Terraria Review

by Stefano Terry

Genre: Sandbox Building RPG
Platform: Windows
Developer: Andrew “Redigit” Spinks
Price: $9.99 (USD) Available through Steam

I’m sure many of you have heard of a little game called Minecraft, developed by indie developer Markus Notch. For those that have not, I’ll describe it’s basic gameplay briefly, as Terraria shares similar game play elements. Minecraft is a 3D “sandbox building game,” which is emerging as a new genre in the industry.

The core mechanics are simple: you are presented with a randomly generated world, and are free to explore it to your hearts content, mining for resources such as wood, iron, dirt, and more, and then using those resources to, well, “craft” things.

Hence, “Minecraft.” You mine and craft. Simple enough, and yet it doesn’t seem terribly compelling as a game play mechanic. Needless to say, Minecraft has proven to be addicting to thousands of gamers, and has made Markus Notch a lot of money.

Now, onto Terraria. Take that core Minecraft gameplay described above, and apply it to a 2D, 16-bit (Super Nintendo era) action rpg that shares more than a little passing resemblance to a side scrolling Final Fantasy game, and you’ll have Terraria.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t jump on the Minecraft bandwagon. Call me a graphics whore, but while the game play sounded intriguing, the 3D visuals looking ripped straight from a PlayStation 1 title didn’t appeal to me. Don’t get me wrong, Minecraft is a hell of a game, and I urge you to look up some videos on Youtube showcasing the genuinely remarkable things people have created with the game, but for me, personally, the visual aesthetic didn’t do it for me.

Terraria on the other hand, is like a boost of nostalgia injected into my aging gamer veins. I’m a sucker for 8-bit and 16-bit graphics. The 2D sidescrolling game play also had me intrigued. The reasonable price tipped me over the edge. I went into the game not entirely sure of what to expect, or even if this type of game would appeal to me, but it didn’t take long for the title to suck me in.

The best way I can review Terraria is to describe my experience with the title, as the game play is often emergent and unpredictable, but in the best way.

After booting the game and creating my avatar (an FF style version of myself, of course), I was allowed to create my world, which I uncreatively named “World 1” (sad, I know). The game then took a few moments to generate World 1, and I was spawned in a random location; for me, a flat land filled with sand. The only objects in my inventory were a copper pickaxe and a copper axe.

The pickaxe allows you to dig into dirt, rock, and sand, collecting it as you destroy it. The axe allows you to chop down trees, collecting wood and acorns. Acorns can then be planted into dirt to grow more trees (which can then be harvested for more wood and acorns, and so forth).

You are alone in this world but for one NPC that acts as a guide. My wife has named him “Stan.” Right clicking on Stan will bring up a text box filled with useful information on how to play the game. He’s your in game guide, but pressing “Shift” + “Tab” will bring up an in game web page allowing you access to gaming forums and support for the game. Both Stan and the forums proved to be invaluable at the start of the game.

After acclimating myself with the controls, I proceeded to leave the desert behind and start collecting wood, as Stan suggested building a house is top priority, as there are many dangers in Terraria, such as slimes. Building a house is relatively simple. Taking the wood acquired through chopping down trees, you lay out a rough foundation of your house; side walls and ceilings. Once my outline of my house was complete, and I was protected from the slimes that love to pounce, I was able to really begin my adventures.

I created a workbench, which is vital to producing various useful items in Terraria. Using the workbench, I created doors for my house, a table, a chair, and a wooden sword. The wooden sword was much more effective against slimes than my pickaxe and axe. With doors on my house, and a sword in my hand, I set out to exact some justice against those pesky slimes.

Each slime I killed gave me gel, which I eventually combined with wood at my workbench to make torches to light my way and my home. After killing a bunch of slimes, and exploring some more of my randomly generated “World 1,” I returned back home and built a furnace out of rock I had harvested. The furnace allows you to create items such as glass from sand.

The glass can then be turned into bottles, which, when placed on a table, becomes an alchemy set that allows you to create potions for help from mushrooms found throughout the world.

Building a house is vital, as come nightfall, deadlier enemies will appear and assault you. Having a home is protection, and building walls (they cover the background around your home), will help keep them from spawing inside of your dwelling.

Generally, it’s best to stay inside when night hits, but you are rewarded for venturing outdoors at night with random shooting stars. These stars can be collected, and used to upgrade your mana (which fuels various attacks and items), or used to create mana potions that restore lost mana. Deadlier enemies will also drop better spoils than the gel and coin that the slimes drop.

It’s best to build multiple homes as you travel across your world, because this will encourage other NPCs to populate your world. There are a few different NPCs: The guide (“Stan”), the Nurse, who restores your health, the Merchant, who sells items and equipment, and the Demolitions Expert, who sells bombs and such.

These NPCs will only appear in your world when certain criteria are met (for the Merchant, the player must have accumulated 54 silver). The Guilde will always be in your game, and will occupy the first home you build. Only one NPC can live in a home at one time.

While worlds are randomly generated, they have a few standard characteristics, such as lakes, forests, a dungeon, and many, many caves to explore. Exploring these caves is paramount to finding rare items and minerals that can be used to create newer armor and weapons.

I’ve been playing for hours, and I’ve yet to see a fraction of the 200 items available to find/create. There are even bosses scattered in the depths of the world that drop rare loot. I’ve seen videos of people with rocket boots, light sabers, and guns. The game feels like a mix between Final Fantasy, Mario Brothers, and Castlevania/Metroid rolled into a surprisingly addicting package.

The game taps into some inate sense of discovery that seems to reside in all humans. The game is full of “just 10 more minutes,” and never seems to get old. I am compelled to keep mining, and mining, and mining, gathering that rare silver ore, or rubies, or iron, so I can craft just one more item, or build one more home; with bed, so I can set a new respawn point and not lose precious time respawning leagues away.

Speaking of death, you will die a lot in Terraria. Fortunately, the penalty for dying isn’t terribly stiff. You will drop half of your money (which can be recovered by going back to the spot in which you died), and you will respawn at your last respawn point. As mentioned above, creating beds in your home (make sure the home has solid walls made of wood or stone), and right clicking will set that home as your new respawn point. I make it a priority to build a home near my current expidition location, and create a save point there.

The main thrust of game play is discovery. Carving out new trails in sand and dirt and stone in search of more loot/resources. Using the keyboard to maneuver is not my ideal method when playing a 2D sidescroller, but so far, there is no way to use a game pad (although the murmurs of an XBLA version of the game gives me hope that we’ll be able to apply joystick controls in a future update).

The character is a little floaty, and attacking and avoiding enemies can be a little spotty, but overall, the game is solid. Visuals are nostalgic and simple 2D sprites that wouldn’t be out of place in a Super Nintendo title, so no complaints from this old gamer. There is no narrative beyond what you craft for yourself, as this game is purely about discovering the world around you, and battling enemies.

All of this is wonderfully enjoyable by your lonesome, but Terraria lets you join up with up to 8 other players for some multi-player exploration, and even PVP. I’m not a big PVP fan, so I haven’t ventured into that territory yet, but playing Terraria with another live player adds to the fun of the game. Having that extra pair of hands, so to speak, is useful, as often, one player can fend off enemies while you hurriedly build shelter or open up a new cavern. The enemies are surprisingly tough, so venturing out at night is a lot easier with that extra help.

VERDICT: BUY – Terraria is a game that I can’t recommend enough, especially to fans of retro visuals and addicting game play. The feeling of discovery when carving a new path and uncovering a hidden cave or environment is exciting and pushes you forward more than a flashy cutscene. Gathering resources and then using them to craft new items and equipment is addicting and satisfying. The game is charming, addicting, and fun. What more can you ask for in a game?

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