Nightfall is fast approaching. I’m starving, I’m wounded, and I’m running low on ways to remedy both of those problems. With barely any food or medicine left, I carefully make my way back to camp while avoiding deadly creatures of the night, but with my home in sight, I catch the attention of a pack of starving beasts and force myself to sprint toward safety without a moment to spare. I slam my door behind me, rest in bed, and live to see another day.
This isn’t an experience from the latest early access survival game, or a harrowing tale of my commute back home after a long day of work. Instead, this is one of many scenarios I encountered during my time in the world of Dragon Quest Builders 2. Come to this expecting Minecraft with a JRPG-tinged coat of paint, and you might be pleasantly shocked by just how much more there is to this game.
That news won’t be quite as revelatory if you played the previous game, though. The original Dragon Quest Builders was a pretty original beast, too, blending Minecraft building with light survival mechanics and a heaped helping of Dragon Quest story and charm to create a delightfully open-ended crafting experience. The sequel takes those already stellar foundations and expands every part of it significantly.
Most exciting to me was just how much the story of Dragon Quest Builders 2 has grown compared to the original. The first game had a unique premise and characters, but it was quick to set you up in a lush open world and get you building and crafting right out the gate. The sequel takes its time in getting you to that same point. You start out as a builder who’s been kidnapped by a literal skeleton crew of rogue monsters who have set out to avenge the destruction of their clan by capturing and killing every builder across the land.
You’re stranded in the open seas with them, and these creatures put you to task fixing their ship and running so many errands that they start to take a liking to you. Unfortunately, rogue winds and tough waters push the ship to its limits, sending you and the crew deep into the briny depths. Luckily you wake up shipwrecked on an abandoned island, you meet a surviving hostage from the ship, a hot-blooded amnesiac and a hairy mallet-wielding monster spirit. Together, your quirky crew needs to travel to nearby islands in order to find new building materials, recruit villagers and restore your abandoned island back to its once bustling majesty.
The original Dragon Quest Builders hooked me with the fact that it strung along building and gathering tasks with a simple yet charming story. Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes things to an entirely different level, though. Every piece of dialogue is rich and flavourful, and the cast of characters is so off the walls compared to the original game. The way the story of this game relates to the narrative of the original Dragon Quest II is sure to drop the jaws of a few long-time fans, as well.
Much like the story, the gameplay is expanded and updated in big ways. The basic order of operations remain the same: explore an island, destroy items, get building materials, make new items, and so on and so forth until you’ve got a five-story castle with a secret slime pit and a twenty-foot deep moat. Various quality of life changes make this sandbox more enjoyable to play in, though. New sprinting and cape-gliding actions give you fun ways to explore the island, while an increased building height limit and the ability to swim and explore in oceans give you unparalleled verticality.
Perhaps the biggest change in Builders 2 is the increased focus on community and group-effort. The multiplayer aspect of this is made apparent immediately and you can visit other friends’ worlds to goof around and build structures, though story missions are kept off-limits. In single player, things also expand in a more communal direction as you progress through the game. Villagers can help you build and fight, and the more villagers you recruit, the larger the obstacles you face can become. Battles become massive tower defence struggles between hordes of monsters and your own companions. Huge and daunting building tasks, meanwhile, can be contributed to by your villagers while you head off to handle other things like tackling tough enemies or farming crops. I enjoyed having a couple of companions assist me in battling baddies or gathering materials, but having huge amounts of characters to keep track of and cooperate with sometimes left me a little overwhelmed and longing for the solitary simplicity of the first game.
I was also left longing for a bit more optimization when it came to the Nintendo Switch version of Dragon Quest Builders 2. Load times can be increeeeddiiibly long in the game, and I found myself wondering if my installation was corrupted when I first launched the game or switched islands and was faced with the agonisingly long loading times. As beautiful as the UI is in this game, with fun fonts and crisp illustrations, I often found myself having to squint at the incredibly small pop-up dialogues that appeared whenever a new mechanic arrived in the game during portable play.
It’s easy to forgive these flaws, though. Not just because of how fun the game is or how charming the story is, but because of how incredible the visuals are. The aesthetic of combining blocky Minecraft style environments with lush lighting and vivid, cartoony Dragon Quest monsters and characters is always such a treat to look at. Soaking in these sights with the fully featured first-person mode and photo mode is a blast.