Starbound vs. Terraria: Which is The Better Sandbox Experience?

Get ready for some digging! We compared these sandbox games so you know which to pick up!

Terraria and Starbound are both popular 2D survival adventure games. While they may look alike, they are very different. One takes place in a fantasy realm, while the other is set in space.

So, if you're looking to pick up one of these games, which should you choose: Terraria or Starbound? That's a great question. And to find the answer, I'll break down every aspect of each game, from the soundtrack to combat.

Let's get started with the comparisons. 

The Visuals

In this section, I'll go over the differences in graphics, theme, and animation.

Graphics

As the newer game, Starbound graphic quality is superior. For a pixelated game, it's far less pixelated than Terraria. In addition, the shading adds more depth and shadows, which contributes to a sleeker gameplay experience.

Both games use 2D pixel graphics for nearly everything you'll see: sprites, objects, the foreground, background, and a whole lot more. There are some similarities in the games' art styles. This could be attributed to one of Starbound's leading artists, who has also worked on Terraria.

Genre

In my opinion, you can't compare the genres of these two games. Fantasy and sci-fi are both too different. 

In Starbound, you travel through space. You'll also meet an assortment of alien races along the way. In Terraria, you fight against evil using magic spells, although how you fight depends on your fighting style.

The "better" genre depends on one’s own preference. Personally, I like both fantasy and sci-fi.

Story

Terraria appears to lack an official story, which is great for players who want to dive into content.

On the other hand, Starbound's story must be completed to some extent before you can have the "real" sandbox experience. This approach is similar to Skyrim's. 

Animation

2D games usually have simple animation. Terraria and Starbound are no different. Despite their simplicity, the animation in both games is still good. The animation is as best as it can be for a 2D game.

That being said, Starbound's animation seems to be a step-up from Terraria’s in complexity. Again, this is most likely because Starbound is a newer release. It also runs on its own custom game engine.

Gameplay & Mechanics

In this section, I'll explore the mining, crafting, and combat systems of both games.

Mining

Mining is essential for gathering crafting materials in both games. In Terraria, mining is easy: left-click and hold on the block you wish to break to begin mining it with a pickaxe. By upgrading your pickaxe in Terraria, you can increase your mining speed, power, damage, and mined materials. 

In Starbound, mining is a much slower process at first. When you're starting out, you can only extract one block at a time at a slow rate. Mining becomes faster once you upgrade your Matter Manipulator (which sounds far cooler that a pickaxe). Eventually, you can extract more than one block at a time. 

Crafting

Your mining skills will come in handy when it's time to craft. You will need those mined materials to create equipment.

In Starbound, you craft most of your armor and weapons. While monsters drop gear, it’s usually replaced by something you can craft. Bosses don’t drop gear. Instead, they drop items to improve your star maps and unlock new locations.

In Terraria, you'll craft gear no matter what stage you're at in the game. However, there are other ways to get gear. Bosses drop armor and weapons that you can't get from crafting. These armor drops are usually an upgrade. 

Combat

Both Terraria and Starbound’s combat systems fall under the action game genre.

In Starbound, combat was designed with strategy in mind. For instance, you should know when to block against powerful attacks or damage the enemy.

On the other hand, Terraria seems to be more attack-oriented. There is some strategy involved by dodging, but I don't see anything like the blocking mechanic in Starbound.

I’ll admit: with the exception of turn-based combat, I’ve never really liked the combat in any 2D game. There’s something so satisfying as almost feeling the impact of a sword, or firing a gun in a 3D game, in a way that 2D games can never come close. It’s safe to say that I’m not overly impressed with either game’s combat. 

The Soundtrack

The soundtracks for both games fit them well. In Terraria, the music sounds electronic with a midi-like quality. I find it cartoony at times, but the music still sounds like something from any other fantasy game I've played. 

On the other hand, Starbound’s soundtrack sounds like it belongs in an epic space odyssey. It sounds like there was a live orchestra used in its production.

Starbound's soundtrack wins easily. I love this music. In fact, I wrote most of this article listening to it.

Listen to the Starbound soundtrack below:

The Difficulty

In Terraria, you can set two different levels of difficulty: character and the world. First off, character difficulty has three tiers: Softcore, Mediumcore, and Hardcore. These difficulty settings affect what happens upon a character’s death. When you die in Softcore, you drop about half your coins. In Mediumcore, you lose all your items. In Hardcore, you’re permanently dead.

On top of this difficulty setting, you can also set the world difficulty -- Normal or Expert mode. In Expert mode, everything is ramped up: from monsters' stats to what happens to you when you die. For example, in Expert Softcore mode, you’ll drop about 75% of your coin upon death. Enemies can even steal your coins and despawn.

Starbound has a similar character difficulty setting, except it affects the challenges you face. The three modes are Causal, Survival, and Hardcore. In Casual mode, you'll never get hungry. The only death penalty is a 10% loss of Pixels, which is the game's main currency.

In Survival mode, you'll need to eat to survive. You'll drop your items upon death, and suffer a 30% loss of Pixels. Hardcore mode is the same as Terraria’s: once you die, that’s it for your character. You'll have to restart the game. 

All in all, Terraria has a greater variety of difficulty modes compared to Starbound. However, given that Expert mode wasn't released right away, there's still a chance for Starbound to come out with something similar.

The Features

In the final section, I'll go over character creation and multiplayer mode. 

Character Creation

When it comes to the character creation, Starbound has greater race variety. Other than that, both games offer a similar range of character customization options to choose from, such as their gender and appearance.

Of the two, I find that Starbound’s character creation UI looks a lot better than Terraria’s.

Multiplayer Mode

Both games support multiplayer game modes, allowing you to play with your friends, or against other players in PvP battles.

The Wrap Up

Which title has the better sandbox experience?

Is it Terraria? This game seems perfect for those who aren’t looking to get entrenched in a story. These players may rather build, mine, and fight tough bosses instead.

Or is it Starbound? This game presents good challenges, decent combat, story, and exploration opportunities.

Both games are good, approaching the design type in similar but different ways. However, I’ll have to give this title to TerrariaStarbound's story can be too linear at times. 

Let me know which game you think offers the better experience! Leave a comment below!

Published Jul. 11th 2017

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