If you’ve travelled into the endless realms of Minecraft and pondered something with a little more structure to it, Dragon Quest Builders combines the rush of creation with the gentle guidance of a lite role-playing system. Its charming visuals that delight the senses, easy to pick up mechanics and a massive range of crafting recipes make it an intoxicating loop of adventure that’s difficult to put down. Even when it’s more lacklustre systems push and shove to get in the way.
Taking place in an alternate version of Dragon Quest lore, where the hero of the first game was not victorious against the Dragonlord, Builders finds itself with a blank slate to start with. In a literal sense too. The world that you’re thrust upon is broken and shattered, and its sparse inhabitants forgetful of the ways in which simple tools are built. You, as the builder, are bestowed with that one keen gift: the ability to create. You aren’t a hero with a sword that is going bring about change to the world through force. You’re going to rebuild it, one block at a time.
Builder’s blocky exterior immediately makes itself familiar, as land shatters and breaks to the faintest of touches. Pieces of earth can become foundations to a new settlement, while flowers nearby can be crafted for medicinal purposes. Builder’s advertises itself as a much broader version of Alchemy in a way. Just like the smartphone game tasks you with combining simple raw elements to create increasingly complex recipes, it all starts at the same core place. Builder’s introduces this curve in a much steadier fashion, making it a well-paced adventure that constantly has you learning along the way.
Recipes aren’t confined to objects either. With each passing chapter, you’re given the task of rebuilding what was lost during a dark time in the land. That means helping out fellow inhabitants by creating safe, sheltered spaces for them to live. Each room brings with it another piece of the puzzles. Rooms fitted with specific furniture or tools will transform into established pieces of your settlement. And with that comes rewards. Settlers might craft you items while you’re away, or receive stat boosts to their health and attacking power with others. Your changes to their surroundings have a tangible effect and their lives, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see in play.
Scouting the surrounding lands and teleporting to entirely new ones is part of the progression, giving you access to new resources that in turn give you ideas for new recipes. This can be as simple as crafting an axe to cut down a tree or forging a mighty hammer to displace some ghoulish fire-breathing gargoyles. Sometimes resources are animate, and you’ll have to hunt down foes for items such as feathers and meat. Having these foes pick from the range of low-level creatures you might find in Dragon Quest is a clever way to contextualise your place in this world. You’ll occasionally be thrust into bigger, more meaningful battles from time to time, but it’s the day to day struggles of survival that Builders drives home so well.
And while it might get the atmosphere right, Builders falters when it comes to engagement. This isn’t a turn-based RPG at all, with the game instead adopting a very simple action approach to its combat. You can simply hack away at a foe with a single attack and flee when the choose to return the favour. Nothing more. It’s easy to get to grips with and simple enough to mash your way through when you start crafting seriously powerful weapons an armour, but it’s far less engaging than anything happening around it.
The same can be said for actually traversing the lands have around you. While Builders features a host of interesting quests to seek out outside of your mainline tale, actually getting around can devolve into a tedious back and forth between your base camp and the wilds. Building creative solutions to simple platforming puzzles is never tiring, but having to return to your settlement to hand in a quest only to be told to go back to where you came from is a slog. Especially when there’s no single means of fast transportation aside from magically flying back to your settlement in a pinch.
It’s a minor gripe but a pretty glaring one when you’re constantly forced to explore the same regions over and over again before they start really opening up. And given how long Dragon Quest Builders expects you to stay, it’s a problem that detracts from the otherwise gleeful act of hunting and gathering.
Quests from settlers can sway from compelling to boring quickly too, but their stories around them help keep them at the very least captivating. Your first settlement, as an example, is themed around a city that turned on itself in dire times, while another is all about plagued inhabitants struggling to curse themselves of a myriad of diseases. Your quests around these areas unravel the secrets they hold, which makes the text-heavy exposition worth it most of the time. It peppers up objectives too, even when you can so clearly see through their fetch and return roots.
Still it’s nice to have direction where it would otherwise mean a trip to a wiki. Having an easy resource to check on past creations and known room combinations is a must when the lists start overflowing, but Builders keeps this balance in checks with suitably logical resource combinations and means to acquire them. I can’t recall ever scratching my head over where to turn to next, but I did have to make a couple of unnecessary trips back to quest givers to get a recap. The omission of a quest log seems pretty strange here given the care to check listing everything else, and it would’ve been nice to have in this new port.
What isn’t compromised on the Nintendo Switch though is the quality of the game’s visuals and sound, which shine and blast through in the best ways. The colourful worlds you’re given the chance to roam around in use their block aesthetic and Dragon Quest roots to great effect, satiating both camps of those who might be looking to hit. The music is a real winner though, with suitably nostalgic tunes playing as you cross into each new area. The delightful chimes when you pick up items or turn in a quest are incredible too, and always managed to bring a smile to my face.
In fact, there are few times when I didn’t catch myself entirely enthralled with what Dragon Quest Builders was throwing at me. It’s cathartic loop of gathering and building checks all the boxes I might have been looking for in a sandbox experience of this ilk. And while Builders does offer that in its own standalone creation mode, it’s the tale and it’s captivating quest givers that kept me really coming back. Dragon Quest Builders is neither exclusively for Dragon Quest or building fans alone. But it makes a strong case for anyone just looking for another great time sink on the go.
Last Updated: February 7, 2018