Terraria: Minecraft Without The Depth?
On May 16th, Developer Re-Logic released Terraria, a 2D Minecraft’esque sandbox game on Steam. Soon after release, I picked the game up during one of Steam’s many wallet-decimating sales. Full disclosure: I have played Terraria for about six hours. However, since the game does not have story or an ending, I feel qualified to write about it in a review, and share some of my thoughts.
Terraria = 2D Minecraft
Let’s be clear up front: this is, for all intents and purposes, a two-dimensional Minecraft. While the visuals reminded me of the classic Apogee games of the 1990’s, the gameplay was dedicated to exploring, mining, crafting, building and fighting. The worlds are randomly generated and the monsters are randomly spawning. There is a day-night cycle, just like Minecraft, and the baddies tend to appear after dark. There are even randomly generating dungeons, complete with dungeon-only loot.
A Simpler Game, Needlessly Made More Complicated
There are a few key differences from Notch’s classic title, however. First, the game manages to both simplify and complicate some essential mechanics.
Navigation is far easier in Terraria than Minecraft. While I have played dozens and dozens of hours of Minecraft, I still occasionally get lost in the larger caves, as well as the ever-expanding over world. Terraria does away with this problem. This is entirely because of the shift to 2D: finding your way home in the is as simple as heading left or right, and perhaps up, if you are in a cave.
Mining and building, however, are far more cumbersome in Terraria than they should be. Terraria is controlled with the WASD keys for character movement, and the mouse for aiming your pickaxe, axe or hammer. The world is constructed of tiny blocks; about three blocks make up a wall the size of your character. You will need to mine out each one of these blocks to move your character forward, when digging. Each of these will take a second or two. The result is this: I found myself spending a lot more time mining out tiny blocks so I could expand my mine than I ever did in Minecraft. I am not sure why this is more tolerable in Minecraft than it is in Terraria, but it is. It may be as simple as the sense of progression you get in a 3D space rather than the 2D, or it may be that the process of mining is actually faster in Minecraft. Whatever the case: this ended up boring me to tears.
This is also the case with the construction and building, which, for lack of a better word, just felt janky. You place blocks and walls by being close to the area and holding the mouse button down. The hit detection feels just off enough to make this feel like a chore. Blocks just don’t get placed where you think they should, nor do they cover the space that you would expect. The result of which is that it is both cumbersome and frustrating to build anything of any aesthetic value.
Big Improvements to the Minecraft Formula
This is a shame, because the core game of Terraria has some huge improvements over the Minecraft formula. First and foremost is crafting. Whereas Minecraft uses a somewhat esoteric grid system for crafting (requiring the player to know ahead of time exactly how to place materials in a grid to get what they want), Terraria uses a far simpler system. You make your work bench, anvil, furnace, or whatever, walk up to it, and press ESC to enter into your inventory and crafting menu. From there, you can see all your items, and every item you can craft from them. At that point, all you need to do is click on the item you wish to craft, and there it is. This eliminates the need to memorize (or print out) dozens of crafting recipes.
Terraria also expands on some of the RPG elements only hinted at in Minecraft, though these are likely to be expanded in Minecraft when the game finally ships with a full adventure mode. Specifically, Terraria includes NPCs, which populate buildings that you can construct. You can buy accessories and items from them which help you in dungeon and cave exploration.
These items and accessories are also an improvement over the core Minecraft experience. In addition to armor and weapons, you can get items such as a hookshot, or even an accessory that allows you to double-jump, allowing you to get to hard-to-reach areas.
There are also a greater variety of monsters to battle and materials to gather in Terraria, including a vast variety of slimes, flying creatures, skeletons, demons, etc. You can even summon bosses at demonic alters to try to gather hard-to-get materials. It is at moments like this when Terraria outshines Minecraft in significant ways. Even so, the basic mechnics of exploration and construction really hold the game back.
Also, though it is a minor point, whoever designed the music in Terraria should get a nice pat on the back. It is beautifully composed, if a bit repetitious. The sound effects are also well designed, but some sound a little too close to Minecraft for comfort. The zombie moan in particular.
Ultimate Verdict: A Fun But Limited Experience
At the end of the day, despite the expanded gameplay elements, Terraria feels, somewhat ironically, more limited than Minecraft. The game just doesn’t have that same open nature that has allowed Minecraft to flourish and expand. When I play Minecraft I feel like the potential for creativity and exploration is limitless. Terraria just cannot instill that feeling. Likewise, the game did not compel me to continue playing it for hours on end, whereas Minecraft has left me with many sleepless nights.
While Terraria shows some great potential that could be realized in future content updates and patches, the product, as it is now, just does not appeal to me. However, it is a new experience, and relatively inexpensive. So it has those things going in its favor. Which is nice.
If I could recommend this game to anyone, it would be to Minecraft players who want to try something new while they wait for the latest mods or Notch’s next big content update. Terraria is a good game, a worthwhile homage Minecraft and the addiction that game instills in its fans. Also, those of you who just could not get in to Minecraft may find slightly more direction and hand-holding in Terraria as well, so it may be worth a shot.
In closing, I want to say that I love the fact that this VERY small developer took on this project and how impressed I am that they have managed to build a significant community. This game has inspired a Wiki, an active forum, and a multiplayer community. If anyone was going to appropriate the ideas of Minecraft, I am glad it was folks like these.
If any of this interests you, you can pick up Terraria now on Steam for $9.99.