Terraria is one of those ten-dollar games you’ll happily play for hundreds of hours. It doesn’t look like much at first: the art’s not great, and it seems like a limited Minecraft clone. It’s been described as “Minecraft meets Castlevania”, but that alone is an appealing concept. The idea of building a stage, Minecraft style, and fighting a boss there, Castlevania style, is hard to ignore, Gangnam style.
Playing it mostly as a relaxing game to just dig around in while listening to my own music library, I’ve clocked nearly 500 hours. It does get old, eventually, but I always seem to be willing to go back in at least for a while when a new patch comes out. Gameplay can always be extended further by coming up with other game modes, like cooperative and competitive mediumcore worlds, but eventually people will get sick of it, although they can hardly complain if their playtimes are half as long as mine.
But it does raise the question of why Minecraft doesn’t ever seem to get old forever, assuming players on the server haven’t run out of ideas. For one, it’s almost impossible to reach the endgame in Minecraft without cheats, and you never become such a god in Minecraft that you feel bigger than the world does. Going into 3D space makes everything feel exponentially bigger as well. There’s a more final limit on the things that can be done creatively in 2D, at least until players just start making pixel art, and doing that in Terraria eventually gets old too. This isn’t to say that it’s supposed to provide an eternity of enjoyment; no game is held to that standard. But when you’re specifically looking for a relaxing time-killer, Minecraft seems to take the crown.
There isn’t really any point where players can say they’ve reached the absolute victory condition, because there’s no way to truly eradicate corruption, as nice as that would be (it will sprout up from nowhere). The real dream in Terraria, for me at least, is to build an amazing impenetrable castle and play Helm’s Deep, but monsters don’t spawn based on anything like light level, will simply teleport inside, and spike traps won’t hurt them, so the existing siege mechanic is kind of depressing and tedious. This has been the one area where I’ve really wanted to see some changes.
There are other issues. The interface isn’t the best, especially for sorting items into chests, which players happen to do a lot of. There’s no shift-clicking items into storage or automatic sorting of what’s already in there. There’s no way to bring up a menu with a button to insert any items tagged as “minerals”. Just a lot of clicking and dragging. Tech progression is also a bit confusing, and it’s one of those games where players have to have the wiki open one hundred percent of the time. The Guide NPC is no substitute.
One nice thing about the progression are the rewards that are relevant to the challenges, like diving helmets that are obtained from the bottom of the ocean, and fall-damage protection earned from a chest up in the clouds. Being able to combine accessories until you can do just about anything is very fulfilling, and while it does culminate in the player having so much power over the environment that they run out of things to do, there’s always a promise of some future patch to extend the goalposts.
There is one aspect of gameplay that isn’t trivial compared to Minecraft: the displacement of liquids. It’s a little buggy at times, but having to build drainage shafts and leaving pockets of air behind instead of simply filling in liquid source blocks and deleting water forever is an incontestable victory for Terraria. Setting up shafts and keeping tunnels from flooding is the kind of hard, long-term work that is incredibly satisfying and would probably be in Minecraft too, if it were at all possible without crippling the game’s performance.
Players aren’t tied to worlds as they are in Minecraft, which is nice. A player who has become divinely powerful can always build a summer home on a fresh baby garden world when their old one has become obliterated with scars and corruption and other hellish beasts. Items can be brought over, too.
More recently, there’s the comparison to Starbound. It’s in beta now, and eventually promises to become the better game, but would it eventually make Terraria obsolete? It’s hard to say. Starbound’s terrain still wasn’t as dramatic when I last played, and it lacks the stronghold-defense element of gameplay, but these things can change.
I’m sure I’ll jump right back into Terraria when 1.3 is released. At least for a little while. It’s looking pretty neat.