Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review – PlayStation 4
+ Charming world
+ Huge amount of things to do
+ Good level of guidance
- Combat is dull
- Story hurts the pace of the game
I find it constantly surprising that the Dragon Quest series has made such a small cultural impact in the West, especially when compared to other franchises such as Final Fantasy. Both series began in the 1980s, and both have had a multitude of titles released under their respective banners, but you’re much more likely to get a reaction if you bring up Final Fantasy in conversation than if you mention anything related to Dragon Quest. This seems to be changing in recent years, though, and the release of Dragon Quest Builders 2 is further proof that western gamers are starting to be more exposed to Square Enix’s ‘other’ JRPG colossus.
Though Dragon Quest Builders 2 plays as a direct sequel to the first Builders game, and there are plenty of references to the characters and events of the first game throughout, you don’t need to have played the predecessor to enjoy this title. You start essentially from scratch, washed up on a deserted island with a minimal inventory and little knowledge of building, and you spend the game building up a sizeable collection of both resources and blueprints. At first these plans are quite simple, and you’ll be building single rooms and delivering vegetables, but you’re soon taking part in the construction of multi-leveled plans that require you to travel far and wide to collect the necessary pieces.
There’s a relaxed pace to the majority of the experience, and though there are monsters to fight and the occasional boss battle, combat is a fairly uninspired sequence of repeatedly hitting the attack button until your enemy dies. If you deliberately avoid all combat and only battle when the game requires it of you then you’ll likely struggle, but providing that you take out your fair share of enemies when you’re wandering around then you wont have any problems. Leveling up your character frequently unlocks new equipment which provides stat boosts and changes your appearance, but in reality fighting is often a means to an end of collecting new resources, and acts as a side note to the main activities of resource gathering and building.
Though the appearance of Dragon Quest Builders 2 evokes Minecraft with its blocky textures, you’ll soon find that this game is tied a little more tightly than Mojang’s cultural phenomenon, and this lack of player freedom might prove irritating to those used to Minecraft’s freewheeling experience. There’s quite a lot of story within Dragon Quest Builders 2, and you’ll find yourself chatting with NPCs on a frequent basis, to the point where I often just wanted to leave the conversation and go off and do my own thing. The guidance is quite nice, though, and I did appreciate being given tasks to do and feeling like I was contributing to a community, rather than building for the sake of it.
This sense of community is a huge part of the game, and providing that you buy into it, is a large driving force in what makes the game so good. After you wake up on the abandoned island at the start of the game, you’ll quickly move onto another island called Furrowfield, where you’ll meet a variety of characters and help them to rebuild their farms. Doing this gains you valuable friendships and useful skills, and you can then bring these lessons back to the initial island and build up your own community there. This is the general pattern of gameplay within Dragon Quest Builders 2, in that you’ll venture out to learn skills to improve your home, and then come back and use these skills to turn your barren island into a flourishing community. Each island that you visit will have its own particular focus, such as farming or mining, and each delivers its own narrative that feels distinct from the others.
I was surprised by how in-depth the experience on each island was, which allows this game to earn a runtime that comes close to its more traditional RPG brethren. I haven’t finished Dragon Quest Builders 2 yet, and I didn’t play the first game, but according to online reports the earlier release took about forty hours to complete if mainlined, and I can see this sequel attaining a similar number of hours, and that’s if you don’t go off and partake in any activities that aren’t crucial to progressing the story. There are plenty of optional challenges to complete and rewards to obtain for doing so that make the extra work worthwhile, and then there’s the even more optional chance to reshape the landscape as you see fit and build a community that you’re proud of.
Though the mechanics aren’t particularly invasive, there’s a definite focus on sharing your creations within Dragon Quest Builders 2, from the loading screens showing pictures taken from other players’ photo modes, to noticeboards allowing you to browse said photos, and even the ability to visit other players’ worlds and see what they’ve built firsthand. It feels like the game is asking players to show-off, collaborate and get inspiration from other players, and as mentioned, it isn’t done obnoxiously, but is present enough that you’re constantly able to see good ideas that you can then incorporate into your own world.
I’ll often say that the biggest indicator of whether a game is successful or not is if I’ll return to it once I’m no longer obligated to pay it. In the case of Dragon Quest Builders 2 I can safely say that as soon as this review is filed, I’ll be firing up my PS4 and returning to my building adventures. Though there are minor annoyances, such as written dialogue interrupting your flow too often, I found the level of guidance and NPC interaction really valuable in helping the game to progress at a steady pace, and there’s a definite sense of pride in looking at how your creations have helped to build a thriving community.
If you’re into building simulators, or enjoyed the first Dragon Quest Builders titles, then I would strongly recommend this sequel, and if you’re yet to dip your toe into the waters of this genre, then this would be a great place to start. There’s enough handholding and explanation to allow newcomers to gain a solid grasp on the mechanics of the genre, but there’s also enough of the advanced details and optional customizations to keep veterans happy as well. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a great example of the genre, and comes highly recommended.