Terra Nil Hands-On Preview

June 17, 2021

Terra Nil Key Art

Sometimes, all I want is a relatively chill gaming experience that doesn’t involve me murdering everything in sight. Sometimes, I just want to place things on a map and resuscitate a dead landscape. Thankfully, Free Lives and Devolver Digital heard my calls and are developing the perfect game to scratch that itch – Terra Nil. With E3 2021, Summer Game Fest and just a general mass of game events happening at the moment, I was lucky enough to be able to go hands on with a preview build of the terraforming game.

Terra Nil is described as a reverse city builder, where you need to restore a devastated ecosystem. So, instead of placing factories, apartment buildings and hospitals, you’re placing down things like renewable energy sources and building that will bring greenery back to the landscape. It’s an interesting concept that is instantly familiar to players of city builders but is different enough to also feel unique.

The demo I played tasked me with rejuvenating a randomised map of barren, life-averse dirt and rocks. There was a short tutorial, introducing me to a few of the earliest buildings in the game, before letting me loose to wreak restoration on the world. After reaching a certain amount of grass cover, the game opened up further, giving me additional buildings and tools that allowed to create further biome types in wetlands and forests. Tasked with reaching a certain amount of coverage of all three land types, I was then left to my own devices.

Quickly, I realised that the game almost acts like a puzzle game, rather than a more traditional city builder game. While I was placing buildings that would generate different types of landmass it became clear that there was some strategy to how and when you placed them down. A perfect example is that generating forests involves burning down grasslands to generate ash which can then be used to seed a forest. What I didn’t figure on initially was that starting a fire would, of course, cause it to run through the entire connected grasslands on my map. I was quickly hamstrung by my own mistake, because it limited my potential to generate the game’s energy resources that are needed to place buildings, and had to start a new map.

On the second go round, I played a little more methodically. I created masses of grasslands, then built new river systems to segment the map and also create new rock formations that wind turbines (which are needed to power building) in more places. This approach allowed me to start with a solid base of grasslands, and also left plenty of segmented area to burn down for forests and rivers to convert to wetlands. I started finding more success the more I played and learned how to chain buildings together to get the best results. It definitely felt like a puzzle, where I was teasing out the best methods and approach to reach my end result.

While it was a super small chunk of the game, I walked away impressed with what was there and am definitely interested in playing more. I could see it potentially feeling a little samey over a long period of time unless there are further specific goals or objectives to hit, but that’s something that won’t be known until the full game is out. Still, if you’re looking for a chill reverse city builder, I’d suggest keeping an eye on Terra Nil in the future.

Terra Nil was previewed on a Windows 10 PC with a preview code provided by the publisher. For more information, check the official website.