Terraria – Review

Title   Terraria
Developer  Re-Logic
Publisher  505 Games
Platform  Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC, PS3
Genre  Sandbox
Release Date  March 27th, 2013
Official Site  http://www.terraria.org/

Let’s get one thing straight, right from the off: Terraria is not Minecraft. The comparison comes up all the time, in almost every review and piece of promotional material you may come across for the game.  Yes, the similarities between the two are pretty clear: both revolve around destroying terrain, building structures, and generally messing around in an open world with few limitations.  There are the obvious differences, namely that Terraria only has two dimensions to play with, but Terraria is so much more than just a Minecraft rip-off, and I mean that in both a good and a bad way.

You kick off your adventure in Terraria by creating your character. There is a good amount of customisation on offer, although there is next to no difference between choosing to play as a male or female, since all the options are still open to you regardless. After this, you choose what size world you want, the difficulty setting, and then the game generates your world. So far, so straightforward. You pop into existence in your new world, armed with some basic equipment in the form of a sword, a pickaxe and an axe, and then it’s up to you to choose what to do. There’s a guide milling about who can give you relatively vague advice on what’s available to you, but at this point the game is just happy to let you do your own thing.

The controls are actually pretty decent, considering the somewhat precise nature of destroying and placing small two-dimensional blocks. By default you are placed in auto-aim, which is pretty useful for digging into the ground quickly to get down to the metal ores and whatnot. However, placing objects can be a little trickier to do in auto-aim, so with a click of the right-stick you can switch to precise aiming, allowing you full control over exactly where your character is aiming. This comes in very handy when building houses and placing platforms around in the caverns you dig, since it doesn’t waste resources by placing them everywhere, and can also be useful if you only want to destroy specific blocks.

The rest of the controls are simple to pick up on: you jump with A, drop items with X (items are automatically picked up), interact with placed items with B, and enter your inventory with Y. The shoulder buttons are used for switching between items in your inventory, while the right trigger uses them. It’s relatively easy to get your head around, and once you do, you’ll be traversing the world with ease.

What isn’t quite so easy to get a grip on is the game’s insistence on how things are done. For example, your first port of call in your new world will likely be to build a house. Thing is, you can’t just build any old house, no sir. It has to be at least six blocks high, ten blocks wide, with a table, chair, light source, and the background panelled as well. It’s a little jarring at first to be told that you need to do things just so, particularly when you’ve just been landed in a world with next to no direction, and an assumed freedom in what you can do. Of course, you don’t have to build the house in this fashion, but if you want to attract NPCs into your world, with whom you can buy and sell items, pay for healing, and other such opportunities, then it’s vital that you get the house set up just the way the game wants. It’s annoying that, in a world which appears so open, you have to follow some very strict rules, but I suppose it makes things easier for spawning NPCs, and after you’ve built your first couple of houses, you’ll be in the swing of things and – hopefully – won’t find this too grating.

Once you’ve built your first house, you’ll probably want to start exploring. Terraria is huge, even when you’ve only built a small world, and it’s incredibly easy to get lost. Thankfully, there’s a map you can open up at any time, but it mostly just looks like a collection of random colours at first, so it’s debatable as to how useful it truly is. Still, getting lost is half the fun, and you can always leave a trail of torches lying around to make sure you know how to get back. Digging underground is pretty easy with the auto-aim, and it’s here you’ll be spending a lot of your time if you want to dig up some better ores and upgrade your equipment

Of course, while you’re digging around trying to find the precious metal, you’ll run into a menagerie of monsters ready to tear you to pieces, and this is perhaps my biggest issue with Terraria: it’s just too damn hard. And not even in a fun way. The monsters you encounter will all invariably have a fair amount of health, aside from the first few slimes you encounter, and do a good chunk of damage each time they attack. They’re not particularly smart; the only option for attack most enemies have is to simply run or jump at you, but you’ll rarely find yourself in a one-on-one, so you’ll be fighting off enemies from all sides as they lunge at you. You can eat mushrooms or drink potions to heal, but you can only do so once every minute, as the game gives you “potion sickness” as soon as you consume a potion. I’m not sure how my character didn’t build up a resistance to this particular illness, given the number of times I was snacking on mushrooms, but there you go. Mercifully you do regenerate health, but this only happens when you’re not being attacked, and is a pretty slow-going process, so you’ll only be relying on it if you somehow manage to survive the onslaught.

You do have weapons to take on the enemies, but when you start off they’re pretty useless, so you need to be down in the depths of the world, mining better ores, before you even stand a fighting chance against the monsters. This is fine when you do have that equipment, but when you’re taking on skeletons with your little copper sword because you physically can’t get any better equipment without delving into their territory, you’ll begin to wonder if there’s any point. Thankfully, your weapons do have a little bit of knockback, which can come in handy in a pinch, but, weirdly, the pickaxe is probably the best weapon you start with. It doesn’t need to be re-swung – you can simply hold the right trigger and let it loop round like a whirlwind, while continually knocking back the monsters and chipping away at their health. It’s not a particularly effective way of killing enemies, since it is pretty weak, but when you’re first starting out it becomes a pretty essential method of survival. Which then raises the point of why build weapons at all? Fights may take a lot longer, but at least you’re less likely to get killed in that time.

It’s an interesting dilemma, but ultimately you’ll likely end up dead regardless of which method you choose, and death is not fun. For one, you’ll spawn right back to the first spawn point the game gave you, which isn’t particularly handy when you hit the lower levels of the world. You can build a bed to act as a new spawn point, and place that anywhere in the world, so long as it is placed in a house, but beds have their own annoyance that I’ll come back to. For another, dependent on your difficulty level, you either drop half your money, some of your items, or both of these things. I chose the easiest difficulty, so I was only dropping money, and thankfully the things you drop do continue to exist in the world, so you can go back to them.

The problem is, you’ll probably have either just fallen down a giant pit you didn’t see coming, or been killed by enemies who barely sniff at your armour before tearing you to shreds, so you’ll venture back to that location grab your money, only to be killed again. Worse yet, upon first discovering lava, and having no idea what it was, since it was just a tiny red block in the middle of a bunch of stone blocks, I instantly fell into it, died, and watched as half of my money went up in flames. The punishment for death is borderline ridiculous, and given the frequency you’ll be liable to die at, it’s definitely going to turn off more than a few people.

I could have avoided that encounter with the lava, of course, but I had no idea what it was. In fact, it’s very rare that you’ll know anything about what you’re doing when playing Terraria. The guide NPC who wanders round at the beginning isn’t much help; he cycles through the same twenty or so lines about building houses and how to attract a couple of NPCs into the world, but beyond that he’s pretty useless. A lot of what you’ll be doing is simply trial and error, but with the constant fear of death surrounding you, you’ll become less likely to want to try anything new. There’s no indication that anything you’re collecting or crafting will be of any use until you actually do it, at which point you’ll probably find out that you can now build a keg and make beer or something else fairly useless.

After spending some time fighting off some Eaters of Souls, which are as horrifying as they sound, I finally had enough “rotten chunks” to make leather. However, as it happens, leather only seemed to be useful for making a trench coat, which is a “vanity” item – it makes your character look good, but doesn’t improve defence at all. You can always check out the Terraria Wiki online, and find out what all your items can be used for or turned into, and where to go and what to do, but this feels like cheating somehow. Perhaps I’m being a little pernickety, but it would’ve been nice to have been gradually shown what I can do with all the new and exciting things the game throws your way, rather than either having no clue what’s going on, or just Googling it.

There’s also perhaps a little too much going on to wrap your head around. It starts off pretty straightforward – you gather up iron, silver and gold, because they’re pretty easy to find, but you’ll quickly discover that they’re simply not good enough for many occasions. A quick search on the Wiki suggests I might want to collect demonite ore. Demonite ore can be found very rarely when digging around, or you could start going into corrupted passages to hunt for it. So what’s a corrupt passage? They’re the big holes in the floor that are covered in purple bricks and filled with Eaters of Souls and Devourers. Oh, so what’s a Devourer? They’re a humongous worm that spawns out of nowhere, can travel anywhere in the world, and will take off about thirty HP if they so much as graze you. Excellent. But what about that demonite ore? Well as it happens the best way to mine it is to summon the Eye of Cthulhu. So what’s that then? And so on. And this continues for so many things. It’s like the developers decided to throw in every single idea they had and then just leave it in there because it was cool. While this may seem like a great idea, having all these crazy and interesting things thrown at you, it eventually just becomes a mess of ideas that you’ll want to throw out half of and just focus on mining ore and fighting enemies.

Don’t get me wrong, Terraria is a fun, solid game. Once you get your head around the controls, it’s easy to find yourself mining through the world for hours at a time and barely even noticing. And fighting off monsters can be a laugh, particularly when you encounter something you’ve not seen before, and go through the “oh Christ” moment of wondering how dead you’re about to be – seriously, I nearly froze up when I first encountered my first “Mother Slime”, a huge slime monster that explodes into small slimes when killed. But it’s a game that requires time and effort to really get the most out of it, and if it doesn’t grab your attention in the first few hours, you’re unlikely to want to carry on to see what else it has up its sleeve.

Graphically, Terraria is rather beautiful. The retro 2D style is perfectly suited to the terrain destruction, and there’s clearly been a lot of care and attention into making all the different blocks look interesting and different from one another. The lighting works wonderfully as well, particularly when placing torches underground, which illuminate small spaces at a time and allow you to see what’s behind the blocks you’re looking at. The monsters are genuinely quite scary, even if some of them are just large slime monsters, and there’s enough variety of them to keep things interesting when you’re facing off against them so much. To say I’m not normally a fan of the 16-bit style games we see so much of today, Terraria won me over in no time, and the graphics are probably the strongest point of the game for me.

Sadly, the weakest point is the sound. The music in the game consist of a handful of looping tracks that are so short that you’ll end up hearing the same piece of music so many times that it doesn’t stick in your brain, but just becomes annoying to listen to. The sound effects are effective, with cute little chipping noises when mining, and creepy groans of enemies following you around, but to be honest I’d switched off the volume after only a few hours to get away from the soundtrack. It’s a little disappointing that it reached that point, but there are only so many loops of the same song that the human mind can take.

Overall, Terraria is a frustrating, arduous take on the Minecraft-style of game. There’s less focus on being creative and more on killing monsters, but it’s so confused about whether it wants you to play it like Minecraft or an RPG that you find yourself stuck between the two worlds. However, stick with it, and you’ll likely dig your way out of that pit and find a fun, beautiful game to while away the hours. It’s an interesting game, but not for someone who’s looking for a quick, relaxing game session.

  • Beautiful graphics
  • Handles remarkably well
  • Very easy to lose yourself in
  • Incredibly frustrating at times
  • Very little idea of what’s going on without looking at the Wiki
  • Irritating soundtrack

I came out of my time with Terraria frustrated and angry. I rage-quit a bunch of times and I swore at it with a frequency that would make a sailor blush. It’s brutally difficult without any good reason, and often too confusing to really get to grips with. But it plays well, and is great to look at, and if you give it enough time to grow on you, eventually you may find something here you really love. It’s a good game, but it’s bogged down too much by its own desire to be so cool and amazing that it just comes across as confused. If you’re willing to give it the time, check it out, but if you’re looking for a quick, easy jaunt, then this probably isn’t the game for you.

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