Etherlords iOS Review

‘Tactical’ video games have been around since the phrase ‘video game’, and over the years the genre has split into many hybrid genres with many styles to suit many gamers. It’s one of those genres that was very distinctive way back when, but could now be slapped on the cover of almost any game. ‘RPG’ is another. In order for a game to be called a game, it must have some amount of competitiveness and decision making; whether a game is ‘tactical’ is all down to the scale of those decisions and the effect it has on the game.

You are an Etherlord – a collector of creatures and healer of worlds. A young fairy-girl by the name of Vita  will guide you through the worlds as you help her restore the once flourishing land that has since fallen into evil hands and become the home of many denizens known as the ‘Chaots’. Your goal is to eliminate your foes and restore the land to its former self, collecting creatures and leveling up along the way.

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Each ‘world’ is split into roughly eight chapters. In each chapter, you must defeat enemies to gain ‘Matter’ which can then be placed throughout the area to slowly piece it back together. If you think of Matter as ‘tiles of land’ then you’re on the right page. Your aim in each chapter is complete the goal within a limited Matter usage. Goals include restoring lakes, volcanoes and forests to find a particular person or item. You are given one tile at a time and are shown where it can be placed by lit-up empty tile slots. Gold glowing slots also pop up from time to time and indicate the final piece of a landmark, such as one of the goals. Restoring these landmarks will often reward you with bonus creatures and ‘Ether’ which can be used in various ways.

Collecting creatures and utilising their power is the key to progressing through the game. The way these creatures work is very similar to many strategic card games in the sense that you can collect many different types and choose your ‘deck’ before a battle, the main difference being that your cards are living creatures. These 180-ish collectible characters vary from goblins and dragons to bears and trolls, and each come with a unique ability.

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At the start of battle you are given the option to change your three creatures for any in your stock or start the battle with a ‘Wrath’ attack to get the upper hand (if you have the Crystals for it of course). Once the fight begins, each of the six players – both your three and the opponents three –  take their turn to use their automatic attack. Then and only then can you choose which special attack you wish to perform, followed by the enemies chosen special. Each creature has their own special ability which levels up as they do. If you like to heal regularly then you might want to take a creature that can heal its self or its allies. If you prefer the all-out attack strategy, then you’ll want high-dealing damage characters. There are also several types of buffs and de-buffs including shields and curses. It might be wise to take a selection of different types into battle in order to maximise your options, but if you’re anything like me you will find that one creature in particular can be extremely useful and might be the only attack you need for quite some time.

During battle your characters will automatically attack the enemy in front of them, or the nearest if there is none. This can be taken to your advantage in choosing where to position your characters. You can even move places during a battle if you feel you need to, but it will sacrifice a special attack turn. Sometimes a glowing glyph will appear in a specific spot and will grant special effects based on its type, such as a green glyph that, if I’m not mistaken, will absorb some of the damage deal to the creature placed there. These glyphs can also be placed via some creatures ability.

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Like any game, the battles become most interesting and exciting when you are extremely close to both winning, and losing. This is where the game becomes very tactical as each decision could decide the outcome. Chapters give you limited lives, and if lost you will need to restart the chapter, meaning you will need to fight for more Matter and re-place your tiles, but all creatures collected will be kept and their progress will be stored. When you want to improve your creatures and their abilities, you can use ‘Fusion’. This process requires a chosen creature to improve, and as many as four sacrifices. The four chosen characters to infuse will then be lost and the primary creature will gain experience points. The higher the level of the sacrifices, the more experience points will be earned. You will also get a significant bonus if the primary and secondary creatures match in type.

All of the creatures in Etherlords look beautiful. They are all very well created in both a technical and artistic sense. The animations are great and give each creature a great deal of character. The environments are also well created and give a simple game the feeling of much more. The particle effects are possibly my favourite part about the art of this game; the cool flying leaves, roaring flames and general smokey badness really add to the feel of character attacks and their effects, especially with the high quality sound effects played over the top.

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Overall Etherlords has been quite an experience for a somewhat simple game. Sometimes your objective can be a little unclear and you can feel cheated by a boss’s sudden power surge, but I kept looking forward to coming back to the game and trying out my new creatures. For a free game it doesn’t feel like the ‘In-App-Purchases’ are forced too much, although it can be a very difficult game at times and you may be tempted, which is a relief to anyone I’m sure. I recommend anyone gives this game a go and not be too daunted by the mass of information you will receive upon starting. It’s beautiful, fun, challenging and most importantly; tactical.

8 out of 10