If I were reviewing this game in a single paragraph, it would be a short review. It would say something along the lines of "It did not take me very long to realise that this was an extraordinarily linear game, with little freedom of choice." At least, that is what I would say about the first mission, which railroads you into doing a specific set of tasks in a specific order, with the only non-linearity being the way in which you engage in combat.
I would, however be wrong. Etherlords II is a game where a dizzying array of choice awaits you when it comes to combat outcomes. The place where you get a limited number of choices is in the battles you can do on the world map (in campaign mode, at least).
Imagine if you could play Magic the Gathering or Splinterlands with a deck comprised of cards from each and every faction. Sure, you'd get powerful synergies by keeping the same schools of magic (or colours) together, but you can combine different schools of magic in really interesting and powerful ways in Etherlords.
This makes it an incredibly diverse game, and once it starts to open up and let go of the hand holding it does in the early game, this very quickly spirals out of control. You're propelled towards a myriad of challenging enemies, some generic side quests, and ... an averagely voice acted, average story, about protecting your land.
The good thing is you, can choose which land to protect, with one of the first choices you make in the campaign being: do you want to be good, or do you want to be bad?
The result of this choice leads to significantly different game play outcomes, which is really refreshing.
There are criticisms though. The difficulty curve spikes on a regular basis. Normal monsters are not so challenging. Boss monsters are very challenging, with some cheap gimmicks (and randomisation) playing into whether you win or you lose based on the draw order of spells (cards) in your deck.
Combat is slow, with animations for every action, and even with the combat animations sped up (and movement ignored , and every gameplay element enabled to speed up the gameplay) - the combat is far too slow paced, with battles taking upwards of 15 minutes a piece even when you're trying to murder the things as fast as possible, so you can get more spells, to murder other things faster the next time you encounter them.
The story is told through very ordinary voice acting and even more ordinary, unmemorable writing, but the gameplay is king here, with the exception of it being so slow paced. This would be fine if there were completely elaborate, unique, nuanced animations, but they're not present.
I have to change my mind about this game - while it shows the promise of being a Heroes of Might and Magic reborn again and again, it lacks to finese, polish, and steam-roll type mechanics you could build toward in Heroes of Might and Magic, which is what made that series of games so thoroughly entertaining and unique to me.
This is probably worth a look, but it does need some slight tweaks to get running on Windows 10 at higher than basic resolutions - you can modify the settings ini file, but then you need to download a patched executable that fixes the interface. Visuals are not horrific for the age of the game, but they could've aged better.
Sound design is pretty... basic, and I feel like I didn't miss much from the first game after hearing the audio in this second title.
While I keep telling myself my time with this game was not wasted, there was a nagging voice at the back of my head telling me constantly just how pointless a continued endeavour in the game would be. While it has fun concepts, solid design (from a gameplay perspective) - there's no real hook or reward to keep you coming back, other than that of killing the next guy even faster than the last - until you hit the new difficulty wall, reset, start a new strategy, and then creep up the mastery curve.
There's nothing to keep you hooked beyond this notion. So, I was wrong about this game. What I thought would catapult itself up my list of favourite games did not - and it is unlikely to be something that I would play again.