Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review (Switch)

One of my greatest Switch RPG delights of 2018 came in the form of the original Dragon Quest Builders. The combination of Minecraft-like crafting, building, and exploration with the art design and narrative influences of Dragon Quest made for a truly unique experience – one which, I believe, could be enjoyed even by those not historically fond of the building/crafting genre. Dragon Quest Builders 2 expands upon the groundwork laid out by its predecessor, and does so with overwhelming success.

Before diving into the details, it is important to understand that knowledge of the first game isn’t required, nor do you have to be a fan of Dragon Quest – or crafting – to get something out of this game. As it stands, Dragon Quest Builders 2 will easily satisfy returning fans of the subseries, as well as those just looking to shake the standard RPG formula up a bit.

Story

In a world that frowns upon any sort of creation, the Children of Hargon – devout followers of the late, diabolical high priestess, Hargon – have made it their mission to sway as many people away from anything pertaining to creation as possible via mass oppression and destruction. Most submit to these teachings without question, save for a select few individuals that, unfortunately, can do little about on their own. The world’s only hope lies with one builder, whose narrative begins as they are serving the bidding of the Children of Hargon aboard a ship. By fate, or perhaps chance, a storm splits the ship in two, scattering it to the high seas and giving both the builder and the world the break they so desperately need.

The builder is then marooned upon the mysterious Isle of Awakening, where they befriend Lulu, another survivor from the ship, as well as Malroth, a survivor that, conversely, wasn’t on their ship but is willing to lend a hand. Regardless of their origins, one thing is for certain – if the three are to survive, they must build on the new-found land while also venturing out into the great unknown in search of additional help. The task won’t be easy, however – the Children of Hargon rule with an iron fist, striking fear in the hearts of those foolish enough to go against their destructive ways. It will take the concerted efforts of the builder and their companions in order to bring peace and prosperity to the world once again.

The narrative in Dragon Quest Builders 2 draws inspiration from Dragon Quest II in the same way the first did with Dragon Quest I, but you aren’t required to have played these games in order to fully appreciate the story. Those that have experienced the vintage titles may have a better understanding of some of the characters at play, and what to expect from them, but you aren’t at a disadvantage by going in completely blind either. Regardless of where you stand, Dragon Quest Builders 2 offers a couple surprises that even seasoned Dragon Quest players will likely not see coming.

Make no mistake – Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a completely story-driven experience. Those accustomed to the free-form Minecraft-esque design might be surprised by the sheer amount of dialogue sequences, here. While moments of freedom certainly exist, you cannot hope to progress far without going through lots of mandatory conversations. Dragon Quest Builders 2 isn’t really a game you can rush – in fact, dialogue sequences will take up the majority of your time when it comes to the main story. That said, the writing is well done and, like the first game, perfectly balances humor with truly dark situations.

Gameplay

Coupled with the deep-seated narrative in Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a robust crafting and building system, as well as basic action combat and RPG mechanics thrown in for good measure. The builder and their companions start off on the Isle of Awakening, which essentially serves as the central hub and the equivalent to the free-form “Terra Incognita” mode found in the first game. One key difference exists though – whereas Terra Incognita was basically its own separate entity from the main campaign, Dragon Quest Builders 2 fully incorporates this more “creative mode” into the story, and does so quite well.

The builder will explore numerous islands in hopes of recruiting people to their cause, all the while bringing back resources (and knowledge) obtained from the adventure to the Isle of Awakening. While you might start off with very little initially, the builder’s toolkit, capabilities, and influence will increase with every action performed. Not only that, but the builder’s passion for creation will inevitably rub off others as well, bringing about an all-out building renaissance that is sure to leave a resounding impact on the world. In short, explore new lands, help their citizens, and the world as a whole turns out all the better for it.

Progress, whether on the Isle of Awakening or another area, is broken into to loads of bite-sized objectives. As one of – if not the only – builder in existence, you’ll have to meet the needs of those around you by solving their problems, all the while dealing with the potential backlash from those that (forcefully?) follow the Children of Hargon. The story-based tasks vary in requirements, but almost always boil down to having to build/craft something, retrieve an item from a certain area, or defeat a specific enemy.

Building and crafting goes hand-in-hand with exploration, seeing as the materials you gather are key to crafting in the first place. Building structures is as a easy as placing blocks on the ground in a grid with varying complexity based on the end goal or blueprint desired. Some buildings require certain objects within them in order to be considered “proper rooms,” though the shape, size, and placement of said items within their four walls are generally up to the Builder’s discretion. You won’t have to build everything on your own this time, though. On many occasions, the individuals that you befriend will be inspired by your works and want to pitch in themselves. There are multiple, massive structures that must be built to progress the story that would take ages to complete without help. This is where your hard recruitment work pays off: with seeing everyone – many of which once followed the destructive teachings of the Children of Hargon – collaborate on a massive structure is a genuine pleasure to behold.

Returning players from the first game will be happy to know that many quality of life improvements have been made to the construction process. One of many examples of this would be the consolidation of numerous blocks in favor of a singular block that can serve multiple purposes. For example: a single roof tile that changes shape based on its surroundings, rather than having multiple, individual roof blocks to keep up with. This change makes it much easier to build without over-complicating the process and helps free up your inventory for more important things. Additionally, your carry limit has been increased on many common items (some up to 999), and you unlock access to a bottomless bag very early in your adventure, negating almost any issue that might arise in regards to your inventory.

The Builder has access to an assortment of tools that each serve their own purpose. The trusty hammer can break blocks, the bottomless jar can collect liquids and, in turn, dispense an infinite amount elsewhere. The flute can help you find far-off, valuable resources, and the glove can easily move or rotate previously placed objects. Additional tools like the trowel – which allows for putting walls up with ease or swapping a group of blocks in a single whack – are available, but are gated behind tablet targets on the Isle of Awakening, which we’ll come back to later.

If you aren’t building-inclined, fear not – you can spend as much (or as little) time as you want with each story objective, though you’re likely to enjoy things more if you make the most of each situation. For example, an objective might be as simple as throwing up a few walls, a door, and a light source for someone in need, but you aren’t penalized for going beyond those base requirements, either. Nothing is stopping you from decking out that hut with the best-of-the-best, including capping it with a fancy, architecturally-savvy roof. In one of my habitats, I spent a solid hour building a glass ceiling on a cluster of bathrooms before filling it with flowing water, providing a much-needed, relaxing ambiance for those on the throne while keeping things obscured from potential peeping toms.

I’ve thought about this too much, haven’t I? But it is moments like these where the true beauty of the game shines through – let your imagination run wild, and there’s no telling what you might build. With as dialogue-heavy as Dragon Quest Builders 2 can be, breaking from those sequences by spending additional time on building objectives or going out and exploring can prove to be beneficial to your sanity in the long run.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 features a lot of optional content that can often times only be found through exploration. Many of the islands you visit will have hidden treasures, puzzles, and mini-bosses that are sure to prove fruitful for adventurers. Traveling is fairly easy in Builders 2 – especially compared to its predecessor – thanks to the inclusion of gliding and fast travel. Gliding, when possible, allows you to soar through the sky with ease, and is unlocked fairly early on in your journey. Fast travel points are primarily unlocked through following the main campaign of each island, but can also be accessed earlier than intended should you choose to comb each island preemptively. Thanks to the incentives from exploration rewards and the aforementioned quality of life features, adventuring in Dragon Quest Builders 2 is fun and relatively pain-free.

Perhaps the two largest bits of optional content (outside of simply building to your heart’s content) come in the form of the Isle of Awakening tablet targets, and the Explorer’s Shores islands. Tablet targets are tasks on the Isle of Awakening – often optional, but not always – that are meant to keep you busy in-between the main story sections that have you traveling abroad. Requirements vary, but are generally tied to improving your island in some way. Completing these objectives awards a mini-medal, which will unlock various unique items at certain thresholds, as well as count towards your progress of unlocking the previously mentioned special tools, like the trowel and magic pencil.

The Explorer Shores are a collection of islands that can be used to easily gather various resources. If the Builder chooses to catalog everything on each island, taking note of the things they come across, they’ll be rewarded with an unlimited supply of some common materials. This can be immensely helpful, as the unlimited materials can be brought to new story islands, unlike everything else that has to remain on the Isle of Awakening between chapters.

With as many strides that Dragon Quest Builders 2 makes in improving various systems over the first title, combat, for better or worse, is almost identical across both games. The biggest difference here is that Malroth, your trusty sidekick, will be at your side for the majority of encounters, giving you an edge in combat and some gathering processes. Battles are generally easy, though the extra hand in some situations is certainly appreciated when facing bosses that tend to be damage sponges. The builder, through leveling up and progressing the story, will eventually unlock an AoE spin attack, as well as a joint finisher with Malroth that can do tons of damage. Outside of that, however, the combat is pretty uninspired, and can be brute-forced in the vast majority of situations.

What I found more entertaining than the combat was the equipment and cosmetic system. The builder can craft a large assortment of gear – many of which have unique properties, like an instant death dagger and gear that reduces fire damage. Some recipes are learned automatically through progression, while others can only be obtained through hunting (and defeating) the many optional bosses. Each piece of equipment has their own distinct look, and if you come across one that really tickles your fancy, you can set it as your default appearance from a cosmetic table, making it visible regardless of your current utility loadout.

With all this in mind, it is easy to see why Dragon Quest Builders 2 is vastly superior to its predecessor in almost every way imaginable – to the point that it would serve little purpose to play the first one at all. A full-blown multiplayer mode exists this time around as well, though I have no first-hand experience of the feature, and therefore cannot adequately report on it.

Presentation

As is the case with all Dragon Quest games, Akira Toriyama’s design is front and center in Dragon Quest Builders 2, and is adorable as ever. Character animations and reactions really help sell the narrative, as well as make almost any situation entertaining to watch. Assets and textures seem much sharper and more defined than in the previous entry, but comes at a rather steep performance cost.

Simply put – the performance here sucks. Whereas 60FPS was commonplace in the first game, Dragon Quest Builders 2 hardly ever reaches that rate, struggling to keep any sort of consistent motion in almost every case. The massive structures you have to frequently build further compound this problem – the castle in Moonbrooke, for example, is one of the best examples of this due to the sheer size of that area. Any way you put it, the performance is not optimal. I cannot say how disappointed I am in that fact after how wonderfully Builders 1 performed on the Switch. I tend to be a performance advocate over anything else, and what is presented here would be a near deal-breaker if it wasn’t for the fact that everything else is so darn good.

Conclusion

Performance woes aside, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a far superior blueprint in comparison to the one laid out by its predecessor. I managed to complete the main campaign in a “measly” 60 hours, and I started rushing a bit towards the end for the sake of this review. Needless to say, there remains a great deal to do even after completing the main campaign, as I haven’t even really started with much free-form building, nor have I tapped into the DLC. With a desire to get creative with building, the inclusion of a multiplayer system, and refinements to the crafting process overall, Dragon Quest Builders 2 can easily captivate players for dozens, if not hundreds of hours – certainly well after the credits have disappeared with the sunset.

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SQLViolist
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SQLViolist

Very nice! I am currently playing through DQ Builders 1 on the Nintendo Switch. I do wish that they would add depth to the combat, though.

That aside, having a game be an outlet for creativity is fantastic! For that alone, this is worth buying.

Question: Is the performance consistently bad? Does it make a difference if play it in docked mode or handheld mode?