This is a follow-up from an article I wrote pertaining to the inventory system and what it all meant; if you haven’t read that and feel you need to, be sure to check that out first!
Now you know your way around the inventory, it’s time to start filling it with crap! Wood is your bread and butter in Terraria; you use it to construct almost anything and everything you need throughout the game. You’re going to want to collect a lot of wood straight off the bat. As soon as you spawn in, just go on a minor deforestation spree by using your trusty copper axe to murder several dozen trees. Make sure you save the acorns, as you use these to replant the trees. You can use wood to make weapons and armour right away; they aren’t exactly good, but it’s better than running around naked. If you can find alternate biomes with different variants of trees, try to (safely) cut some of those down as well, as the equipment you get from that wood is superior to the basic wood equipment. The type of wood that will offer the best equipment is Shade or Ebonwood, which can be found in the Crimson and Corruption respectively, depending on which one your world is generated with.
Now with all this wood, you’re going to want to make a house. Make several houses in fact, as houses allow NPCs to move into your world, and there are a whopping 25 NPCs that can move into a house if certain requirements are met on your world or character, ranging from owning a gun, to beating a boss. Don’t worry if you don’t like the look of wood for a house - the new block placing system allows you to replace blocks without having to destroy them with a pickaxe first and even allows you to ‘break’ and replace blocks that couldn’t typically be broken (such as blocks directly underneath a chest). As stated before, a still-relevant guide to making a house can be found here, and following these steps several times will give you a nice little town of NPCs. NPCs reduce enemy spawn rates around their position (unless playing on Expert/Master mode, which I’d recommend you don’t do as a first playthrough), to a point where enemies won’t spawn all together if you have a group of NPCs living in a single area.
A mistake I see a lot of starting players make is they try to instantly go underground. Whilst it is possible to safely traverse the underground basically straight away, to do so requires a great understanding of mechanics, even down to how much damage certain enemies will do to you, ways to outsmart their AI, and what heights you can fall from safely. What early players should focus on instead is exploring the surface; I would personally recommend not trying to go underground until you’ve explored a large portion of the surface. Early-game metals can spawn on the surface, as well as a variety of chests that can be found in small alcoves or inside ‘Living Trees’, which are incredibly large hollow trees that sink deep into the ground. These chests are useful for finding various buffing/healing potions in the early game, as well as accessories and other items such as rope, recall potions and thrown weapons like knives or shurikens. Accessories that offer extra mobility, such as Hermes Boots and the Cloud in a Bottle are almost essential for safely traversing the cavern. Exploring a large portion of the surface and obtaining these items will give you a huge advantage when you decide to properly explore the underground.
In fact, gathering these chests themselves is a valuable way to get a lot of storage space early on. A lesson I’ve learnt (yet fail to apply still) is that it is vital to make sure you organise your chests early in the game in order to save you the pain of either sorting them later on, or just living with the mess you’ve created.
With all these steps followed, you should be good to go! Investigate that cave! Just don’t get too disheartened when you die. Terraria can be a blast at the best of times and an unforgiving beast at the worst. Before you venture off into the wilds, I leave you with two extra words of wisdom: Make use of the quick-keys, and always keep Recall Potions in your hotbar. Quick keys allow you to use certain items, mainly potions, with ease. By default, H is ‘quick health’, which consumes the best healing potion in your inventory. J is ‘quick mana’, which consumes the first (starting from the top left and moving along) mana potion in your inventory. B is ‘quick buff’, which consumes every unique buff potion (not health) in your inventory, unless the effect of that buff is already active. R is ‘quick mount’, which allows you to easily mount/dismount whatever is in your ‘mount’ slot in your inventory, and E, which is how you use your grapple hook when you have one equipped. As for Recall Potions, these invaluable little buggers will instantly teleport you back to spawn and will get you out of near-death situations more than you realise if you keep them close. Even if you find a Magic Mirror (an item that grants this affect an infinite number of times), it’s still a good idea to keep a few Recall Potions close at hand, as the Magic Mirror has one of the slowest use times in the entire game, clocking in at 1.5 seconds of ‘activation time’ before the effect actually takes place, which in some cases will be the difference between life or death.
With that being said, go explore! The world is full of valuable materials, fantastical creatures, and awesome weaponry just waiting around this expansive land, and they’re all yours for the taking.