The games industry knows when it sees a good thing, and when someone gets rich everybody else will try to team up and get a piece of the pie. That includes indie games – in fact, it might even particularly apply to indie games, given the sheer number of indie Minecraft, Terraria and Five Nights at Freddy’s clones floating around. So much for indie innovation, I suppose! We’re looking at one of those clones today, actually, in Siege Games’ Crea.
Crea is…well, it’s essentially Terraria, or it would desperately like to be. You’ve got your side-scrolling perspective, your mineable and placeable blocks and your gradual progression by killing bosses. Where Crea differs is its increased focus on gamification, such as it were, and this works out both positively and negatively for the experience.
On the positive side, Crea’s character advancement system is vastly more interesting than pretty much every other game of this sort. Unlike Minecraft and Terraria, where character progression essentially revolves entirely around items you find in the world, Crea rewards you with experience points in several talent categories; combat, magic, gathering, crafting and exploration. These are all largely self-explanatory, with the most helpful skills being found in the gathering and exploration categories since these help you get around. Unlike Terraria, you aren’t stuck trying to find an item to help you double-jump or sprint; these are just skills you can purchase, and they can be improved as you continue playing. You can further specialize your character by distributing stat points earned by gaining levels.
This is a nice touch that adds a lot to the joy of playing the game. Solo players will need to manage all of the talent classes, producing a jack-of-all-trades character, while cooperative players can choose to focus on individual facets of gameplay. My coop partner and I had a lot of luck focusing on crafting and gathering, respectively, allowing us to produce high-level items much more quickly than expected. Battle fans, meanwhile, will appreciate the diversity in combat options offered by the talent system and by the lootable altars found throughout the game. The latter modifies one’s skills based on the element of the altar’s god, such as turning a heat beam spell into a beam of compressed air or changing a rock pillar into a deadly pyre. Interesting mechanics-based boss battles allow you to put your various skills to work, and you can also find mini-boss Paragon monsters roaming the world that drop valuable loot if you can defeat them.
This isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, of course, and the biggest irritation is Crea’s dogged insistence on level restrictions. Along with your talents, your character also has an overarching level that increases by slaying baddies; tying combat to progression despite appearing to do otherwise is pretty egregious. As in the aforementioned example, if you’re playing cooperatively and one player prefers handling crafting and architecture while the other would rather gather and fight, then the first player is going to end up falling behind one way or the other. That’s not all, though; it gets worse.
See, in Terraria, if you find a chest that’s full of nice goodies, you’re guaranteed to be able to use those items right away. This can lead to a significant bump in your character’s abilities. Crea, however, has MMORPG-like level restrictions on pretty much everything, including found items, so it’s entirely possible that you’ll stumble across gear you won’t be able to use for another ten or more levels – and this can equate to several hours of play time. A lot of the pleasure of exploration is crushed when you realize that much of what you find will be unusable; what’s more, the majority of your finds are likely to be rendered obsolete by the time you can use them. It’s the kiss of death for a game that desperately wants you to get lost in its world.
Along with this bit of questionable design, Crea is also bogged down with bugs. Despite earning nearly $30,000 on Kickstarter, undergoing development since 2012 and releasing in Early Access on Steam in 2014, Crea’s lack of polish means it still feels like a late alpha or early beta product, especially in multiplayer mode. This would be easier to forgive in a game that was trying to do something completely new and innovative, but this is a Terraria clone, and one would think we’d know how to make those by now given how many there are.
You might watch as massive chunks of your world simply vanish, continuing to exist while remaining completely invisible. Your character sometimes loses control of themselves and starts wildly flailing their arms at nothing for seemingly no reason. Instanced dungeons crashed in multiplayer on a regular basis until just recently, and Crea itself remains a fairly unstable program that can crash at the slightest provocation. Even the much-maligned Starbound, another crowdfunded Terraria clone, manages to be more stable than this. It’s unfortunate.
As it stands, Crea is an example of a game with tons of potential that lacks the polish it needs to realize that potential. Worse still, questionable design choices and endless bugs drag Crea down and prevent it from being the kind of high-quality experience one might expect. At the $15 asking price it might make for a nice afternoon or two with some very patient friends, but Crea isn’t going to dethrone Terraria anytime soon.