REVIEW | Terra Nil

REVIEW | Terra Nil

Terra Nil review |

Videogames as a medium offer as many possibilities for gameplay as one can come up with, which makes it surprising how rare it is to find a game that tries something different. Terra Nil is a terraforming strategy game in which the player is tasked with reclaiming polluted and contaminated areas, restoring the climate and ensuring animals have suitable environments to come inhabit. This is done through the strategic placement of buildings that scrub toxins from the ground, irrigate it, provide green energy or even dredge the ocean floor to provide land on which to build. Almost every action costs a certain amount of resources, but fully restoring land or sea tiles gives resources back. This creates a push-and-pull balance where expanding too quickly can leave you stranded as you need to finish small areas to get enough resources to work with.

One of the main themes in Terra Nil is ‘destroying to create’ which ties perfectly with the whole message of the experience: reclaiming lost areas so that life might thrive again. Sometimes, destruction can be mitigated with proper planning, such as excavating and contaminating an area before scrubbing toxins; however, destroying is inevitable at certain points, such as burning the land to create ashy nutrients for lush, verdant forests. 

DeveloperFree Lives
PublisherDevolver Digital

ℹ️ Reviewed on PC | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion of the writer. Got unanswered questions about this game? Get in touch on Twitter!

What we Liked!

  • Outstanding graphical style | In Terra Nil, you’ll spend most of your playtime zoomed out as wide as possible to get the best building placement possible. However, the game allows you to zoom in close enough to count the amount of flowers in a tile —something I heartily recommend you do! This game looks gorgeous and most of the heavy lifting is done by the art style: the environments look hand painted but brimming with detail and the animals have a cel-shaded style that merges well with the rest.
  • The pacing | Four regions comprise the game’s main stages, each with its own biomes and mechanics. Each subsequent stage introduces new mechanics that are sometimes appended to previous ones, increasing their complexity and the usefulness of certain buildings. This creates a beautiful web of decision-making as the game progresses since each building presents the player with more placement options that require more fore planning to be efficient.
  • The experience | Above all, the entire point of this game is to sit back, relax and have an enjoyable time. In that sense, Terra Nil delivers in spades! This is a perfect ‘one-hour game’ or simply a calming, chill-time game for those moments when all you want is to unwind. All the elements that comprise this game are working in tandem towards the experience: the visuals, the soothing music, the slow-paced gameplay… It strikes the perfect balance between challenge, brainpower and relaxation.

Mixed Feelings

  • Extra features and lacking options | The game features a Screenshot mode that gets rid of the UI so you can get those crispy clean captures of your handiwork. But the files will be saved in a new folder created in the desktop which, as far as I could see, can’t be changed. Similarly, the video and graphics options are severely lacking, offering resolution, display mode and vsync. That’s it. All I wanted was to tone down the weather effects like a storm as it lays down thick enough to distort every line behind it. Oh, and the undo button bugged out on me once, reverting the effects of a building but leaving the building itself behind… I really needed those resources and I had to restart. 🙁

What we Disliked

  • Too short! | If anything, this is the best kind of negative your product can have. It was over way too soon! And yes, the game offers some mixed regions where features and mechanics of two or more others are thrown in as a challenge. Still, I would have loved things like huge maps, or tiny puzzle-like challenge maps. Although, the case can be made for simply replaying the regions, which leads us to…
  • Procedural Generation | The maps are procedurally generated following certain rules. You’ll never get a map that is truly unsolvable, but some generations can feel like it. In some instances, I’ve struggled for what felt like hours in a map before restarting the region, only to solve it effortlessly in the next attempt. Depending on the distribution of resources and slopes, some mistakes can be much more costly in some map generations than others.

How long to beat the story | 4-5 hours
How long to get all achievements | 12 hours
You’ll love this game if you like these | Dorfromantik, From Dust


Terra Nil is a game about changing the world that doesn’t set itself out to change the world. It is a small and pleasant experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome and that offers a relaxing and safe space to enjoy a journey. If the developers now buckle down and keep adding to this formula, or even open the gates for community-created content, I can see this quickly garnering a following.

Gameplay 🎮

Slow-paced, relaxing, isometric building-placement strategy. The goal is to restore areas from the map by strategic placement of buildings and use of their abilities. Some mechanics grow in complexity but it never becomes overwhelming.

Visuals 🖼️

Gorgeous and distinct, managing to look beautiful from up close but not become messy or muddy from a distance. Buildings have distinct shapes and some beautiful touches of animation to make the world feel lively and in motion. 

Sound 🎧

Serene and soothing tracks will fill most of the soundscape of the game. What sound effects exist feel adequate and satisfying, working well to convey and complement what is shown on-screen.

Story 📖

This being a personal journey of sorts, the story will be whatever you make of it. There’s no character motivation or actors at play, just a simple premise and intrinsic player motivation to move forward.

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