Review: Dragon Quest Builders 2 offers bigger, better building

The first Dragon Quest Builders was a successful adaptation of the crafting game to the world of Dragon Quest, adding structure, aesthetic and narrative to its gameplay. That said, it was definitely a first effort, and there were clear areas in which it could improve in a sequel.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 goes so much further than we were expecting.

Just as the first game followed a version of the events and world of the original Dragon Quest, the sequel’s setting is that of the twisted aftermath of Dragon Quest II, and players who know that game’s events will get a little more out of playing through the story. Still, it’s not totally necessary to enjoying the game, but… if you’re going to play, maybe read up on its story, at least? Just as in the first game, you’re essentially the only one remaining who can build things, and it’s your job to help find those still surviving and gather them to remake grow towns and lives.

One of the big things that sets this new game apart is how it builds autonomy and automation into the experience.

One of the big things that sets this new game apart is how it builds autonomy and automation into the experience. You’re still the only one, generally speaking, who can make new things, but once you’ve made them, the townsfolk can help. They can run farms, cook dishes you’ve discovered and perform tasks. This is a huge help in making larger worlds without having to micromanage every single thing, but it leaves the act of creation in the hands of the player to great benefit.

There are also larger creations in the game. When you reach certain points in the story, the other people you’ve met will work together to build a big structure with your help, and this is a nice way to have these sorts of builds happen in the main story without it taking lots of hours. You can, of course, build whatever you like basically whenever you like outside of the plot progression, and that can be a lot of fun, too.

Building and combat have both been made a lot easier with improvements to the game’s controls. While it’s still designed primarily as a third-person game, there are certain ways of building that, either by habit or by the nature of the genre, are easier to do in a first-person Minecraft style, and that’s open to you. We found this was helpful in targeting specific blocks of building vertical towers. Developer Omega Force has revamped the combat, making it feel a lot more natural and adding in new sorts of techniques to help you fight. The big story fights are a lot more manageable as the more capable townsfolk come in with equipped weapons and chip in, but even one-on-one slashing is somewhat more satisfying.

It can’t be emphasized enough just how much larger Dragon Quest Builders 2 can be. It features a series of islands with separate stories, all feeding back to your more permanent home base where you can be a bit more creative, and each segment of the game can run over a dozen hours. It doesn’t feel tedious, either; dividing things like this with their own materials, aesthetics and goals makes for concentrated, varied mini-campaigns. And then you grab a few characters from each place to come back with you and populate your home! It’s… usually the ones you wanted, too. There’s a bit of a hiccup later in the game that sidelines you for a few hours, but generally speaking, you can jump between islands and tasks whenever you’d like and play how you’re feeling like playing at any given moment.

It can’t be emphasized enough just how much larger Dragon Quest Builders 2 can be.

To break things up even further, there are some procedurally generated mini-islands to explore. You can just go here to have some random fun, but mostly you’re there to either gather materials for building or complete surveys of the local flora and fauna. Finding all the items on a checklist unlocks unlimited supplies of a common material, which is a very nice perk and remains in place for the rest of the game’s story segments.

The localization is charming as usual, with the assortment of puns and accents you’d expect from a Dragon Quest game. It feels like the team may have cut loose a bit on this one, injecting color into otherwise-forgettable characters in a way that shows whimsy is a priority over emotional attachment.

The script does run into a few issues along the way, mostly dealing with quest progression. Builders 2 often lets you explore and do things in different orders during the main adventure, but the writing doesn’t really allow for that, so if you don’t just do specifically what you’re told to do next, you’ll occasionally run into characters referencing things that haven’t happened yet. You may also run into situations in which going a bit too far off the beaten path may make the game struggle to keep up with what you’re doing and occasionally make you backtrack slightly or reload a save to get your quest markers sorted out. It’s the sort of thing that pops up for a few minutes every ten hours or so, though, so it’s not too painful to manage.

New to the sequel, and possibly its most-requested addition, is a robust online multiplayer mode. While you can’t play through most of the adventure with friends, you can join up with up to three people you know and build and explore on one player’s Isle of Awakening. It’s a big island, and there are lots of ways to customize and enhance the areas of it, so it seems like a smart medium to let the two modes intersect in ways that help both but don’t get too in the way of the challenges and tasks the solo part wants to throw at you. (Do note: there’s no way to play with random players, as you can simply open your island to friend visitors or see which of your friends’ islands are open.)

We liked Dragon Quest Builders and wanted more, but Dragon Quest Builders 2 exceeded practically all of our expectations for both depth of content and the feeling of playing through it all. It’s a game we won’t be done playing for a long time, because it just keeps making us smile.

Score: 9/10
Publisher: Square Enix / Nintendo (Switch)
Release Date: July 12, 2019
Developer: Square Enix / Omega Force
Platform(s): PS4/Switch
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