Review: Terraria

Terraria

When the opportunity to review Terraria came knocking, I was cautiously optimistic about playing it on the PlayStation 3. (It’s also now on XBLA and will soon be digging up a Vita release.)  My hesitation stemmed from the fact that I have owned it on PC for well over a year now (thanks to a Steam sale–4 pack for $10) and had previously only put maybe 30 minutes into the game. Ever. I gifted the other copies to my kids and they, like me, spent only a smattering of time on it before giving up and going back to their standby games, Minecraft and Roblox.  Something about the PC version just didn’t click with me or the kids. Maybe it was the lack of a tutorial. Or the control scheme with the mouse and keyboard.  Whatever was missing for me with Terraria on PC, Re-Logic, Engine Software and 505 Games have managed to put on a bullet-train cruising the high-speed console rails, and I’ve never once looked back because I’ve enjoyed the ride too much.

For folks who don’t know, Terraria is a sandbox world that is similar in concept to Minecraft but is presented in a side-scroll, retro 16-bit art style. Each world is randomly generated and starts the player with a handful of the lowest end tools, like a wooded sword and copper pick-axes and hammers. From there, the game is entirely up to you. Given that there is a day/night cycle, though, it is best to first find some trees to chop down and immediately build a house. Terraria offers a mindbogglingly huge array of items to make (once you find the materials of course), beginning with a simple wooden workbench. Once that is crafted, doors, tables, chairs and walls become available.  Furnish your house with these items (and a light source), and suddenly the Guide will move in.

Now the Guide is sorta like your in-game tutorial and manual. Walk up to him and he will give hints on what items can be crafted based on whatever materials you have in your inventory.  He will also offer tips on what should be done to advance the game forward. On the outset, Terraria doesn’t seem like anything more than just a simple map that allows you to dig underground to find different minerals. That is until you suddenly realize that iron ore will allow you to make bars, which is used to make better swords, pick-axes, and hammers. Better tools allow you to dig faster, and digging faster and deeper leads to the discovery of silver. Finding silver brings you further down the rabbit hole of finding gold, which of course makes even better items.

Better armor and weapons constantly appear in the ever expanding list of craft-able items. But that of course is only half of the experience. For folks who enjoy creating a stunning mansion, all the various decorations and accouterments of fine living can be crafted as well. Candlesticks, benches, cooking pots, looms, bathtubs, toilets, golden thrones (sorry Game of Thrones fans, no Iron Throne available), Chinese lanterns, silk banners. The list goes on and on.  Torches can be made with different colors based on gems that can be mined (emerald, topaz, ruby, etc). Pretty much everything you dig up and collect can be crafted into a weapon, piece of armor, or lovely decorations. The variety is truly amazing.

Getting to the better materials is where the game pulls you onto that speeding bullet-train and never slows down. Digging underground may reveal long abandoned homes with treasure chests of goodies.  Further digging may uncover glowing grass and tall mushrooms. Still further down, lava becomes a challenge, but when combined with water makes obsidian, a most useful material for crafting. Digging even deeper reveals Hell itself! Yet tunneling through the ground is not the only component to the game. Exploration on the surface reveals both desert and jungle regions, each of which has unique materials and additional challenges to offer.  Enemies are rampant throughout all regions of the game and pose a threat to the life of the character you control. Bats, slimes, skeletons, and hornets are common foes. Mix in zombies, harpies, demons, sorcerers, and Eaters of the Soul and you start to get the sense that you’re gonna need sturdier gear.

And then something dreadful happens. (Potential spoilers ahead.) A message appears on the screen saying, “You feel like you’re being watched.” Shortly after that another message appears saying, “The Eye of Cthulhu has awoken.” Wait, what?  Holy crap!  A gigantic eyeball that can fly through the ground and shoot little eyeball missiles is suddenly attacking! Survive the onslaught, and you will be rewarded with sweet loot. If not, go dig and find better materials to make weapons and armor to withstand that angry eyeball; the Eye of Cthulhu will continue to appear until it has been defeated. Each random world also contains a dungeon which is guarded by a giant skeleton head. Kill that thing and explore the dungeon beyond. (Of course writing “kill that thing” is a bit easier than the actual task itself.) In addition to the giant skeleton and dungeon, Terraria‘s world is afflicted with an environment-destroying Corruption.  Within the Corruption are three purple orbs that, when destroyed, call upon a massive worm called the Eater of Worlds. Oh yeah, and after destroying the first two orbs the world is struck by a meteor (a great source of ore).

Defeating the angry Eye, a jumbo skeleton, and a huge worm isn’t enough for you? That’s fine, because once you’ve equipped yourself well enough to venture down into Hell, you should be ready to face the nastiest of nasty bosses. The Wall of Flesh is one of those final bosses that lives up to the title. Filling the screen with a grotesque, pulsing wall that moves from either right to left or vice versa, the Wall of Flesh has two giant eyeballs, a mouth and tentacles of hungry, chomping appendages all vying to kill your character.  Oh yeah, it also shoots frickin’ laser beams!

Once the Wall of Flesh is dead, the game is over, right? Nope. Not even close. Congratulations on defeating a huge, angry, gangly monstrosity. That was challenging right?  You ain’t seen nothing yet! Hard mode flips on the moment the Wall of Flesh is destroyed and suddenly everything you thought you knew about the game just veered off the tracks and now that bullet-train is making its own course right into HolyShitville. On the surface before the Wall was defeated, cute little slimes would bounce up and attempt to harm you.  Or at night zombies would ramble along and attempt to eat your brains. After the Wall is taken down, pixies flitter about, werewolves attack with fierce voraciousness, and spectral voids pass through walls and shoot lasers with deadly accuracy. Corruption now spreads via worms, denser minerals can be mined and crafted into better armor and weapons, and all the old bosses are now back and badasser than ever. Yes, I said badasser, there’s no other way to say it. The world of Terraria rides the cuckoo train to whimsyville and does so as it pours sugar in your gas tank and abuses your grandmother. I’ve easily put 40 hours into Terraria so far and up until hard mode kicked in the game was basically a cake walk. Hard mode cranks the difficulty dial past 11 (breaking it naturally) and just says go nuts and have fun trying to survive.

By now you should get the point of Terraria: Dig, collect, craft, battle, repeat. Of course the better armor and weapons means collecting a lot of higher end materials is a must. Making Molten armor and weapons requires Demonoid ore, but there is the option to make Meteor Armor or Necro Armor or Jungle Armor. Each type of armor provides bonuses to different types of attacks, such as melee, ranged, or magic. Yup, magic is in Terraria, too.

While I’ve mentioned a whole bunch about the game itself, I haven’t described how it plays. On the PC, the game is driven by mouse and keyboard. Everything is basically performed by left or right clicking and using the directional keys. Obviously consoles don’t typically have a mouse and keyboard so a UI needs to accommodate navigation with a controller. I have to say that I absolutely love how the controls are mapped to the game pad. Triangle opens the inventory/crafting interface.  R2 and L2 cycle between inventory, crafting, the character sheet, and NPC housing assignments. On the crafting page, R1 and L1 tab between general use items, tools, weapons, armor, potions and magic/unique items. On the inventory page, any items put in the top line of the inventory grid appear on screen during gameplay.  All items fill one spot in the inventory grid and multiple items stack to save room. Too much stone collected while mining? Press Square to trash the item. Simple. Elegant.

During gameplay, the left stick moves the direction of the character while the right stick moves the cursor/cross hair. Pressing R3 switches between a floating cursor that centers back on the character when the right stick is not being pushed in any one direction. Personally, I found keeping the cross hair as the pointer to be much more useful, as I could put the cross hair in one spot and jump and dig without feeling like I had to hold the right stick in one spot the whole time. The Cross button jumps, R2 and L2 switch between the items in the inventory bar across the top of the screen, and R1 uses whichever item is highlighted. Every aspect of the controls is so efficient and easy to grasp.

Terraria, even with its retro 16-bit art style, looks amazing on a full HD screen. What gives the game even more charm is the music. If you spend a lot of time in a game, the music needs to be catchy without being annoying, while also conveying a sense of surrounding. The music in Terraria does just that. Each region of the game (day or night) offers a nice theme addition to help differentiate when your character moves from one area to the next. Initially I didn’t care for the music that plays when the character is on the surface, until I realized that hearing it after digging deep and trying to return meant that I was finally in a safe and “easy” area where nothing unexpected could potentially kill me. That’s how music should be done in a game like this. Subtle, but in a way that enhances the overall experience.

Multiplayer is another key component to the Terraria experience. Four players can play together locally via split-screen and up to four more can join the sandbox party over an online connection.  Playing locally, the game is smart about how it splits the screen. Two players split the screen horizontally across the middle. When a third player joins, the bottom half is split in two. And then if a fourth player comes in, the top half splits. Each player can pop up the inventory menu and the display scales perfectly for each quarter of the screen. There’s no overlap and no need to push the menu around on screen (I’m referring to how Borderlands split-screen co-op menu required a weird “move it around in order to see everything” design). Terraria also offers the chance to make any map open to online access at the start of play, either publicly or by invite only, which is a great way to keep random folks from being able to hop in and destroy or grief your map. PvP can also be enabled, with each player choosing a team color to help identify which side they are on.

I really can’t say enough good things about Terraria. The game at first appears to be super simple, but quickly reveals itself to be deep and well thought out in every facet of its design. The fact that more than one world can be created and inventory items can carry over is a wonderful touch that allows for new worlds to be setup and explored much more quickly upon a second or third playthrough. My kids love to play Minecraft, but now any time they see me playing Terraria on the PS3, they immediately ask if they can join in. My son even commented that once Hard mode flipped on, the game got way better because there is so much new stuff to find and do, all while faced with harder enemies. This game is seriously addictive, and tremendous fun for the whole family.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Immense worlds
+ Tons of replay
+ Both 4-player local split-screen in addition to 4-player online (at the same time)
+ Hundreds of crafting options
+ Catchy music

Cons:
– None that I can list

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available for XBLA and previously released on PC
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Engine Software/Re-Logic
Release Date: 3/26/2013
Genre: Sandbox Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-8 (1-4 offline, 1-8 online)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.