Wot I Think: Crea

It is hard to divorce Crea from the 2D survival ‘n’ crafting games that have come before it. Five years ago we saw Terraria take Minecraft’s formula of day and night survival and flatten in along a single plane, with excellent results. A couple of years later Starbound gave it all a sci-fi skin, populated it with alien races and encouraged you to hop from world to world. Crea has been in early access for some years now and while it has many of the same elements that made its predecessors so good, the passage of time has left it feeling a little stale.

You begin life next to a blue crystal (in my case, in a verdant green landscape) and you must get cracking with lumberjacking straight away. The first tools are handed to you, so there’s thankfully no tree punching. And unlike other crafting games, your items won’t deteriorate into uselessness. Once you have an item, it’s yours for good. A welcome time-saver to anyone who has nightmares of wooden boxes filled with pickaxes and spades.

In fact, this is just one of the things that makes it much gentler than its survivalist cousins. If you die, for instance, you are warped back to your home crystal without losing any of the gear you were carrying. And the monsters close to home are all low-level slimes, slow-moving softies that soon pose no threat. The further away from your starting location (in any direction) the more worrisome the creatures become. From wild hogs that charge at you and breathe fire, to boomerang-flinging ghost-fish that can pass through solid blocks. If you ever wander too far from home, you can warp back if you find another crystal, paying for the journey with the blue shards that grow nearby. Over time you build a kind of network of these crystals, allowing fast travel all over your world.

To deal with threats, you mostly have to bash them. But there are other magical skills – I had a fireball and healing spell right off the bat. Your primitive club and shield will soon become a sword or a bow with crafting and time, and fighting will earn you Talent Points to pump into buying more combat skills or magic spells. There are a bunch of different talent pools – combat, magic (called ‘Syle’), exploration, crafting, and gathering – and each earns points independently. So you might spend your ‘Arms’ points on a skill which shoots a bramble arrow that locks enemies down. Meanwhile your exploration points might offer you a glowing orb that follows you around, providing light. Many of these skills you can map to four loadouts – two for combat and two for gathering – and the game mercifully lets you switch between them at the press of a button.

When you start to buy up all the new skills, affixing them to hotkeys for use in a fight, you begin to notice just how much inspiration from RPGs the game has taken, for better or for worse. There are a lot of skills and spells, for instance, more than you’ll ever be able to afford as a single character. Spells that build blocking walls or cast protective shells or summon magic swords. It encourages you to have a “build” – an agile ranger or an arcane warrior. Whenever you uncover more of the world, you get access to boss fights, the first being a magical shielded mage that fires orbs and boomerangs at you and summons more of the game’s mascot slimes.

But the RPG soul has also carried over its flaws wholesale. The “levelled” enemies, getting stronger as you travel further out, give everything a gated feeling, to the point of being MMO-ish. And the sheer amount of grinding you have to do to find and gather enough resources later in the game (silver, iron, gold) induces that kind of bored despair so familiar to gamers. It doesn’t help that all of this is accompanied by the most obscure researching system. Let me try and explain this, because the tutorial does a terrible job.

To discover the “recipes” for objects beyond the absolute basics, you have to craft a research desk and use it to research objects one by one (doing so also consumes the object). So by researching a sapphire you might discover the recipe for a special enchanted robe, etc. But you can’t make the robe yet – you have to discover ALL the items used to craft it by gathering them researching those as well.

This is not a terrible system in itself but the presentation of it makes it much more complicated than it needs to be, with tabs and lists and little silhouettes (this is not as helpful as it seems). To cite the worst offence, under the “Recipes” tab there is a sub-tab also called “Recipes”. So there are recipes for recipes. That’s the kind of crafting system you’re dealing with here. It’s a confusing hodgepodge that would be much simpler as a straightforward tech tree of some kind.

When crafting items there is something called “Chaos” as well, which the tutorial somehow does an even worse job of explaining. When you make a sword or a shield or a piece of gear, you get the option to use Chaos to increase the quality. This involves using catalysts you’ve made from those little crystal shards you normally use to fast travel. Every time you use a catalyst the quality goes up but a Chaos meter also increases. Or gets one step closer to increasing. It depends on some other things. The goal is to get your quality as high as possible without the Chaos meter filling up first – as that ends the crafting and finishes the item.

But the screen for this system is likewise annoyingly opaque. There is talk of “steps” and “triggers” and “effects”, while other “improve quality” skills soon get involved to make it even more complicated, allowing you to postpone the Chaos meter and so on. I only learned how it all worked by making club after club and trying to decipher what the hell was going on. And even after that, I would still press a button on this menu and wonder why the meters filled the way they did. There is likely some very clever maths behind this menu – but it just feels like a crapshoot to use.

There is still some of the nourishment of the crafting genre here, however. Building your home bit-by-bit, for example, is as much a compelling generator of pride and creation as it has ever been. Watching as your simple cabin morphs slowly into an adventurer’s manor makes you briefly forget about all the grinding and confusing research you had to do to achieve this. And the list of furniture and decorative items you can make is long. Tapestries, candelabras, chandeliers, coats of arms, llama statues. There’s a lot of stuff to adorn your castle or fortress with.

One of the best additions to your home is also, sadly, one of the game’s biggest disappointments – the mannequins. These simple wooden figures can be plopped down wherever just like bookshelves, beds or desks. But there are “outfits” you can craft, not for yourself, but for the mannequins. Put these on and they will transform from lifeless wooden dummies to research assistants, cartographers, healers, and so on. I built my first “scavenger” outfit and put it onto a mannequin, feeling enthusiastic, briefly filled with hope that the last two hours of grinding had accomplished something. She would come to life! And what then? Maybe she would follow you and help you fight! Maybe you can send her off to gather things, lessening your load?

The scavenger came to life and I clicked on her. She was selling stuff. Of course she was selling stuff. And it wasn’t even interesting stuff. It was stuff I could find anywhere and they were all deeply overpriced, costing hundreds of the gold leaves I had been scrounging as the game’s currency. The research assistant mannequin was no better, fulfilling the exact same role as the research desk, with the added ability to translate scrolls into more “recipes”. The cartogapher mannequin sold upgrades to the map – a map I never used because it appears as a translucent overlay on top of the game, meaning it is often hard to make out much of the world. Altogether, the dummies made my home look much nicer, populated with characters. But in terms of impact, they were a wasted effort.

All in all, I found it difficult to get into Crea in the same way I did for its forefathers. It would be easy for me to say that part of that is down to fatigue with the genre – I have been through it all before, after all. But that is not the main problem I have with this latecomer. The fact is, it just does everything less well. The crafting, the researching, the art style, the fantasy monsters. There is constant development, like many of these games, so there is always time for things to be stripped out, and much more to be added in future. But at the moment, Crea feels like a step back in time.

Crea is out now for Windows, Mac and Linus via Steam and Humble.

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  1. zbeeblebrox says:

    I was hesitant to buy Crea, because even though it looked neat I was concerned it was just a Terraria clone. From the sound of it, those concerns are justified. At least Terraria’s NPCs *do* things sometimes!

  2. Zankman says:

    I haven’t read the entire thing yet, but, my first impression when I was playing Crea was that it felt a bit… Clunky.

    It just didn’t feel smooth just jumping into the game; The controls and game systems felt clunky and convoluted.

  3. Zeromir says:

    I have the game, and I love it. I’m not sure why the map is being complained about as you can have a version that can zoom out and shows you where you are. A lot of games have different map sizes. The “grinding” of materials is in Terraria as well, because of course you’re going to need materials for everything. And personally, the NPC’s in Terraria annoy me to no end mainly because of the wandering they do. I’m glad these NPC’s stay still, plus you can revert the NPC into the outfit and mannequin, allowing you to move them around. Using the outfit again can even result in a new name or gender for the NPC. And they aren’t a waste of effort either, you can use the Dungeoneer to make dungeons, gather the furniture within, then sell it to the Merchant to make some easy money.

    All in all, I find this to be a rather uninformed review, as a lot of the problems that you have with the game are easily rectified. And yes, you did say the game is still in development, and it is. It is getting better, as updates come out often to fix bugs and add new things. In the end, the game is worth it.

  4. SamV says:

    I have had a different experience with Crea so far. After hundreds of hours in Terraria I am still playing and loving it but was interested in mixing Terraria-like with RPG. In Crea I’ve been enjoying the leveling up system and the skills you can buy with the Talent points that you earn from doing most things in the game. It is true that Crea has the standard skills like double jump but you aren’t dependent on luck to find an accessory in a chest. Once you’ve earned enough Talent points you can get that skill without worrying about RNG. Crea also adds unique skills like Ledge Grab which is just a small part of the game but once you have it you wonder how you’ve lived without it. Same with Ore and Chest Finder spells. I wish I could bring them back to Terraria.

    There is a full screen map available if you hit ‘m’ twice which I actually like better than in Terraria because there is more information displayed, like what mob level each area is and the location of the transportation Way Crystals too once you buy that skill from the Cartographer NPC. It sounds like the reviewer wasn’t looking at the full map so what he wrote about it wasn’t entirely correct.

    I like the art better in this game than Terraria, especially when you increase the zoom level of the game and can really see the effort that was put into how things look. I like the sense of humor that was put into making the tool tips. I like the magic system better than Terraria and the fact that the mobs have different attack patterns to learn and come up with strategies to deal with. I like how archery works in Crea, it feels more intuitive and satisfying than in Terraria. I have found a lot of positives to Crea that are missing from this review. I don’t think it the game is perfect and I agree with some of the criticisms in the article (like how the explanation of the chaos crafting system is confusing) but I think it leaves a lot out too.

    I have found a lot to like in Crea and I’m glad that I bought it. I think it adds enough to the Terraria-like genre that it stands on its own and is worth playing.

    • Zeromir says:

      Thank you

    • Velorien says:

      “It is true that Crea has the standard skills like double jump but you aren’t dependent on luck to find an accessory in a chest.”



      I’m in what currently passes for the endgame (which I guess is measured in bosses – Crea has four; Terraria had three at launch). I’ve researched everything that can be researched before fighting the fourth boss, with a maxed-out craft skill. And yet I still don’t have most of the basic accessory recipes because those can only be obtained from scrolls, and the scrolls can only be obtained from a specific type of mini-dungeon (horde realms), where they have something like a 1/50 chance of dropping.

      More generally, the think that gives Crea the potential for greatness is its innovative (for the 2D sandbox genre) mechanics. All the RPG elements give it a lot more potential depth than Terraria ever had.

      Has it achieved that greatness? No. There’s just too much that lacks polish. The tutorials are feeble, especially for chaos crafting (which gets at least one confused post a day on the Steam forums). The biomes feel lifeless, with recurring combinations of the same dozen monsters, undermining the exploration that is the heart and soul of the genre. The leveling system (a la Oblivion) is controversial at best. Many elements are still undergoing essential balancing. And of course it has to endure the comparison not with what Terraria was at launch, but with the content monster that Terraria has become many patches later – a comparison doubly problematic because Crea conspicuously doesn’t feel ready to leave Early Access. The vast plethora of bugs (which, in fairness, the developers have been working their socks off to fix) only underlines this impression.

      I want to love Crea, I really do, because of its original contributions to the genre (nearly every element of 2D sandbox gameplay has been enriched in some fashion), but I regret buying it in on release, instead of in a year or two when its bigger flaws get fixed and it receives the level of content it needs to compete with the genre heavyweights.

      • Velorien says:

        To clarify, a scroll has a 1/50 chance of being found in the single chest you get as a reward for completing a horde realm, not as a monster drop in those realms.

    • weelillad says:

      Thank you for your comment. I think you said it better than I would have. To point out another thing that might help players who are as confused as this reviewer, with reference to this statement:

      To cite the worst offence, under the “Recipes” tab there is a sub-tab also called “Recipes”. So there are recipes for recipes.

      The Recipes sub-tab shows you the items that are only partially researched, so that you can see what’s missing and go look for/craft it. There are no recipes for recipes.

      The problem is not in the game mechanics, as is insinuated, but in its presentation and explanation. Not stopping me from having a lot of fun with the game, though.

      • weelillad says:

        I went and re-read that and now I get it. My bad. There is a category called ‘Recipes’.

  5. Paranoid says:

    The issue for this game is the same as the issue for Starbound; Terraria is so refined, expansive and fun that anything short of a well funded blockbuster title is going to have any chance of dislodging it as the definitive 2d Metroidvania/Builder.

  6. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Too bad, the first few sentences sounded like a nice iteration to Terraria but it seems to fail like the other clones: controls and bad menus and explanations killed many of the other clones I bought for me.
    Getting 100 sand in Minecraft isn’t especially bad with Tinker’s tools iron+ but some games make it seem like hard work.

  7. soulmonarch says:

    Sounds like they tried to take the crafting system from FFXIV wholesale, and didn’t do a good job with it. (The durability / quality balancing act, the “steps”, etc.)