Etherlords (Russian: Демиурги) is a fantasy turn-based strategy and card-dueling series for the PC, by Russian developer Nival Interactive. The first game was published November 12, 2001 by Fishtank Interactive. Prior to worldwide release it was released in Russia (November 9, 2001) as Demiurges (Russian: Демиурги). It was followed two years later by a sequel, Etherlords II, which was published in Europe by DreamCatcher Games and in North America by Strategy First. Nival has stated that a third game isn't out of the question, but so far nothing has been announced.
The game features a card-based dueling system that borrows heavily from Magic: The Gathering. While the game can be played in a pure dueling mode, the major appeal of Etherlords stems from the scenario mode which utilizes a strategy/adventure map, similar to the one used in Heroes of Might and Magic. Nival later became the developer of HOMM 5.
The world is governed by a force known as ether and it is wielded by the representatives of chaos, kinetics, synthesis, and vitality. The leaders of the four factions vie with each other for supremacy, with the ultimate goal of transcending into the fabled White Lord, the master of all ether.
In Etherlords I, you may select between two campaigns: Kinet/Vital or Chaot/Synthet. Some of the maps are shared between the two campaigns, and you simply assume the role of whichever faction you selected. The final mission is one such mission. It also requires that you break with your allies and choose a single faction, and therefore a single avatar, to face the White Lord. The White Lord himself, being a master of all ether, uses spells from multiple schools. Notably he uses a deck that is heavy on Synthet spells, augmented by top picks from the other schools. Upon defeating the White Lord, the victor ascends and becomes the new White Lord.
In Etherlords II, Diamanda mysteriously returns from the mists of legend. She was mentioned in passing at the end of the Kinet/Vital campaign in Etherlords I. A Kinet hero who was captured by the Synthets for experimentation, she appears now as a hybrid Kinet/Synthet spreading the Pale Plague, a sinister disease which drains beings of their energy. You begin the game as either the Vitals or Chaots, and in a twist, each of these factions' campaigns leads to the campaigns of their enemies—so the campaigns are effectively a choice between Vitals/Synthets or Chaots/Kinets. After completing the main campaigns, you then play as Diamanda. Here you discover that the force behind the Pale Plague is actually the reigning White Lord, who wishes to remain in power for eternity and can only do so by inflicting the world with the Pale Plague. Diamanda was resurrected as a mindless slave for this purpose, but she eventually recovers her sense of self and makes the ultimate sacrifice to stop the White Lord's plans.
Comparison of Etherlords and Etherlords II
The dueling portion of each game is conceptually identical. The latter game introduces many modifications to existing cards in order to balance them or make them more interesting to play with, as well as a handful of new cards (mostly found as Pale spells).
A much more significant change can be found in the scenario mode. Whereas Etherlords I uses a strictly turn-based strategy map in the style of Heroes of Might and Magic, Etherlords II uses a more character-oriented adventure map in the style of Shandalar, the minigame that Microprose created for its computer translation of Magic: The Gathering. As a result, the first game emphasizes strategic objectives like securing resources and territory, and using multiple heroes, while the second game eschews those elements in favor of making the player collect cards and manage their decks. The most notable effect of this change is that, aside from occasional time limits, the scenarios in Etherlords II do not feature active dangers—the player is free to explore as he wishes without threat of his infrastructure being destroyed. It is more about fighting through a linear path and taking on each monster in your way, and having to adjust your deck strategy against a series of different opponents.
There are four factions in Etherlords. The Kinets and Vitals can be considered the protagonists, while the Chaots and Synthets can be considered the antagonists, as represented in each faction's art style and the single-player campaigns.
The Chaots are a tribal race of brutish warriors. Their connection to fire and lightning is represented by a multitude of spells that cause direct damage to creatures. Common Chaos creature types include kobolds, orcs, rats and bats.
The Kinets are regal, winged beings with an association to air and water. The Kinets possess an arsenal of spells that delay enemy actions, including discard effects. This is somewhat necessary because all of the Kinet's low-cost creatures have only 1 or 2 points of toughness. Common Kinetic creature types include aviaks (birdmen), spirits, and lamias (naga).
The Synthets are cyborgs and as such they employ machines and technology. Their spells utilize biological attacks which steadily cause damage over time. Synthetic creatures are mechanical, and common types include worms, mechs, and even dinosaurs.
The Vitals are a druidic people who possess an affinity for plants and insects. Bursts of ether allow them to cast larger spells more quickly. They also have many spells to gain life. Common Vitality creatures include ticks, treants, and bees.