I feel like I’m starting off a lot of reviews in the same way lately, but I’m going to say it anyway: I didn’t expect to like Terraria when we first got it.
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. Something a bit like Minecraft? (But I’ve never played Minecraft so that’s not much help to me.) Kind of a side-scrolling platform game? A pixelated Dark Souls? Hmm. There are a lot of similarities with lots of other games, but there’s also nothing quite like it that I’ve played before.
The one thing I can tell you about Terraria for dead cert, however, is that it’s probably the most addictive game I’ve ever played. We’ve kind of had to limit “Terraria time” though, because we know as soon as that game gets booted up on the PlayStations, we’re not moving for the rest of the evening. Oh yes, at least three nights this week we’ve gone for a “quick go” on Terraria… and five hours later, we’re still there, digging and foraging away. We’re hungry, we’re thirsty, we need the toilet… BUT THERE’S ORE TO BE MINED! THERE’S BOSSES TO BE SUMMONED! BODILY FUNCTIONS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO WAIT!
So, er, we’ve had to have a few nights off.
When Terraria starts up, you’re prompted to create a character. You can choose from a few customisation options – gender, hair style, eye colour, outfit colour, etc. It’s mostly pointless because (a) you’re a centimetre-high jumble of pixels so you can’t really tell what you look like and (b) within about 10 minutes of the game you’re likely to find some armour to equip which replaces your default appearance anyway. But it’s always fun to play God and create a human, no matter how pixelated they may be.
Once you’ve created your character, you then get to create or join a world. You can play online with others, or go it solo. If you create your own world, you have an option of small, medium or large. We went for a small world (which we very creatively titled “Small World”)… and in the 12-plus hours we’ve spent in Small World, we’ve probably only uncovered about a third of the map, if that. So Small World is not a small world after all.
The art style in Terraria is your bog-standard 90’s pixel party. It actually works well here though, because pixels make up the world, and pixels are what you dig, mine and build with (similar to Minecraft in that respect, I imagine). The colours are excellent – so bright and vivid, that it really is a pleasure to look at. Each world is very plainly divided into “zones”, highlighted by a change of colour (and materials). In our world, for instance, we started off in a typical grassy and bright area. Travel to the left, you’d reach a snow and ice zone. To the right, you’d hit the jungle. Travel further and you’d find a lava-filled volcano, a desert and an endless ocean. Not to mention the floating island in the sky (where you can actually mine clouds. I was impressed).
I would recommend that you play the tutorial before you jump into your own world. It quickly walks you through the basics – the controls, actions, how to survive the zombie apocalypse that happens every night, you know, standard stuff. I’m not usually a fan of tutorials; I like to throw myself in there and just figure it out as I go along, but in Terraria‘s case there is actually quite a lot to take in, so the tutorial will get you to grips with everything quickly. The controls can be a bit fiddly so will take some getting used to. Drop/throw is mapped to square, and many times I’ve pressed it by mistake and launched my awesome-and-irreplaceable weapon/pickaxe/livelihood across the screen into the ocean/lava pit/somewhere else inaccessible, never to be seen again. (Rage ensues.)
The goal of the game is essentially survival. You need to go exploring – traversing the map and digging down with your trusty pickaxe. You gather materials and sometimes find loot chests with lots of cool stuff in them, all used to better yourself and make you stronger. There’s a lot of quirks to the game; none of which make themselves particularly clear to you without you stumbling across it yourself. This can be somewhat frustrating. For example, you need to craft bizarre items to summon bosses (which, upon beating, will bestow you with loot). To craft these items, the game informs you that you need a “demon altar”. It doesn’t tell you how you acquire said demon altar. It was only about ten hours into the game that we discovered the same strange red item right near our starting point that we’d tried to mine countless times to no avail was in fact a demon altar; we just had to attempt to craft near it (so obvious…).
It is a double-edged sword, though, because the same lack of guidance that can be frustrating is also what makes the game brilliant. It’s a real achievement when you find or make a good item, or when you finally uncover what you need to do to summon the next boss. Whilst some little prompts would be handy along the way (because we’ve had to ask Google more times than we’d have liked to), it is refreshing to play something where you’d not being completely guided through the experience. There’s no right or wrong way to do anything, and that means that this is a game that’s accessible to everyone. You can jump in wherever you want, travel in any which direction, and it doesn’t matter. However many times you play the game, there’s always going to be something new to do or somewhere different to explore.
Terraria is, on the surface, not like anything either of us would really choose to play. At a glance, it didn’t really interest us at all. But once we actually spent a little time in our colourful and addictive Small World, the true greatness of the game began to unfold. There’s so many elements to the game that make it cross into so many other genres. The landscape appears much like a side-scrolling platformer game. The crafting system is akin to some open-world survival game. The loot and equippable items resemble an RPG or dungeon crawler, especially the stats they give your characters. For a small-looking game with only two dimensions, it sure has a lot of depth.
Overall, Terraria is a great game that is only sometimes held back by its lack of guidance. Unfortunately the very thing that makes the game awesome is also what makes it quite often frustrating. It’s a hard balance to strike, and Terraria almost nails it, but just a little more guidance would be nice to keep you feeling like you’re constantly making good progress, rather than just going round in circles. Still, that’s why we have the wonder of the Google search, so it doesn’t hold us back too much. We still heartily recommend this game, and without a doubt, plenty more hours are going to be lost digging through the many layers of Small World…