Terraria Review

So, let’s be honest with ourselves here. In many ways, we’re writing two reviews here; one for Terraria the game, and one for Google Stadia, its latest home. This puts us in an interesting, and honestly rather unique position; It’s rare indeed that I get to compare two ways to play the same game like-for-like.

Let’s start with the game.

Pick thy axe

Terraria is a name you probably already know. Sometimes summarized and boiled down to “2D Minecraft”, Terraria is a retro-styled side scrolling game of adventuring through a randomized world, gathering resources and building your environment to suit your goals, all while fending off all manner of hostile forces.

Like a lot of these games, Terraria has built up an incredible amount of content and assets over its many years of being actively supported. The game is, in many ways, simply not the same game it was at launch, serving as its own iterative sequel.

All of which makes the on-ramp process incredibly important. A game like this doesn’t work if you can’t get into it because you weren’t there a decade back for the initial launch. That’s the kind of thing that kills entire genres, let alone individual games.

So here’s the good news and the bad news. The good news is that when I did my comparison tests with the Xbox One version, it has a fairly solid tutorial that covers a lot of the core bases. It’s not everything, to be sure, but between talkative NPCs and good old fashioned wikis, I can learn the specifics; What I needed was to have enough grounding to know where to start.

The Stadia version, as you might be surmising, does not. Now, I have my guess as to why this is: It’s almost certainly based off of the PC version, and these sorts of special tutorials are often a thing cooked up specifically for console releases of PC-first games. I still remember the dedicated tutorial being A Thing when Minecraft first hit the 360 in the long-long-ago, after all.

But this definitely made my first brush with the game rather less pleasant than it could have been. I pretty much got dropped straight into the deep end on the Stadia version, with the closest thing to a tutorial being the Journey mode...which mostly just gave me a bunch more stuff to play with to make the challenges easier, it didn’t actually give me any information on the how to play parts.

Like water down the livestream

And then there’s the nature of Stadia itself. Quite a few words have been written about cloud gaming and its futures. If somehow this is your first time hearing about it, here’s the idea: You, on your very modestly powered device like your phone or Chromebook (or even hypothetically just a smart-TV) start up the game...Which brings up a live video feed. Miles away, a server-farm somewhere actually starts running the game, and sends the video signal to you, while receiving your control inputs from the thing you’re playing on.

In theory, this has a lot of benefits. These server-farms can hold a lot of processing power, so even my literal $150 Chromebook can get something like Cyberpunk 2077 looking really good, for instance. It also means, with my saves held in a single central account, I can continue my game on any device that supports Stadia; home computer, laptop, tablet, phone, whatever.

But it also has some obvious drawbacks, and I ran into those with an almost predestined experience. The first time I booted up Terraria on Stadia, it was nearly flawless. My inputs had no noticeable delay, the screen was bright and crisp, and the game just worked. I booted it up on my little Chromebook hooked up to my big monitor, and got amazing results. Later that same day, I tried it on my iPad, and yeah, it just worked. The iPad took my spare controller with ease, Stadia saw the controller, and despite being on a totally different device and OS, it was utterly seamless!

Then the next day I went to put more time in, and somewhere in the process my connection wasn’t as good. The game went from looking like native 1080p to looking like a 360p youtube video blown up onto my monitor, my controls weren’t just lagging but would drop inputs entirely, and the game was completely unplayable.

And this is where we get into the problems of cloud gaming. Ultimately, it works great as an exception tool; I mentioned Cyberpunk 2077, a game that barely works on the newest consoles and flat-out fails on the hardware I actually own. It would be a perfect contender for these exceptions. And cloud gaming has great potential for traveling, or other times where you have good internet but none of your gear with you. It’s even good for those people who don’t really play games that much, but oh this one game looks so amazing they gotta try it.

What it doesn’t have, is that core Most Of The Time functionality. That “I’m at home with all my stuff and want to play the usual games I play” usual scenario for most of us. It’s just not reliable enough for that, and I don’t think it’ll ever be, by the very concept.

And then we come back to using this kind of thing for Terraria.

Digging holes

To be blunt, there’s absolutely no reason to put money down on the Stadia version other than a giddy urge to support the people who made it possible.

That’s not because Terraria is bad, far from it. It’s a really solid game that I’m really happy I got an excuse to finally try! It’s just that...Terraria is on EVERYTHING. I can buy it on all of my consoles. I can buy it on my iPad, and my Android phone. I can buy that Android version on the very same Chromebook I used to test the Stadia version, which according to my research even has controller support.

Oh, and the elephant in the room, if I really need to stream it for some reason, the game has cloud support in Xbox Game Pass.

There are games that need to be that exception, that thing you play over the cloud because the alternative is buying a whole gaming rig, or it’s the only way your friend can join in, or whatever. But Terraria just...isn’t one of those. Unless you’re completely and utterly invested in the Stadia platform, to the point that you’re one of those handful of people who bought that Chromecast bundle and it’s literally your only way to play games...

Just get it on whatever you play games on. Hell, get it on whatever you’re using to read this right now. It’ll be cheaper, and work a hell of a lot better than the Stadia version. Trust me.