As a big fan of the original Dragon Quest Builders, I was amazed at just how much better the sequel is.
DQB 2 is everything a sequel should be. An evolution on the original mechanics with a better-paced narrative, new discoveries, vast environments, and great characters.
And it’s also the funniest game I’ve played this year by a country mile. Both through intentional and unintentional means.
The first game was a cool and clever experiment that worked for the most part, but sometimes felt a bit weighed down by its ambition. This time, Square Enix have not only found a comfortable rhythm, but they’ve hammered it home so efficiently that they’ve now got a sure-fire Game of the Year contender.
Amazingly, they’ve captured the feeling of adventure you’d find in a mainline Dragon Quest game, but layered it with the sort of experience that can be compared to a Stardew Valley or Minecraft.
As I mentioned, though, this isn’t just a straight-laced carbon copy of what’s come before. There’s big changes to the way you get around, such as swimming underwater and fast travel around the maps.
By touching and illuminating a ‘Naviglobe’ you can teleport to different areas at the tap of a button. This was the game’s biggest and most notable adjustment for me. I often found myself getting waylaid, sidetracked and sometimes lost in DQB 1 but such a simple upgrade to the UI here has made the game much more manageable and user-friendly.
And the point about being user-friendly is, for me, most important. The core game is still the same in that you smash things with your hammer to collect raw materials, learn new recipes, and build amazing creations to rally people to your cause.
But where DQB 2 has gone to the next level is in the way it’s given each character more room to demonstrate their abilities. While your trusted pal, Malroth, remains by your side most of the time to fight things, you’ll often team up with other townsfolk who have their own set of skills.
And what we have as a result is a game that actually starts to dabble with a form of a party system, each individual providing a different service. A homage, perhaps, to the RPGs it’s spinning off from.
Most interestingly, your builder isn’t the only one in the whole world who can create amazing buildings from mind-palace like blueprints. Others will learn by watching and working with you. And as the game progresses, over time you’ll find yourself beginning to take a bit of a backseat on things.
Another big upgrade from the original is the ‘bag’, a near bottomless inventory system where you can store all your materials in one place and grab all your materials with ease, bringing them to the main taskbar, or storing them away.
There were so many problems with picking things up and throwing them away in the original DQB but this is a proper answer to those problems. Again, another tick in the game’s accessibility column.
In another interesting turn of events, the idea of building has actually been outlawed by the Children of Hargon. A cult you’ll be familiar with if you played Dragon Quest II.
From the very beginning, it feels like you’re fanning the flames of a revolution, going against those who are trying to conquer and see the very world around you reduced to rubble and ash. It’s a nice twist.
This makes DQB2 feel like more than just a spin-off of the main series, and actually acts like an alternate timeline leading into the events of mainline DQ2. I really like that. Because it gives the game a fresh sense of direction and validity in approach, making it more canon than throw away.
It shows the level of commitment and trust this series has rightfully earned and offers exciting incentives for hardcore DQ fans as well as vets and newcomers to Builders. Whether that’s through the unique sense of humour the games have, creating an immediate connection with its fanbase or through the addictive mechanics that encourage you to keep doing ‘one more mission’
But of course, the crux of the game is in the building and creating. Frankly, the possibilities are nigh on endless here. You’ll start simple by carving out fields, planting and harvesting crops, and forming small barn houses.
Over time, though, you’ll be clambering up castle walls, fighting giants, gliding through the open skies, and travelling to other continents by sea. It’s so much more grandiose and epic than DQB 1 and better suited to your ambitions and expectations than before.
A lot of that is facilitated by the Gratitude system, which sees you earn favour from your townsfolk by performing side missions, teaching them new skills, or indeed furthering the prospect of civilisation by growing food or providing shelter.
Level it up and you can ring the town bell to increase the abilities of your residents while learning new tricks yourself and increase the reach of your realm. But of course, as your reputation grows, so you’re more prone to enemy attack.
And then we come to arguably the biggest improvement, the game’s combat. It never felt quite right in the first game as it often seemed hampered by a lack of progression. DQB 2 manages this so well, though, by boosting you and your companion’s health, proficiency in battle, while letting you build new weapons and armor as you grow.
Strikes feel like they land, battles are often close-run affairs, and you will sometimes just have to tuck tail and run if the odds aren’t in your favour. It’s about picking your spots and knowing when you have the advantage. Sometimes the environment can also help in that and sometimes a little bit of building can protect you if the going gets tough.
All told, it makes your builder actually feel like a competent warrior as you evolve each level and there’s a lot of creativity on offer to continously make battles interesting.
Couple that with the bolstering community features boasted by the game, allowing you to co-op with your friends and strangers to build weird and wonderful things, while also showing off your pictures in a series of neat competitions.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 just feels like a more well-rounded, better polished, much-improved game in every sense of the word. I am completely hooked and am in absolute awe at what’s been achieved here.
And I cannot stop laughing at some of the most absurd exchanges in dialogue. There’s a real devilish wit at play in the background, peppering lines with a salty and sassiness that never fails to make me snort and giggle.
I adore Dragon Quest Builders 2 so very much. We need more games like this in an industry that’s becoming saturated with similar experiences. Every now and then, we need a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still gives us so much to think about that we can’t wait until we next play it.
If Dragon Quest Builders 2 doesn’t end up as my Game of the Year, then it’s going to have to be something very special that winds up taking that crown.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is out now on PS4 and Switch
Review code kindly provided by Nintendo
Tested on Switch