Games review: Dragon Quest Builders 2 is Minecraft’s greatest rival
The original was already the best Minecraft clone around but this clever mix of genres is also a surprisingly involving action RPG.
It really is a shame that demos have all but disappeared from the gaming landscape. The business case against them is sound enough (publishers found out that, in general, people are less likely to buy a game they’d played a demo of – as they felt like they’d already played it) but demos are not only useful illustrations of exactly what a game’s about, they’re part of the old school hype train that used to lead up to a major release. They’re not entirely extinct as a concept though, and Square Enix has been very wise to release one for Dragon Quest Builders 2.
If you get to the end of this review and still think that the game isn’t for you then we suggest giving the demo a try anyway. It’s completely free and we think there’s a good chance it will convince those on the fence that this is much more than the lazy Minecraft clone it seems to be from the screenshots.
Riding on Mojang’s coattails was clearly the intention behind the 2016 original but while the basic idea of excavating a brick-built world, to create your own structures and objects, is basically the same Dragon Quest Builders added a much more structured narrative and became a surprisingly successful genre mash-up. And now the sequel has expanded things further, with one of the best open world experiences of the year.
Dragon Quest may be Japan’s favourite role-playing franchise, but it holds little cachet in the West. But that doesn’t really matter. Like Final Fantasy, there is no overarching story between the various games and the only constants are the old school turn-based combat, some of the monsters, and art design by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. The combat in Dragon Quest Builders is real-time, in case you were rolling your eyes at that, so there’s really no reason to be put off by the association, unless you really hate the artwork.
If you have played the demo, you’ll know that the story works under the premise that evil has already won. While waiting for the arrival of the ‘God of Destruction’ the bad guys have gone about ravaging the world, making it infertile and demonising ‘builders’ and the concept of creativity in general. As an apprentice you luck out by escaping from a shipwrecked prison boat, after which you’re washed ashore along with an aggressive but amiable amnesic called Malroth.
Malroth’s secret backstory is given away almost immediately (probably because his name is a reference to a previous Dragon Quest character) but his gameplay purpose is just as obvious, in that he’s there to reduce the amount of busywork you have to go through. Just like Minecraft, the core of the game involves mining objects – trees, rocks, the very ground beneath you – to create resources you can then craft into useful items. So if you start collecting a particular resource Malroth will do the same, and while it takes you a while to become an effective fighter Malroth can successfully protect you from the very start.
The game is full of little time-saving measures like that but quality of life improvements are by no means the limit of its ambitions. The island you wash up on has plenty of secrets but it’s relatively small and barren, so in trying to build it up you start visiting other lands around the world in order to bring back a sample of their resources and any plucky colonists you can convince to join you. Each of these lands is an impressively large open world in its own right, at which point it becomes clear that the game is taking more than a little inspiration from Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.
The shrine like mini-puzzles are a dead giveaway, but the very distinct cultures in each land clearly ape the diversity of regions in Breath Of The Wild, while the freedom you have to explore – and change – the environment around you feels very Nintendo-esque. What doesn’t though is the fairly strict hand the game takes, particularly at the beginning, in terms of how you move through the story.
Right from the start you’re given the option to wander off and do whatever you want between missions, but there is a very clear plot structure underpinning everything – as you’re given blueprints for buildings to construct and gradually unlock the ability to craft more complex weapons, equipment, and furniture.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 isn’t any more a clone of Breath Of The Wild than it is of Minecraft but it survives the comparison remarkably well. And yet there’s still more to it beyond even that, with lots of new ideas and features, including the eventual ability to fly and a much-improved approach to playing underwater and working underground – which was a real weakness of the first game.
And then there’s the fact that the game is just so damn charming. It’s never really laugh out loud funny but the script is goofily enjoyable, with endless, terrible, puns and a pleasingly irreverent attitude. The only problem is that it never seems to know when enough is enough and a lot of the conversations just go on too long, no matter how good the (purely text-based) dialogue is.
The original Dragon Quest Builders was one of those game we feared would be unfairly ignored in the West, but it must’ve done well enough somewhere to justify this sequel. And the sequel has in turn fully justified itself. In fact, it’s one of the best sequels we’ve played in a long time, in the sense that it tries to both address the faults of the original and add new features on top.
There’s still a certain clunkiness to the controls, particularly in combat, and the mission design often lacks variety, but Dragon Quest Builders 2 seems destined to be one of the hidden gems of the year. We enjoyed it more than Dragon Quest XI and while its more rigid structure means it’ll never replace Minecraft in the eyes of most kids it’s different enough that it can appeal to both fans and non-fans. Just give the demo a go and we’re sure you’ll agree.
Dragon Quest Builders 2
In Short: The charming mix of Minecraft and Dragon Quest works even better the second time round, with a smart sequel that address the flaws of the original while adding plenty of new features of its own.
Pros: The building aspect is very easy to get the hang off and integrates neatly into the role-playing side of things. Huge open worlds, great script, and a host of tweaks and improvements.
Cons: Clunky controls and very basic combat. Surprisingly rigid story structure, given the other elements, with some uneven mission design.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PlayStation 4
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Omega Force and Square Enix
Release Date: 12th July 2019
Age Rating: 7
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