Terra Invicta Preview
Terra Invicta is probably my favorite game of the year. It is by no means a perfect game, but it’s one with such a particular vision for itself, it stands apart from other examples from the genre, blending together great systems from great games to create something unique. Even when it is fully polished, it probably won’t be a popular crowd-pleaser of a game. But if your taste is anything like mine, you must play Terra Invicta.
World in Flames
First some background. Terra Invicta is the first full game from Pavonis Interactive, who is most famous for creating the XCOM: Long War series of mods. Which are great. The gold standard in modern game mods. And superficially, Terra Invicta is just another take on the XCOM story. Aliens have started appearing on Earth, taking over human society in ways both obvious and insidious. You are a multinational organization tasked with guiding humanity through this tumultuous time.
The first major departure from the XCOM formula is that you are not playing as a team of militant alien fighters or even a geopolitical entity. You choose from one of seven factions who each represent an ideological response to the aliens. The Resistance most resembles XCOM, they want to defend the Earth from the aliens. But Humanity First takes that to the extreme, stoking xenophobia to wipe out every alien. The Servants believe the aliens are superior to humans, and want to gift them the Earth. The Academy is optimistic, hoping this can be the moment humans enter into a galactic federation. The Protectorate don’t think the aliens can be beaten, but they are hoping they can be appeased and paid tribute. The Initiative doesn’t care about morality, but sees this as a great opportunity to sell out the Earth and make a lot of money. And Project Exodus just wants to flip over the board, pack their bags, and leave the solar system for a new homeworld.
Play the Expanse
The game is played with a mixture of real time and turn based elements. The game is played from a map (first of the Earth, then the entire solar system) in real time. You can speed it up or slow it down. But the game auto-pauses every two weeks, when your agents orders are refreshed and you can send them on new missions. Because the conflict is ideological, politics are a tool to manipulate countries. But if you get drummed out of Brazil, it’s not too hard to set up shop across the world in Kazakhstan. (Did you know that Kazakhstan is the home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, where Sputnik and Vostok 1 took off from? The Russian government still leases it from the Kazakh government today!) Always go for Kazakhstan in this game.
That’s not all! As you settle into a groove on Earth, you will have to start exploring and colonizing the solar system. This is a real thrill. The solar system is modeled in real time. You can explore the moons of Jupiter, individual asteroids in the belt, dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt, everything. The astrography tracks rotation and revolution of all the stellar bodies, so maneuvering ships and supplies is a matter of timing and orbital physics. Did I name my bases on Ceres and Ganymede after characters from The Expanse series? You bet I did!
The mix of political simulator and space exploration makes this the best Expanse game you will ever play. The systems are involved enough to lead to some really interesting outcomes. In one game, I managed to unite the Koreas, who came to the aid of Japan when France tried invading. In another game, the EU formed an unholy alliance with Russia to take a stand against the alien invasion emanating from the Americas. The situation is tense, and can dramatically turn on a dime.
Those turns are really exciting, which is a good thing, because Terra Invicta is glacially slow. As I master the automation systems, that speeds my game up, but I like to fidget and it can take many real-world hours to make any progress. But when those big moments hit, oh man they are good. I was in a classic one-more-turn-at-2-AM binge when Russia announced that they were just letting the aliens run the place now. Then they invaded Mongolia. I didn’t sleep much that night.
Ad Astra Per Aspera
Terra Invicta will be a nicer experience when they jazz up the interface. Information can be hard to come by. You can filter most data screens, but it’s hard to set up an ordered list. And the button to rename your stations and bases is buried in a very strange corner of the menus where I am constantly losing it. The newsfeed on the side of your screen is functionally useless. None of these things are deal breakers, but they are a nuisance.
The graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge either. The lumpy polygon people give your agents some character, but it’s not impressively high fidelity. But what it is is evocative. When the background of my one guy changed from a Tunisian desert to a New England Autumn to a lunar earthrise, I really could feel the distance he had travelled. And I can’t lie, I get a thrill looking at the Jovian planets from the perspective of their moons, seeing Jupiter in the sky above Europa looking no bigger than the sun from Earth.
I love realistic space exploration. I love complex geopolitics. And I love enormous grand strategy games. Terra Invicta offers some of the best. The writing is strong enough that I want to play the story with all seven of the factions. I can’t see myself letting go of this fantastic space simulator any time soon.