I gotta be up front about this – I don’t care about city builder games. I don’t want to place buildings and gather resources so human civilizations can thrive, it just doesn’t interest me. This is why Terra Nil got my attention in a big way. It’s functionally similar to a city builder, but with the opposite focus. Instead of creating human settlements to junk up the environment, you’re instead restoring what humans have seemingly ruined. There isn’t a massive amount of content and it’s more akin to a puzzle game than I’d been expecting, but this is an excellent game with a truly unique, compelling focus.
Your initial goal is to restore four regions of the planet before you take off in your rocket. Each region is broken into three phases. You need to be able to generate power to scrub the areas of toxins and then use a machine to restore greenery. Once the environment is a bit more habitable, the next phase has you recreating the region’s proper biomes. Finally, you need to reintroduce animal life and then clean up all of your machines, leaving the region as if humans were never there. It’s incredibly satisfying to pull off.
You start each region with a certain amount of resources. There’s only one type of resource and its icon is a green leaf, so you’ll need to continually get more of this to be able to afford machines and use various gadgets for other purposes. But you need to be smart. It’s easy to run out of resources if you’re not being careful. Toxin scrubber machines will offer you a deficit when used on land but will often give you a surplus if they extend into the ocean. If you spread greenery across a wide enough area, it will similarly make the machines practically free.
There’s a lot of strategy involved regarding how you place your machines. If you mess up you can either restart a region or retry from the start of the phase. Phase two requires you to restore four biomes, which can be pretty tricky, as you’ll need to balance them out. The different regions have a lot of various unique elements as they vary from typical green areas to tundra to even a destroyed city that has you planting arboretums in the foundations of ruined buildings. Due to this, gameplay is extremely varied and has a large amount of depth.
Reintroducing animals requires you to scan for intersecting biomes where they dwell, but one of the toughest parts is the cleanup. You typically have to put together riverways or build a network of nodes so that a drone can be sent to go pick up the remaining buildings. Thankfully, there’s a lot of versatility at play in how you can shape the land, including creating new rivers or setting up rock off the coast so that turbines or machines that alter the climate can be set up. There’s so much to consider and most of it comes together rather well, even if figuring things out can be fairly confusing at times.
When it’s finally time to leave the planet, you have to take seed samples from all four biomes and then build a rocket piece-by-piece to take off. It’s a great way to end things. But each region has a second map type that becomes available once you beat the game. While the initial four maps are challenging, the subsequent four are tougher. They change things up massively and require you to use machines and biomes in regions in different combinations than you’re familiar with. This can create some problems, as some of the items are much harder to use and plan for than others.
For instance, there are shade pillars that need to be placed in a triangle to grow foliage. But shade pillars can only be planted near cliffs. This isn’t a big deal in the first map you see them in, as the land mass is specifically seeded to offer cliffs in relevant positions to make things simpler. But when you need to dredge up earth from below the seawater to make your own land, it can feel extremely difficult to have cliffs arranged in the right order to properly gain enough of the biome to satisfy the demands. It takes a lot of strategy to pull this off and, honestly, it was a bit much for me, as I found it far harder to create the right biome compared to the others.
But there’s so much to the game that it’s hard to be completely put off by this. Whether you’re burning greenery so that you can raise the temperature and create ashy nutrients for planting or forest or raising humidity to bring rain, there’s so much to consider. Terra Nil looks lovely while it’s at it too. You can zoom in insanely close if you want to appreciate what you’ve done. The devs have done a stellar job putting this game together, which mean a lot coming from someone who really doesn’t like these sorts of games.
If you just want to complete the initial four biomes, Terra Nil can take you six-to-eight hours. But considering how much harder the subsequent maps are and how each region is randomly generated when you start, there’s a fair amount of replay value here, although not to the extent that most strategy lovers will possibly expect. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this game nearly as much as I do, but it’s a pretty marvelous experience, even if successfully accomplishing some goals can feel a bit too hard to pull off for their own good at times.