Terra Nil’s free Vita Nova update has you reclaiming the wasteland

Posted on June 25, 2024

Early last year I had the absolute pleasure of reviewing Terra Nil, a building simulator that flips the genre on its head by being about restoring the landscape to its natural roots instead of building it up into a city. The game was a brilliant subversion with engaging gameplay, satisfying audio and visual feedback and a touching message. This year, developer Free Lives has updated the game with a new update called Vita Nova (Latin for ‘New Life’) to add some different biomes to explore with new buildings to use when restoring the area. It also makes some substantial changes to mechanics that do an outstanding job of improving upon the gameplay loop that already existed.

The meat and the potatoes of the game are still the same; each new biome presents you with a new series of challenges you will need to overcome in order to restore the landscape. One of the new areas, the Scorched Caldera, is particularly interesting because it encourages players to create lakes and ponds, not by using a water pump, but instead by manipulating the temperature and humidity to the point that rains begin and slowly fill all the lower ground areas with water, and turn any of the exposed lava back to rock. This was the first time that environmental manipulation played a part in the actual required process of restoration instead of just as a way to meet bonus criteria for the area. It’s a great way of testing a player’s knowledge of the game, because it never explicitly says this is what needs to be done.

With Vita Nova, major changes have also been made to the part of each level where your job is to rehabilitate animals in the area. This used to be done by looking up what each animal required and then clicking on a part of the map that you thought best suited them. If you were correct, the animals would appear in that location. The new method is much more streamlined, and while the old mechanic worked fine, it did result in a lot of clicking around to find just the right spot.

Now, animals will appear on their own if any area is close to meeting their requirements, and from there, it is your job to make the location ideal for them. Some areas will already be perfect and the animals there will be happy, but others may only meet one requirement, and you can fix this by adding different fauna, clearing areas of radiation, or by simply placing a log over a river to connect two areas. The animals also now enter your map as soon as it becomes habitable, even if you are yet to reach the last stage of restoration, making them a much larger part of the process, and meaning that you get to see more of them than before.

Some of the new buildings included are also very interesting, and force you to relearn some of the most familiar mechanics of the game. Pipe Hubs are placed on the edge of a river and then send a pipe with sprinklers attached out for a few squares which then grows grass on either side of the pipe. Irrigators, which pipe hubs replace in the new biomes, could be placed anywhere, so having to figure out the best way to get consistent water coverage with these new buildings is a lot of fun. The other two interesting buildings are the carbon compactor which converts trees into rock and a transpirator, which absorbs moisture from the area it’s placed in, and then that moisture can be placed over lava to create rocks and raise humidity in the area.

If you haven’t already played Terra Nil, it still gets an incredibly high recommendation from me. This update has only added more great content to play through, while also making improvements to the already brilliant game, including an improved 3D world map. It’s engaging, thought-provoking, incredibly meditative and now there’s even more of it to enjoy.

The Terra Nil: Vita Nova update is free and is live on mobile (Netflix) and PC now, with a Switch update following soon.