Terraria just might be the most deceptive game I've played this year. I went in expecting essentially a 2D Minecraft, but what I got was much more akin to games like Castlevania or Metroid. While mining and building are still important to your progression, they take a back seat to the exploration of a vast, randomly generated world.
When you first start up Terraria, you'll be dropped in with just a few simple copper tools to get you started. Zombies and other monsters will come out at night, so you'll want to get started on a shelter. Once you've finished your defenses though, you're somewhat open to do what you please in the sandbox. Continuing to build rooms will eventually attract NPCs and shop keepers to your domain, but what you'll probably spend the bulk of your time doing is wandering the world and finding all its hidden wonders. There is so much to discover in Terraria, and I had a blast uncovering it all. You could build a ladder into the sky and find a floating island, or stumble across an underground mushroom grove while digging through the earth. There are even dungeons that will test your platforming skills and your endurance with endlessly spawning enemies. That just scratches the surface too, and each area will offer its own challenges and also its own rewards in new materials and items.
I really found a simple joy in tunneling my way through a cavern, fighting off monsters and finding a chest or a few clay pots nestled away, and the game supports exploration through the mechanics. If you die on normal difficulty you'll drop a portion of your money, but you keep everything else in your inventory. It works well in a game where you can quickly find yourself in over your head or falling to your death. The game also does a great job of keeping you on your toes with random events that break up the monotony. During a Blood Moon, for instance, the zombie population spikes and they can even bash open doors. You can even summon and encounter bosses to further shake things up, and these short changes in the gameplay really help to minimize the feeling of grind. They are also the only source for certain items and crafting materials that you need to make the best gear. Hopping online also changes the dynamics. Seeing your favorite server's persistent world grow and change as others add new buildings or cut out new underground areas is a great experience. It's also a treat to engage PVP and try to destroy the world and the other players. There is a surprising depth of play in Terraria that isn't noticed at first glance.
I do have a few little problems with the game though. The controls can sometimes be a little finicky just due to the nature of trying to accurately hit the tiny squares, and it would be nice to be able to get to the options menu in game. Also while I don't have a problem with the game all but requiring specific items for certain activities, you'll sometimes be forced to open new worlds and farm for drops to port over with your persistent character. If you primarily play on a multiplayer server, there just won't be enough to go around, and I'd rather further explore my current world, than enter another in order to progress.
Any issues I might have with Terraria are mostly forgiven with the game being consistently updated with new items, monsters and mechanics. The latest patch alone included a slew of new weapons and a whole system for plant gathering and potion creation. You might expect such rapid updating to feel quickly slapped together, but Terraria goes the extra mile to make it special, like certain plants will only sprout seeds if you gather them under specific conditions, like underwater or at night. Terraria extends that cleverness to a number of areas. Need an alchemy station? Well it's just a workbench with a bottle stuck on top of it. You can even create simple structures of your own. Taking advantage of the games liquid mechanics, you can make a pair of holding tanks to feed lava and water together to make obsidian. The crafting system is easy to grasp; when you open your inventory and a list of what you can currently make will scroll down the side based on what's currently in your inventory and your proximity to certain crafting stations. The number of items you can create is staggering, and you can spend plenty of time just figuring out the best combinations of armor, weapons and accessories to suit your individual style. There is a real sense of progression to be felt when you start with just a few copper tools at the surface and end being dressed to the nines in your molten armor forged from hellstone.
Bottom Line: If you're a fan of adventure platforms like Metroid and Castlevania, but you always felt they could be a little more sandbox, Terraria is a must have.
Recommendation: Don't judge the book by its cover. Let Terraria surprise you.
Justin Clouse is glad that fire imp spawns are down to a less murderous level now.
Genre: Action Adventure
Available from: Steam