A blank canvas can be liberating. Without lines to draw within or rules to abide by, an artist is free to express themselves in the rawest fashion, creating something unique. To others, it can be equally intimidating. Without a guiding hand or an inkling of direction, the idea of unbridled freedom can be inhibiting. It’s why games like Minecraft strike a certain chord with some players, and completely miss others.
Dragon Quest Builders lets you colour within the lines. It points you towards where you should be going, helps you envision how your creations should be built and gives you purpose to your expansive construction journey. Dragon Quest Builders 2 doesn’t mess with the formula its predecessor established too much, but it does refine it into a more palatable, welcoming experience.
Like the first game, Dragon Quest Builders 2 makes a point of emphasising that you’re not a hero. You aren’t a prophesied future ruler of a kingdom, destined to pull a sword from a stone or vanquish a growing evil. Instead, you’re a visionary – a single master builder that can conjure up recipes and ideas for tools and buildings, helping guide the rest of humanity along in a world where invention is both forgotten and frowned upon. Washing ashore on a mysterious, dilapidated island, you’re tasked with venturing out to surrounding specks of land to gather the tools and supplies you’ll need to transform it into a livable paradise, helping anyone along the way.
The larger of these islands can be thought of as individual acts to the story. They landlock you for hours, plunging you into the plight of its inhabitants as you help them rebuild and, hopefully, enlist their aid for your own projects back home. They don’t last if the acts in the first Builders, which often felt needlessly padded out and bloated with some repetitive objectives. The missions you’re given here are more streamlined and straight forward, plainly laying out where you need to go and what you need to build with a little freedom to interpret where you can. Building a barn, for example, only requires a room with a few decorative items, but lets you decide how big or how small it can be for the purposes you’re building it.
You build block by block again, changing between what types of materials you’re putting down depending on what you need. Rooms need solid walls that are at least two blocks high, made from wood or stone. Crops used to grow useful produce need unspoiled soil so that your food can grow healthy. Acquiring the materials you need is easier this time too. Item durability is gone, replaced by static tools that you’ll be rewarded with as the story progresses to help you mine or collect resources you require. A wooden hammer you get near the start of your adventure will serve you well for multiple hours without breaking (like the first game), but you’ll never have to make menial trips back to a workbench to craft a sword for the one that just broke. It’s a smart change that reduces some of the survival-like elements to Builders 2, even though its equally obtrusive hunger meter still made the cut.
Builders 2 also shifts some of its quest objectives over from simple construction to other tasks like farming. In the first game, each settlement you built had a level associated with it, increasing as you added rooms and facilities to it before eventually culminating in a boss fight. Builders 2 shakes this up by using its quests to govern progression, and the happiness of your villagers to fuel level upgrades to your settlements. I was never forced to grind out levels to progress further, with each story quest generally giving me enough for what I needed to move forward at a brisk pace.
Regular settlement defence sequences and big boss fights return, but they too feel less repetitive thanks to unique building objectives that culminate in massive structures, built by you and all the characters you’ve aided up until that point. Dragon Quest Builders 2 does a good job of making your contributions to each settlement feel impactful by having it inhabitants pay back the favour in some way. Seeing a towering tree sprout up thanks to the efforts of multiple characters makes its completion feel special – not because you did it for someone else, but rather because it signifies a collective effort that you’ve been building towards.
Companions will also accompany you on quests regularly now, with one character constantly at your side to aid you in battle and helping you gather up resources. It makes both a little easier to engage with given their singular-noted nature and is especially useful in the monotone combat. Although Dragon Quest Builders 2 moves weapons to a separate inventory slot to your tools (meaning you no longer have to keep shuffling between them) the combat system is left relatively untouched. It’s still the same one-button mashing as before, only spiced up by random critical hits and some especially powerful effects from different weapons you craft (my favourite poison needle was able to kill enemies instantly at random, which is fun).
Many of the role-playing elements from the first game have been similarly ironed over, giving you fewer decisions to make about what weapons and armour you’re currently crafting and making the recipes for them a lot easier to complete. I was changing between both infrequently, usually just upgrading to the next best thing when it became available and giving little thought to what stat changes it introduced beyond not dying as quickly as before. It makes the already simple combat even more so, but in turn, makes your adventures to gather resources you need less daunting. Builders 2 strives when it’s focusing you on building up your settlement block by block, so it’s welcoming to have its more esoteric elements make way for this.
It’s cathartic to be sucked up into its loop of gathering up what you need, returning to your settlement and emptying out your bounty into tangible upgrades for you and your villagers. Simply refining soil so it can be tilled for growing crops, or constructing a small personal room for a kind and wanting friend feel as important as venturing out into the unknown world and uncovering why it has lost hope in the art of creation. This world isn’t littered with much to do beyond some small puzzles (think far simpler Breath of the Wild Korok challenges) and some optional boss fights but coming across a new material and opening up new construction ideas with it makes each venture feel worthwhile. If you’re not invested in Dragon Quest and its lore it can be frustrating to have this loop consistently paused for lengthy text-dialogue sequences, especially when character writing can swing from endearing to cringy. But it’s just a brief pitstop en-route to more exploration, which is difficult yo pull away from.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is clearly built for those who enjoyed the first game, making small and smart changes to the formula it established and streamlining its systems to be more welcoming and focused. Its removal of some survival elements and pivot to more structured progression remove some previous frustrations and repetitiveness respectively, letting you see your progress unfurl in a large evolving map rather than having your progress wiped and reset between each act. Its intoxicating gameplay loop makes gathering resources and laying them down a treat, only briefly letting up when you’re forced to engage with its serviceable but unexciting combat. Dragon Quest Builders 2 doesn’t ask you to be a fan of the mainline JRPG series to enjoy it, and there’s a lot of enjoyment to unearth over its lengthy runtime.
Last Updated: July 11, 2019