Developer: General Interactive Co.
Publisher: General Interactive Co.
Review Platform: PC (Steam)
Review Copy Provided By: General Interactive Co.
Release Date: September 20, 2017
Terroir is a lovely game. It’s relaxing, moves at a leisurely pace, and offers up a fairly novel concept as far as tycoon sims go. It puts you in charge of a vineyard and sets you the task of growing, crushing, pressing, ageing and bottling a selection of fine (or not too fine, as the case may be) Chardonnays, Merlots, and Cabernet Sauvignons. Terroir feels like a mobile game, although I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. This is a tycoon game that has more in common with casual ‘on-the-go’ sims than your average Rollercoaster Tycoon offshoot, which makes it a rather odd fit for a dedicated PC game.
The gameplay loop here is fairly simple: you grow grapes between February and September, and generally carry out the winemaking process in the winter months. During growth season, your vines are affected by the weather; rain will make vines grow more, reducing their exposure to the sun. Too much sun will make your grapes overripe, while not enough will make them rot. As a master winemaker, it’s your job to find the right ripeness balance by keeping your vines trimmed properly. It’s a nice concept, but it starts to come apart early on. One year might yield no rain whatsoever, while another might see no sun, meaning there’s absolutely nothing you can do to keep your vines at a decent level of ripeness. This might be an accurate representation of the hardships of winery labour, but as a set of systems, it’s somewhat broken.
Once your grapes are collected, they can be crushed, pressed and stored through various means, each of which offer different properties to the wine’s taste. The problem is, these properties are labelled in some parts of the game, but seem to be blank throughout the actual winemaking process, meaning you have to guess your tannin levels, your sweetness, acidity etc. After some trial and error, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of balancing flavours, and I was surprised to find I had produced a five star quality wine after only three years in the business. Wines are judged by critics of varying renown, and can then be sold to wholesalers, supermarkets, or entered into competitions.
There’s definitely a novel concept on show in Terroir, but it feels as though the work-reward ratio is poorly balanced. You’ll find yourself repeating the same tasks over and over again, ironically with very little room for growth. If you’re lucky, you might develop a second patch of land after about ten years in the game – that is, if you can afford it. Buildings and land expansion are terribly expensive, considering the profit margins on even a five star wine tend to be very low. I found that even my more efficient and successful wineries struggled to expand beyond three or four plots of land, at which point my income stopped outweighing my upkeep.
Most tycoon games reward early expansion and entrepreneurial effort, and only get really tough during the mid-to-late game. It’s easy to develop a small-to-medium prison in Prison Architect, but a large, maximum security facility is much harder to maintain. Terroir has this all wrong – it’s possible to be completely bankrupt after three years, purely because the weather didn’t play ball. You can take out loans by reaching a certain level of renown (by producing quality wines), but these loans must be paid back absurdly quickly, and failure to repay results in game over.
There are also option to purchase deck chairs and other paraphernalia for your vineyard, but these items have little-to-no tangible effect on the game, and seemingly exist only to tempt the player to waste money. Being able to earn money is Terroir’s biggest hurdle (outside of Easy mode, it’s near-impossible to keep a vineyard afloat), so including the option to buy frivolous cosmetic items is a strange move.
Once you produce a five star wine, you can unlock a one-time use Chance or Circumstance card, a mechanic that heavily borrows from Monopoly. On three separate occasions, the Circumstance card informed me that the Mayor wanted to pay a visit, at which point I offered him some five star, ridiculously named vintage, and reaped a $35,000 government grant as a reward. The Chance card just told me it was going to rain a lot this year. Terroir needed more of this, more randomness and unpredictability. Maybe a mysterious benefactor offers you a huge sum of money, but only if you produce a specific type of wine. Maybe a thunderstorm destroys a year’s worth of crops, but the local village donates to a GoFundMe to get you back on your feet. A little bit of spice and flavour would go a long way to wash away the tedium of growing, harvesting and pressing grapes, then selling them to faceless wholesalers.
Simply put, Terroir lacks the depth and robustness that most tycoon games offer. It’s perfectly pleasant to look at, has a really neat soundtrack, and feels like the sort of game you’d enjoy sinking ten minutes into on your daily commute. But as an expansive sim, there’s really not much to see here. Once you get over naming your wines after really cheap English booze, the inevitable tediousness of repeated actions and fairly lacklustre events starts to creep in.