Superficially, this is a creative sandbox game in which you "mine" materials from a randomly generated world made up of squares. You can then "craft" these materials into structures, tools and equipment. In turn, that new equipment allows you to explore further into the world and mine better materials, and so on. The comparisons to a certain other XBLA best-selling elephant in the room are going to be both inevitable and - to a degree - understandable.
You start off in both games with the basic aim of creating a shelter, and are subsequently left to your own devices; if you want to create a two dimensional effigy of your preferred celebrity, you can. But if you choose to explore, you'll find natural tunnels that have already been started, chests with items granting you abilities such as a double jump or potions that reverse the flow of gravity. Nearly everything you find goes towards improving your character somehow - whether it's a handy ability to help you navigate around the maps easier, or something that gives a temporary stat boost to aid your battles against the various enemies dotted around the land.
You swiftly develop an RPG-like attachment to your character, and the endless opportunities to improve them are hard to resist. Stakes can be raised by the option to have death drop all your equipment, requiring a Dark Souls-style slog to retrieve it, or kill you off permanently - making building your character as much of a task as shaping the individual world. Crucially, your worlds and your characters are saved as two separate entities - if you want to explore a whole new world - or a world of your friends' - while kitted out in the gear you spent three days making and discovering in the last one, you can. (Alternatively, you can bring in a local player using split-screen co-op).
What really sets Terraria apart from Minecraft are bosses and special events. These monstrosities range from giant eyeballs that shoot smaller eyeballs, to walls of flesh that chase you through the depths, forcing you to fight traversing a lava filled hell-world. Overcoming them rewards you with special ores and unique drops that can only be obtained by defeating them and in turn lead to some of the best equipment in the game.
The various biomes provide a similar variety and challenge for intrepid explorers in far more than just an aesthetic sense. The purple-tinted Corruption biome contains deadly chasms and one-eyed monsters that constantly chase unwary travellers. The Jungle biome features man-eating plants, underground wasps and caverns of piranha-infested waters. Occasionally even the "standard" land will become hostile, with random Blood Moon events or Goblin Armies attacking your home village, turning curious expeditions in order to uncover more of the map into frantic fights for the survival of you and your self-made village.
You don't have to explore, but doing so uncovers more and more layers in a game with a ridiculous amount of things to do. Every system branches in different directions and there's a constant and almost overwhelming stream of distractions - which is one of the few criticisms you can level at Terraria. The game's huge potential is ill-explained, particularly in the early stages, and your first dalliances can be an intimidating and complicated slog. Although NPCs give you a vague nudge, you'll almost certainly have to consult outside sources in order help decide on your next adventure.
The longer you spend in Terraria, the more you discover that the Minecraft comparison, while obvious, isn't fair to either. Compared to Mojang's all-conquering virtual Lego set that encourages creativity, Terraria is more of a "game" with definitive goals, rules and progression that deserves to stand on its own merits.
By Ben Borthwick
Deceptively deep, rich in content and compellingly addictive
- Plenty of stuff to discover
- Satisfying sense of progression
- Compelling risk and reward cycle
- Controls take getting used to
- Lack of direction off-putting