Great Leap Forward: Dragon Quest Builders 2
What’s new in the Square Enix mega-sequel
Despite selling around 1.1 million copies globally (and releasing across numerous platforms, including the Nintendo Switch in 2018), it still feels like Dragon Quest Builders flew under the radar. At first glance, it’s a strange and improbable mash-up; a direct fusion of cuboid, Minecraft-esque building with a central storyline, protagonists and enemies lifted directly from the Dragon Quest universe. Set in Alefgard (the location featured in the original Dragon Quest), the player is essentially responsible for re-building the world after it has been obliterated.
Much like Minecraft, you’ll start with almost nothing, and you’ll need to explore the world around you to forage for raw materials that can be combined into ever more advanced building materials, weapons, armour, and even different kinds of food and healing items. But there’s so much more going on here — the game is both open-ended and curated in a way that feels satisfying. There are numerous quests (primary and optional) that you can tackle at your leisure. There are specific blueprints to construct powerful buildings and defensive structures to protect your burgeoning town from the waves of enemies that appear at night, but you can also design your town and build structures in a freeform manner to create the perfect little civilisation. As you grow and complete more quests, more people will find their way to your town; it’ll become more populated, villagers will give you quests, and they will even go to work and provide assistance through (for example) cooking meals from the raw ingredients you collect.
In other words, Dragon Quest Builders is pretty awesome. And if you enjoy titles like Minecraft (or perhaps even Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon), it’s worth checking out.
Whether you played the original or you’re thinking of diving in with the sequel, then you’re in luck: Dragon Quest Builders 2 is finally being released in the west on the 12th of July (after having been available in Japan since December 2018 — by the time you read this, the game may be out in your territory). If you haven’t yet looked at the sequel, you may be surprised: it radically expands on the original game. Although I haven’t played it yet, I’d say that at least conceptually, Dragon Quest Builders 2 promises to deliver far more than I’d have ever expected from a sequel.
So, what are the major changes? Let’s take a look at the key ones.
A truly open world
Dragon Quest 2 takes place in Torland, which is much larger than Alefgard (in fact, Alefgard sits within Torland). If you’ve played Dragon Quest II, then you’ll already have some idea about this world, its characters, and how the story will play out.
But the big difference from a gameplay perspective is that the world is much, much larger here than in the first game. And although separate islands exist, much of the world is accessible on foot without needing to discover specific portals to teleport to different areas. As you explore, you’ll uncover fast-travel points that will allow you to rapidly zoom back-and-forth across the map at will.
You will also uncover challenges and puzzles hidden throughout the world; they aren’t necessarily uncovered on your map from the get-go, so you’ll need to put in the exploration groundwork to discover them. I know it’s become something of a cliche to say this, but Dragon Quest Builders 2 looks to borrow some ideas from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in terms of the way it presents its much larger world — and that’s definitely a good thing, I’d say.
It takes a village
Although it was heaps of fun to establish and expand my town in Dragon Quest Builders, it’s also true that it sometimes felt like a lonely experience. Yes, villagers wander around and they can perform some basic tasks (like cooking). But building anything at a large scale — while enjoyable — could take quite some time. And despite Square Enix’s attempts to design mechanics that make building easy, it could still occasionally feel a little like a chore. I often wanted to hold a town meeting and delegate building tasks to the villagers so we could all band together.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 answers this point by offering up much larger — and far more complex — blueprints for truly massive, multi-level structures. Better yet, villagers can collaborate to help you build these enormous structures. Of course, you can still choose to be the primarily builder of everything, but now you at least have the option to have everyone roll their sleeves up and chip in. This could potentially leave you with more capacity to do other things (gather materials, pursue quests, and so on).
Allies in battle
Dragon Quest Builders 2 leverages the community theme well beyond simply having villagers complete various busywork for you. As well as assisting you with those tasks, villagers can also become your allies in battle. While it’s true that the villagers in the first game did assist in some scenarios (especially when you were defending your town against a nighttime assault), Dragon Quest Builders 2 leans into the concept much more heavily.
What this all means in practice is that your individual player character is quite a bit weaker than before. Your ability to take on enemies single-handedly is greatly reduced. But the compensation here is that you’ll be partying up with others to tackle enemies. Theoretically, you’re supposed to really be a builder — that’s your specialisation. Combat is secondary, and there will be cases where some of your allies will be quite a bit more capable in combat than you are. Thankfully, too, you don’t take any damage in Dragon Quest Builders 2 simply from touching enemies. This was one of my biggest frustrations with the combat in the first game. This makes manoeuvring around enemies quite a bit more doable.
Evolution, not revolution
For the most part, Dragon Quest Builders 2 doesn’t seek to completely reinvent the series — rather, it leverages the foundation of the first game and expands upon it in several meaningful ways.
As well as the major changes described above, there is a laundry list of other enhancements. Everything from a first-person view, to the ability to dash (thank you!), to swimming (and the ability to place special water blocks that — like Minecraft — will flow across surfaces realistically, enabling you to create moats, rivers, and more sophisticated farming areas).
I’m personally excited about what Dragon Quest Builders 2 brings to the table, and I’m keen to get my hands on it soon. If you aren’t quite ready for the sequel but you want to dip your toes in the water, you can still easily find the original Dragon Quest Builders on numerous platforms (including PS3, PS4, PS Vita, and Switch). I highly recommend it.