Sandbox games have become a popular genre. Pioneered by Minecraft, the ability to go into a randomly generated world unlike any other and build to your heart’s content has charmed the masses. But in Terraria, we go 2D! That’s not all that’s unique. Unlike most sandbox games, Terraria has a direction to point you in. A very rough semblance of plot gently guides you on your adventure through forests, deserts, jungles and even corruption. While some might call this a form of hand-holding, others enjoy not feeling too overwhelmed by the infinite potential right off the bat. As for me, I think there is more to it than meets the eye.
This review is part of a series of reviews compiled as The Backlog Report. In an effort to beat all the games I own while also flexing my writing muscles, I am giving an in-depth review of my experience with these games. Scores range from 1 (terrible) to 5 (outstanding) with 3 being a passing average. While I aim to keep these reviews spoiler free but some details may be present to prove my points so read at your own risk.
I feel the need to clarify that when grading a game, I do so on the expectations of the genre or style of the game in question. With that said, sandbox games are not where you go for a deep plot that takes your emotions on a roller coaster ride. While some sandbox games are all about the building, some enjoy the addition of survival aspects such as monsters, time and hunger. Terraria is of the latter category.
Like all sandbox games, you start in the middle of a new world and are beset upon by two instincts: build a home and survive the first night. Helping you do this is the first of many NPCs that will be your new family: the Guide. He will help you learn what to make, and how to make it. Like all the NPCs, he needs a home, so you discover the first task in Terraria is to build a home for you and your new bestie. And that is where Terraria starts to differ from most Sandboxes.
While not a typical “story,” there is always a new objective: build houses, explore the caverns, get better equipment, and then all of a sudden you find yourself face-to-face with a large monster you probably aren’t ready for. But if you defeat it, you will unlock a new benchmark of power! Stronger equipment to make the scary areas less scary. And then you fight the monster there, and you keep going. Suddenly these small cryptic status messages start leading you onward: “The ancient spirits of light and dark have been released,” “The jungle grows restless,” and finally “Impending doom approaches…” I know this isn’t a story per say, but in a sandbox, it is more direction that most expect, and it is a direction I enjoyed.
The graphics in Terraria are simple 16-bit sprites that use a classic approach: fully profiled heads and slightly turned bodies that like to show off a bit more detail on the armor, but if you think too hard about it, would prove a very uncomfortable way of standing. Some might remark on how very reminiscent of Final Fantasy V (funny story about that…) the graphics look, and for fans of the style, this will tug at their heartstrings, but I do know there are some who prefer their graphics closer to 32-bit or more artistically stylized. The bosses do look impressive as you progress through the game, and even weapons will start to get larger and more detailed. Some of the later spell animations are downright beautiful such as the Last Prism’s laser charge. Where Terraria gets its bonus star is in building materials. A multitude of woods, stones, and other blocks makes it easy to build a town of houses and not have a single one match. For people like me where I prefer subtle variation that isn’t a big deal, but for those who like to make each building unique, it provides a great palette. And of course, most blocks have furniture to match, something sandboxes sometimes forget to include.
The music of Terraria is a chiptune soundtrack that you will often catch yourself beep-booping along with. Each track is catchy, and there are a number of different measures in each, so it cycles at greater lengths, providing a relief from the loop and the potential ear ache other songs can cause. The use of distinct songs for each of the games labeled biomes lets you know when you have entered somewhere new. The day and night cycles are also set to different tunes, letting you know when it is time to lock the doors or hit the mines.
I have a few favorite tracks (soundtracks are available at the Re-Logic Bandcamp) I’ll list here. The tune for the Cavern layer is fun because it is one of the first new biome songs you will hear, and it tells you that going deeper might lead to fun things. The Mushroom biome also has a fun little jazzy/funky song that you only get to hear so often since these areas are small. Lastly is the Corruption tune, mainly because unlike the Crimson, it isn’t very creepy. It is lighthearted and silly sounding at times, makes me expect dancing skeletons playing their ribs to pop up at any point.
Terraria allows for the use of a standard WASD and Mouse set-up, as well as a control pad option. The latter is a new feature since the game was ported to consoles. I prefer WASD myself since on a PC, that is how I prefer to play, however, I did experiment with the gamepad and didn’t find it nearly as bad as I would have thought. I will admit that the gamepad is at a disadvantage. Without number keys, swapping hot bar items is more cumbersome. In addition, a weird sort of lock-on mechanism for combat can prove more of a hindrance if you find yourself overwhelmed. I do know someone who has almost exclusively played it on the PlayStation 3, and he says once you are used to it, it isn’t that bad. But since it is something entirely configurable, I won’t dock points for a control scheme that I personally don’t enjoy.
Terraria is a game that can actually be as easy as you want, or as hard, and it allows fine tuning of how this works too. Since characters and worlds are independent of one another, each has a difficulty setting that will affect your game. Characters can be set to softcore, mediumcore or hardcore, which affects what happens when they die. In all difficulties, you lose half of your hard earned money on hand, however, in mediumcore, you also drop the items you were carrying at the time of death, making the trek to recover your loot that much harder. However in hardcore, you won’t be making that trek, instead, once you have died, you become a ghost, and only by re-entering your world with a new character, can you continue your adventure.
Meanwhile, worlds can be played in either Normal or Expert mode. Expert mode instead makes the enemies much more powerful and resistant to your attacks right off the bat. In addition, you remember all those coins you dropped? Well, now monsters can steal those and attempt to run off. of course killing them will recover your funds, but depending on how far from home you died, that might prove impossible. The exchange is that all bosses will now drop a unique item available only to the Expert mode that will make it all worth it. Now Expert mode shouldn’t be confused with Hard Mode. Hard Mode is an in-game event that occurred after defeating a difficult and gross-looking boss named The Wall of Flesh. After his defeat, a new biome called the Hallow will appear, and its counterpart, the Corruption (or Crimson depending on your world) will begin to spread wildly. This is an unavoidable progression.
Where sandbox games tend to have a terrible weakness in the story department, they have an insane advantage in the replay category. You can always make a new world to explore. Make new buildings, try out new styles of playing. Since characters are independent of worlds, you can keep your same character and attempt to speedrun a new world. Or perhaps go back and collect materials you can’t seem to find anymore.
Speaking of characters, you can always play differently. There are four official Terraria classes that allow you to choose different weapons, and fight through the hordes of monsters in new ways. Melee has you cutting down foes with giant swords and spears. Ranged has you wielding miniguns, magic bows or even throwing knives from a safe distance. Magic lets you cast powerful spells to take down the masses while expending your ever regenerating Mana supply. Lastly, Summoning lets you stand back and let your minions do the work for you and rampage on your behalf while you sip a nice health potion. (This is the best way btw. So good. -Meg)
We can’t of couse forget Mods! Mods in Terraria can add new NPCs, new items, new bosses, new biomes and anything in between! I’ve seen mods with a bigger, badder boss after the last boss, or a whole new Healer class for multiplayer. There are also Adventure Maps that let you play out stories others want to tell with limited inventories, or physical challenges that need precise platforming and grappling skills. The potential is all there.