The sandbox world creation genre has enjoyed a massive radiation of late thanks to the runaway success of Mojang's Minecraft. Indie developers are continually building upon Infiniminer's core concepts with new and exciting innovations - and with nothing in the way of fanfare, pomp or circumstance, a little game called Terraria popped up on Steam promising to offer players a grand adventure on top of directionless construction.
After selling over 50,000 copies on it's first day, it's clear that this plucky little title must have something to it. Rather than a cynical clone or copy, Terraria is a unique experience with an identity all of its own. And one that, in my opinion, is more rewarding than the games that inspired it.
Terraria is a 2D platformer that allows players to deform and reshape the randomly-generated terrain using a number of handy tools. Starting out with a weak pick and a flimsy axe, you'll chop down trees and mine the earth for blocks of wood, stone and metal that can be used to build practically anything you can imagine. These resources can be also be shaped into weapons, clothing, light sources, furniture and background walls for your creations - all of which is instantly accessible through an intuitive crafting menu and "click & hold" mechanics.
You're free to do as you please; exploring the hills, sculpting enormous construction projects, tunnelling deep into the bowels of the earth and even into the depths of hell itself with merry abandon. But you'd better make sure to take shelter at night. Once the sun goes down, hordes of ravening beasts stalk the land and force you to fight, hide or plain run away. It's a fun change of pace, but one that balances risk with reward by providing special resources (such as falling stars) that only become available during the hours of darkness.
So far, so similar to a certain indie mine crafting sim I could mention... but Terraria has an ace up its sleeve. The worlds also happen to be full of NPCs to speak to, quests to complete and an adventure storyline to pursue. Enormous bosses, such as Cthulhu himself, await you in the dark places beneath the earth and require significantly powerful weapons and armour to take down. Imagine Castlevania meeting Final Fantasy and you're somewhere near the mark. What's more, constructing and decorating buildings can attract NPCs such as nurses and merchants to move in, meaning that players can create entire towns out of virgin wilderness. The directionless and objective-less crafting experience is still present in all of its amorphous glory, but players can now apply these principles towards set goals and rewards. It feels like a full game that happens to feature a real-time level editor rather than a set of tools waiting for a sculptor to come along.
Of course, you can just treat the whole thing as a blank slate. The choice is yours.
As you might imagine, this makes Terraria a more enriching and rewarding singleplayer experience than similar games - and for solo players, it's actually more engaging than Minecraft in its current beta state. Getting a few friends involved for some multiplayer action is also a lot of hectic fun, though it's quite possible for your fellow players to demolish your painstakingly-constructed cities and evict your tenants. Pick your companions with care to avoid griefers, though as it stands, the community seems to be genuinely helpful and enjoying the cooperative spirit of the whole thing.
Presentation-wise, Terraria takes its cues from 8-Bit platformers. The visual style is a charming retro homage through and through, but still looks capable enough to compete with similar indie titles. After all, embracing faux-retro art direction allows tiny studios to create stylish games without having to graphically compete with the triple-A monoliths. Sadly the same can't be said of the music, which teeters between instantly forgettable and brain-shreddingly irritating.
Terrarria certainly isn't without its flaws. The missions and quests, such as they are, are often incredibly vague and require you to grind against huge numbers of enemies to find the items you need. What's more, the actual platforming mechanics are a little restrictive at times and are either too floaty or imprecise to nail some of the more annoying jumps (though, hey, why not just build your own staircase instead!). Some of the building mechanics are also slightly vexing, such as the incredibly small radius in which you can place new blocks and the fact that background walls are extremely finicky to place. For a £5.99 download from a tiny dev team, however, I'm prepared to cut it a huge amount of slack. And so should you.
Finally, Re-Logic have announced that subsequent content packs will be free - and we'll keep you up to date about what they contain.
- Deep open-world creation mechanics
- Fun questing and Castlevania-esque platforming
- An unbelievable amount of content for £5.99
- Awful music
- A few mechanical gripes
- Inevitable Minecraft comparisons
The Short Version: Terraria is the best of all worlds. Freeform omnipotent creation goes hand in hand with deep platform exploration and RPG mechanics, providing an experience that's suitable for... well... everyone. There is more to see and accomplish in Re-Logic's surprise hit than in any other game released so far this year - and I'd urge you to try out the experience for yourself without preconception or prejudice.