The 2D Frontier: A Review of Life in Terraria

It’s hard to talk about Terraria without mentioning Minecraft, so lets get that out of the way right quick shall we? Like Minecraft, Terraria is an open world where the player has the ability to build upon and alter the world at large. Players can harvest materials, craft objects, and construct elaborate homes and works of art. They must also take up arms against the wilds of the world, wandering monsters the prowl for food during the day and roaming zombies hungry for flesh in the night. Sounds pretty similar at this stage, but once you look beyond the surface that all changes.

The most readily apparent difference is the delightfully 2D graphics engine that runs the world of Terraria.  The sprites harken back to Super Nintendo (SNES) era Final Fantasy, and the jumping is nice and floaty like the Super Mario of the time. As you build your shelter to protect yourself from the ravages of floating eyeballs and zombies, the most important difference comes to light. You are not alone. NPCs will move into rooms in your house, or if you demand privacy, into other houses you build for them. They will sell you things, or practice medicine on you, or just admire your home. The point is that they are there, in the world with you, explorers and adventurers pooling together to form a frontier community.

This changes so much about the game.  It’s not a lonely world where your exploits are doomed to be forgotten, but instead someone will tell stories about you when you are gone. Or so my inner narrative for my adventures believes, the stories I can create for myself in this world are richer because of the simple inclusion of a merchant and a few other NPCs. One good example of this came when a friend and I learned what happens when a Blood Moon rises in the night sky. The announcement is made in a very Dwarf Fortress kind of way, for those of you who have played with what I personally feel is the Crack Addiction Simulator. A simple line of text announces to you that a Blood Moon Rises, and that’s it. If this is your first blood moon, then much like with anything that happens in Dwarf Fortress, learning will happen with an accompaniment of blood and tears. We holed up in my house and watched as massive amounts of Zombies piled against every door to the house, and laughed at their stupid undead faces because we were safe in the house.
The proselytizers get really aggressive at night.


That’s when the first door crashed open and the zombies poured in, then the second door, and from above the roof access door crashed open. Like in most games, death is only lightly punished in Terraria. So thus faced with countless undead mouths gnashing for my flesh, I was merely exhilarated at this awesome moment in the game, shouting for my friend to close the doors as we fought off the undead. Then the undead started to eat the Nurse NPC and for the first time I realized they have health bars for a reason, she began to run away in a panic and priorities changed, the NPCs must be protected! The rest of the night was a panicked frenzy to keep them all safe and sound, because no one dies while a guest in my house! They are a simple addition to the game, but the NPCs change so much about it, and make the game better by simply existing.

Zelda comes next. You can’t see a screenshot of this game with that heart meter and not think of Zelda. Much like SNES era Zelda games, you find hearts to increase your meter. You also find, buy, or craft equipment. Swords, bows, boomerangs, and even a hook-shot like grapple-hook are all possible. You can also increase a magic meter and find spells to cast, locked away in shadowy orbs deep beneath the dangerous and vile grounds of the corrupted lands. You essentially level up your character this way, and through the addition of different armor, weapons, and accessories, you are able to better face the world around you. And what a world it is.

This may be unique to my experience, but I hope other can have it as well. I have avoided the wiki for this game, save for one visit to confirm how to plant a tree, which has greatly improved my experience. Instead of knowing for certain that certain things may exist in the world, I basically hear rumors from friends and other players. Strange tales told of floating islands that hold the forgotten ruins of the Cloud Kingdom, of subterranean jungles lit by lava and filled with deadly creatures, and whispers of deep and terrible dungeons guarded by a massive skeleton. For some things I didn’t even get that, such as when I unexpectedly dug through the ceiling to a cave and found giant glowing mushrooms growing on a purple bed of moss. It was a beautiful and game defining moment for me, to find a tiny and secluded ecosystem growing above a lake of lava deep in the earth. Before that moment something like that simply didn’t exist in my mental picture of the world, and then suddenly the world is a bit more large and mysterious, a bit more alive. I love wondering what I will find next, of mounting expeditions in search of rumored places and objects, undertaking hilarious and deadly missions that I assign myself. For instance, the time I decided the most effective way to get the precious hellstone I wanted out of hell, was to flood hell.

Lets set the scene a bit. Hell is roughly 2,500 feet below sea level in this game. My home is on a mountain, an extra 800 or so feet higher. So digging to hell is already no minor feat, it is a long way down through skeleton, worm, and slime infested caverns and tunnels. When you finally reach hell you will find more lava that should ever exist in one place, along with imps who teleport and shoot fireballs at you, making hell all very… hellish. The infinitely valuable mineral known as hellstone is pocketed throughout the rocks that the lava surrounds, and everything you can stand on will almost certainly burn you if you don’t have something to protect against it. When I first arrived hungry for glory and fancy hell based equipments I would forge myself, I found that it only takes roughly 20 seconds before something pushes me into lava and I burst into flames. Imps harass you at all times, and massive bone serpents will wait for you to feel confidence before erupting out of the earth and flinging you to another fiery death. After three or so deaths I had enough spite in me to undertake a mission to flood hell under as much water as I could.

A reasonable action to take against an ecosystem.

Pickaxe in hand I found any and all bodies of water I could and began to divert them all to my hell shaft (Oooh, dirty!) which, unsurprisingly, resulted in six drownings. I died twice as much by my own hand in my mission to drown a location. After much toiling and loss of life I finally had thousand of gallons of water pouring down my access shaft to hell, cooling the surface of any lava it touched to obsidian and making it so all hellstone was underwater. Which meant I could now drown as I mined it and got beaten on by imp fireballs and massive bone serpents.  Realizing I only made the task about 2% less dangerous, I soon gave up after announcing Mission Accomplished to save face and throwing a stick of dynamite down the hole for fun. I would later take hell on again, and flood it again, with friends online, and it was just as fun the second time.

This is a rare game in that I have the same amount of fun playing solo as I do playing it multiplayer.  The wonder and adventure don’t vanish with multiple people, instead it creates a sense of shared discovery. Creating a world with one or more friends is fun, adding wings to a house or labeling chests and piggy banks for private and shared use, and striking off together in search of treasure and adventure. You no longer sell or toss doubles, or ignore minerals you don’t need, you stockpile for friends. People will give you gifts of rare and powerful artifacts just because they don’t need it or want it, and you will do the same. In some ways it brings out the role playing spirit better then most MMORPGs, no one is slinging about acronyms and yelling at you for not speccing your character just right for a raid, they are just having fun like you are, excitedly digging for the chance at seeing some amazing new sight.

The one thing that I do enjoy in multiplayer more then singleplayer are the boss fights. Oh yes, this game has massive bosses for you to fight, often on the roof of your house with a full moon blazing in the background. Tackling screen filling monsters just feels right when you have one or more fellow players running and screaming with you, flinging arrows and spells and making death defying leaps off objects to land sword blows. Some bosses can be summoned, some come when the stars are right, and others are unwittingly awakened when you interact with things in the world, and the first time you encounter them is simply magical. After the first time the magic is slightly lessened, but the epic struggle to defeat the thing is still strong, but it does make me hope the developer is serious about adding to the game with time. Additional bosses attached to new objects, locations, or situations is something I deeply desire. As is some snowy/icy environment of some kind.

Oh god, I think it sees me...

The game has one aspect I have yet to try, but am very excited for the possible fun it will grant, and that’s player vs player. So far my experiences have been fully cooperative, sharing and working together. The malleability of the world has me very excited for the PvP possibilities however. Imagine two teams, say four people per team, in the world of Terraria. Each team strikes out to opposite ends of the game world and build bases/forts/castles/massive erect penises, and in each respected teams base they place an object. The object can be anything, but in classic examples of this it would be a flag. Can you imagine capture the flag in this? Defenses are built and destroyed, people dig under bases to try and gain access, bosses are summoned as last desperate ploys to stop intruders, explosions going wrong and chaos everywhere. I can just imagine a pit being dug outside a base and monsters being lured into it like some kind of moat, the possibilities are vast to say the least. I really look forward to getting some groups of people together to give this experiment a go.

Terraria is a game from some alternate dimension where all of my favorite SNES era games got busy with Minecraft and then gave the baby up for adoption to Dwarf Fortress, where it grew into the healthy game you see before you today. Everyday I play is just as exciting as the first, with the possibilities of new and strange sights, powerful and magical treasures deep beneath the earth, and innovative ways for my character to die horribly. If the idea of Minecraft made you excited, but you never could stick with it, then give this game a go. The inclusion of bosses, dungeons, and environments catered to certain levels of experience/equipment give the game just a hair more direction with the same amount of freedom, allowing it to grab players attention and imagination more readily. I am incredibly impressed with Terraria and have yet to stop having fun, whenever I’m not playing I find myself looking forward to playing, and encourage everyone reading to check the game out if they can. If you know someone who has it, go and ask them if you can watch them play or try it for yourself, or if you have the $10 lying around, take a chance on a glowing gem of an indie game experience. I’m no where near done with this game, and yet I already find myself dreaming about the days when new content drops. Not because I am bored with what I have now, but because I’m excited to hear new rumors of strange things hidden in the massive worlds that my character calls home.

Although I hope they never fix whatever bug lets me fall off the edge of the world and frolic in the void. That would just be sad. Think this sounds like the kind of game you could lose hours in? Then head on over to the site and grab it for yourself! Organize some multiplayer servers in the comments so I can play with you!


Yes, we may have been excited about the discovery.