Difficulty refers to how challenging the gameplay is. Terraria has different forms of difficulty for both characters and worlds.
- The actual difficulty mode is a character setting selected during character creation. There are the following options: Journey, Classic ( Softcore), Mediumcore, and Hardcore, all modes changing the penalty upon death. Journey characters start with extra equipment and can only be played on Journey worlds. Classic characters drop coins. Mediumcore characters drop items on death, and Hardcore characters cannot respawn, and drop all items on death. Once a character has been created, its difficulty cannot be changed. On the Nintendo version, there are no options, and all characters are created as Classic characters.
- Another form of difficulty is world modes. Players may choose between Journey, Classic, Expert, and Master when creating a new world. This is a separate setting that applies to the world, rather than the character, and similarly cannot be changed once the world has begun generating.
- A third form of difficulty is the transition from pre-Hardmode to Hardmode, which also applies to the world. This is a gameplay advancement and is thus non-optional.
Journey Mode is unique, as the player may choose and change game difficulty whenever they wish. Journey Mode also includes additional tools such as godmode, item duplication, time and weather control, and the ability to control enemy spawns. The player must choose Journey on both the character and world creation menus to utilize it.
Classic characters drop half (3/4) (all) of their coins when they die, which can be retrieved upon respawning, but may also be collected by other players in multiplayer or by enemies in Expert Mode. Classic characters respawn at their spawn point, 7 / 15 (15 / 30) seconds after death on singleplayer / multiplayer, respectively.
Mediumcore characters drop all of their items upon death, including all coins and ammo. These can be retrieved upon respawning, but any items may also be collected by other players in multiplayer and coins by enemies in Expert and Master Mode. Mediumcore characters still respawn at their spawn point, 7 / 15 (15 / 30) seconds after death on singleplayer / multiplayer, respectively.
There is no reward for playing in Mediumcore, other than increased difficulty for its own sake.
- Terraria's equipment is much more varied and individual than Minecraft's; while keeping spares or "second best" in a go-chest can help, there are some items that are not easily duplicated, and a few that come "one to a world".
- Item despawning behavior is very different; in Terraria there is no time limit, but items can despawn if too many other items accumulate in the world. This is not usually an issue unless the player has an automated farm running, or perhaps fights a major invasion before retrieving their dropped items.
- Likewise, the classic Minecraft terror of losing one's items to lava is significantly weakened, partly because of portable storage such as the Piggy Bank, but also because only the most commonplace items (Gray and White rarity) are vulnerable to destruction by lava. In practice, this generally means coins, building blocks, ammunition, and other sundry supplies are destroyed, but use of an Obsidian Skin Potion makes recovering everything else fairly straight forward. Keeping a spare Void Bag and perhaps a Treasure Magnet at the player's home base can make it almost trivial.
Hardcore characters die permanently, and drop all of their items upon death, including coins and ammo, which other players can then collect in multiplayer.
Death causes a Hardcore character to become a Ghost that can continue to observe the world but cannot affect it. Ghosts can fly, pass through walls, and continue to chat with other multiplayer users, but cannot interact with the environment in most ways and cannot open a world.
Once a dead Hardcore character quits the current world, that character is permanently deleted. The items players placed in Chests will not be deleted, but items the character had in portable storage will be deleted.
- Journey Mode: This is an easier mode, that gives the player extra items on the start, allows duplicating items, and allows making the game easier. See Journey Mode for a more complete list.
- Classic / Normal Mode: This is the regular world mode.
- Expert Mode: Intended for experienced players, Expert Mode worlds contain the same enemies, but with increased stats, and some have altered behavior patterns that make them more difficult to defeat. However, as a special reward, loot drops are more frequent and bosses drop Treasure Bags which, in addition to the normal boss loot, also contain special items only available in Expert Mode. Expert Mode brings numerous other changes. See Expert Mode for a more complete list.
- Master Mode: A harder version of Expert Mode, with the same AI but increased health and damage. It also includes two new drops per boss, and an extra accessory slot. See Master Mode for a more complete list.
- In an Expert Mode ( or Master Mode) world, enemies can pick up the player's dropped coins. On the tModLoader version, this can be a tremendous setback as the enemies that steal the player's coins can despawn with the coins, even if the player returns to the location where they died.
- The coins drop is rounded up.
- Difficulty modes and world modes are unrelated to Hardmode, which is a change to the world that occurs after the Wall of Flesh has been defeated.
- In the tModLoader version, Classic World mode is called "Normal Mode".
- In the Old-gen console version, Classic Mode is called "Normal Mode" and Mediumcore is called "Difficult". Hardcore is still called "Hardcore".
- Mediumcore characters may want to keep their second-best equipment in a Chest in case of death.
- Hardcore mode can be utilized to freely explore a world by dying and flying through the ground and sky as a Ghost. However, Ghosts do not generate light, so exploring non-lit areas may be difficult.
- Desktop 1.4.2: Fixed an issue where players who died, or Hardcore player ghosts, would interfere with Player Above Logic Sensors
- Desktop 22.214.171.124:
- Journey Mode option for world generation and character generation added. Journey characters can only play on Journey worlds and vice versa, and Journey Mode worlds have exclusive power features including item research and duplication, enemy difficulty control, infection spread control, and much more.
- Master Mode, a harder version of Expert Mode, added.
- Renamed Normal mode to Classic mode.
- Renamed Softcore to Classic.
- Desktop 126.96.36.199: Fixed a crash when a Hardcore character died.
- Desktop 188.8.131.52: The proper items will now drop on Mediumcore/Hardcore deaths.
- Desktop 184.108.40.206: Fixed bug where Hardcore characters couldn't open the menu after death.
- Desktop 220.127.116.11: Mediumcore characters now correctly drop ammo on death.
- Desktop 1.0.5: Hardcore mode introduced.
- Desktop-Release: Introduced.
- Console-Release: Introduced, characters drop Tombstones on death.
- Switch 1.0.711.6: Introduced with changes up to Desktop 18.104.22.168.
- Mobile 22.214.171.124.0: Introduced Journey Mode and Master Mode.
- Mobile 126.96.36.199: Introduced Mediumcore and Hardcore difficulties, and players now can choose difficulty.
- Mobile-Release: Introduced Softcore difficulty, Characters drop Tombstones on death.
- 3DS-Release: Introduced Softcore difficulty.