“I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.”
-Louis Armstrong, What A Wonderful World
We just weren’t meant to be. Even after we broke up, we still have this uncomfortable love/hate relationship. It’s awkward when I run into her family. Sometimes she calls. Like once or twice a month, but one glance at her name and I reject with text: “It’s over. Move on.” But I know, as I sit in the dark listening to John Waite’s “Missing You”, that I’m sending that text more for myself than for her. I can’t move on. Like, what if she is seeing someone else? Sometimes my friends ask about Terraria, heck sometimes my mom asks, but I wanna just forget about what we had and try to meet new people. The memory of her perfume haunts me in the night.
Re-Logic’s Terraria is a unique and highly addicting action-adventure combining open-ended, world-building elements with classic 2D visuals evocative of the 16 bit era. It was released across multiple platforms (I personally played it on the PS3, hence that’s the angle I’m writing this article from). Its emphasis on curiosity and exploration-adventure has been compared to titles like the Metroid series and Minecraft. In fact it is highly reminiscent of the latter. I’ve never played Minecraft but if it’s as nearly addictive as Terraria then I hope to never play it.
Terraria begins by dropping you in the middle of a vast wilderness with no explanation on why exactly you’re there. You are armed with a simple short sword, a pickax and an ax. So what are you supposed to do? Well the exploratory gameplay is divided into four sections: excavating, crafting, building and fighting. Given Terraria’s open world and lack of a real narrative, it is entirely up to the player to decide how much time to devote to these elements. Let’s have a glance at each one:
First, excavating. Mining for ores and other rare items is essential to developing your character in Terraria. You’ll need to explore the tops and bottoms, the skies and the sedimentary layers, of each randomly-generated world map (you choose the size of the map from “small” to “medium” to “you’ll never leave the house again”). Your goal is to survive the night. Yes, that makes Terraria a survival, horror game, also. Because of course, nighttime is when the zombies come out to murder you. At first,
the materials you can collect are basic lumber and stone and dirt on the surface level, but as you progress, you’ll discover buried mines, jungle temples, haunted dungeons, cobwebbed caverns, lava pits, sunken lakes and mother lodes by the mother lode. Your first time discovering a vein of gold will set your pixel-loving heart all a-quiver. Just wait until you find some of the wealth that’s even rarer, buried even deeper. That sense of not knowing what exactly you’ll find in any Terraria world, and pushing yourself to find it, will keep you mining for hour after hour after hour.
But it’s dark underground. You’ll need to bring some light-sources with you if you plan to do any advanced spelunking and treasure-hunting. Normally this means taking along a few handy torches, though later on there are other means of illumination: armor and weapons that give off a soft glow, a handy mining helmet, or pets that follow you around to light your way. Terraria’s lighting system is an important part of gameplay, regulating activity on the surface between day and night, and changing your efficiency with your visibility when poking around underground. It’s a welcome visual mechanic rather than just having everything pre-lit.
So finding those tasty bits will require lights. Okay. But what do you do with all the wealth of items you harvest from the belly of the earth?
Well, secondly, there’s crafting. Many of Terraria’s vast library of items can be used at crafting tables to construct your own tools, equipment, weapons, armor, accessories and furniture, even more advanced crafting tools. Your character’s abilities improve as you appropriate equipment in this manner rather than by gaining experience points in typical RPG fashion so it’s absolutely necessary to craft. You will not be able to face Terraria’s hosts of baddies without increasing your defensive, offensive, movement or magical capabilities. Harvesting and then crafting with iron will allow you to make iron weapons, tools and armor. Harvesting and then crafting with platinum will do likewise, and so on. Given the amount of items that can be excavated, there are an equally tremendous amount of items to be crafted. Many crafted items can be combined with other crafted items to create new hybrid items. You’ll be plumbing the secrets of crafting for ages, especially whenever you come across some new and untried material. There will be plenty of moments like that, like the first time you find something unusual like Glowing Mushrooms, Pearlwood, Adamantite, or Meteorite.
Third, there’s building. Any material you find can be turned into building blocks to construct pretty much anything you can imagine. You’ll start off with a little hut for your protection but the truly innovative player will soon see houses filled with furniture of all sorts, sprawling castles, cathedrals, apartments, traps, automatic gates, lava pits and lava falls, water pumps and waterfalls, forests, gardens, towers, spires, vaults, afk farms and eventually have no more friends.
But why would you want to build anything beyond a safe house for yourself? What’s the benefit? Well, two things: first, you’ll simply need more space just to store all your stuff: the crafting units and furniture you build but also the stuff you find, especially if you plan to take the same character exploring on other worlds. I had to build a huge treasure trove filled with a score of chests to keep all the junk I found in one place. Second, there are the NPCs.
NPCs such as the Merchant, the Pirate and the Witch Doctor help to track your progress through the game since they’ll pop up and take residence in empty rooms in your buildings once you have met their unique requirements as the game goes on. This allows the player to build their own bustling utopia complete with citizens, shops, and freeloaders. For example, some NPCs move in once a boss is defeated. Other NPCs, like the Mechanic, must be encountered by finding them underground before they will join your cause. Still other NPCs only show face once certain achievements have been accomplished: once you reach a certain threshold of max HP and if the Merchant is already present in your little hamlet then the Nurse will move in. However, unlike vendor-NPCs such as the Demolitionist who sells explosives and the Arms Dealer who sells guns, the Nurse does not sell items but instead heals your characters and removes negative effects for a small fee. Each NPC has their own particular assets and you won’t be able to make it far in the game without many of them. You certainly won’t be able to build the biggest and the best buildings and armaments without all of them.
However the NPCs can be killed, which is why you must be careful to construct mighty fortifications to prevent monsters from coming in to attack them. If an NPC dies, they’ll eventually respawn so long as their conditions are still met. Still, they’ll leave quite a mess. Personally, I built a switch-activated mechanisms that triggered temporary walls to appear in front of all the doors of my castle to block out the baddies.
And speaking of baddies, that takes us to our fourth and final major component of Terraria’s gameplay: fighting. The worlds of Terraria are crowded with enemies. On the surface during the day, you’ll only encounter a few bunny rabbits and mostly harmless slimes in the wooded areas, but stray further into deserts, snow-capped mountains, or the corruption and you’ll begin to run into more ferocious beasts. The difficulty is compounded exponentially when the sun goes down, when true monsters begin to flood the wild. Zombies of all kinds, some even in tophats, begin to wander aimlessly in search of noob-flesh. Later in the game, once Hard Mode kicks in after defeating (spoiler: highlight to reveal) the Wall of Flesh boss, then werewolves and vampires will appear to harass their victims after nightfall. Any unprotected NPC is easy pickings for the likes of them. Further, there are other random phenomena such as a Blood Moon or Goblin Army assault which can increase the amount of monsters and their tenacity even more. Holiday events such as the Pumpkin moon will herald the appearance of rare enemies that are unleashed in wave after wave of increasing difficulty until the player is defeated or the last wave of multiple onscreen bosses is vanquished. Not an easy task.
Most of Terraria’s difficulty comes not from its exploration or crafting but from its fighting. Though a player can take as much precaution as possible with as much time as they want before facing a boss, I found that I was generally surprised by a boss’ capabilities and strengths, even with the best gear that was available to me at the time (I didn’t read boss FAQs since I wanted the element of surprise). Most vets of Terraria will suggest taking the time to construct elaborate arena-coliseums in order to fight bosses that can be summoned on your own turf, away from other smaller enemies and surrounded by helpful buffing agents and auto-timed health dispensers.
I haven’t played much of Terraria’s online and multiplayer features so I can’t comment much on them, except for the fact that co-op multiplayer mode splits the screen and made me wish I owned a bigger tv (I’ve got a 37″, so it’s not exactly tiny). Split screen made me want to stop co-op immediately. I get Terraria is aiming to emulate a lot of older games with its visual slant, but split screen? This ain’t GoldenEye 007.
I found Terraria to be naggingly enjoyable all on my own-some.
The 8-Bit Review
It’s simple but it works. Re-Logic’s Terraria is built on the proverb: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Young adults who pick up this title will not be able to help themselves from being reminded of the glory days of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Terraria is designed with that appeal in mind and it is mostly successful. Its graphics looked influenced and inspired by gaming’s hey-day without looking like they actually belong on those systems. Its use of light and shadow, more on screen characters and enemies, its sense of physics and its galactic assortment of items place it firmly in the modern age of gaming. Its not quite pixelated while at the same time you know that’s what it means to evoke. The graphics aren’t bad. They certainly didn’t push my PS3 to its processing limits. The result is a game with a distinct look to it, which is likely what its design team was aiming for: simplicity and distinction.
Funny story: my wife was pregnant with our first child when I was hooked on Terraria. When her sickness and nausea kicked in, it was to the soundtrack of this game filling the house. She’s associated its tunes with stomach cramps and dizziness ever since. I can still put the audio on months later (as an experiment for science, of course) and the feeling still persists.
Besides for its nauseating qualities, what else is there to say about Terraria’s audio? It’s a very limited soundtrack. Maybe that’s intentional in the same way the visuals are intentionally “old school”. But there were much better tracks on the SNES, just saying. Plus, given the length of time the average player needs to explore all of their world, discover all of its secrets and face all of the bosses, you’ll probably get sick of the music too, whether you’re pregnant or not. It isn’t that the tracks are unenjoyable. Some of them are delightful, upbeat and they always seem to fit the environment the player’s character finds themselves in. But hearing that little jangle every time the sun comes up, or that buzzing rhythm when the sun goes down, over and over and over again, will get old. I found myself muting the tv or turning off the music and listening to something else on Youtube, anything else on Youtube. Even Pewdie Pie’s hideous mewls.
(the authors at The Well-Red Mage would like to take this moment to remind our readers that our contributors do not watch Pewdie Pie videos and that this was said in jest)
Gameplay is what is truly engrossing in Terraria. It is designed solely to make you want to go further, dig deeper, build bigger, find that next treasure, mine that next vein of precious metals. Terraria’s structure of finding materials to craft better equipment to find better materials to craft and so on and on makes for a totally riveting experience. The fact that your pickaxes get faster as you upgrade them just adds to it. Confusing at first with its sheer breadth, Terraria homes in on specifics and builds its gameplay on core elements (four of which we discussed earlier). It really is a game that’s played for its gameplay.
But is its gameplay easily accessible and learnable? Well, as I recall there is little in game advice and direction other than the few snippets and catch-phrases Terraria’s occupants throw at you with often cryptic intonation. The fact that it’s gameplay is so limited to core elements puts accessibility at slightly above average for Terraria, however what keeps it from really soaring is what I suppose I must say is its inherently “PC-game” feel. Controls that would seem better suiting for a keyboard with many times the input capacity and buttons as a PS3 controller can leave some confused. Returning to the game after a few days reprieve left me feeling like I needed to relearn some of the button functions all over again, with me pressing things I didn’t mean to press and selling things I didn’t mean to sell or dropping things I didn’t mean to drop. That demonstrates that Terraria’s PS3 controls at least are counter-intuitive. Once learned its a piece of cake, but muscle memory may have to take some time to hammer home complicated menu navigation and other controls.
You know what? I died a lot on Terraria. Mostly on bosses. But the first time a Goblin Army was in town or when I experienced my first Blood Moon, or when the Eye of Cthulhu just decided to drop in on me one night and I wasn’t prepared, I kicked the bucket and splashed my bleeding guts all across the floor. But it was fun. The surprise was fun. It kept me trying to be as prepared as possible for any adversary that might crawl from the shadows. Terraria’s challenge is far from being controller-throwing, rage-quitting, and tantrum inducing. It’s a challenge with appeal and charm. It’s a challenge that rewards the player once they’ve finally taken down that boss that gave them so much trouble. I remember jumping off the couch (yes, something got me off the couch) when I first tore down that ineffably disgusting Wall of Flesh. I threw both fists in the air. I nearly dropped down and did the splits before I thought better of an expensive trip to the ER.
Terraria has all of the addictiveness of an MMO without actually being an MMO. No monthly fees kept me from feeling guilty for playing so much (well, at least a little). All of the things I’ve harped on from its exploration to its crafting to its challenges and “sky’s the limit” imagination kept Terraria fresh with me for as long as it did. She still calls, and I just can’t make myself put her on my ignore list. Terraria rewards its players with a butt-ton of replayability by holding out the dream that you can do anything with this title. Anything. I mean, stop for a moment to realize that you live in a post-Terraria-Death-Star world.
It’s like an addictive MMO. It’s like your favorite RPG. It’s like that old school platformer you remember in the 90’s. It’s like sitting on the carpet, dumping out all your Legos and just having at it. And yet, Terraria is none of these things. It’s a unique experience, one that I’m glad I had.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I did enjoy Terraria. There, I said it. It’s just… did it need to be so absorbing? I could hear its tunes in my sleep. I even dreamed in 2D side-scrolling for a little while! This was the hardest review I’ve written yet simply because of Terraria’s scope. Verdict? Only get into it if you plan on devoting a lot of time to your new sand-box world.
Aggregated Score: 7.0