The first time I heard of Terra Nil it was presented to me as a “reverse city builder.” That description may bring a few different ideas to your head. It certainly did to mine. I also guarantee that most of those are incorrect. Rather than taking a map complete with resources and land waiting to be exploited, Terra Nil tasks you with restoring the ecosystem of the environment.
This process is relatively simple and even devoid of most stressors that come alongside city builders. There isn’t a specific amount of electricity, water, or other resources to manage. Rather, the focus is on good vibes and the beauty of it all — with just the right amount of guidance.
Each time you play Terra Nil, the experience is divided into three distinct phases: land restoration, increasing biodiversity, and cleaning up your mess. The process is remarkably easy to wrap your heard around compared to most “normal” city builders. Windmills placed on rocks provide electricity within a certain range. Toxin scrubbers turn the wasteland soil into proper dirt. Irrigators are next, growing grass on the soil. Turning enough of the map green is your goal here.
Failure is, in theory, possible. You have a currency represented by a green leaf. Everything you build has a cost; turning things green earns you more to spend. The number, however, is mostly arbitrary. It basically represents a final score more than a limitation on your ability to proceed. Once you start, you can largely ignore the number, as long as you’re making sure to work towards your objectives and not building carelessly.
Once you do this the game pivots to expanding biodiversity. Success is achieved by reaching a certain amount of land with flowers, marshes, and forests. Again, simple! The process of making these, however, is slightly more complicated. This is where the randomly generated level you receive starts to matter.
Marshes can only be near water. They also require you to upgrade an existing irrigator to a hydroponium. Doing so will convert the eligible nearby tiles into marshland. Flowers are next created when you put a beehive into a tree — a crucial part of making forests. As you can imagine, forests need rich soil, and the only way to achieve that is by burning vegetated land. A combination of two items lets you light the greenery on fire, spreading to all non-marshland grass it touches, destroying everything along the way. Once that’s done, you can place buildings that sprout dense forest from the tiles.
This is all a balancing act. You can either cease caring about your score/currency at all, or you can attempt to be as optimal as possible. Hovering over the potential placement of an item shows you the change to your net score. Some decisions will both earn you score and increase the level of diversity. Other times you’ll be short and sacrifice score so you can get enough diversity. All three of these factors have to reach a baseline level before you can advance to the last stage of the game.
The final adjustments are to the temperature and humidity of the region which are less complicated and even more restricted.
I wasn’t expecting much, but that was when Terra Nil clicked for me. The conditions for the region became perfect and thunder started to ring. The lifegiving rains arrived. I had, in other words, succeeded. Animals return to the map as deer roam the plains, frogs populate the marshes, and the rivers give life to fish. Any land tiles I missed in my initial efforts started sprouting grass.
The mission was already complete. All that was left was to clean things up. And I entirely welcome this final phase where all you do is place silos that deconstruct everything you placed. A recycling drone will automatically navigate the waters and gather the leftover materials. If you plan ahead, all that’s left to do is appreciate your creation as the drone slowly removes all structures, leaving a pristine environment behind.
If I could bottle the feeling I got as the storms arrived, I would. It’s not just a satisfying payoff; it’s also a great reminder of the outside world we so often distance ourselves from in games and other ways. Terra Nil is a game that celebrates life and the natural splendor of it all. With each map only taking about 30 minutes to complete, you get to experience that feeling over and over again.
There are other regions still to come and I’m sure the developers will have other features to make you change up your approach. Even without that though, I’m looking forward to booting this up at the end of a long work day.