Terroir Review

What would you do with a million dollars? This is a pretty common question we all ask ourselves.

“I’d pay my debts off”, “I’d travel the world”, and “I’d buy up all of those gold-plated Assassin’s Creed headphones”—all pretty much the usual answers we’d expect.

The one fantasy I’ve often entertained is that I’d buy a vineyard and make wine. I’ve always been fascinated by the process, and bought pretty heavily into the romantic ideal of working the land to create what has become the most pretentious libation since someone decided to describe a Riesling as “piquant”. I’ve had this fantasy since I was in college, but when I learned about the true struggle that is owning and maintaining a wine making operation, I decided to go into a business that seemed like less of a minefield.

Games journalism.

Good call, young Phil. We’re proud of you.

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So naturally I’ve hoped for something that would combine my two passions of booze and gaming into something I could really enjoy, and sink my teeth into.

So when Terroir left Early Access in September, I was genuinely excited. A tycoon game that centers around owning a vineyard, raising grapes, and fermenting them into daddy’s favorite grape drink seemed perfect for me: exactly the sort of itch I was hoping to scratch.

Sadly, Terroir isn’t quite there yet.

You start out with a small estate and a single field to plant your grapes in. The sort of earth in that particular field dictates what grapes would grow best, and you always start out with a loamy earth best suited to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the “beginner’s grapes” if you will.

You plant your vines, keep them well tended to, and come harvest time, you stomp, ferment, barrel and bottle your juice. Each harvest has a different set of scores that you can raise and lower depending on the methods you use, and what sort of wine you’re looking to make. Of course, the critics get involved, offer that year’s crop a star rating of some sort, and that determines how much you can sell the wine for. Getting certain factors right in your wine is the key to making sure it sells well, and I found myself taking notes as to how I should process next year’s crop. The critics tell me that my Cab’s acidity is too low, so next year I’ll press it a little more and leave it in the barrels less.

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For the record, I’m the sort of geek who sees it as a positive any time I actually have to write notes while I’m playing a game, so take that for what it’s worth.

After you’ve sold off your wine, there’s very little to do except to wait for your vines to start blooming again. There are the occasional moments where there’s something to do through winter and spring, but they’re few and far between, and by the time the next crop was ready, it was already starting to feel a little tedious.

Vineyards don’t make their money from wine alone: hell, not even close. What about all the weddings and events that vineyards host? What about random choice making elements? There are a few in the game, but they’re treated more as rewards than a regular aspect of the gameplay itself. If you make a 5 star bottle of wine, you’re allowed to click a treasure chest that creates a chance or circumstance: sort of a random encounter moment that can help or hurt your business. And that shakes things up—but why hold it behind some sort of conditional wall? I feel like preparing for a VIP’s arrival or making a tough choice about a particular harvest should be a regular part of the game: not an occasional treat.

On top of that, there were more than a few moments where the game just ended for me. Not in a crashing sort of way, mind you, but through the gameplay itself. On more than one occasion, my poor vineyard just wasn’t cutting it. Terrible crop yields followed by too much experimentation and too many chances led to me just flat out running into the red on my cash. So, game over, right?

Well, no. The game just sort of kept going. I had no wine left to sell, and my estate wasn’t well known enough to warrant a loan, so I just kept accumulating debt. No game over screen, no explanation that I had gone as far as I could, the end. And god forbid you do have enough clout to warrant a loan, because as far as I can tell, your payments aren’t taken out automatically, and that’s a pain when the months go by as quickly as they do. So suddenly the bank shows up, pissed off that yet another wino with a dream turned out to be a dead beat, and they say they’re going to take my estate. Except that didn’t happen, either. I just sort of sailed softly through the red, unable to do anything until I went back to the main menu and started all over again.

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If the developers are trying to teach us that winemaking is a frustrating and often thankless chore, with your chances of success scattered to the winds of random fate, then they’ve a very good job. But in Terroir’s current state, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.

Terroir is an excellent start, if you ask me. I obviously love the concept, and I adore small indie teams like General Interactive Co. that make niche ideas like these come to life. I know it sounds like I’ve given this game a lot of hell, and maybe I have. But it’s only because I think I see what the developers are trying to do, and I want that game. I would play the hell out of Terroir in six months time after the gameplay was beefed up a bit and the bugs were all worked out. I genuinely hope to do so. But this game feels like it was given a full release way too early.

The word “terroir” refers to the different factors that make different plots of land suitable for growing certain crops. And the current state of indie games leaves room for all kinds of niche ideas. It’s actually the best the industry has ever been, and I’m really happy about it. There’s room for Terroir in the indie landscape: the climate is right. Unfortunately, it isn’t ready yet. Maybe it will be in another couple of months, but it’s hard to recommend in its current state. The grapes just aren’t ripe yet.

Terroir is available on Steam for $14.99.

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