If you’ve ever glanced at one of my reviews in the past, you know that the sandbox/survival/crafting genre is kind of my jam. The formula of breaking environmental elements down and using them to craft things you need was popularised by games like Minecraft and Ark: Survival Evolved. When the original Dragon Quest Builders mixed in a healthy dollop of JRPG-style storytelling and progression, though, it instantly raised the bar for me and completely changed my expectations around these kinds of games. So, for the last two and a half years (has it really been that long?) I have been playing almost everything that looks or sounds similar in the hopes of recapturing that magic, with nothing coming even remotely close. Thankfully, the wait is finally over and I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands and my hammer stuck into Dragon Quest Builders 2, a “bigger, better and buildier” sequel to one of my favourite games.
I’m going to preface this review by saying that DQB2 is massive, and if I wanted to cover off everything you’d find awesome about it we’d need to start a whole new website. Not only that, discovery is half the fun in a game like this and I’d hate to spoil any of the exciting new mechanics for returning fans. Suffice it to say that I’ve spent every spare moment I’ve had over the last week with my builder and it’s still surprising me with new ways to play 20-30 hours in.
The start of something great!
If you enjoyed the first game you’ll be pleased to know that they’ve taken everything you love about it and turned it up to 11, maybe even 12. It feels familiar enough to jump straight back into that world but it’s also chock full of new goodies, locations and abilities that make it feel like the full-blown sequel it is. It’s also clear that the developers have listened to fan feedback and taken cues from similar games from the last few years because they’ve also included ways to make it feel less grindy and repetitive.
If you are a newcomer to this series or Dragon Quest in general; fear not, as this is a completely stand-alone experience. Gameplay wise, DQB2 is similar to Minecraft in that you freely roam the game world and break down blocks of land and other environmental elements (trees, rocks, enemies) to gather resources and use them to build things like shelter, equipment and food. Where DQB2 differs though is that it is also supported by a pretty robust JRPG storyline that sees you building a ‘base’, supporting the various NPCs found within it and fighting back the hordes of darkness surrounding it. As you progress, you can access better resources and upgrade your base; dirt walls can become stone, wooden weapons can be replaced with steel, and raw food can be whipped into delicious meals etc.
Farming Simulator 2020 is looking toight!
As I mentioned before, the story of Dragon Quest Builders 2 is totally new, but it’s still filled with that classic JRPG melodrama we know and love. The world is in ruin and the militant cult, “The Children of Hargon” are in control of all the lands, forbidding all forms of creation and enforcing laws of utter destruction. You play as an apprentice builder (which you can customise for the first time) who has been captured by the cult and imprisoned on a rickety old ship full of monsters, bound for certain doom. After a massive storm hits the boat, you awake on the seemingly deserted “Isle of Awakening” with nothing but your wits and rudimentary building skills to survive. Shortly thereafter you meet your fellow castaways; an energetic (if aggressive) amnesiac called Malroth and a spoiled but friendly brat, Lulu. Being a builder is a rare thing in this world and you are bequeathed the island by its caretaker and tasked with turning it into a bastion against the Children of Hargon and their destructive ways.
In order to populate your shiny new corner of the world you’ll find yourself travelling to surrounding islands, helping the people there to fight back against the darkness and learning the skills needed to thrive in these dark times. As you help others rebuild their homes and towns you’ll learn things like farming, recipes for new items and blueprints for buildings, which you can bring back to the Isle of Awakening along with some new friends. I won’t go too much into the different locations in the world because that would spoil the fun, but there is more variety in landscapes compared to the first game.
The Isle of Awakening is used as a device for advancing the story, but it is also a huge blank canvas for you to build anything you see fit. Once you return with some new residents and skills you can build anything from small towns to sprawling farmlands and lavish resorts. You can even change the very landscape of the island if you want and drop in massive rivers, hills or meadows wherever you so desire.
“It’s not flying, it’s falling…with style!”
There have been some massive improvements from the first game which make the time spent in DQB2 all the more enjoyable. Simple things like building areas in the story mode being increased so your base wont feel as cramped, having a bottomless bag so inventory space is even less of an issue (thanks for the memories ‘Colossal Coffer’) and if you have a current blueprint active, the game will tell you how much of each element you need right there in the crafting screen. No more making 10 fancy beds only to find out you need 15. There have also been some much more significant changes like the inclusion of a glider for traversing the skies, the addition of swimming and underwater environments to explore and a new experience-based levelling system that grants you more recipes, abilities, health and stamina for slaying enemies. There is also more emphasis on exploration and adventure, with actual ‘dungeon’ like locations complete with puzzles to solve and bad guy bosses to bash.
The way your base operates is different now, too. Rather than the level and size of your building space being dependant on your rooms, it now works on an NPC ‘gratitude’ system. The people in your towns will be grateful for things like comfy beds, decent food, jobs to do and completion of side quests, dropping tiny hearts every time they’re happy. The more of the delicious hearts you collect, the closer you come to upgrading your base level, thus gaining more residents, recipes and blueprints.
There is also a whole new online co-operative ‘multi-builder’ mode where you can invite up to three more people to join you in your quest or visit other gamers to assist them. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this review I was unable to access the multiplayer mode, but once I get a chance to I will update this review with my thoughts. It looks and sounds pretty amazing, though.
Buildin’ by the book
I love this game and for the first 15 hours or so I was this close to giving it a score of 10/10, but the more I played I began to notice just a few tiny little niggling issues that stopped me from giving it that perfect score. There is more of a focus on fighting enemies in DQB2 compared to the first, but the combat is still pretty basic and frustrating. You can still only do simple attacks and some charged abilities but for some reason (despite having a shield) you still cannot block against enemies. This means that every fight becomes a dance of running in close, hitting the bad guy once or twice and then running away before they hit you. Rinse and repeat. It’s not so bad with the smaller enemies but later in the game when you fight large groups of tough baddies you have to start munching on medicinal items like they’re tic-tacs. Thankfully Malroth (Your constant companion) is a hard hitter and can help you out of tough spots.
There are also still a few issues with the camera getting lost or borked while playing, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the first game. The only other issue I had is that there are some sections of dialogue that cannot be skipped or hurried (usually it’s a disembodied voice of a deity or something) which wouldn’t be so bad, but it can often be one or two lines that are on screen for 20 – 30 seconds, completely stalling fast readers. It’s not all the time but it happens just enough for it to be annoying.
By far the most important thing about this game though is that you can now befriend a dog (or cat, or chicken, or cow) and you can pet it whenever you like.
Honestly, it’s worth playing just for this
I have to wrap this up but I can assure you that I have barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer in this fantastic game. It is so full of creativity, adventure, humour, heart and crafting that I guarantee you’ll have a good time whether you’re a long time fan or a newcomer. It’s great for all ages (there is some risqué humour in some parts), it has the distinct look and story of a traditional Dragon Quest game and the only limitation is your wildest imagination. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is an amazing experience and easily a strong contender of my game of the year. Go out there and get building!
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher