Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Nival Interactive
Release Date: September 23, 2003
Pre-order 'ETHERLORDS 2': PC
PC gamers are in no danger of running out of fantasy strategy games to play lately. Our cups runneth over, between Warcraft 3 (and now Frozen Throne), Disciples 2 expansions, and now an Etherlords sequel which will be out early next month. I got a chance to play through an early version of Etherlords 2 which had a couple playable campaigns, and while the game doesn't look extremely different from its predecessor it still managed to impress.
If you aren't familiar with the first Etherlords, stop reading this and go pick it up. Seriously, why are you still reading? You can get for under $20, and you won't be wasting a penny. It's a turn-based strategy game that combines a number of different genres. Okay, now that those guys are gone, we can talk about the sequel. This was an early version, so no cutscenes or new menus but I'm sure that will all be changed for the final release. The story is similar to other strategy games, different races struggle for dominance accompanied by a story which intertwines through all of them.
Etherlords boasted great graphics and a unique battle system similar to collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering. What makes it so great is the plethora of cards/spells available throughout the game. Etherlords 2 boasts characters that accumulate experience and skills, which allows them to increase their combat capabilities from battle to battle. 4 character races each with its own campaign and non-linear storyline. New creatures and spells that can be used by all the races as well as new areas to explore suchs as "contaminated zones". One of the more exciting features that will be in the game when it's released is the multiplayer mode which is supposed to have a highly developed tournament system, including automatic calculation of players' statistics and ratings as well as game servers, and duels that can be recorded and replayed later.
One of my complaints about the first Etherlords was you had to move around the game world in turns, which slowed the pace of the game to a crawl. Rejoice! You are free to move around the game world in real time and there is even an "Accelerated" mode that allows your character to zip all over the map. The battle system is the real charm of Etherlords, and the sequel looks to refine it even moreso. There's even more spells and monsters this time around which adds to the games depth. You accumulate spells, which can be thought of as cards. You can have scores of them in your inventory, from which you pool them into your deck as you see fit. They are then drawn during battle randomly. If you have a particular spell you are fond of, you will need to stack your deck with more of those cards so the probabilty of it coming up during combat is greater. There are also shrines and idols in particular areas that can affect a battle as well. If there is a shrine representing peace, and you engage in a battle close to it both parties may suffer damage.
Graphically, the game looks very similar to the first Etherlords. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, they've taken a game that looked great and added some spit-shine onto it. There is an improvement in the environments, and the addition of creatures and spells, as well as many gameplay refinements. The camera system adds to the cinematic feel of the battles and will occasionally zoom in to give you a better look at the characters in the game. The lighting effects also got a shot in the arm for the sequel, as the particles flying around from your spells cast colored light all around you and your creatures. This is a pretty game, and I'm anxious to see it when it's finished.
There is also a dash of the dungeon crawler spirit thrown in as well, as you'll be forced to worm your way around dense forests or mountains to find the correct path, or discover a lost artifact on an unexplored corner of the map. Etherlords 2 combines all the tastiest elements of the RPG, Adventure, Strategy, and Collectible Card game genres. The only thing missing is cinnamon. While I am glad they have an auto-battle feature in the game I've only used it a couple times. The battles are so loud and visually interesting you'll rarely want to skip them. Each creature has its own distinctive sounds and attitude combined with superb character animation and subtle details. I thought the animation in the first Etherlords was great and the sequel manages to polish it a little more.
The battles can get intense as you anticipate your favorite spell to come up. Basically each character has 2 moves, the Attack phase and the Block phase. In attack phase you draw your spells from your deck depending on how much Ether you have (Ether is the mana of the game), or tell your creatures to attack. The other is the Block phase where you, if you have any creatures who are rested, can block attacks to protect your character. The object of each battle is to get the opposing Spellcaster's points down to zero. There are also artifacts hidden through the game or purchased at shops which you can use to deal additional damage to your opponent.
Etherlords 2 is shaping up to be quite the contender for the other strategy blockbusters out there. Blending a variety of genres with a unique card-game style combat system, Etherlords 2 is one to keep an eye out for when it's released next month. I can't wait to get my hands on the final product.
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