Dragon Quest Builders was meant to be an experiment for Square Enix, to test the waters with a unique and interesting cross between the mainline Dragon Quest series’ fundamental role playing elements and the building and mining mechanics of worldwide phenomenon Minecraft. As good as Builders was though, it was pretty clear that there was plenty of room for improvement there. From its structuring to various niggling issues that could be improved by quality of life upgrades and a great deal else, there were many who felt that with a potential sequel, the formula could be refined much more to make for a significantly more enjoyable experience.
"Like an ideal sequel, Dragon Quest Builders 2 introduces improvements both big and small to improve upon the strong foundation of its predecessor, while also addressing its biggest issues."
Happily, that is exactly what Dragon Quest Builders 2 does. Like an ideal sequel, it introduces improvements both big and small to improve upon the strong foundation of its predecessor, while also addressing its biggest issues- the biggest of which is, undoubtedly, the way it is structured. Back when I reviewed the first Builders for Switch in 2017, I mentioned how one of the few things that impacted my enjoyment of the game was its structuring, and how after every chapter the game essentially forced the player to start from scratch, losing all your progress and, as such, your character’s progression, all your equipment, and anything you may have built.
That was something that felt almost disheartening at the end of each chapter, and made any progress you were making feel a little less meaningful, with the knowledge that all of it would be wiped clean not long from now anyway. With Dragon Quest Builders 2 though, that is no longer the case. It freely hands you the tools and the playground to build whatever your imagination can conjure up, and smartly makes sure to not get in the way of that.
There’s no chapters anymore- you start out with a central hub island – a massive playing ground that you’re free to explore, build on, and shape into whatever you want it to be – and venture out into the world to travel to surrounding islands. On each new island you meet, befriend, and aid new NPCs, learning new building tricks and tips, crafting new recipes, and just building your overall builder’s repertoire, while also having the freedom to travel back to any of the other islands, or go back to the hub island to continue building and expanding your home base.
"Each island has you doing new things and learning new stuff that you can put to use back at your home base, so it always feels like you’re making meaningful progress."
You can’t take any of the resources you have mined with you from one island to the other, but that doesn’t ever end up feeling like effectively starting over from scratch. That’s because each new island focuses on different things, offers up completely new resources to mine, completely new resources to create, and new blueprints to create buildings from. Each island has you doing new things and learning new stuff that you can put to use back at your home base, so it always feels like you’re making meaningful progress.
The progression within each island has also been refined noticeably. The first Builders saw each of your bases leveling up with every new thing you built within it or upon completion of missions. Functionality, progression in the sequel is quite similar, but with a new coating that makes it feel a bit more organic. Building new rooms and buildings and improving them or making improvements to your base in even the tiniest ways – such as harvesting some cabbage patches – results in NPCs bursting with joy and gratitude and dropping hearts for you to collect. Upon collecting a certain amount of the hearts that they drop, you’re allowed to upgrade your base, which results not only in you learning a bunch of new recipes for building things, but also improves the building capabilities of all the NPCs.
That last bit is important because NPCs play a much more active role in Builders 2 than they did in the first game. Rather than just existing to hand out quests to you, they’re much more involved in actual gameplay. For starters, you no longer venture out for exploration and combat alone, and are always accompanied by at least one character to assist you. This was something the original Builders played around with, but Builders 2 greatly expands this idea. NPCs in your bases also contribute to the expansion of the base much more, and you’ll constantly finding them undertaking mundane tasks that you would otherwise have to take care of, including the likes of watering plants and tilling the soil. This also greatly helps the flow of the game, because it often cuts out the need to do the most mundane things, and with them having already been taken care of, you can get right to the good stuff.
"NPCs play a much more active role in Builders 2 than they did in the first game. Rather than just existing to hand out quests to you, they’re much more involved in actual gameplay."
Several quality of life improvements also make the entire experience a much more user-friendly one. Builders 2 makes a bunch of small improvements in this area, which in isolation may not seem like much, but anyone who spent a few hours with the first game would appreciate. For instance, you can now immediately decide how many of something you want to craft rather than having to go into the crafting menu and making it over and over again. The builder’s hammer and the weapons that you use in combat have also been separated and are controlled by different buttons, so you no longer have to constantly swap between the two (though the hammer becomes very ineffective in combat as a result). You can now also pick things up and reposition them, rather than having to smash them down to the point where you could pick them up and gather them in your inventory, essentially cutting out the need to go into your menus multiple times. Similarly, weapon degradation, a mechanic that ultimately affected the gameplay in Builders very little, has also been done away with. All this streamlining of ideas makes Builders 2 a much leaner experience.
Some issues with the first game, however, haven’t been addressed even now. While exploration can be a lot of fun, especially thanks to all the challenge puzzles you might find lying about which can reward you with some pretty useful perks, combat itself remains largely shallow. All you’re really doing is mashing the same button over and over again, and moving out of the way of any incoming attacks every once in a while. It’s not particularly challenging, and definitely the least engaging part of the entire experience- the fact that you’re almost always accompanied by at least one other NPC during combat makes it somewhat more bearable, in that you can just sit back and let the NPCs do the boring stuff. It’s also a doubled edged sword though, because that means you’re even less involved in the proceedings than you would have been otherwise.
Issues with the story still persist. Just like its predecessor’s story presented an alternate, “what-if” scenario of the first mainline Dragon Quest title, so to does Builders 2 do with Dragon Quest 2. Dragon Quest Builders wasn’t a game anyone would be playing for its story, and its sequel isn’t either, so this isn’t a huge knock against it- but without spoiling anyone, anyone who’s played Dragon Quest 2 (or has a basic understanding of its narrative) would know the path Builders 2’s story will be taking right from the get go, while even the uninitiated wouldn’t need too long to catch on. It’s still overflowing with charm and the silly, endearing humour the series has always been known for, while the characters you meet also display no lack of personality, so it’s not like there’s nothing keeping you going even if you somehow care about the storytelling here- but it’s still all too predictable, which is disappointing.
"Just like its predecessor’s story presented an alternate, “what-if” scenario of the first mainline Dragon Quest title, so to does Builders 2 do with Dragon Quest 2."
By and large, Dragon Quest Builders 2 does what any sequel should ideally do. It takes the strengths of its predecessors and makes sure to let them shine through by remove all the excess and trimming all the fat around them. With a smarter UI, much-needed quality of life improvements, and a couple of new mechanics and features, it’s a much leaner, more organic, and more enjoyable Builders experience, and feels like a proper realization of the experiment that the first game was. It doesn’t break the mould or introduce anything radically new, but thankfully, it doesn’t really need to. For any Dragon Quest fan, or for anyone who liked the first Builders, this is an easy game to recommend.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Much-needed quality of life improvements; Leaner UI; Drastically improved structure makes for much more organic progression; NPCs are significantly more involved in the game and help cut out a lot of the mundane stuff.
Combat still feels shallow and dull; Disappointing story.