The statement is reductive, but true: Terraria is a two-dimensional Minecraft. The game plops you into a randomly generated world—a side-scrolling cross-section of planet with woods and water on the crust and a labyrinth of caves beneath. It’s your job to gather and craft the resources necessary to survive. This, for the most part, means mining for ore and forging it into weapons, armor, and tools. It isn’t as dull as it sounds.
Like the inventive indie role-playing sandboxes that came before it, Terraria does a fine job of creating a sense of danger. During the day, bothersome slimes harass you while you work. At night, zombies and flying eyeballs come creeping around. The cycle of gathering and building for survival is compelling. But there’s also something inherently engrossing about digging a hole just to see where it goes. It helps that there’s always something to find—another pocket of precious ore, clay jars full of treasure, and other rarer, more mysterious discoveries.
Terraria works best when it tries to improve on Minecraft. Crafting is slightly easier. You don’t have to memorize the formulas to make stuff. If you have the ingredients and the proper tools, you can create an item. And when you die, you respawn with all the loot you had on your person.
Minecraft still has Terraria beat when it comes to immersion. The two-dimensional perspective distances rather than drawing players in. Building isn’t as satisfying, and exploration feels more like slow-motion Metroid than pure adventuring. And in spite of helpful NPCs, Terraria still necessitates extracurricular wiki readings.
Still, Terraria is a potent distraction tool. Buried treasures will always have that allure. The game gives you a pickaxe and points your nose downward. What else are you gonna do but dig?