Etherlords II is a tactical turn-based, card combat game, wrapped up in a Role Playing Game (RPG). The game has been re-released on Steam recently, with its initial release being way back in 2003. The game sees you play through a series of quests in order to level up your character and enhance the power of your deck.
Etherlords II‘s graphics are now quite dated, but back in 2003 they were amazing for this genre of game. Many people hailed the game as how card games on PC should be, and that won it many fans throughout the world. I guess I can be excused for not knowing it too well when it was first released, as I was barely a teenager at the time!
Will Etherlords II‘s gameplay be enough to make it a contender in today’s marketplace, or will it fade away into the Ether? Read on to find out…
Etherlords II has some very interesting gameplay elements that separate it from the card games of today, as it plays more like a video game. When you first begin you will take command of a Hero who must go about a series of quests, which are dependent upon the faction you chose at the start. You can choose between a brutish red faction or a green nature faction. Both factions have their own unique abilities. Obviously I went with green, as there was no blue control deck available (sorry, control players!).
The character rides a creature/mount native to their area of the world, and it looks like it could do more damage than some of the creature cards you play with! You will use this creature to navigate your way through the world, which can be a little clunky, but to be expected from a game this old. Whilst exploring the world you will be able to interact with some of the scenery, such as buildings, relics, and other devices. I quite liked having to roam around my surroundings, especially with the sound effects matching the environment.
Inevitably you will find yourself having to participate in a battle. The battles share a lot of similarities to the old video game Magic: The Gathering — Battlegrounds. You will face off against your opponent, and instead of attacking one another directly you will summon Creatures and cast Spells. The battle system within the game also shares a lot of similar terminology with Magic: The Gathering, such as Flying, Wall, First Strike, etc. The object of the battle is to reduce the HP of the opponent to 0 using those Creatures and Spells, as with many other card games.
At the start of a turn you will receive Ether (Mana) which is used to case your Spells and summon your Creatures. This is replenished each turn and any unspent Ether is wasted for that turn, as it doesn’t carry over. In order to receive Ether, you have an Ether Channel. The Ether Channel is similar to the resource system found in Hearthstone. Each turn it will increase by 1, and so will the Ether you’ll be able to spend each turn.
At the start of the battle you’ll draw five cards from your pool of 16 cards and then one card per turn after that. All of these cards have a number of charges, meaning they can only be cast a set number of times before they become inactive, and you’ll no longer draw them each turn. As you level up and progress through the game, the cards can have more charges. This makes for an interesting set of game mechanics that add a lot more strategy than what I was expecting.
As a fan of Magic: The Gathering Battlegrounds, this game ticked quite a number of boxes for me. Being able to summon my Creatures as moving 3D models with my Hero avatar being present on the battlefield makes it feel far more real than playing cards onto a board. A lot of card games make you feel distant and separated from your main character, but Etherlords II keeps you immersed all the time. The only negative thing was the slower way the game progressed through the phases and battle animations, but this is likely due to my expectations from more modern games which have got faster and snappier over time.
GAME MODES & FEATURES
Etherlords II has a great RPG mode that will have you progressing through mission after mission in search of more powerful enemies and, of course, more cards. Once you have finished with one faction, you can play through as the other faction available. Finishing both of these campaigns means you can then take on the campaign for the more mystical faction in the game that you’re not able to choose at the start.
The game steers away from any traditional shops or booster pack purchases and instead emphasizes obtaining the cards in-game. There are resources that you’ll collect throughout the world that can then be spent on cards from merchants in-game, however. I have to point out a hilarious milestone here, that this is the first time I’ve ever been able to obtain cards in a game by paying with weeds and rocks. I’d much prefer to pay this way than with real money any day!
There is a multiplayer aspect to the game, but it’s a little complicated to use for those of a non-technical disposition. You have the option of playing through TCP/IP, an old method of playing where you’d need the other player’s computer IP address in order to set-up a game. LAN is a similar system, but requires the computers to be on the same network, locally. I did prefer playing in the main single player campaign, as it was much easier to contend with than having to try and figure out how to play others online, but for those willing to go through the trouble you might still find a few people around online.
I liked the inclusion of the Encyclopedia, which is also accessible in the Main Menu. This lets you look up details on the Creatures featured within the game. Knowing what to expect can sometimes lend a tactical advantage for future deckbuilding and strategies, so it’s worth reading if you want to gain an edge.
DECKBUILDING & STRATEGY
Etherlords II doesn’t rely on the traditional deckbuilding system that is seen in most games. You will always have a deck of 16 cards that you can rotate with other cards in your collection. Clicking on a card will pick it up and then to swap that card out, you click on the other card you want in/out of the deck.
Ether is the primary resource within Etherlords II, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when you are crafting your deck. You will want to have a decent scale of Creatures that’ll range from 1 or 2 Ether to summon, up to big Creatures of 6+ Ether. The same ratio applies to Spells, which are either Instants or Enchantments. Instants are Spells that’ll trigger immediately upon casting them, such as healing or direct damage. Enchantments can be used on Creatures for beneficial or negative effects. Some Enchantments can be triggered later by clicking on the Enchantment tab in game and paying its cost to perform its action.
With only 16 slots available, you’ll soon run into the same trouble I had, which was deciding what to have in my deck and what to leave out. It was a tough decision most of the time, but you can tailor the deck before you fight a particular enemy. It is always best to get ahead of the game… uh… before the game.
Etherlords II isn’t without its flaws, and these should be highlighted, as is only fair. Navigating the terrain can be a little unresponsive and at times the camera angle wants to do its own thing. This doesn’t help when you manage to click to move after the camera has done a random spin, which sends you back to where you came from! You can zoom out for a larger perspective, but then this leads to not being able to see resources on the ground. I would also like to point out the poor voice acting that will have you giggling like a school girl at times, but this could be a plus instead of a minus if you’re looking to be entertained!
The positives of the game far outweigh the negatives, though. For example, the mechanics are so familiar from the rest of the TCG/CCG genre, and the similar terminology helps you understand the game immediately. I found this made for an enjoyable gaming experience from the start. The visual effects when casting Creatures and Spells are pretty enough, as are the combat and summoning animations, especially when you consider the game’s age.
Etherlords II is an old game that was rather ahead of its time when you consider what it offers against modern games. The developers who made it clearly had an objective to make a card game that could stand the test of time. I think it has, and that is why I would recommend you give it a go. If you’re looking for a retro-flavored game with a ‘pay once, play forever’ model, with some addictive card collecting that won’t cost you anything extra, definitely check it out.
For more screenshots, click here.
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