An 8-bit love affair: Terraria

Whilst I am a fan of many gaming genres, one could not capture my limited attention span. Minecraft gave birth to a new era of exploration and crafting games and one in particular was bought for me by a friend and also gifted to the entirety of our friendship circle. Terraria had snuck itself into my Steam library and I wasn’t expecting a great experience.

Memories of Minecraft linger in my mind as those of initial wonder, followed by a distinct sense of annoyance. I don’t wish to butcher a pig to stay alive, I can’t be bothered to arrange sticks and rocks in a certain pattern in order to make stuff, and I certainly can’t be bothered to spend the duration of my gaming experience looking up how to make the most basic of items.

What riled me most was the lack of purpose. To many, the thrill of discovery, pure crafting experience and deep immersion in the game world is more than enough. However, I’m a gamer who likes to be given a clear cut objective that has potential to be action-packed. I want a game world which has objectives with an element of convenience. I don’t want to be bogged down by hunger bars and the sense that I have no idea how to craft anything.

Please no

So now onto Terraria; the server had been set up and we had all joined in. All five of us were in the same room and it created some what of a squad atmosphere as our little 2D characters plunged into the randomly generated world with nothing but the bare essentials: an assortment of tools used for digging and chopping. Instantly I began to lose interest, as the sense of purposeless crafting began to barge its way into my thoughts. Would I have to care about a hunger bar? Is there actually anything to do? Isn’t this just 2D Minecraft? Why have you made me play this game?

What I didn’t expect was to be completely and utterly absorbed by the game world in a couple of hours.

The 8-bit music was spectacularly catchy, and exploring the world was a joy thanks to the vibrant and eye-catching pixel graphics.

I was taken aback by the sheer convenience of the game. No longer did I have to worry about a hunger bar or even how to craft certain items. I could simply explore a long list of items which I could craft with a click of a button depending on if I had the specific materials or not. Later on I was told you can go to your resident guide and give him an item, and in return he’ll show you a long list of things which it can be used for and with. I almost broke down in tears of joy.

Thanks to one of my friends having played the game before, we were given some orders to build some housing so that NPCs could move in. Things began to fall into place quickly with the creation of a little cavern of chests filled with important items and oddities that we had found whilst exploring. Soon this cavern would be a wonderful little home brimming with character; or rather an absolute ton of banners, paintings and crafting tools. NPCs were gradually moving in, and our starting area had turned into a community of great importance. A sense of attachment had begun to settle in as I realised that I was becoming emotionally invested in our little creation and wanted nothing more than to see it expand and flourish.

As time went on I found myself gaining familiarity with the various biomes, or zones, of the game world. Like some grand 2D explorer I was enveloped in the joy of discovery, mainly through mining. I thought it would be a chore, but it struck me that I was actually enjoying the clink of pick on rock and metal, and the sense of satisfaction in stumbling into treasure or excavating a site for building.

In stark contrast to Minecraft I found I always had something to be striving toward. We needed certain materials to make certain items. Perhaps we all needed to gather some ore in order to make a set of armour, but in order to make the armour we needed a certain furnace. You get the idea. We had all manner of things to do in order to progress further into the game and power up our characters. At first I didn’t understand the point in powering up until I was told that we would be fighting a boss called The Eye of Cthulhu and that in order to even survive a few miserable seconds, we would need much sturdier and sharper equipment.

The world of Terraria is filled with bosses. I think it’s a fantastic idea that gives players something to prepare for as you can approach them however you wish. With the convenience of the crafting system, it was an incredible feeling to upgrade my pickaxe, let alone my armour and weapons. We found ourselves building arenas to fight in, or railroad tracks to flee bosses whilst flinging spears at them or even battering them with yoyos.

What blew me away was the depth of the game. It was virtually bottomless. That compass you picked up at the start of the game and is clogging up your inventory? Don’t throw it away! Items you never thought would have any further use can be combined with other items to create something of great complexity and importance. The seemingly inconsequential junk that is dropped by mobs of enemies? Yep, that has a use too. We often found ourselves regretting the casual throwing away of objects as they would later prove to be invaluable.

So much stuff

I did mention yo-yos earlier and it wasn’t a weird blip in my thought processing. Very late into the game I was the proud owner of a sword which fired nyan cats upon swinging, that would rebound off surfaces whilst meowing and creating pretty rainbows. Genius.

Magic is also as fleshed out as the melee combat. You get all manner of summoning staffs and weird and wonderful spells. I had a little pirate army following me around at one point, along with the ability to rain icicles from the sky. This was only scratching the surface.

Another core aspect to the game is the spread of certain “diseases” which begin to take hold of biomes and affect them in different ways. Our world had the spread of crimson which turned our lush forest into a bloody, emaciated area with blood thirsty enemies. Not only did we have crimson, but we also had hallow which was spreading from the opposite direction. This had the effect of snow, rainbows and crystals. This game mechanic really began to add to our gaming experience more than we thought it would. All of a sudden a sense of land management was introduced to us, as we desperately tried to save our beloved biomes from their impending doom. Changes would take place on the surface, but also underground as brand new enemies and ores had suddenly become available. Just when I thought I had the lay of the land, the game thrust upon us a brand new challenge and a huge dose of new content to swallow.

Seriously, this game is almost overwhelming in its depth. It’s impossible to fully describe the content in all its details without spoiling the surprise for you, and it turning into a complex 40-page thesis. I could go on about the tools needed to craft things, those things crafting things which craft other things, terrifying enemies, intriguing NPCs, slime with umbrella hats, inventive and outrageous bosses, unforgiving dungeons, crazy mounts, wings, invasions from goblins, invasions from martians, seasonal events, sky-lakes,funky capes, even funkier dyes to make your attire even funkier… the list is endless.

You just can’t begin to fathom the content that has been poured into this game. Usually if you can think of it, you can probably do it. However what’s remarkable about Terraria is that you won’t think about it, but you’ll stumble into it as an exciting discovery in the crafting menu, or whilst chatting to an NPC. You’ll begin to relish looking up items and how to make them. This adds to the immersion and exploration experience, rather than detract from it.

It’s such a random and hectic experience most of the time, however it never fails to be gloriously and ridiculously fun. It’s an experience which is best enjoyed with friends and the best thing about it all is that it’s not even finished. Updates make sure to keep the game fresh and add brand new content for those who have exhausted much of the game already; if that’s even possible.

Terraria is the first crafting-oriented game which has completely captured my imagination but also provided a truly memorable cooperative experience.  It proved all my initial preconceptions wrong, and I’m the proud resident of a community we built from scratch and the proud owner of items which we truly had to work hard for. It can’t get more rewarding than that.

Now if you’ll excuse me I must get back to my fishing quests, stop the spread of crimson and wait on the next major update.

Terraria is available digitally or physically on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS Vita and PC. Buy now from Amazon