Available: 14 November 2003
Best Price: $39.82
Developer: Nival Interactive
Publisher: Strategy First

Interview by: Dennis Sloutsky

Back in 2001 Russian-based developer Nival Interactive has surprised gamers with its card-based TBS game Etherlords. This year they're making a comeback with Etherlords II. Etherlords II takes you back to the Etherworld and into a whole new realm of fantastic possibilities. An exciting mix of role-play and tactical turn-based combat in the best traditions of fantasy trading card games. Read on to find out more about the game.

Hi, please introduce yourself and your company to our readers.

I’m Andrey Yemelyanenko. I’ve been with Nival Interactive since 1999 when I started as a programmer for Evil Islands. I became the Project Manager for Etherlords and have taken over the lead position for Etherlords II as well. Nival Interactive was founded in 1996 and Etherlords II will be the 8th game we’ve developed since then. Our titles include the Rage of Mages Series, Evil Islands, Etherlords, Blitzkrieg and the soon to be released Silent Storm.

What was your role on the project? What do you think you've personally brought into it?

As the project Manager, I make sure we’re putting together the best game possible – on time :-) . I’m also responsible for making sure that we hold true to the original idea behind Etherlords while at the same time carrying the story forward and introducing loads of new gameplay elements.

Can you tell us a little about Etherlords II and its world?

The story behind the first game involves a world that is split between four unique races and ruled over by one White Lord. Ether is the source of all life and magic, and can be split into 4 strands – Red, Green, Blue and Black – one strand for each race. The races live in relative peace and harmony with each other the majority of the time, but once in a great while come the Time of Changes – when one hero from one of the races must fight against the others and win in order to become the new White Lord – this is what Etherlords was about. Etherlords II takes place a couple of hundred years after the Time of Changes when there should be little to no conflict. Now, since a combat adventure game would be boring without any combat or adventure – we’ve shaken things up a bit and the four races are at each other’s throats. This is an unprecedented situation for the Etherworld and its inhabitants, it will be your job to stay alive, and figure out what is at the heart of this new conflict.

Can you tell us something about the five different campaigns that players will be able to play in Etherlords II?

There are the four races – the Chaots (Red), the Vitals (Green), the Kinets (Blue) and the Synthets (Black). Each race’s color determines their magical abilities, as well as their look, surroundings and culture. You will be playing one campaign as a hero for each race. The fifth campaign is for Diamanda – a central character who I’ll get to in just a minute.

In each of the first four campaigns, you’ll start out with a low-level hero with basic spells and creatures. By exploring the map, taking quests from NPC’s, collecting resources and fighting your enemies, you’ll acquire new magic spells, creatures, artifacts and experience, which in turn will make you more powerful as you face ever increasing threats and get to the bottom of the what is causing the races to fight against each other.

In the fifth campaign, you’ll play as Diamanda, a powerful sorceress from the first game who is a cross between the Kinets and Synthets. During the course of the final campaign, you’ll also pick up the ability to use Vital and Chaot magic – in effect, your character will be able to master some of the magic from all four races – something that fans of the first game have been asking for since its release.

Of course, what would a great adventure and mystery story be without the appearance of strange and menacing new creatures – in all of the campaigns you’ll be faced with a new “Pale” race of magic and monsters that you’ll have to fight against as well as learn how to master. Their magic will also be able to affect areas and structures as well as your own magic and creatures. We have plenty of surprises left up our sleeves for both fans of the original Etherlords as well as new players!

What are the biggest changes that one would notice in Etherlords II in comparison with its predecessor (Etherlords I)?

The single biggest change is the new focus on adventure and RPG-style gameplay as opposed to the turn-based strategy play that was central to the first game. This new approach was something that we wanted to do even before finishing the original game, and as luck would have it, the majority of Etherlords fans also wanted it. This very radical change allowed us to rethink how you play the game and led us to implement a whole range of changes that include a much deeper and involved story, a single hero that evolves and gains experience throughout each campaign, NPC characters, side quests, new modes of travel like tunnels and teleporters, as well as sailing ships and new structures that will affect combat within a certain radius.

Combat also received a serious overhaul with the addition of the Pale monsters, which can be used by any race, and a reserve and active spell inventory which allow you to switch spells before or after any duels – this both expands the range of tactics you can use as well as makes them more flexible. Whenever we considered any change, we made sure that it would make the game easier to master while making it more fun.

What kind of multiplayer modes will be featured in Etherlords II?

Multiplayer duels in Etherlords II will include 1v1 with handpicked decks as in the original Etherlords as well as two new modes. The first of these is Sealed, which is also 1v1, but each player picks their spells and creatures from a randomized set. The next is called Draft, which supports up to 8 players in Olympic-style elimination rounds. The first player picks one spell, specialization, artifact or creature from a large deck and then passes to the next player who does the same until all of the players have a full set of spells – then the massacre begins until the last player is left standing.

We have also implemented our own matching and tournament server that keeps personal stats for any gamer who plays Etherlords II online. The server will feature auto-ratings and track your success in both informal 1v1 duels as well as ladder tournaments.

Finally, in Etherlords II you’ll be able to record and even add your own commentary to any online duel. This gives you a chance to just “show off” or actually teach other players how to achieve complete tactical dominance! Aside from all of the other changes we’ve made, we see the multiplayer game as one of the most important parts of Etherlords II’s success.

What can you tell us about the game's graphics engine? What are some of its strong points and unique features?

We’ve developed on the original Etherlords engine, as even today it produces outstanding 3D graphics. We changed the isometric top-down view from the strategy portion of the original game into a full-blown rotating camera with zoom options for the new adventure mode. Now that our focus is on one hero for each campaign, we upped the resolutions on all of the textures in the game and built a lot of new structures and added weather disturbances and other environmental effects. In the combat mode, we’ve added some gorgeous new arenas and tons of spectacular new effects that are sure to please. The camera in the combat mode can be set to auto or you can freely rotate and zoom as you choose. All said – Etherlords received high marks for its graphics – and we aim to please in the sequel too!

How much is left of the development, and what are you currently working on?

We’re coming up fast on Gold status – we’ve been doing a lot of testing and the usual finishing touches. Etherlords II should be available by late September or early October.

When can we expect a playable demo?

Very, very soon :-)

Is there anything else you’d like to add, before we wrap this up?

As with everything we do, we put a major effort into making Etherlords II a new standard for the genre – we hope that you enjoy what we’ve done. See you online!