Terra Invicta popped up on my radar sometime about two weeks ago, and I could not stop thinking about it. I am generally a fan of grand strategy, but I’ve played Crusader Kings, and I’ve played Stellaris, and I wanted something that wasn’t from Paradox (until Victoria 3 arrives but that’s another post). It’s a grand strategy game that really puts the “grand” in the designation, taking place on Earth, in space, and eventually in war…in space. Interestingly enough, its created by the folks who made the popular XCOM mod “The Long War” which means it’s got very XCOM-ish overtones but has nothing to do with turn-based soldiers taking on violent aliens in the streets. This is a game for those who would rather have played as the council that pulled XCOM’s strings than the grunts on the ground.
In phase one, the game is all about consolidating control over enough countries on Earth to stockpile resources for phase two. In phase two, the game leaves Earth and tasks the player with creating a presence in the solar system. Then, in phase three, it’s Earth against Aliens (and probably each other because… you know…humans) in battles that will make fans of The Expanse very happy (and stick around after the post for a footnote on that topic).
The background story is that an alien spacecraft has air-quote crashed to Earth air-quote, which has sent the human population into a frenzy. While the nations go about their business in the background, players take the role of one of several different factions centered around a desired response to the aliens. Some want to join the aliens, some want to run from them, and some want to kick their scaly hides back from whence they came. When starting a new game, the Resistance faction is the tutorial faction, which is the one I’ve been playing as (although in a non-tutorial game). The alien is and is not a MacGuffin, in that its presence on Earth doesn’t really matter except in how its shadowy presence is used for explaining research options, and as a precursor for what’s to come.
You hire up to four “councilors” from a rotating pool of candidates. Each councilor has seven stats and a loyalty rating. You send these operatives around the world to take actions that will further your faction’s agenda, like increasing public opinion of your stance on the aliens or attempting a coup in a nation that will unseat your rival factions. Each country has a certain number of “control points” that give your faction access to some of the resources which that nation provides, whether it’s financial, research points, or access to space facilities that are needed to launch materials and maintain control of stations and bases throughout the solar system.
The game loop starts with councilor assignments. Each councilor has a “cover” which generally dictates which of the seven stats they’ll favor. They also have an array of activities that they can undertake (the selection of which seems somewhat random regardless of their cover). Every week of game-time, players get to send their councilors out into the world to attempt to take a designated action. An action has a base success determined by many under-the-hood factors such as the size of the nation involved, their GDP, public opinion, and the chosen councilor’s stats. Some actions can be improved by throwing money, influence, or ops points at it.
Then, a prayer to RNGeezus. Rolling lower than the percent is a success (rolling way lower is a critical success) and rolling higher (and way higher) is a failure. Repeated failures will lower the base chance for future attempts, too, which will force additional actions to be taken to re-build an acceptable starting point for another try.
Owning at least one control point in a nation is enough to get a foot in the door and to start getting benefits. The more control points a faction own in a nation, the more resources the faction siphons off. Should all control points fall under a faction’s rule, that the faction can steer national policy to do things such as start a war, declare peace, or merge with or split from another nation or controlling interest. Multiple factions can occupy nations with multiple control points, so it’s never an all-or-nothing scenario, and there are actions which allow for undermining other factions to get them kicked out of a control point.
Once the councilors have been assigned their actions, it becomes a waiting game until the next week. There’s not a lot of active input at this point, so it’s a good point to review research, check in on the opposition, and see if there are any other councilors worth hiring.
This is about as far as I’ve gotten, which makes this post the equivalent of “here’s my opinion on this movie after seeing the intro credits”. According to Steam, I’ve played for 3.2 hours, and the bulk of that was in one sitting. I don’t do “one sitting” for very many games these days, so that’s saying something, and while it’s not enough time to be taken seriously as an expert on the game, I’m really good at bailing early if I don’t like what I’m playing…I am still here, so that should count for something.
The good news is that Terra Invicta allows for enough forward momentum that I feel that I am “making progress”. The bad news is that Terra Invicta is terrible at making me feel that I understand what that progress is.
I understand “get control points in high GDP nations, nations with launch facilities, or nations with mission control centers” because those things all contribute to moving a ball down the field, and it just logically makes sense. I can do that until the cows come home to roost, but I haven’t yet discerned a pattern beyond “bigger is better”. The winning strategy that I see right now is to go where the AI goes, which is currently Europe, and just make a mad dash for places like France, Germany, Italy, and the UK while supplementing control of those battlegrounds with fringe takeovers in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. Russia has been an OK target for me on occasion, but China, the U.S., and Canada have been pretty impenetrable even by my most impressive councilors. Aside from just going for juicy targets, I cannot discern a strategy for the next phase of the game as the AI is so incredibly aggressive that the simulation seems to just give the AI factions whatever they want without any kind of struggle. While unseating a faction at a control point is theoretically possible, my review of such opportunities has resulted in rock-bottom percentages that don’t even become doable with every resource available assigned to boost the chance.
The goal — as I understand it — in phase one is to accrue boost points and mission control points. A single boost point allows the faction to move ten metric tons of material into LEO, and later to move it further out into the solar system. Only a few wealthy nations have boost-granting resources, and those are the ones the AI is given early on. Mission control points dictate how many extra-planetary points-of-presence my faction can control. The good news is that full control of a nation allows a player to start building a space program, but it’s usually “from scratch” and therefor takes a long time. Thankfully, phase one seems to last a long, long time.
There are a few annoyances, though, but as the game is in early access that’s to be expected. The number one irritation on my shit list is assigning councilors an action. Selecting a councilor is straightforward: click on their icon on the map, or from the units panel on the right side of the screen. Most actions require that a nation is selected on the map. What I have found is that after I assign a councilor a mission in a nation, and then switch to another councilor, the previous councilor’s assigned nation is still selected. I would expect that at least the currently selected councilor’s occupied nation would be selected, because sometimes an agent camps out in a nation to keep working. I have accidentally stacked operatives in a single nation because I didn’t recognize that my previous nation selection was still in effect; while I am able to redirect the incorrect assignment before I click the “Confirm Assignments” button at the top of the screen, I still get debited whatever resources were spent during the incorrect assignment, and that really sucks.
On the whole, I am really enjoying Terra Invictus because I feel it’s a lot different from other grand strategy games out there right now. It’s got a bit of The Secret World (which I would kill to see in grand strategy form, (hint fucking hint, Funcom) in that it’s about shadow factions pulling national strings to further their own agendas, but it also has classic elements seen in Crusader Kings. The consensus from Steam reviews and discussions is that the RNG seems overly weighted, and that the AI is either incredibly lucky or is permissibly aggressive to the point where no early game strategy can block their usual M.O. The tutorial is good enough at explaining what different panels and buttons do, but the popup panels don’t always want to take “no” for an answer, and some of them don’t actually say anything worth knowing. I’ll point you to TheGameCommon’s intro video on YT for a really good overview in leu of a tutorial.
Being in EA, I feel that the development is speeding along the right trajectory. It’s very playable right now, but probably needs a deep cleaning where balance is concerned, and phase one (at least) could use some tightening up. More heads-up info would be awesome under certain circumstances (the “news feed” on the left of the screen does not do its job well at all). I have not gotten beyond phase one so I cannot speak to what happens once factions start leaving Earth, and I hope I can get that far…you know me and my need to feel progress. If I end up stalling in phase one because it’s taking too long and not offering insight into a way forward, I might end up shelving the game for a few months while development continues.
So, I name-checked The Expanse early in the post. I got Terra Invicta as part of publisher Hooded Horse’s bundle on steam that also came with NEBULOUS: Fleet Command. This is another game I’d been eyeballin’ since I learned about it but was stricken dumb by the screenshots alone. NEBULOUS is all about space-ship battles, and if you look at it for, like, five seconds I think you’ll agree with this comment:
I have yet to install and try this one, and I am afraid. Also in early access, there is no campaign, but there is a skirmish mode, and multiplayer mode is available. Considering the level of fleet and ship management involved, coupled with the I-think-this-is-as-good-as-it’s-going-to-get UI, I don’t know if I have the fortitude to approach this.
Instead, I will direct you to the buttery-soft tones of ObsidianAnt, who some of you might know from his volumes of Elite Dangerous videos.