Terraria - A Game About A Guide About A Game
Don’t Terr up your guides yet folks…
Did you know that a sandstorm in a bottle lets you jump nine tiles higher than a cloud in a bottle? What about the fact that you shouldn’t combine an obsidian skull with your lucky horseshoe because you need your lucky horseshoe to create a horseshoe balloon? Or that Duke Fishron, a mandatory boss, can only be summoned by fishing in the ocean with a Truffle Worm as bait, with the Truffle Worm a rare critter that can only be caught with a net in underground mushroom biomes? Does anyone else think this is all absolute nonsense?
I have multiple playthroughs culminating over two hundred hours’ worth of time within Terraria, my last playthrough just last week, and yet I still had to pull up the wiki to help me remember the ream of information I just threw at you. Every single time I’ve launched the game I’ve made sure to have guides open so I can tab across to them in an instant. Calling Terraria obtuse is in no way unfair. Yet I still love Terraria and it keeps pulling me back. Or possibly I love to hate it. No actually, I hate it to love it. Maybe. I’m not entirely sure.
So, the fact the game is almost impenetrable without a guide is an objectively bad thing, right? If you had to have a list of characters taped to the side of the TV whenever you watched a show or film, you’d soon decide that it wasn’t worth the effort. But of course, video games are not TV shows or films and Terraria is not Game of Thrones nor is it an Avengers film. In Terraria the necessity of a guide actually makes the game better.
The satisfaction you get from finally finding that sandstorm in a bottle is wonderful. That negligent difference in jump height that you wouldn’t notice without the guide feels huge. Knowing before you fight every boss that you have the best weapon available is weirdly comforting. It gives the sense that there is nothing more for you to do before the next stage. Your checklist is all ticked off. You’re not behind on anything, but rather exactly in the place you need to be. It’s that strange time that exists between your final university exam but before you leave your student house. A time of pleasant nothingness where the guilt you feel for procrastinating is gone.
That is until you do kill that next boss and move onto the next stage. When you finally say goodbye to your student house and realise you’re actually at square one all over again. There’s new ore to mine, new enemies to fight, even occasionally a completely new biome to comprehend. You are no longer the ultimate all conquering force, all of your accessories are outdated and defence stat is not enough to cover for any mistakes. But unlike leaving university and losing all the control you once thought you had, the guide gives you your path. The guide gives you those explicit set of instructions. It stops you from falling into that murky abyss. It removes you from the responsibility of having to plan your next steps without really knowing what’s in store. It reinstates your control.
And so, the cycle begins again. You find the upgraded ore, that enemy finally gives you the drop that you need and all of a sudden you feel competent again. With the guide in tow, this becomes the narrative of Terraria. A story of progression, of moving on, of rediscovering that sense of comfort you earn when you’re completely able in all tasks that are thrown your way. None of which would be achievable without the guide.
You may ask then, why not use a guide for more games? You may not need one to complete God of War or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but surely they could have the same effect? Well spoilers partially, but also because in most games, I never feel quite out of my depth. Now, that’s not to say I’m good at games, in fact, in proud video games journalism tradition, I’m actually pretty bad at them. But it’s rare that I’m ever completely lost, that I ever feel like there’s no way I can fumble my way forward.
Except for in Terraria. And it’s in this great leap, from utter incompetence to an almost omniscient level of capability and then right back to utter incompetence that really makes this weirdly dependant relationship between Terraria and its numerous guides wonderfully unique. It’s what makes Terraria the ultimate modern power fantasy. Not because you grow from struggling to take out slimes with your wooden sword to killing arch demons with your sniper like it’s nothing. Rather it puts you in a position in which you have a complete lack of control and then offers you the path to mastery of yourself and the world around you. From chaos to tranquillity.