Most everyone has at least heard of Magic: The Gathering--it's the strategy game where people duel each other with cards representing various spells and creatures. Each card has unique properties that turn the game into a fight of tactics and sometimes even luck. 2001's Etherlords took that concept and managed to turn it into an entertaining turn-based strategy game. Now developer Nival Interactive has produced a sequel that improves the original game's combat--its best feature--as well as resolves some of the original game's issues. The result is even better than its predecessor, and brings Etherlords' distinctive gameplay up to today's standards.
Enemy heroes will guard passages and precious resources.
Etherlords II modifies its predecessor's gameplay to let you control only one hero, from a fixed camera angle. The result feels more like Diablo as you walk through the map and search for things to do. You'll find resources strewn across the land, which you need to purchase more powerful spells. You'll also run into wandering monsters and characters in your adventure. The monsters are a good source of experience points and will often leave you loot in the form of new spells. Non-player characters will assign quests for you to complete.
These quests will advance the story as well as give you missions to accomplish. Each mission has a linear path, but there are often side quests you can embark on that will make your character more powerful. For example, if you go off the path and explore, you may find a shrine that will make a certain creature more powerful. That not only helps you finish the given mission more easily, but is also more rewarding in the grand scheme of things. One mission may make your treants more powerful, while another benefits ticks. This lets you change your strategy with every mission and makes the game much more interesting to play. But perhaps the best new feature in Etherlords II is that you can carry over your hero to the next mission. A big complaint about the first game was that you would spend so much time in every mission, only to lose the experience, spells, and artifacts as you progressed to the next mission. Etherlords II lets you keep everything you have received, so you truly feel like you're building up a powerful hero over the course of the game.
You'll select a deck of spells from a reserve deck.
While the adventure portion of the game has been radically changed, the combat has not, though it has been refined. Heroes don't actively fight in the game. Instead, they use something called ether to cast spells from a preconfigured deck. Every spell you find is added to your inventory. You choose 16 of these spells to form an active deck that is used in combat. You start out with five spells when combat is initiated, and your hero receives a new spell at the start of every new turn. Each of these spells has a specified ether casting cost. You gain ether at the start of your turn. You will receive more ether channels as the battle progresses, which allows you to expand your ether pool. Fans of Magic: The Gathering will recognize these mechanics.
A deck can comprise direct combat spells, support spells, and summoning spells. Since your hero can't directly injure the enemy hero, you have to choose a deck of spells that will not only do damage to the enemy, but also protect your own hero. Each faction has a unique set of spells. The Vitals have nature-type spells like treants and plants, while the Synthets have biomechanical spells. Summoned creatures can do direct damage to enemy heroes, or they can block enemy creatures sent to hurt yours. They have an attack and defense rating called power and toughness, respectively. The more powerful creatures require more ether to summon, so they won't come into play until later in a match.
There are many different strategies you can use in a battle. You can summon a swarm of weaker creatures and hope you can kill your opponent quickly. Or you can use spells to make a few creatures even stronger. You can even capture enemy creatures and use them against your opponent. Matches won't last forever because of something called an ether disturbance. If a match drags on too long, both heroes will start sustaining damage every round. So a viable strategy here is to play defensively, raise your health, and let the ether disturbance dispatch your foe.