So I have seen Terra Nil a lot in my social media bubble, and the idea of it speaks to me and the things I support. Terra Nil is an “anti-city-builder,” is probably the best way I could put it. You are given a section of wasteland and have to build it up into a thriving environment and then erase your presence. Fantastic. But the response to the game has been mixed and… I get it?
The game comes with three difficulties, and as I said, the gameplay is city builder type. You start with an area of wasteland, build power, and then “cleanse” the land with things like soil cleaners, etc. As you play, you unlock more of the land and more things to do. Your goals are pretty straightforward. It starts with you just doing some basic work and expands to you reclaiming most of the area. From there, you need to balance the types of biomes for the area, building them up in harmony. Lastly, you start to erase all you have done and bring animals so that the environment is complete, self-sustaining, and can go on without further interference. You get to do this with several areas with different themes.
The game looks great, it’s a fascinating concept, and the music and overall “vibe” is beautiful and relaxing. It is a fun and interesting experience.
So then, what is the issue?
The difficulty. The game is actually not all that user-friendly, and while experimentation will help you learn, there isn’t a lot of freedom to experiment and then undo. I found myself resetting areas more often than not simply because I didn’t know how to work with things I unlocked but couldn’t undo stuff either. Even on easy, the game is pretty brutal, and it is hard to complete areas. It took me so many tries to even reclaim the first area so I could see that there was more to do.
Even once you figure out the different buildings and such for each area, you still aren’t in the clear as far as “ease,” though. Case in point the first area removing all you have done requires recycling silos. No big deal. But then, to remove those silos, you need them close enough to the river. So you either have to be meticulous in your planning from the first thing you plop down on, which still won’t always work depending on your map. OR you have to build a lot of extra rivers and the like. In a game all about minimizing your impact and supporting the notion of environments thriving when left alone, forcing the player to make massive changes to the landscape seems… off?
I enjoyed what I played and am going to continue to try to unlock and experience more, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that even on easy, the game kind of lacks approachability.
Still, it’s a cool concept, I like that a percentage of Steam sales goes to a charity, and I really hope the game encourages other developers to consider something like this. Using gaming as a form of activism and trying to get a message out is not new, but it is cool to see it get more tailored and blunter. I just honestly hope there is an update at some point that balances out the gameplay.
Bottom line? I recommend it? Mostly… I would love to be able to give it a strong recommendation, and with a few tweaks, I could. I just again really dislike how difficult it is and that the game is less “relaxing” than the way it was marketed and presents itself because of that. But the art and music are once again beautiful, and it is trying something cool. Maybe with updates or even my learning the game better, I might be more enthusiastic in my response.