You can’t start talking about Terraria without mentioning Minecraft, the word-of-mouth sensation that’s captivated audiences worldwide. Minecraft is about mining, building and exploring a randomly generated world, like virtual Legos. It’s not only fun to play, but it’s also fun to see what other people have made.
The simplest way to define Terraria is to say that it’s kind of like Minecraft, but in 2-D with a hint of Castlevania. You excavate, use those materials to build, and then get more materials to build more. You can explore the tunnels you’ve built and get around with grappling hooks and the like. It’s also a lot of fun, and in some ways improves on Minecraft’s formula. How so?
First of all, Terraria has bosses that appear when certain conditions are met. You may find yourself mano-a-ojo with the Eye of Cthulhu, a flying eyeball that grows teeth. You might find yourself fighting with a giant floating skull in order to gain entrance to a dungeon. These fights are pretty intense, but they usually give you a bit of warning beforehand so you can prepare yourself.
Speaking of dungeons, there’s a giant dungeon in every randomly-generated map. Explore it and you’ll get cool loot. In order to get in, you’ll either have to fight a boss or move quickly to avoid the giant death-dealing skulls that kill you with one hit. In other words, it’s probably a good idea to fight the boss.
You’ll also want to build housing for NPCs that can move in. You can have a dryad move in, a demolitionist, a nurse and a guide, among other characters. So far, there are no NPCs that will accompany you on your travels or provide you with any other services than allowing to purchase and sell items or heal you, but it’s still a really neat idea.
The crafting in this game is also pretty crazy. I have no idea how many items you can make or find in Terraria, but when I return from my excavations, I’m almost always surprised by the new things I can build. They also eliminate the guesswork involved in crafting by giving you a list of things you can make and allowing you to pick which one you would like to do, which streamlines the process considerably. You can then equip yourself with things like helmets, armor and lightsabers. Yes, I said lightsabers.
You can also build or find other items, like a balloon that increases your jumping height, a miner’s helmet that gives you light underground, a depth meter that tells you how high above sea level you are, and more.
While those are some of the new things that Terraria brings to the table, don’t discount the great stuff that comes with a building game. Like Minecraft, Terraria lends itself to stories and projects very easily.
For instance, I’ve built what I termed “The Spire.” It’s a tower that reaches to the top of the map, and I’m building walkways to the right and left in search of floating islands that hold treasure and ore. I built an underground walkway from my castle over to The Spire so I can easily move from one place to another without being annoyed by enemies as often.
I also have been consistently annoyed by a lake that’s been in my way. Sure, I built a walkway over it, but I decided to go one better and burrow underneath it, and I’m in the process of building a shaft that leads down to the lava-covered underworld. Then, I’ll drain the lake and put out the lava, which will make it easier to traverse the underworld, hopefully. I’m also draining the lake because screw lakes, that’s why.
I’m also planning on building a fort further underground, close to the underworld. I’m planning on turning it into a second base of operations and including all the amenities of my castle on the surface, including a bed for a respawn point. I might even put in some lava-filled moats to prevent zombies from entering while I hang out and forge or whatever.
So there’s a lot to do in Terraria, but it’s not perfect. For example, Terraria is inferior to Minecraft in a few key areas. For one, while the 2-D graphics are fun and bright, the loss of that third dimension takes away some of the majesty of Minecraft’s world. Unlike Minecraft, you can’t get up on a hill and look out over your mighty works. You’re stuck looking at what’s currently on your screen, which makes large building projects considerably less exciting.
Also, in Minecraft, setting down torches or lanterns keeps enemies away while you work. Terraria doesn’t work that way. You have to deal with enemies all the time, from zombies that wander in to your digging area to slimes and giant worms that approach you at inopportune times. When your character starts out, it’s deadly, since you may only have a pick or an axe to keep baddies at bay, along with very little armor or health. Once your character is slightly more powerful, it’s akin to swatting away flies while you work. Either way, it’s not always welcome, and it would be nice if there were a way to keep enemies away from you for a while.
However, my biggest complaint is the same one you can levy to a game like Minecraft: Terraria offers you almost no help at the outset. There’s a Guide who starts out near your position, and he’ll explain concepts like creating houses for NPCs and will tell you not to venture out at night unless you want to get attacked by zombies. However, the Guide won’t tell you left-click on the bar at the top of the screen to select your axe and start chopping down trees. He won’t tell you that you then have to select the wood and left-click on the map to place the wood. Then, he won’t tell you things like how to create an Alchemy Station or that having a table and chair next to your work bench opens up even more crafting options, and so forth.
Now, part of the fun of these kind of games is finding out about all the cool stuff you can do. I wouldn’t want Terraria to walk me right up to every cool thing, or to suddenly have popups that say, “Hey, if you do such-and-such, this will happen!” However, I don’t want to miss all the cool content that an expansive game like Terraria gives, so I end up having to open up things like the Terraria Wiki in order to find out why my crappy copper pick won’t break obsidian (short answer: Crappy copper pick is crappy) or how to summon bosses, or what these stupid Lenses that I keep on getting are for.
The tooltips aren’t very helpful either. For example, I found spiderwebs that could forge into silk, which could then be combined with wood to make a bed. The tooltip for a bed says, “Can be placed.” So I place the bed in my house, and when my mouse moves over it, the cursor changes. I can left-click and right-click on the bed and nothing happens. What’s the bed for? Can I rest in it to regain health? Nope. Then why doesn’t it do anything?
The answer is this: I can place the bed in a house and then right-click on it to make a spawn point. However, if I haven’t sealed up my walls entirely or left a gap somewhere, the bed simply won’t work. It won’t pop up and say, “Walls not sealed!” or “House not big enough!” You won’t even get a message that says, “Cannot set spawn point!” You get NOTHING to let you know a) what the bed is supposed to do and b) why it’s not doing what you expected it to do.
I understand that experimentation is part and parcel to a game like Terraria, and like I said, I wouldn’t want them to spell everything out from A-Z. However, it’s important to at least give us a push in the right direction. I shouldn’t have to go to a Wiki to find out what the bed does, and I shouldn’t have to go digging to find out why the bed in my house doesn’t work
On top of that, once you’ve investigated the dungeons or found a few items, that’s pretty much it. You can keep on building and forging, but at some point you’re going to end up with way more blocks of dirt or chunks of copper than you need with nothing to do with them. You could build a bigger castle or a giant superstructure, but why? It’s not like you can zoom out and admire its grandeur. It won’t serve any special purpose. It’ll be just… there. However, it’s important to note that it’s taken me about 20-30 hours to get to that point. Unless you binge on Terraria, you’ll be playing it for a really long time. That’s doubly true if you choose to play on a medium or large map, the size of which is absolutely freaking INSANE.
It’s also important to note that Terraria is still a work in progress. They’re planning on adding more content, so there’s always a chance that some of those issues will be rectified, and the promised free updates should provide more cool things to see and do. There’s a lively community that’s suggesting improvements and fixes, so we’re looking forward to seeing what gets added. Long story short, Terraria has a few flaws, but if you’re looking for something like Minecraft but not exactly like it, or if you have an itch that Minecraft isn’t scratching, for only $9.99 you’re virtually guaranteed a good time for quite a while.