Review: Dragon Quest Builders 2

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This game was selected as one of our January 2020 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.

Minecraft certainly has its faults, but it’s obviously done something right to persist in popularity across the years. It gets harder and harder to see how as new games come out that improve on its designs, and Dragon Quest Builders 2 makes one of the strongest cases for an alternative. There are so many things I can do in this game that I will miss dearly if I try to return to Minecraft, enough that it really just makes more sense to remain in this colorful, adorable world. It’s not like I’ll be done with the story or the building anytime soon, and the more time I spend on both, the more enraptured I become with them.

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Years ago, a legendary builder roamed the world and taught people the joys of creation. Since those halcyon days, though, the Children of Hargon have swept the land and undone nearly all of the work that lost hero did. Preaching destruction and subservience, the Children allow no building to stand and no spark of creativity to flourish in their presence. But you don’t care about that, because you’re a bright-eyed builder with the world at their fingertips! Left shipwrecked after a strange storm with the mysterious Malroth and the impetuous Lulu, it’s up to you to build shelters and services, brainstorm crafty solutions to problems, and befriend the forlorn people of the world to restore their long-lost hope. The Children of Hargon won’t just let you ply your trade without question, of course, but you may find yourself surprised where some of them fall on your works.

The story of Dragon Quest Builders 2 is built out of the framework of the original Dragon Quest 2, imagining a world where the original three heroes never came together and Hargon’s minions were able to run amok. While the monsters and music will be immediately recognizable to fans of the classic RPG, the story is very much its own thing and offers plenty of surprises, especially if you recognize the name Malroth. Story is also one of the biggest strengths this game has over its peers in the free-form building and survival genres, because it is very much full JRPG fare across five huge plot-driven islands. You’ll meet all manner of eclectic characters, brought to life with charming animations and top-notch localization, and complete quests that are mostly focused on building things and finding resources, rather than battling. The main story is easily a 60-80-hour engagement even if you focus solely on progression, with plenty of heartwarming moments and cute twists.

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Cute is absolutely the keyword for this one, and one glance at the screenshots should show you that much. The modern Dragon Quest style of round, colorful Toriyama art gives the entire game a friendly, inviting feel, and the writing absolutely follows this lead. You’ll still have moments of drama, but the tone is always quick to bounce back with some snappy lines. This dovetails nicely with the pace of the gameplay as well, which is loaded with clear directions for simple tasks that have really no time constraints whatsoever. You’ll always know exactly what you need to do for a quest, with absolutely no pressure to do it until you feel like it. And that fact that you’re raising barns and growing crops for these quests grant them an entirely wholesome feel that never fades.

The constructing is the cornerstone of the gameplay, and is another place where DQB2 outshines many of its peers. At the core of the experience are hundreds of blocks, decorations, and tools to make convincing fantasy towns and castles, all easily sortable in your massive, massive inventory. Placement and interaction distances are generous, especially in first-person mode. Your tools are incredibly powerful for constructing and demolishing, including a hammer that can clear up to five-by-five cubes of space and a trowel that can swap blocks in a flash. On the plot islands you’ll need to harvest the resources you need but back at your hub island, you can embark on scavenger hunts to randomly-generated islands to unlock unlimited basic resources like wood and stone. This above all else really streamlines the creative process as you progress, and encourages massive amounts of creativity when customizing your home island.

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Questing and building provide rock-solid pillars for this whole game to stand on, leaving little to really complain about. Probably the biggest limitation to note, especially for folks coming in from Minecraft, is that you’re not building in a limitless world. Your hub island is where you’ll really do all your free building, and even that comes with quests to guide you. You can certainly build on the plot islands but you’ll be even more constrained by plot concerns and limited resources. Building specific room and structure types, defined by size and decor, can also be difficult because they requirements are often obscured until you stumble across them. Some require unlocks from later in the story as well, and considering you’ll be unlocking new blocks, decoration, and even abilities across the entire game, it can be hard to tell when it’s safe to buckle down and build the city of your dreams.

Really these are gripes borne from how massive and robust an adventure this is. It’s an ideal marriage of building, survival, and RPG elements, and comes with important evolutions of each aspect. The building has so many options and conveniences I don’t know how I could ever go back to Minecraft, honestly. And whenever I get tired of building bars and aqueducts, there’s always more charming story to sink back into. Everything is so cute and inviting that I’ll never grow frustrated with any of it, and there are few games that I feel so relaxed with. Fans of Dragon Quest and building games alike will not be disappointed with Dragon Quest Builders 2, and it’s polished enough that newcomers to either will surely be pleased here.

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