It is the era after the "Time of Change," and four races -- Synthets, Chaots, Vitals, and Kinets -- battle for domination. Etherlords II continues the turn-based tactical gameplay of Etherlords with refined strategic options, more creature-cards to control, and a powerful map editor. Players now control the same hero for an entire campaign and oversee his/her development -- hero progress is also represented by changes in appearance. Heroes can wield up to 16 spells in a battle, and additional spells can now be stored in a "rucksack" for later use. Five campaigns are filled with non-linear missions, boats, tunnels, transports, and hundreds of spells and creatures.
Etherlords 2 is a fairly basic adventure slash RPG-lite slash turn-based combat game. The game is set in the World of the Lords, a realm dominated by Ether, the substance from which all things are created. There are six different kinds of ether, each with individual names like the Red Ether of Chaos and the Black Ether of Synthesis, which are in effect the game's six races. Each race is defined by the form of its parent Ether, so the Chaots are all about fire and destruction, where as the Synthets are all about merging man and machine. It's all rather silly and encourages a mental 'la-la-la-not-listening' whenever characters in the campaign start driveling on about it. That last bit also may have a lot to do with the voice acting, but we'll get to that in just a tic.
The voice acting in the campaign game is predictably dire. The voice talent appears to have been sourced from a small office somewhere in Northern Ireland which has one eastern European working there, and possibly someone from Orkney. It's shoddy and amateur, but even with it switched-off the stories that make up the five campaigns get rammed down your throat by every NPC that you meet on your procession. And it's all naff, which only served to put me off the campaign side of the game. The adventuring screen is similar to a host of older Japanese console games like Marioworld and Zelda. You start off at the edge of a map and wander about taking quests from NPCs dotted about the place. These NPCs will warble in some terrible accents the terrible words displayed in their speech bubbles, eventually setting you off in the direction of someone that needs spoken to, or failing that, needs a good twatting. You can also come across special sites where you may be able to purchase some spells using the resources you can collect or will find a powerful object to aid in your quest. You get to go up levels during your adventures. Each time you go up a level your character will get more health, learn one of a number of various special abilities and get to pick up to five permanent attribute enhancements. And the way you go up in levels is to gain experience from - you knew it - twatting enemies. Every time you encounter a foe you are given the choice of whether or not to engage them, a decision you may prefer to delay if you see that their level is higher then your own.
The combat is the meat and veg of the game, with the RPG bits acting as the plate. And as you may have figured out I don't rate this very much as a serving dish. Casting aside the story and the lamentable sounds coming from the speakers (the music and sound effects aren't much better than the voices), the actual gameplay here is better suited to a GameBoy. Unfortunately it has less depth than many similarly themed GB titles, and is something that I quickly tired of. I did get some enjoyment from leveling up and getting new stuff, but that is the result of what must now be recognized as a genetic trait in human beings. A paper should be written on this phenomenon - the Ascent of Levels or something - a phenomenon which has been exploited by developers for over twenty years but is still unknown to science. What else can it be but something hard coded into our DNA that makes people continue to play Everquest and Diablo 2 after all these years? Anyway, I have digressed, my mind has wandered. A similar thing happened regularly while I ploughed through the campaigns, and it would have wandered off and forgotten all about the game - and this review, if the combat side of things hadn't been so different.
Combat is again simple, but this time it is free of bad acting and resplendent in some rather pretty graphics. The anime styling of the RPG screens take on a far more westernized look in the battle screens while retaining enough eastern design influences to capitalize on the best of both worlds. Particle effects are the strongest graphical elements at play here, and rather nice some of them are too. The huge number of summonable creatures can lead to some repetitive creature designs, and many of the spells are so similar that a glance up to the top right of the screen where icons for all the spells in play can be found is regularly needed. Etherlords 2 may look nice but it doesn't need much of a PC to run on. In fact, it will only natively run in two resolutions and with the highest being 1024x768 it won't tax any but the most pathetic of gaming systems. A bit of tweaking to get some anti-aliasing on the go and things looked very presentable indeed.
It's a shame that the gameplay is once again weak. Combat involves summoning creatures and casting spells from your deck. You can carry dozens of different spells around with you but can only select 16 to take into each battle. You can have six cards in the hand each turn, and you must spend the ether points you get each turn as they don't carry over to the next. You start with one ether channel but get more as the number of game turns rises. More channels means more ether points, and these in turn mean more spells. Summoned creatures can be called to attack the enemy hero, or sorcery can be used to affect that hero's health and abilities. You can cast enhancements on your creatures so they do more damage or can be sacrificed for benefits. What you can't do is use your own hero to land one on the nose of the other guy as combat is done solely through sorcery or the summoned creatures. Play progresses in a series of turns, and ends when someone dies.
The variety of card combinations initially promise much, but the too random nature of the cards you get dealt from such a small pool makes things repetitive far earlier than you would think possible. Playing the RPG section made me feel this game is aimed more at the younger audience, and the depth of gameplay evident in the combat sections did nothing other than reinforce this feeling. This isn't to say that the combat is a failure. I had some good fun playing my first battles, but after the numbers climbed towards triple figures ennui had set in. Heading online and sampling the game's numerous multiplayer offerings did nothing to raise my spirits, as even the adrenaline that comes from playing another human couldn't raise my pulse above the minimum needed for circulation.
This is an undemanding game which most definitely should have demanded more of its voice actors. The gameplay was too simple for my taste but apart from that I can't really fault Etherlords 2 for anything more then a lack of ambition to be anything more than it is, a simple, pretty piece of product.
People who downloaded Etherlords 2 have also downloaded:
Etherlords, Empire Earth II, Emperor: Battle for Dune, Empire Earth, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World, Europa 1400: The Guild, Dune 2000, Dungeon Keeper 2
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