I’ve never been able to get into Minecraft. Maybe I lack the imagination, but I need some sort of motivation behind smashing thousands of squares. I found that in Dragon Quest Builders 2. Putting context behind the building made it a lot more enjoyable to me, and it does an even better job than its predecessor of pairing an RPG, world-saving adventure with simple voxel-based building.
I’ve seldom gotten past the point of smelting iron ingots in Minecraft, but something about Dragon Quest Builders grabs me in a way that no other game of its kind does. The original DQB was a ton of fun, but your progress didn’t carry over between worlds. This made the whole thing feel a bit futile by the third or fourth world since it feels like you’re building your heart out only to start over every time you accomplish your mission. Luckily, with Dragon Quest Builders 2, the developers addressed some significant issues from the first game to make a title that surpasses its predecessor in every way.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review | Hargon the Horrible
The story in Dragon Quest Builders 2 isn’t too much different from the plot in the original. It’s a canon entry in the Dragon Quest series and takes place after Dragon Quest 2 on the timeline. After the defeat of Hargon and Malroth in DQ2, the remaining monsters form a cult called the Children of Hargon. They seek to bring Malroth back by sowing the world with destruction.
The Children of Hargon, in their campaign of destruction, have outlawed building and cowed humanity into subservience. You, as an apprentice builder, are captured by the Children of Hargon and placed in captivity in a ship. When the boat sinks, you wash up on the beaches of the Isle of Awakening, which is a barren land where a master builder once lived.
On the Isle of Awakening, you meet Lulu, another survivor of the shipwreck, and a man named Malroth who has amnesia. On the island, you also meet a Hairy Hermit, who implores you to restore the Isle of Awakening to grandeur and form a new nation. To do so, you must visit neighboring islands to help and conscript the citizens to help you in your goals.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review | Building a new nation
As the title suggests, the primary focus of DQB2 is building. This remains mostly unchanged from the first game and follows the same playstyle that most voxel-based builders do. The world works on a grid, and you lay down cubes to build. Most of the time, you’re going to be trying to make rooms. The most basic room is four walls, two blocks high, with a door. This sounds simple enough, but as the game progresses, the concept of a room gets more complicated.
Rooms have five sizes and later get an ambiance rating. When you’re trying to accomplish a task given to you by an NPC, these affect how much gratitude you get from them in return. Gratitude is used to raise base levels, granting you more recipes, when you’re on story islands, and when you’re on the Isle of Awakening, gratitude is used to unlock optional islands to visit and acquire new recipes.
The gameplay loop boils down to getting an objective, either from an NPC or by one of the builder boards on the Isle of Awakening, accomplishing the mission, and then using the gratitude earned to continue the story. Eventually, in each story section, things come to a head, and you’ll usually find the whole island working together towards a huge project.
Fortunately, this time around, NPCs aren’t just lumps that sometimes fight when you give them weapons. They have a lot more personality, and can even become permanent residents of your Isle of Awakening when you complete their story segment.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review | You are not alone
Unlike the original Dragon Quest Builders, the sequel isn’t level-based. This addresses one of the most significant issues I had with it. In the first game, you would complete a level, then move on to the next, losing all your building recipes and progress. This made the whole thing feel rather futile by the time you made it through the second world. Going from having a bustling town and powerful technology to starting over from scratch got old. You never really got to work up to any larger goal.
In Dragon Quest Builders 2, there are four main islands, including your Isle of Awakening. Each island has its own motif and unique issues. Furrowfield, the first neighboring island you’ll visit, was a verdant farming community before the Children of Hargon took control. With building and even growing crops outlawed, the humans there have scattered into the wilderness, and constantly fight hunger and the elements.
Your appearance in Furrowfield spurs the citizens there to restore their farms. As such, most of the objectives in this level deal with farming and growth. Dragon Quest Builders 2 does a really great job of walking you through the complexities of the game while avoiding making the experience feel like a tutorial. Furrowfield acts as the tutorial to the farming system in the game and teaches you everything you need to know about plant growth and preparation. This equips you to feed yourself and the citizens for the rest of the game.
The NPCs in Dragon Quest Builders 2 are a lot less needy than the ones in the first game as well. Many objectives in the original boiled down to, “Do this for me because I can’t.” One of the hooks in Dragon Quest Builders was you were the only person who had the power of creativity needed to build, so you were always on your own. DQB2, on the other hand, has NPCs continually helping you. Many blueprints in the story will be built by NPCs, leaving you to complete only the most critical parts. They’ll also usually gather materials to do the building. This lets you concentrate on more important, varied missions that progress the plot.
NPCs can also build even when it’s not essential for the story. You can plop down a blueprint and make sure the needed materials are in a nearby chest and NPCs will put it together for you. You can also count on them to cook food, defend themselves, and even cultivate and harvest plants. The NPCs being competent takes a lot of the nag factor away that was too prevalent in the first game. It actually feels like you’re building something with the characters in the game instead of just being ordered around.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review | Depending on others
Combat is somehow simultaneously a big part of DQB2, but not something you have to participate in too actively. Instead of leading the charge, you’re kind of weak. You’re a builder, not a warrior, and as such you have to rely on Malroth and NPCs to do the majority of the damage. You can put up a fight, but you’re best served using your builder talents towards making weapons for your warriors to fight with.
While I get the sentiment behind making you dependent on NPCs for combat, it’s a bit frustrating at times. When I’m at the end of a game, and I’ve put a lot of time into fitting my character out with the most powerful equipment, I want to pretty much stomp and mook enemies. Unfortunately, you’re never much of a powerhouse, though you do get enough HP that you become quite the tank.
Luckily, the controls work well in this game, so telling where you are in combat and evading enemies isn’t too hard. You don’t take damage just from touching enemies in Dragon Quest Builders 2 like you do the first, so you have more freedom to maneuver.
Unfortunately, the camera could use a little work. By clicking in on the right stick you can switch between the first-person view (which is a new feature), close third-person, and zoomed-out third-person. I often found that even when I had selected zoomed-out third person, the camera would sometimes zoom in in close quarters and never zoom back out. Since you have to keep track of a ton of NPCs, especially in a fight, staying zoomed in robs you of situational awareness, and I found it a bit irritating to continually have to reset the camera to where I wanted it.
There’s also one huge issue I have with DQB2. There are some times during the story where a voice speaks to a character inside their head. When this voice is speaking it’s displayed in an overlay onscreen instead of a regular text box. Unlike every other text box in the game you can’t press the confirm button to move to the next line in the script. Instead you have to wait a ridiculous amount of time for it to proceed. This doesn’t happen just once in the game, it’s something that occurs multiple times per island. We’re talking a minute or so for a sentence or two to appear onscreen and move to the next line. Luckily, the voice isn’t terrible talkative, but there’s a few conversations where it takes five minutes or so to get through a paragraph of text. It’s grueling and it absolutely kills the suspense of these scenes which are usually revelatory and key to the plot.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review | Multiplayer optional
Also new to DQB2 are multiplayer and social features. These aren’t unlocked from the start. Instead, you’ll gain access to the social features first. These are accessed from the notice board item in-game and allow you to share photos and your building creations online.
The multiplayer portion is unlocked around a quarter of the way into the game and is accessed by a portal on the Isle of Awakening. The portal allows up to three players to transport to the host player’s world and build with them. This function is limited to the Isle of the Awakening, however. The campaign itself is still single-player only, and other players can’t join you during story portions of the game.
Multiplayer is a welcome addition, but I wouldn’t call Dragon Quest Builders 2 a multiplayer game. The emphasis is still very much on the single-player story and the builder and Malroth’s journey as they help the citizens of the various islands. I prefer single-player games, so that’s great for me, but for those who are coming from Minecraft, the multiplayer options may seem a bit lacking.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review | How to build a spin-off
Dragon Quest Builders 2 improves upon the original in almost every way, but it doesn’t innovate. That’s fine by me. I liked the original, and I love the sequel. However, it’s still at its heart a voxel-based building game. It’s possibly my favorite of the genre, and I find the story absolutely charming and a great motivation to keep you building. However, if you just hate building games, this probably isn’t for you as its more Minecraft in its gameplay than it is Dragon Quest.
I’m ecstatic that Square Enix took a gamble on this series. Dragon Quest is one of the oldest and most popular JRPG franchises, and its a perfect vehicle for this sort of gameplay. It’s colorful and friendly while still having enough adult themes to keep you hooked. I was glad to see a lot of the issues from the first game were rectified, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.
We played the PS4 version of Dragon Quest Builders 2 for this review. Square Enix PR provided the game for review purposes.