Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Terraria

Normally I wait until I have played through a game and then give you guys a ten good things / ten bad things post pair. You know the drill. Terraria is different, though, in multiple ways. For one, I don’t think the game can actually be finished. For another, my good/bad format wouldn’t really cut the mustard for that game. There are so many things wrong with it that you could do nothing but come away disgusted from the review, yet it is still a game I enjoy playing.

The first boss you get to fight in Terraria. (image: wired.co.uk)

Terraria has a lot of similarities with Minecraft but is in 2D sprite art and has a focus on combat that Minecraft does not have (as I understand it). You start out with some basic crafting tools and start chopping wood and digging up ore to build your first house. Playing along you will improve your equipment, build better and better weapons and discover new riches and dangers that lurk below the surface.

Many people will enjoy the ability to build your own incredible castles in the game, full of chandeliers, flower pots and glass windows. Me, I don’t care a bit about that. What I do enjoy is the sense of exploring, never knowing what might be hiding in that dark cave you just unearthed and the feeling of progression. The zombies that attack at night were scary at first, but quickly became a laughing stock and a good source of money when I unearthed rare minerals to build better weapons and armor from.

I can sit in front of my screen for hours and dig my way through the earth on the lookout for a chest with some nice items it. Unlike many modern RPGs, the items you can find have quite unique effects instead of simply improving your stats. I have boots that allow for quick sprints when the way is clear and a set of balloons that make me jump higher when equipped. A grappling hook can be used to swing from wall to wall Spiderman style and so on. Not knowing what I find next is the most interesting part of the game (and the reason I refuse to look up anything about it on the internet.)

I said before that there is a lot wrong with the game. And boy is there. The graphics are extremely old fashioned (though not, in my opinion, as ugly as Minecraft), controls are rather awful and there is simply no real information to be had anywhere. The only way to find out what you can build is to have raw materials in your inventory, standing next to certain crafting stations (workbench, anvil, etc.) , and scrolling through a list of craftables.  Furthermore, most of those items you can craft don’t actually say what they are good for at all. Also, good luck finding out what makes a good enough home for NPCs to move in on your own.

Then there’s death and travelling. When you die, you lose a bit of money (fine by me) and get teleported to your starting position or wherever your bed is. I have carved a nice system of zigzagging tunnels below my house which take me to the far depths of the earth. When I die I have to traverse these tunnels fully before I can continue my work where I left off. This takes ages. Now there are ways to build more efficient tunnels, but they would leave out a lot of terrain that would go unexplored.

Other infuriating features of the game include a boss that only appears at night and disappears at dawn even if you are in the middle of fighting it, the really slow process of remodeling your house, the fact that you can’t change sound volume while in the game, the lacking steam cloud support, the tendency of your character to quickly fill up her inventory with clumps of dirt and sand, and those damn imps that teleport and shoot through walls while I’m in the confined space of my mine and can’t even dodge their shots.

Some issues can be excused because the game is a $10 indie concoction; others are simply bad game design. Still, the game is a lot of fun, highly addictive (in a good, non-threatening, non-physical kind of way), and I can heartily recommend it. I can’t help but wonder though what could be done with this kind of game if you produced it in a professional setting with decent financial backing. Maybe the amount of fans that these games get lately will lead to a commercial adoption sooner or later. DotA showed that this is quite possible.