Any players of Re-Logic’s Terraria will know that difficulty levels in the game do not merely affect the stats of enemies. A ‘softcore’ character will only drop held money on death. A ‘mediumcore’ character will drop held money as well as held and worn items on death. A ‘hardcore’ character, when it dies, just stays dead. (Terraria possesses an overabundance of difficulty-related terminology, so, just to be absolutely clear: I’m not talking about normal mode versus expert mode, and I’m not talking about pre-hardmode versus hardmode.)
These are pretty dramatic differences in consequences for each character’s demise, and as a result the vast majority of players choose softcore mode. Those looking to prove what they’ve learned, on the other hand, are likely to crank it up to hardcore immediately. My personal opinion is that both are sub-par options when seeking the best playthrough of the game.
Here is my one caveat to this difficulty advice: if you’re really just playing Terraria as an artist or an architect (i.e. you just like building things), then softcore obviously make the most sense. But if you want the most enjoyable possible RPG adventure experience, then I highly recommend mediumcore. Here’s why:
1. Maintaining Tension:
My first playthrough of Terraria, now several years in the past, ended just before fighting the wall of flesh (at the time, this was technically the final boss of the game). I wasn’t bored, per se, but I yearned for the feeling of starting the game for the first time—when the world felt big and new and threatening, and I could build a base wherever and however I wanted. So I started a new character.
But after a few hours, I resented how much ground I was going to have to retread to catch up with my initial character. Suddenly I was no longer invested in either character, and I stepped away from the game, thinking that I would return shortly. In fact, I did not pick Terraria up again until after the 1.3 update last year.
Terraria is a very long game. It was a long game when I was trying to play it originally, and it’s comparable to the duration of a Witcher title now. Even if you spend basically none of your time on recon, exploring, building, or organization, and instead just move from seeking one boss or piece of equipment to the next, the game can still take dozens of hours to beat.
In all of that time, most players are likely to start seeing death as irrelevant at some point. After all, if you’re playing on softcore, there is very little reason to not use suicide as a convenient fast-travel to your base. But this is a psychological disaster for a game; this completely trivializes all of the threat that the world can hold. You might think you’ll never get bored; you might not get bored; but then again, you might.
But pick mediumcore and you introduce just a bit of consequence back into the equation; the psychological problem is totally fixed. If there is no fear of failure, there is no satisfaction in success. A 200-hour easy-as-pie sequence of fetch quests is no fun. But (if you’re anything like me) a brutal struggle against a horde of vicious beasts for conquest, survival, and the fate of your world is a whole bundle of fun! If you keep the beasts vicious, you keep the quest epic.
2. Accounting for Terraria‘s Randomness:
Okay, so it keeps things exciting. But that still doesn’t explain why I’m not telling you to skip straight to hardcore. After all, if a little threat is good, isn’t a lot of threat better? Well, often, yes. But there are actually two reasons that I think mediumcore is a more enjoyable choice: Terraria‘s randomness and recovery runs.
I’ll cover the first one now, and the second one further down. So, when I say ‘randomness,’ I am talking about world generation and enemy spawning, either of which can put you in an awkward or even impossible situation occasionally. And, yes, there are precise rules governing how many enemies can spawn in a certain area at a certain time—and if you, like me, have made a biome mob grinder, you are well aware of this.
But that doesn’t change the fact that a medusa that spawns a screen away from you can petrify you over a chasm. That doesn’t change the fact that a naturally occurring minecart track can terminate in a lake of lava. That doesn’t change the fact that you can get cornered in a tower in hell by monsters that spawned above you after you entered. You get the picture.
At some point in over a hundred hours of playing, the odds are extremely good that at least one accidental (possibly even unavoidable) death will occur. And if you’re playing on hardcore, that’s it. You’re done. This is no roguelike (nor even roguelite), and it probably took you a lot more than an hour or two to get as far as you did before that death. So if that’s the end of the story for that character, it can be utterly demoralizing for the player. A better solution for a game as long and as random as this one is mediumcore, as its punishment is not so utterly final.
3. Recovery Runs:
Alright, now I get to talk about something that is both another good reason to avoid hardcore and the very thing I was reminiscing about when I decided to write this article: the excruciating, horrible, nerve-wracking occurrences that gave my mediumcore playthrough of Terraria sudden and unexpected interludes that were extremely fun.
Picture this: you’re scouting for resources underground and it’s going well. You figure that you could head back and deposit your goods, but you’ve still got some space in your inventory. So, full of zeal, you venture deeper. Suddenly you realize you’ve descended just a bit too far for your present capabilities, as a number of tough enemies are heading your way. But it’s too late; your character is overwhelmed and dies.
Now what? If you’re playing on softcore, you shrug, slurp up your drool, and put your things in a chest. If you’re playing on hardcore, you clench your teeth and wallow in sadness for a bit. But if you’re playing on mediumcore, now begins the utterly vital impromptu quest to reclaim your equipment from the depths of the world.
Your dyes, your armor, your weapons, and your utilities are all down there, strewn across the rocks. It’s eating you up just thinking about it. So you cobble together your second-best armor, your second-best weapons, and a recall potion (your hard-forged recall item is also down in that hole!), and you set about recovering what’s yours. You have to be more stealthy and careful than usual, knowing that your stats are lower across the board during this recovery run. Failure here will just make it even harder to gather your goods again.
Your Terraria headcanon will be firing at all cylinders during these runs. You will be your character, and you will be reciting “Invictus” in your head. And nothing quite compares to the feeling of contentment that comes when you are able to gather up your stuff, head home, and equip yourself back to the power level you had earned.
4. Hell Stays Threatening:
The biggest fear of a mediumcore player is their character dying in a lava pit. If it happens in the early game, your items will be destroyed and you will be left with nothing. If it happens in the late game (such that almost all of your stuff is fireproof), then you’re in for a particularly crazy recovery run as you have to prepare some potions or strategic draining operations to get to the bottom of that pit.
So, obviously, the least hospitable part of the map is hell. Hell is supposed to feel like the absolute worst extremity of the world; it’s meant to be aggressive, inconvenient, hot, and horrible. It’s not supposed to just be an additional biome for you to harvest. It’s the dungeon below the dungeon.
All you softcore players with your early-game hellevators just don’t understand the sharp gasp resulting from a mediumcore player even so much as nearing death in a pit of lava. Different areas of the map should be at varying levels of difficulty. And I do not mean that they should just require different amounts of time or resources. I mean that they should require different levels of vigilance and preparation. Keep the hell in hell!
5. Terraria Strategy and Terraria Glory:
Last, but certainly not least, there is the general strategy, reconnaissance, and base management that goes along with the mediumcore path toward the end of Terraria. These benefits, I fully admit, are also shared by the hardcore option. But hopefully you’re not masochistic enough to disregard my above advice and try to beat the Moon Lord on hardcore . . .
In general, what you’ll find yourself doing is playing carefully—not out of fear, but out of prudence and a sense of self-made immersion. You want your raids and boss encounters to go well, so you’ll scout well or prepare a proper arena. You want to fend off nightly threats (and hardmode events), so you’ll plan a secure and well-equipped base. In short, you will inhabit your world.
And when the Moon Lord finally falls, you will know that it was because you were ready to defeat him, and not because you threw enough bodies at the world to force your way to the end. Yes, you will come through worn and bloodied, but as a result you will also emerge feeling stalwart and triumphant.
Even if I don’t think Re-Logic is infallible (they did, after all, have a hand in publishing . . . that game), I do think they’re one of the most laudable game companies operating right now. Their continued support and improvement of this already wonderful game has turned it into one of the deepest crafting-based adventure games ever made. And if you take my mediumcore advice, I think you’ll find your entire countless-hours campaign in Terraria to be satisfying, engaging, and surprisingly immersive.
 In case you’re curious, the screenshots in this article are images of my own end-game base and world, taken months ago, when I had just one hundred percented the game (basically, soon after I was able to farm a Terrarian and finish my last fishing quest . . .).
Yes Half Measures: