XCOM’s top modders have created a mind-blowing grand strategy game

It didn’t take me long to realize that Terra Invicta was going to be something special. A standalone game from the creators of the ambitious Long War mods for XCOM and XCOM 2, Pavonis Interactive has essentially taken the strategy layer of XCOM and turned it into a Paradox-style grand strategy game. The range is simply breathtaking from the start, and it never really stops feeling that way. Every major nation on Earth in 2022 is simulated alongside the entire solar system, down to asteroids and ice dwarfs beyond Pluto’s orbit. Describing it seems almost ridiculous until you see it for yourself. And somehow it also actually works.

The start date is close to now, with everything down to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and joining transnational alliances like the EU and NATO modeled in detail. Countries have all sorts of rankings that affect their behavior, from the level of military technology to political freedom to wealth inequality, each of which can be pushed back and forth if you take control of their foreign policy. The big difference is that an alien spacecraft has crashed somewhere on Earth, and no one agrees on what to do about it.

(Image credit: hooded horse)

Unlike most great strategy games, however, you don’t play as a nation in Terra Invicta. Instead, you take control of one of many factions with a clear idea of ​​how to handle the discovery of intelligent alien life. The Resistance is the default faction, and they’re like your typical XCOM or Stargate Command – their main goal is to defend Earth from alien attack and secure humanity’s independence among the stars. The Protectorate, meanwhile, wishes to submit to the aliens as a vassal state, viewing a protracted war as a doomed affair. Project Exodus thinks the neighborhood is getting a bit crowded, and they only care about building a colony ship that will allow us to secure the future of our species somewhere far, far away.

There’s a pretty stark contrast, at least initially, between the simulation’s absurd depth and the relatively simple ways to interact with it. Yes, it will track atmospheric CO2 on Earth to model global climate change, sea level rise and the resulting economic devastation that hits some regions harder than others. Yes, there are several Lagrange points around Saturn’s moons where you could place a space station. But for the first year or so, it’s basically a spy game.

Your faction is led by a council of up to eight characters who all have different missions at their disposal and are good at certain things. A celebrity can excel at influencing public opinion towards your faction, while a spy is good at undermining operatives from other factions. Their main task is to convert the nations of Earth to your faction’s ideology, which is the only way to get more resources early on and can eventually give you control of their military and space programs, if not. they have one. This is done by targeting checkpoints. Larger nations like the United States and China have access to a lot more resources, but they also have more control points, all of which are much harder to capture.

(Image credit: hooded horse)

Once you have secured all of a nation’s checkpoints, you can set its economic priorities and foreign policy. You can treat this like a futuristic Hearts of Iron if you want and try to shore up support for your faction by taking over the world with conventional military operations. Just be aware that if you attack a country or alliance that has nuclear weapons, you can make it easier for the aliens. This global temperature modeling can also go the other way, and a nuclear winter that kills half the population is another possible way to end it all.

information warfare

The other factions will also try to dominate the world, including those that are pro-alien. Servants, who think we should worship invaders like gods, are a natural rival to the Resistance. Power blocks and even faction priorities will change as research into alien activity slowly begins to give you a better idea of ​​who these creatures are and what exactly they want. It’s a slow-burning mystery, and I certainly don’t want to spoil any of it here. But I can say that I was blindsided by some of the revelations that finally came to me.

With the levers of power firmly in your hands, you can shape the nations that have joined you in many ways. You can mindlessly plunder them for resources, try to create a utopian welfare state, or simply divert all funds to the development of a space program. And having a strong presence beyond the atmosphere will ultimately be essential to securing victory.

(Image credit: hooded horse)

The second phase of Terra Invicta opens when you place your first space station. Using a resource called Boost generated by launch sites on Earth, you’ll join the race to colonize every planet, moon, and asteroid in sight. You see, Earth has all that pesky gravity that makes launching large shielding payloads and laser beams prohibitively expensive. So you need to move on to acquiring resources in space and assembling new ships and stations there. The aliens will have a head start on this, so there’s no time to waste.

You’ll start with fairly simple science stations like the ISS, but technology is slowly opening up options like orbital shipyards and lunar mining colonies. Here, nation states don’t matter as much, and everything will either belong to the aliens or directly to one of the human factions. Studying aliens will not only teach you what they are doing here, but will also help propel Earth’s technology forward in an effort to catch up with you. Research points can be allocated either to increasing the overall tech level, which helps everyone, or to your own faction’s unique projects, which only benefit you. However, most of these projects are unlocked by world technologies, so you have to worry about both, even if you want to keep all the shiny toys for yourself.

(Image credit: hooded horse)

Finally you are ready to start having space battles with aliens. And the paused real-time combat system takes things like momentum and face into account, so don’t expect Star Wars-esque dogfights. If you’ve played Kerbal Space Program, you have an idea of ​​what to expect, except now there are guns. Mastery of orbital transfer windows and Delta-v balancing for long trips against combat maneuverability are key. It’s a system I’ve barely scratched the surface of.

Terra Invicta’s jaw-dropping ambition means it’s more than a little bulky and the barrier to entry is high. But I’m captivated by how it all comes together and delivers on its dizzying promise while telling a compelling story with so many twists. Even after playing a few dozen hours so far, I feel like I’m just getting started. I think this one is going to leave a dazzling impact on the types of strategy gamers who love spreadsheets, geopolitics, and kicking alien ass as much as I do.

About Thomas Brown

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