This week’s Monday Night Gaming / MNG: Terraria
Terraria is one of those games that people either like or dislike, and I’m going to do my best to not fall into the “OMG Minecraft ripoff!” camp of reviews. Many of its fans love to remind folks that the came is older, that it works hard to keep updating, and that like many games, paved the way for the games that came after it, which is all true.
Up until this past weekend, I’d never played Terraria, though I’ve been a Minecraft gamer since alpha and have heard of Terraria on and off since its release in 2011. One of our gaming group members loves the game and wanted us to give it a shot, so he gifted me a copy (for which I am grateful) and we gave it a run.
- UI (User Interface): If you develop a game, the user-interface is crucial as that’s how your players are going to interact with the game. On some level, what happens needs to be intuitive enough that players can feel like they know what they’re doing. While it’s common to have to look things up on a wiki as the game progresses (which you do in Minecraft, Starbound, etc.), I shouldn’t have to read a bunch of wiki pages just to begin the game.
- When I began, there was nothing intuitive about the random symbols on the screen. It’s not obvious that there is a difference between where you put defensive items (like armor) and decorative items you just wear.
- The six-colored shields are mystery icons that offer no explanation as to their purpose. And the two swords? *shrug* Still don’t know what that does.
- I didn’t even know where the money I was collecting was going until a few hours in.
- Myself and another gamer took forever to figure out the exact way required to jump to climb a rope. Despite hitting the correct keys, we’d do it over and over to no avail. You have to hit the rope in a particular manner in order for it to work, which honestly is bad user interface.
- There is no tutorial mode that tells you how to build, especially not how to place blocks in the background. Apparently you can’t place blocks like you can in Starbound, but you have to craft walls and place those. The building is also coded rather buggily so when you’re placing walls, you can end up with tiles that appear to overlap but actually do not. Then tenants/merchants won’t move in because it doesn’t view the house as a proper dwelling due to the 2 pixel hole in your building.
- Overwhelming a new player with dozens of craftable objects that are decorative isn’t really a good starting point. Because of the mystery-meat iconography and the lack of tutorials, it’s impossible to tell what’s actually important and what isn’t. For example, I thought copper was useful. Turns out, not so much. At least in Starbound, most of the decorative objects go into the 3D printer so you know when you pull it up, you’re getting into a lot of objects. The 3D printer is searchable as well. This way, the objects don’t clutter up your regular crafting menu. This gets a bit into UI again but Terraria tries to put everything on one massive menu. You can’t really do that for a game with that many craftable objects. It doesn’t work well.
- When building, there is a button in the user controls in the shape of a house which then has two additional vague buttons. One with a person’s head and one with a question mark. No idea what either mean. Someone get this developer a book on how to work tutorials into your game. Or a book on how to create iconography with meaning. Or maybe just a book on HCI/UI testing.
- It’s little quirks like this (and a lot of them) that made my experience more of an irritation than a fun time.
- Multi-Player: There are several bugs that popped up that made it frustrating to play.
- If you’re playing multi-player and building places for merchants, you can apparently only have one merchant of a particular type. For example, only 1 dye merchant. You can’t have multiples. But why not? There doesn’t appear to be a particular reason why (which honestly appears to be the case for a lot of things implemented in the game).
- When sending invites, the game will often fail to connect to the proper world, creating a new world rather than placing the player in the multi-player world. This isn’t a Steam issue, but an issue in how the game handles communication between players and server.
- If 1-2 more experienced players rush off and find all the over-powered gear in chests or abandoned places, there isn’t a lot for the other players to do. I had a decent sword and the best armor I could make with the materials I had, yet I spent 5 hours alternating between being slaughtered by worms that would come up from beneath me unseen (and thus, unavoidable) and mining my 4000th piece of dirt or stone. (More on that later.) Either way, there isn’t enough for newbies to do on a multi-player world to help them feel like they are contributing and playing the game. It’s really boring as sin to spend 3.5 hours digging dirt.
- No one should find a weapon in the first five minutes on a new world that basically makes them invincible. Over-powered equipment like that basically makes the entire point of the game moot.
- One of the things I love most about Minecraft‘s balance is that if you’re new, you can still play. There are plenty of things for a new player to do to help contribute to a team but also to get better at the game. Plenty of enemies that are defeatable, plenty of areas to explore that aren’t impossible, and plenty of items to craft. Not only that, but as you progress, there are monsters, bosses, and areas that are more difficult than the next so that the player doesn’t feel over-powered either. It’s possible that Terraria has creatures like this, but I wouldn’t know since I kept being slaughtered by a creature I couldn’t see in time to even attempt to fight–a creature so powerful that it could kill me in 2-3 hits. Considering that the *only* way to advance in Terraria is to mine for minerals and doing so exposes you to creatures you can’t defeat, there’s no balanced play for new-to-the-game players. This means that new players sit around and do nothing while waiting for other players to bring them what they need to get started. While I understand some people are okay with this, I’m not. I don’t want to be beholden to other gamers for my gear. I want to work for my gear–that’s part of the point of a game that focuses on the crafting mechanic. Otherwise, what’s the point?
- The minerals in this game are not balanced either. Considering that iron is a requirement for just about anything important in the game, it is way too difficult to find. As I said, I mined for 3.5 hours yesterday and got enough iron for 7 bars. That’s it. In a game like Minecraft or Starbound, I can mine that long and do much, much better. Those are the kinds of odds I would expect when searching for a super-rare mineral like emeralds or diamonds in Minecraft, not something as simple and important as iron. I would also expect the frequencies to be turned up in a multi-player game so that 1 person mining doesn’t prevent everyone else from finding the minerals they also need.
Balance is crucial to multi-player games. Many games get it wrong at first, then go back and fix it with updates, as did Mojang with Minecraft. Terraria has had five years to fix some of this and yet…here we are in 2016 and not so much. I understand they’ve been adding content and bug fixing, but UI and balance issues are huge. They aren’t the sort of mistakes you set aside until you get around to it.
I get that there is a period of time where you aren’t strong enough to do a lot of the game, but a game still needs different tiers for the players playing it–from those just starting out in the game to those who’ve been around since 2011. Minecraft is a great example of this as I’ve been playing since Alpha back on June 28, 2010. I’m not alone in that either.
I’m not saying that games like Minecraft and Starbound are better to be fickle. I’m saying they’re better because they learned. Starbound reminds me of a game made when the developer played Terraria and said, “Here’s a list of all the things wrong in Terraria. Now I’m going to make a game and fix them.” Minecraft proceeded Terraria, but one of the things they’ve done right is to listen to their players and play test the hell out of the updates.
While I always enjoy the social aspect of multi-player games with the group I have, I didn’t enjoy our game of choice this time. Of course, I think I’m very much spoiled because I played Starbound first. “Anything Terraria does, Starbound does better, Starbound does everything better than Terraria….”
Terraria reminds me of a game made by someone who can code but has had no experience in game development, specifically the UI and QA portions of game testing and user experience.
Overall Rating/Impression: 2/10. I know this game has sold 18 million copies (as of July 2016) and many people love it. I am not one of them.
(Image from Annie Get Your Gun is Copyright Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Terraria logo is Copyright Re-Logic and 505 Games. Both images used under Fair Use for review/criticism purposes.)