The Summer of Indie: Game Review – Terraria

For some games “what’s the point?” is clearer than others. Finish the game to Save the Earth From Oddly Familiar Invaders, or Race Cars You’ll Never Afford Around Tracks You’ll Never Visit Really Fast, or Rescue the Princess from that Stupid Dinosaur-Turtle-Thing She Keeps Eloping With. They’re recognisable frameworks and fairly easy to explain, even they don’t really sum up the experience of playing them. I’m slightly at a loss when it comes to Terraria, however.

One of the eternal questions I seem to get asked when discussing (computer) gaming with non-gaming friends is “but…what’s the point?”. Which is an odd question, when you think about it. No-one asks me what the point of the time I spend reading is, or watching The Apprentice, and so on, but there is still some sort of expectation that in order to justify sitting in front the Playstation shooting baddies there needs to be some sort of secret higher purpose beyond “it’s fun”. On the other hand, when I try to explain what any given game is about, it often gets quite tough, as the joy of gaming, inherently, is the playing of it; that feedback between your actions and what happens on screen.

So, this is a 2D, side-on platformer in its basic look. You move around, jump, and start in a field with a woodaxe, sword and pickaxe, with which you can chop down trees, kill monsters and dig holes.  The trees give you wood, the monsters drop cash and occasionally other resources, and the holes in the ground give you ores, and sometimes contain caves with chests and monsters in it. The deeper you mine, the better ores, harder monsters and so on. And that’s it. That’s the game. You mine, turn stuff into other stuff, into better stuff, with lets you survive deeper to get more stuff.

I wish my house was this nice. It isn’t.

None of this explains why it is so damn addictive. Let’s put it another way. I have a house. It’s my second house because my first house was a bit shabby, being made mostly of wood and raw stone walls. My new house has chandeliers in the work-room, storage chests in the bed room, and I put a balcony in because I wanted somewhere to put plant-pots. It’s made of Grey Stone bricks, has glass windows and red brick walls. It’s all very tasteful but you have to be careful going out the back door because just outside is my main mineshaft, which is a 1025ft drop (my crafted depth gauge tells me) to the lowest levels I’ve currently got down to.

But whats the point? How do I win? Well I don’t. I can’t. I mine, I craft, I make a nicer house and better armour and just keep exploring. Sometimes I find really big scary monsters, sometimes I find naturally occurring dungeons or cave networks to explore. Often these involve me being eaten by bats. It’s a game about the joy of exploration. There isn’t a lot of help in the game, deliberately so, which makes the crafting a matter of looking at your inventory and building a worktable, then building what you can at the worktable, which includes a forge, which unlocks more options, which…you get the picture. None of it is complex so it rarely gets frustrating, although knowing things exist is a big help to start you trying to think how you’d get them.

Spelunking: The way to wealth, loot, and painful, bat-shaped Death.

Which brings me to multiplayer. It’s pretty simple – another player (up to 3 more) can join any world you have created, and you can all toddle along together. They come with whatever they are carrying, but nothing else, and the game is pretty much exactly the same except a lot more fun, with the opportunity for comedic accidental death vastly increased, but your chances of surviving the lower levels greatly increased, with the attendant better ores and drops. And you can play on any world, either a new one or just let people into one you already have created, so it’s very flexible and easy, with little in the way of barriers to get you together.

It does however currently need you to use a vitual LAN setup like LogMeIn/Hamachi for multiplayer to work, but that is free and easy to setup, and “proper” internet multiplayer is promised by the developers, and with steady patches being released so far it should be along fairly soon.  It’s a rough edge on an otherwise surprisingly smooth game.

In some ways Terraria is a poster-child for the PC-led indie gaming scene at the moment. It’s low price makes it an attractive “pocket money” purchase, especially compared to the 30-40 quid mainstream releases around at the moment, and it’s digital distribution model means that the developer can get it out there easily and compete for space. Its quirky, and a little bit risky, and certainly interesting and different – and although it’s unfocused gameplay isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste the fact it exists at all is a great sign that huge, risk-adverse franchises aren’t the only way forward for the gaming industry.

Terraria is available through Steam currently priced at £5.99

GS Rating:4/5

GS Reviewer: Matt

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One comment

  1. Jon Lea /

    What’s the point? Watching you plummet to your death is rarely un-entertaining.

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