Verdant anti-builder Terra Nil gets a surprise free update with a “deeper” wildlife simulation

Rewild ’em up strategy sim Terra Nil has just received a free Vita Nova update, which introduces five new levels, nine buildings, a spinnable 3D world map, a new creature, the jaguar, and a more sophisticated wildlife system (that’ll be the “new life” in question, then). It endows the game’s hitherto rather decorative fauna with “deeper needs” and greater agency. Find a trailer peering through the reeds below this sentence like a jaguar slavering over an unsuspecting herd of boar. Yes, you’re the wild boar in this analogy. Run piggy, run!

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If you missed Terra Nil, it’s about clearing desolate regions of detritus and pollutants and bringing back the vegetation by plonking down fancy rewilding gadgets, each of which requires biopower produced by the map tiles you restore. The new maps include Polluted Bay, in which you have to work around an utterly foul river, and Scorched Caldera, a volcano you must turn into a lake. “These, and all the new maps in the Vita Nova update, will put your reclamation skills to the test in interesting and unusual ways,” notes the press release.

The accompanying wildlife system “adds a new dimension of strategy to the game”, with animals emerging “more naturally” in response to your restoration of the terrain. You can also nudge them about by constructing land bridges and even indirectly cultivate prey populations for predators. I’m not sure how “deep” it is in practice. It sounds like it’ll be enjoyable finding out.

But will it be enjoyable enough to offset the drawbacks identified by Hayden Hefford (RPS in peace) in their Terra Nil review last year? “It certainly feels refreshing in the citybuilding genre, which is so often focused on creating infinite growth and bustling metropolises, nature be damned, but ultimately, it’s still a game about chasing numbers, and filling meters that allow you to progress,” Hayden wrote. “That alone could be comforting, some much needed calm in a busy world as you create a lush landscape, but I found its repetitive nature was more frustrating than relaxing.”

I’ve only ever played a pre-release version of Terra Nil, but I’ve interviewed developers Free Lives and they seem like a kind bunch. One thing we talked about in that interview was whether the developers might introduce human beings to the setting, living alongside the nonhuman creatures and involving themselves in the restoration process, rather than having everything hinge on the usage of shiny SimGadgets. Terra Nil is a charming game and a pleasant reprieve from climate crisis angst, but I’ve always found the absence of humans from its setting a bit hopeless. There’s an unintended, but unfortunate parallel with how real-life rewilding projects may exclude indigenous people from their ancestral lands.

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