's concepts in a nice and easy fashion. There are no problems at all with this game as it is very suitable for the deaf gamer.
Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10 Etherlords provides a refreshing twist to turn based combat. Taking it's combat model from trading card games it offers a solid and rewarding experience that actually makes you want to enter a battle and not shy away from it like other games do. Heroes of Might and Magic IV better be good because Etherlords has set new standards in this genre.
Deaf Gamers comment: The game is fine for deaf gamers. If you like turn based strategy games at all, Etherlords is a must.