Review – Dragon Quest Builders 2
Dragon Quest Builders came out in 2016 and shocked me and everyone else who played it. We were expecting for a cash grab, something trying to ride on Minecraft‘s coattails, but what we ended up getting was a surprisingly deep mix between an action RPG, a slice-of-life simulator, and, of course, Minecraft. The plot was so good and the missions were so well-explained that you felt motivated to give your all and build the best city you could possibly think of. It was flawed, without a doubt, but still very enjoyable. So much so that I actually bought it twice: once for the PS4 and also for the Switch. When Square Enix announced a sequel, I was ecstatic as I knew there was a lot of room for improvements and additions to the formula. I played Dragon Quest Builders 2 at E3 2019 and had a great time with it, but that demo didn’t showcase a tenth of what the actual game had to offer. Now that I have played the full release of Dragon Quest Builders 2 for longer than I should, I can tell that this is how you do a proper sequel.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 starts off with a bang. After a brief tutorial inside an enemy ship, you wake up on a deserted island with three other people: your token Akira Toriyama-esque “edgy frenemy”, a bossy girl, and a magical spirit. The spirit grants you the entire island for you to freely build whatever you want and create an actual civilization out of it. The game’s story is more straightforward than before, as everything revolves around gathering new materials and inhabitants to populate your island, creating districts, touristic attractions, messing with the nature, and so on. This main island acts as the main world of the game, its hub world, and its postgame campaign all at once. More on that later.
That doesn’t mean that Dragon Quest Builders 2 doesn’t have traditional campaigns and smaller civilizations to rebuild like those featured in its predecessor. Those are still the main story bits of the game and they feature detailed plots and very well-written characters. But you don’t go there with the intention of saving the day. You go to these islands solely looking for materials for your Island of Awakening, such as minerals and seeds. You’ll also be looking for inhabitants willing to join your “Make My Island Great Again” campaign, but need to save them from an evil curse or army before doing so. It sounds convoluted, but it makes sense once you start playing it.
The original Dragon Quest Builders featured campaigns with a huge emphasis on construction, but also a ton of emphasis on the game’s shallow yet efficient combat. While there is still a lot of combat in here, it has been sidelined in favor of a bigger emphasis on building stuff for everyone. Your edgy frenemy will always be at your side helping you fight against monsters and bosses. Since he will always be much stronger than you, you will never have a lot of trouble in these sections.
The campaigns act out in a predictable but effective manner. You start off with a little town in shambles. You proceed to rebuild it and level it up once, with the populace’s gratitude acting as the town’s experience points. Once you level it up, you recruit more inhabitants and do more favors for them until the big bad guy from said island shows up and does something that will demoralize the entire population. You will then decide to build a gigantic structure in order to revive everyone’s spirits, but thankfully enough, everyone will help out in this building process. You don’t even need to place a single block in these segments and the game actually encourages you to mind your own business while everyone else does the dirty work. You then finish the structure, beat the boss, talk to everyone to see who wants to go back to your island, and the chapter is finished. It sounds like a short premise, but each chapter lasts for dozens of hours.
You can access the main hub, the Island of Awakening, in between missions or after the main story. People will still ask for favors there, but they will be less frequent, with the game actively telling you to rebuild it as you want to. In order to acquire materials, you have the option to visit some smaller randomly generated islands and partake in a little exploring minigame. You will be given a list of objects to find in said island, and once you complete said list, you will receive an infinite amount of a specific building material that’s crucial to your building, such as iron, rocks, cord, and so on.
You can also unlock new types of furniture at the Island of Awakening by spending gratitude points, meaning that you’re not forced to do menial sidequests in the main campaign in order to unlock crucial building materials. Those two things vastly improve the post-game sandbox mode, as you’re given way more freedom to build the world as you please, with a big population walking around to make you feel like you’re actually creating a civilization from scratch.
That’s the core gameplay loop of Dragon Quest Builders 2, and it’s excellent. It’s a lot more fun than its predecessor. The improvements don’t end up there, though. The overall gameplay and controls have received excellent upgrades as well.
First of all, there’s the addition of a first-person perspective, one of things that I missed the most in the first Dragon Quest Builders. Handling the camera in that game was a pain, especially if you were inside a small claustrophobic room. With the addition of this Minecraft-esque camera option, it’s much easier to decorate houses and overall interiors.
The control scheme has been upgraded as well, with a dedicated button to your main weapon and another button dedicated to key building tools, such as a pot of water, power bracelets, and your trustworthy hammer. Weapon durability has been removed, by the way. Thank the Dragon Quest gods for that, as the original Builders gave me Breath of the Wild shivers with its terrible weapon durability system. But wait! There’s more!
You don’t need to create colossal coffers in order to handle your huge inventory anymore. You’re given a gigantic bag right from the get go, so you will never have to micromanage your inventory. Chimaera feathers have been removed as well, so you can freely teleport back to your base, as well as key locales around the islands, for free, and without the need of being outside a cave to do so. There is also a sprint button, the ability to dive underwater, a gliding tool, a new cooking system clearly inspired by Breath of the Wild, a snapshot mode, and much more. By the way, there’s also online multiplayer on top of all that. Yay!
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is fantastic, but not perfect. Some issues that were present in the original game still persist, most notably the bad camera controls. Yes, you can remedy that a bit with the addition of the first-person toggle button, but the camera still misbehaves when you’re inside a very small house in third-person.
My main gripe, though, is a brand new one: the framerate. The original Dragon Quest Builders wasn’t a looker, but at the very least had a stable framerate, even when there was a lot of action onscreen. That’s not the case here. The graphics have been vastly improved, with the addition of facial expressions, new lighting effects, bigger maps and better textures.
Unfortunately, that took one hell of a toll on the overall framerate, which is completely unlocked. If there’s not a lot of action onscreen, it runs at 60 frames per second. If there’s a bit of action, a few NPCs, as well as some buildings, it drops to 30. If there’s even more action onscreen, such as fighting a mob of monsters while it’s raining, say goodbye to your framerate all together. The game isn’t very fast-paced, meaning that a reduced framerate isn’t exactly the biggest of issues, but it’s still a nuisance. I mostly blame the Switch’s hardware, though.
With that being said, I’m actually a bit glad that Dragon Quest Builders 2 isn’t perfect. In fact, it makes me feel quite happy, as I know there’s still a lot of room for improvement in a game that’s already downright phenomenal. I got the game less than a week ago and it’s already the game I spent the most time with on my Switch, beating heavyweights like Super Smash Bros and Super Mario Odyssey. I have no idea when I’ll stop playing it, if ever. I forgot to sleep, I forgot to answer emails, I forgot to do a lot of things because I just wanted to build more and more. Dragon Quest Builders 2 might not be the best game I played this year, but it’s one of the most entertaining titles I’ve played in years. That’s how you do a sequel.
It looks a lot more detailed than the original Dragon Quest Builders, with improved lighting effects, textures, and the addition of facial expressions. The framerate is nowhere near as consistent as the original though, mostly due to the bigger maps and detailed visuals.
The addition of a first-person perspective is a blessing whenever you want to enter a smaller cave or building. Other quality of life improvements, such as warping, are very welcome. The camera issues persist, but are less cumbersome than before.
Just like its predecessor, it’s a neat collection of classic Dragon Quest tunes coupled with some chiptune sound effects. There are some (very small) voice samples this time around, though.
An even better plot than before, a much more intuitive sandbox mode, and the inclusion of multiplayer are more than enough to ensure that you will play Dragon Quest Builders 2 until the end of time.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is available now on PS4 and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.