The well-received Dragon Quest Builders gets a sequel that builds on solid foundations while streamlining the experience at the same time. Out for Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One – we played the PS4 version.
I’ll readily admit that I initially ignored Dragon Quest Builders. It looked too much like Minecraft for my liking, a game I had tried to get into a number of times without success. The experience was always the same – build a little, lose interest due to a lack of progression in terms of in-game objectives.
I remember talking to Peter Molyneux a few years back and he felt that the sandbox nature of Minecraft was a transformative experience in terms of harnessing creativity, but I prefer my games to be more objective-based. I generally enjoy linear experiences over open world ones, but at least the latter (like Assassin’s Creed) give me the option to mainly stick to the core quest line if I want to.
Minecraft was missing that hook for me, and that’s what I ended up finding in Dragon Quest Builders when I finally did try it. Beneath that Minecraft-y exterior was a role playing game with a story and plenty of reasons to start and keep building – it was what I kept hoping Minecraft would turn into for me.
Story-wise, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is connected to the narrative of the main series, with events that take place after Dragon Quest 2 wraps up. Since that game is over 30 years old already, it’s probably worth giving a short introduction on Builders 2. A cult called the Children of Hargon has convinced the people that building should be considered a sin and that destroying existing creations is a far more noble cause.
A young apprentice builder yourself, you’re taken captive and put on a ship – but you escape an unfortunate fate when you shipwreck and end up on a remote little island. Here, you quickly buddy up with Malroth, an AI companion who loves standing up for you and helping you along. Besides fighting your battles with/for you, he also learns what your intentions are and will help accordingly – for example by helping to collect what you’re picking up. With all of this just inferred from action rather than expressed through commands, Malroth is some impressive AI at work.
As you progress through the story, you find your way to other islands, unlock and complete quests and gain access to new materials and blueprints. The building always supports the narrative, rather than being an undefined narrative in and of itself.
You’re not just being helped by Malroth though – you meet villagers and those will help you as well, as soon as they’re convinced that building is in fact not as evil as the Children of Hargon say. They’ll work fields for you and construct for you – keeping your hands free to do other things that micromanage everything that is going on. In addition, it also becomes more of a social experience this way – an emphasis further enhanced by the introduction of online co-op play.
Other subtle quality of life improvements include that you no longer have to pursue/craft loot in terms of weapons and armor. In Dragon Quest Builders 2, these no longer degrade/break as time goes on, so it’s one less thing to distract you from the main/side quests. Traveling around the map is also easier, as Malroth helps you by clearing the way and you also have access to a cape that allows you to glide in the air.
All of this makes for a more focused experience than before, which is good news for objective-focused gamers like myself. Dragon Quest Builders has an almost overwhelming amount of content to play through and doesn’t look very “next gen”, but those are about the only negatives I could find. The gameplay is spot on, and refined from an already successful formula.