Dragon Quest Builders 2 by Square Enix released in 2018 on the Switch but has been ported to the Xbox and PlayStation consoles this year. It is a block building game in the same vein as Minecraft but with monsters from the long running Dragon Quest franchise.
Maybe because I’m not the targeted demographic for this game, but to me at least it appears to have flown largely under the radar. Perhaps if I were a schoolboy this would be different, not knowing many school age children I have no idea if Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the current ‘in’ thing, but I doubt it. Yet, I do feel it deserves to be talked about.
Releasing to consoles last month and dropping on Xbox Game Pass there was no reason for me to not give this a red hot go. I downloaded it as soon as it was available and then it sat there, as many GP games do, un-played on my storage for a couple of weeks.
Never having played a Dragon Quest game, baring the first few hours of XI (thanks Game Pass). Those hours not gripping me enough to continue my Quest. And having played enough hours of Minecraft in my life to know it as an addiction not an enjoyable time. I really had no pressing need to try DQB2.
Yet now, 8 hours into the game, I can happily say that this isn’t Minecraft, and what’s more, it’s a little bit fantastic.
I’ll start with the bad, so you need not waste your time on this game or even the rest of this review if any of these negatives are deal breakers for you.
This game will hold your hand, and not let go, no matter how much your struggle or smash buttons. I can’t figure out the reason for this. When you complete a mission objective there is a little bit of fanfare during which time you are rendered immobile and must look on at the celebratory sticker for far too many seconds, presumably while it finishes its little tune.
I must presume this as I played most the time on almost no volume. From the little I could hear there is an item collection ‘bling’ sound with every single bit of material you pick up. Somewhere between satisfying and insufferable. Either way, the story is all in text box conversations so, and I apologies to sound designers, the sound can do one. It’s a perfect game to play while listening to music or a podcast.
Further to the hand holding complaint, the tutorial is built into the first missions, but this goes on for hours. With each of these ‘funny’ conversations with NPCs giving the smallest instruction as to how to play the game.
“Press A to pick things up, but before you go, let me berate and banter with you for 10 dialogue screens. Once you’re done picking up 6 barrels come back for the rest of my hilarious speech.”
I would accept this as being a requirement of a kids game, if there wasn’t humour I consider a little too mature for the 4 year olds who would need this level of coddling. But I’ll chalk this up to being little hidden laughs for the adults playing alongside their children, ala the Disney films of old.
While it does drag on way longer than it should before getting you into anything resembling free roam, I do prefer this to the Minecraft method of ‘Better look up the wiki and prepare to hide in a small dark hole the first night’. As it at least has structure, there is a narrative here which makes me want to play the game.
Typically, with Minecraft, I start up, build myself a fort, realise there is nothing to do and turn it off for a year or two until I next get a desire to construct a clubhouse.
Give me a story and a reason to build and I’m instantly more willing to carry on doing so.
What’s more the building itself is more advanced. There is a layer of programmed intelligence to it that feels so much better than just stacking blocks. For example, you build a two-block high square, put a door on it, add two beds, a notification pops up labelling this space as a bedroom.
You build a table, stick a stool next to it, put a bowl on the table and it becomes a dining table.
Then the NPCs will use these for purpose. They help themselves to food from the community chest, walk to the table, sit down, and eat. Like playing the SIMS but you don’t have to control when your characters take a piss to stop them ruining their day and trousers.
Putting a scare crow down turns the squares around it into a field, then the civilians will come and tend to it automatically. We get attacked by a swarm of bats and the armed militia will jump to the job at hand, without instruction.
One problem I thought I had was that you aren’t free to move when placing down a block. It felt a little stiff that I’d have to stop place block and move. Rather than the quick running backwards while laying down a string of blocks I’m expecting from MC Steve. However, it turns out DQB2 has a better way to do this. When placing a block there is an arrow pointing in a direction, this is the direction that the blocks will continue to place if you keep pressing X. No need to even be facing them, just tap that X and your line is done.
All in all, this game feels like a more structured and intelligent block builder game. You can create your own fun, but there is a narrative to make it feel worthwhile. Maybe that’s the ‘noobs Minecraft’. But frankly I have no desire to red stone wire up a working Pacman emulator over the course of a few years, so a game where I get to build a fort and have fun and it not feel like a chore is very welcome.
I’m yet to play this with friends, I think any casual MC players who are more interested in satisfying fighting and base building will find Dragon Quest Builders 2 to be a step up. You just need to get through the rather dull tutorial hours first.
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