Terraria Review

By Jonathan Barnes,
"I just want to build a damned house."

My frustrated grumblings are only heard by my dog, who gives me a quizzical cock of his head as I sit on the floor all too close to my TV, attempting to get a better look at the Xbox One release of Terraria. As a complete newcomer to the game, I felt it only proper to educate myself in the game's tutorial, which has had me stuck in the same spot for over twenty minutes.

It's dangerous to be outside at night. Build a shelter before it gets dark.
Being so warned by the tutorial's omnipresent guide text, I struggle to figure out just HOW to finish this house and am taunted by the same statement which is now burned squarely into my retinas.

To start, build walls and a ceiling...

...A shelter must be at least 6 blocks high and 10 blocks wide
In a game with purportedly endless possibilities, the tutorial is light on details on exactly how to accomplish one of the first, vital missions that every newcomer is challenged with overcoming. After over twenty minutes of attempting (and failing) to finish my first home, I seek out the knowledgeable embrace of the public at large... the internet. Upon reading a few articles (also scant on details), I manage to stumble across a "Let's Play" video on YouTube that is more annoying than educational, but finally shows me how to finish the house (Pro Tip: You use the raw, "Wood" resource to build walls and roofs, but "Wood Walls" to fill in the background.). At this point the tutorial mercifully ends (popping my second achievement, forever emblazoning the game on my card) and I'm booted into the great big world of Terraria.


Terraria is a game about adventuring to the ends of the World and defeating villainous bosses along the way.
Dropped into the game world and left to my own devices, Terraria instantly feels overwhelming; its large, randomized world presents a bevy of opportunities to chop down trees, mine into the ground, and navigate its 2D, 16-bit style. Unfortunately, with a complete lack of direction or purpose, I found myself doing little more than aimlessly digging, chopping, and building a house, just like the tutorial. After crafting my first house, the game's day/night cycle took over and monsters began to swarm my screen. Armed only with the game's beginning weapon set, I did my utmost to beat the horde of Zombies and Demon Eyes back from my freshly-built home. This was not a wise decision. I was quickly slain and respawned back into my home. Learning from my mistake, I only ventured out during the day (at first), digging a bit here, chopping a bit there, always returning as dusk set in, but constantly feeling the same emotion: boredom.

Terraria encourages exploration, if only because there's little else to do initially. Digging beneath the surface gradually reveals ores that can be smelted into bars of metal which can in turn be used to make better equipment. When a game utilizes an upgrade loop like this, a central conceit is that this upgrade system empowers the character to do things better, which Terraria does relatively well. Exploring enough of the map will afford you the opportunity to collect more resources which can be used to make better weapons, armor, and tools, but these improvements do little more than speed up the game's mind-numbing boredom. I was now able to dig faster and kill monsters a little easier, but I still didn't understand "why". Why was I doing any of this? To build a better home? To make more stuff? To what end? I can honestly say that after almost thirteen hours with the game, I still don't understand the game's goal beyond the tedium of harvesting resources. The game's achievement list claims that there are boss-type monsters somewhere in the world, but I'll be darned if I ever saw one... much less fought one.

The excitement surrounding exploration is curtailed by the game's subterranean environments. It's not uncommon to dig yourself straight into a water reservoir which floods your tunnel, extinguishes your torches, and drowns you. It's also not uncommon to dig yourself into a cavern that causes you to either fall to your death or slide down so precipitously that escape is near impossible. While the game's randomized world is a noble (and worthy) cause, it ends up creating a labyrinth that is more frustrating than exciting.

Review 3

The game is further hampered by its inventory system. In the course of exploration, I picked up a lot of stuff. Some of it was beneficial and easy-to-understand, raw resources like wood, ore, mined blocks and potions with descriptions, but other bits of it were just... well... junk. Without any kind of a codex, it's nigh impossible to determine the long-term and short-term worth of things like "Blinkroot", "Daybloom Seeds", and "Waterleaf". The forty inventory slots (not including four ammo and four coin slots) fill up fast with this detritus, which forced me to either trash resources which might be valuable down the line or return to my house, build a chest, place all of the stuff that I thought I didn't need at the moment, then trek all the way back to my dig site.

The results of all of this spelunking and prospecting are borne out in Terraria's crafting system. By setting up your home with Work Bench, you're able to build a Furnace with the right materials, that Furnace in turn can build an Anvil should you have the right ingredients. From there, your harvested bounty can be turned into new weapons, armor, and items. Unfortunately, the menu system is frustrating to navigate and there's no easy way to compare prospective weapons to the ones with which you're currently equipped. Furthermore, you're continuously hamstrung by your limited number of inventory slots, which requires you to dash back and forth between chests where you stored your bounty just to make sure you have the right ingredients to make the proper items. Finally, the game does an exceedingly poor job of explaining exactly what some of these items actually do or why you might need them. These annoying obstacles make the crafting system a tedious job rather than an exciting feature.

With its retro, 16-bit art and music style, Terraria feels like a throwback to the days when SEGA and Nintendo were at the forefront of the console wars. The game's music changes with the day/night cycle and provides a soothing backdrop to the monotony. Unfortunately the art style doesn't come across as well functionally. Hampered with an incredibly zoomed out perspective (there's no option to zoom in for greater detail), I found it incredibly hard to delineate stone from iron and iron from silver, which made the prospecting even more frustrating.

Review 4

As unmercifully boring as the game is, its achievements make for an even greater chore for achievement hunters. During my thirteen hours with the game, I only popped seven of the game's thirty achievements. While there might be ways to speed run the game and pop more, at this time getting a full completion will be a time suck that would make Hercules ask to go back to the Augean Stables. With whoppers like Corruptible and Hallowed Be Thy Name (each carrying a ratio over four in the 360 version), you'll be spending a considerable amount of time spelunking.

Review 2

Most of the time, I consider games as escapism and entertainment, a way to get away from a "real world" that can be boring, monotonous, and frustrating. Terraria provides no such escape. While there might be good, compelling stuff locked away beyond the thirteen hours of boring digging that I pushed through, it's content that I'm not willing to dig for. Terraria's open-ended open world may provide a fun distraction for the highly-creative, patient, and motivated, but gamers looking for a fun, engrossing escape should keep on digging.

The reviewer spent approximately thirteen hours playing the game, digging out over 14,000 blocks, slaying countless monsters, smelting hundreds of metal bricks, and being bored. Along the way, he popped seven of the game's thirty achievements. This review is based on the Xbox One version of this game which was provided courtesy of the developer.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.