Developer: Pavonis Interactive
Release Date: 27 September, 2022
By Chris Picone, 23 September 2022
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this game.
Terra Invicta is a 4X that I’ve had my eye on for a very long time. I’m going to be honest and say that I let my excitement get away of any kind of objectivity; I love 4X games, I love sci fi settings, the graphics look amazing, the game's scope is huge, and it’s published by Hooded Horse. Long story short, I plunged into the game in ignorance, expecting a sort of sci fi version of Civilization. I’m sure I won’t be the only person to make that assumption so let me get this out of the way right now: It isn’t.
It’s a 4X so the “story” is predominantly made up of the effects of your decision making and interactions with the other factions. But unlike most 4X games, Terra Invicta actually does have an underpinning story. The gist is that an enigmatic alien presence appears, first in a single crashed UFO but soon there are more. The aliens begin abducting people and insinuating themselves into human society while building a fleet on the edge of the solar system. Their numbers and technological superiority are overwhelming. Your role in this story (and the manner in which the events of the story play out) are dictated by your chosen faction. The Resistance plan to mount a co-ordinated defence; the Servants worship the new overlords, the Academy want to form an alliance, while Project Exodus plan to save humanity by fleeing in the face of the new threat. There are seven factions all told, and therefore seven stories to explore.
Absolutely gorgeous, AAA quality. The interface (which includes the Earth and solar system overlays) is stylistically similar to Civilization, although I want to make a point of noting that Terra Invicta is concerned with the big picture rather than the details. So while you will see and control your fleets and space stations (and they look stunning!), entire armies are noted with single tokens and Earth is controlled at the national level rather than interfacing directly with cities and units.
Although Terra Invicta is a 4X, the actual gameplay differs greatly from Civilization – or most other 4X games – in that the majority of the game is played passively. You see, you aren’t the leader of some great civilization, you are instead a kind of puppet master with agents spread across the globe trying to spread public approval of your ideology and influence national decisions from the shadows by purchasing corporations, controlling key ministers, organising coups, running political campaigns, building alliances and starting wars. Your enemies are trying to do the same thing and in the same manner, which adds an additional “spy vs spy” layer where agents are pitted against each other, seeing you exploiting any vulnerabilities that appear while also railing against enemy attempts to assassinate or detain your own agents. Even later in the game, you handle all the decision-making but ultimately have to trust your people to do their jobs. For example, when you have researched enough technology to start building orbital habitats and launching fleets, you get to choose how your fleet should be constructed and designate missions as you see fit but do not actually control your ships in battle.
Terra Invicta has three stages of play. In the first stage, the initial alien appearance sparks global chaos and your goal is to use the common terror to gain as much support for your faction as possible. This involves trying to gain political and economic control over nations, which provides you with the money, research capability, and resources to engage in the second stage of the game, which is often referred to as “interstellar industrialisation.” The alien threat continues to escalate through the game, with more and more UFOs landing, alien fleets and space stations are soon discovered on the outer reaches of the solar system, and the aliens even begin influencing human societies on Earth. Your faction begins to emerge from the shadows and your attention turns toward the stars. During this stage, you will build orbital habitations and moon bases that accelerate your research and allow you to start mining asteroids and nearby planets – and building fleets. However, you aren’t alone. You are once again competing against the other factions in a “scramble” to claim the best interstellar real estate while competing for resources. The third phase deals with the actual alien invasion; they still out-number and out-gun you, but your technology should have progressed to where you stand a chance now, and you have the home ground advantage. How this part of the game plays out depends very much on your chosen faction and the decisions you made along the way.
A final note on gameplay: It’s “real-time with pause,” which I’m honestly still trying to get my head around. The majority of the time I just left the game on maximum fast-forward but with automatic pausing any time any significant decision presented, which meant that for me the game really played out like a turn-based game anyway. I suppose the advantage of the timing system is that while your counsel decisions are made monthly, research accrues day by day and global or national events can occur at any time rather than waiting to consolidate during “turns.” There’s a huge, complicated tech tree, by the way, with both global- and faction- research and projects, so have fun with that.
Fun Factor / Replayability
Terra Invicta is enormous so I haven’t had a chance to actually trial a game with other factions yet but I can definitely see the scope for replayability in that each faction has wildly different goals, which affects both the story progression and your priorities as you make decisions throughout the game.
If you’re a 4X fan, and particularly a sci fi 4X fan, you should definitely at least look into this one. It’s interesting and high quality and I particularly love the evolving story that underpins the game. Just don’t go in expecting a Civilization clone because that’s not what this game’s about. The passive nature of the game is unusual and takes some getting used to, and you’ll definitely feel lost from time to time as the game is quite deep and even as you’re just starting to get your head around the complexities, you’re constantly being introduced to new mechanics. If you’re interested in a slow, complex 4X with tons of decision making, this will be your jam.