Let me admit something to you my friends, before I even get into this review. The last game that even comes close to Etherium that I played was Command and Conquer back in the mind nineties and I was awful at it, I had no talent at all for managing squads, or building resources. I was a platformer guy and I am fine with that.
The problem is, as I get older my reactions are getting slower and I struggle to beat games on a more consistent basis. So when I saw Etherium I decided that now might be the chance to have a look at the 4X type game again. I am a lot more experienced now and I am happy to sink time into this sort of game…
Etherium is an odd game for a newcomer really, because it is a very streamlined approach to the RTS which makes cracking the usual tough exterior a lot more manageable when it comes to commanding units and building up resources before moving on to attack and take over the enemy areas.
The problem here though, is that there is a pretty big assumption that anyone playing this has knowledge of the genre which makes it very difficult for a newcomer to get to grips with things. Now I am all for games not hand holding and making the user work, but in a game like this, I feel it needs a complete idiot’s guide type introduction.
Whilst the information is there, it fails to break it down enough to ease new people in and in an age where gaming is opened up to more and more new people it should be a choice at the beginning about the type of experience you are after. I felt though, that maybe I was being overly harsh, but I took advice from a friend who loves this genre and even he felt it wasn’t simplifying the tutorial enough for newcomers.
Anyway, I am a newcomer and I shouldn’t focus on that alone, I also have the task of reviewing this game, thus I push through and learn as much as I can and on the whole the streamlining works well to keep the action flowing whilst allowing you to easily identify and manage the various aspects of the game.
Everything is laid out on a hexagonal style grid, where you expand out and build your resources. Claim a hexagon and you control that area, meaning you can build a base on it, farm resources, set up various important structures.
These will allow you to build more units, improve your tech, defenses and much more. The UI does a pretty good job too of presenting you with all the information you need, such as informing you that an attack is happening, or you may be short of units, that you may need to upgrade a certain aspect and more.
After a few hours it starts to click and you do start to feel like a commanding general or some such other important war leader type. You almost enter a zone and start taking actions based on logic, based on what your ultimate goal is, rather than what may make sense based on early tutorials. You start to realise how you can use the expansion path to your benefit. Forcing enemy units into a bottle neck allowing you to take them out in a controlled manner, whilst having turrets and other defense systems managing other areas, allowing you to build more before expanding out further.
What started of as a rather frustrating experience turned into one that I happily lost hours to as I commanded my armies, created alliances with other factions and took down my enemy with precision and force.
But, being an RTS and 4X style game, one simple mistake can turn the entire game on its head and the same is true of Etherium. This is a game that is very quick to punish and 45 minutes of progression can be undone in a few short moments. Instead of becoming angered by this, you learn and you come back stronger. Hell, you can even learn how to adapt to those mistakes and turn them into advantages.
It is this subtlety that shocked me the most, as with most games in other genres, you screw up, you die, you respawn at a checkpoint and you just try again. But in Etherium and other such games, you learn to think on your feet and do some damage limitation, before trying to turn the tide back in your favour. Etherium does a fantastic job of giving you that feeling of a war being broken into smaller battles all on the same screen.
There is a lot I like about this game and its one I will be spending time with, visually it is impressive with so much going on, especially when zoomed right in. Even zoomed out it is pretty easy to identify what is going on and which of your units is involved in which battles.
However, one thing that did feel a little off, was the movement across the map. Many of the UI elements are to the side of the screen, which is great as it doesn’t obscure the action, but the limits of the UI elements and the screen edge seem to be too small and it is easy to accidentally move the screen away from where you were originally focused, meaning you then need to re-adjust before then completing an action. It is one major annoyance on an otherwise decent package.
It is hard for me to say where this sits compared to other games in the genre, but as a newcomer going in blind I felt like it was a game that can be a good introduction to the genre and one that I can happily recommend if you wish to test the waters.