In an almost impossible marriage a few years back, the world of Dragon Quest was put through a Minecraft lens and the end result was the phenomenal Dragon Quest Builders. Placing the player in the shoes of the hero of the first Dragon Quest rebuilding the world was inspired, so needless to say I was more than a little interested to see how the sequel would turn out.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is seemingly set in the world of Dragon Quest II, with the villainous sorcerer Hargon doing a great show of wrecking the place by summoning the god of destruction, Malroth. His plan is thwarted by an unnamed hero, but there is a lasting effect on the world, with devastation reigning and the zealous Children of Hargon “maintaining” the wreckage.
After a short cutscene explaining exactly this sequence of events, your player character awakens in this world as a prisoner of the Children, and a Builder to boot. As this religious extremist group predominantly focus on the destruction of the world and everything in it, you are pretty much their arch enemy and they make no small effort in putting this point across.
So with this anti-Builder rhetoric still in the air, you set about building anyway. After a brief sojourn on what becomes your own empty island, you sail off to neighbouring islands to awaken your instincts as a Builder to bring back the skills to build up your own little paradise. One that is definitely not going to be named after Lulu, the insufferable wretch, or so help me.
Building is a simple process, with the world essentially divided into a grandiose grid. Blocks or just about anything can be placed in those spaces, with everything from furniture to food being available to you. You do happen to be on a largely deserted island though, so to build anything you’ll need to get out in the wild and salvage the ingredients for your impending masterpiece.
Salvaging is as simple as building, involving you trekking out from your town and hitting things with your hammer until you collect those resources. Everything (mostly) makes sense in this regard, so if you need wood you need to hit trees or hitting dry grass will yield dry grass. But half of the fun in the game involves just going out and hitting everything to see what you get.
You gain recipes to build in many ways, but they are generally divided into three groups. Progressing the story, whether through main or side quests, will tend to gain you important builds that you need to move forward. Levelling up your town will gain you items to further increase the standard of living there. Then finally fighting enemies will not only level you up but garner weapon recipes.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 has real time combat, much alike its predecessor, with the added advantage that you have an additional party member always with you helping with the combat called Malroth. Otherwise, it’s a case of acting like you would with a tree or rock and just hitting the creature until it is no longer alive, with additional techniques coming as you level up.
The amazing thing with this set-up is how multi-faceted Square Enix has made so simple a process. There’s a clear story to the game, and a direction that the game wants you to follow with what you build and when you can build it. But the world is a huge, cubed sandbox too, which allows the player to go wherever they wish and create whatever they want to make.
This player freedom allows you to just follow the story points, gaining all of the recipes and building a workable town to please the residents. But, you can also do what I did and spend hours building the perfect town, landscaping the area extensively to build a blocky utopia for the residents (and yourself) to live in. This approach is probably this games biggest selling point.
A problem that the more astute reader might have picked up on by now is that a lot of what I have said could easily just be a review of the first title. This is because most of the improvements made on the sequel lie in the more subtle changes made to the user interface, which has been overhauled and is far clearer than before. I didn’t think it was needed, but I’ve been proven wrong here.
This sentiment of subtle improvement has also wormed its way into every aspect of the gameplay; removing the irritating weapon degradation, separating weapons and tools, giving the ability to rotate blueprints in 3D, cooking on any fire, improved quest structure, the list is near endless. In fact, the list of improvements here is so vast that the game is almost impossible to fault. Almost.
Something that was in the original has returned that I’m very displeased with, however, is the Hunger mechanic. This is an absolute pain of a system, which renders the hero completely useless at the least convenient times possible. It’s easily resolved by eating something, so isn’t a massive detriment to the game overall; but boy oh boy, do I hate baby-sitting in games.
Not to end the gameplay part on a negative though, the new Notice Board system really does need a light shone on it. Early on in the game, this feature is explained as a kind of window between worlds, and it’s exactly that. The Notice Board allows the sharing of Snapshots you take in game, as well as the ability to visit other worlds and engage in some online co-op building!
Also, the new retro-styled map and fast travel system in Dragon Quest Builders 2 makes navigating around the areas so much easier than before, removing the tedium that travelling around the worlds had in the first game. Plus, the game will automatically note places of interest, like the Building Puzzle shrines as you wander around too.
Visually, the title is just a more blocky Dragon Quest with all the familiar trappings you would expect. The world itself is colourful and cartoonish, the characters are painfully Toriyama in the best possible way, all of the iconic monsters are here both as enemies and allies. The result is that wandering the world of Dragon Quest Builders 2 feels a lot like a warm comfort blanket.
The sound design falls within this familiar feeling too with all of the music and sound effects taken straight from the main series. This is especially true with the sound effects for everything from the dialogue bubbles to the victory chime and only reinforces the cosy feeling throughout. It also helps that the game looks and sounds great both docked and in handheld mode.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is something special, keeping the core of what made the original so enjoyable and improving almost everything that could be improved – including a few things that I didn’t even consider needing it. If you want an open sandbox to play in, it’s here. If you want a focused narrative adventure, that’s here too. It’s really hard to fault the game overall.
Even with the mechanic that brings the enjoyment down a notch, it still manages to be an enthralling and fun game to play. Also, with DLC packs planned that will expand the creative options in the game, it’s looking like Dragon Quest Builders 2 is going to be a world that I’m going to be happily destroying and rebuilding over and over until the inevitable third game.