Video games are a sequel-driven business. That’s been true for as long as folks have been able to make money off the medium. But in between all the tedium, the over-hype, and inevitable disappointments, you run into a game that just genuinely needed a sequel. The first Dragon Quest Builders was one such game. And Dragon Quest Builders 2 is damn near the perfect sequel to that charming — but still very flawed — build-em-up RPG.
There are still flaws in Dragon Quest Builders 2. It’s a bit wordy, for one. The game takes place in an alternate timeline based on the original Dragon Quest 2. And builders — basically anyone who creates new things — have been excommunicated by religious monsters that worship destruction. The fanatics round up every builder in the world, save one apprentice (you), and cart them off to nobody-knows-where. A timely shipwreck rescues the builder from bondage, however, and introduces you to your new, foul tempered goth boyfriend: Malroth.
All of this is delivered in gobs of on-screen text. It doesn’t end there, either. Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes its sweet time introducing you to the world and every new block building mechanic at your disposal. It’s good that it does, really, even if there might have been a better way to present all this information. Because there is a lot of information. Even fans of the first Dragon Quest Builders will find mountains of new stuff to master.
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That’s part of what I mean when I call this a nearly perfect sequel. It’s not that the game itself is perfect. It’s that it improves upon its predecessor in just about every way you could want. And the biggest change is obvious as soon as you muscle through the first couple tutorials; you don’t lose progress between chapters anymore.
The previous Dragon Quest Builders erased your towns, statues, and toys — built from Minecraft-like blocks in discreet zones — every time you progressed. The idea was to build new towns in very specific ways in order to fend off a boss fight. Once that boss was done, the NPCs you met and the tiny worlds you made for them went away. Then you’d start over. Maybe next time you had to build in a swamp. Maybe it was a desolate wasteland.
Not so in Dragon Quest Builders 2. Now you begin on the Isle of Awakening. The landmass acts as a home base you return to between story-driven sojourns to other islands. Those zones have their own stories and unique NPCs, just like the first game, but secretly serve as even more extended tutorials. The first area teaches you all about farming, for instance. Then you take that knowledge, along with a swathe of helpers and whatever materials you collected along the way, back to the starting isle. And you can return to your existing towns at almost any point. All that hard work you did building a little community? It’s still there for you to enjoy!
The extra characters aren’t just for show, either. They all have their own (admittedly quaint) stories and motives. Rosie is a farmer that dreams of bringing life back to the land. Clayton is a fearful zealot who needs to be coaxed into building. Malroth… likes to break things. That last one especially should make sense to anyone who played the original Dragon Quest 2.
Keeping this cast around for such extended periods, simple as they are, gives them a lot more time to stew. The story of Dragon Quest Builders 2 gets surprisingly deep as a result. The warring ideas of monsters and humans, destruction and creation, and just how necessary they all are get to be pretty heady. This despite the fact that Builders 2 characters look like Dragon Quest themed bobbleheads.
But charm oozes between these features and glues the whole thing together. Malroth and the builder leap into the air to high five each other after every major objective. It’s a cute little detail by itself, but Dragon Quest Builders 2 really commits to the bit. Malroth doesn’t actually know what a high five is, he says, but just feels the overwhelming urge to do it any time something cool happens. It’s a good gag! And besides funny little character moments like these, you also have a smattering of Dragon Quest nostalgia to keep things lubricated. The music sounds like you want it to sound; the monsters are predictably iconic; the gear and upgrades map shockingly well into a game that isn’t actually about turn-based combat.
Speaking of combat, it’s… not great. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is mostly about loving your fellow man and monster, but there are times when you need to fight as well. That’s fine out in the world. You might have to smack a slime or bodkin around for crafting materials. And the boss fights are more like quick puzzles than real battles. But every so often the game also wants you to fend off waves of beasts intent on tearing down your town. These are battles of patience, as you hammer on the same button over and over again, whittling down health bars.
It’s neither challenging nor frustrating. It simply doesn’t feel like it belongs. When the rest of the game is as satisfying as it is — when hammering blocks into farms and facilities feels this good — fighting feels like a useless distraction. Builders 2 improves on the last game, at least, in that Malroth handles a lot of the combat for you. There are even Malroth-only weapons that make him even stronger, while you craft arms and armor for yourself. It takes some of the load off; I just wish it didn’t need to.
Other quality-of-life improvements feel much more cohesive. Your objectives are a lot more flexible now, for one. The first game forced you to create random houses and improvements to fill up your citizens’ happiness meter, in order to progress. The meter is still there. You still need make your allies happy. But satisfaction comes automatically: like when they get breakfast in the morning, if they have a place to relax and wash at night, and whenever they use the bathroom. Don’t let the Minecraft blocks or Akira Toriyama designs fool you. Dragon Quest Builders 2 splits the difference between Animal Crossing and SimCity as much as its other influences. And making your society run like a well-oiled machine is just as satisfying as in those games.
But Builders 2 still stands apart from its influences. It offers an expansive story and strict direction on top of tickling your creativity. The first game went too far in that direction — felt too restrictive. Dragon Quest Builders 2 makes up for past mistakes by finding a mix that feels just right.
Then there’s a nearly infinite inventory, massive upgrades like a hang glider and vehicles, cooperative multiplayer, no more weapon durability… The list just keeps going on and on.
That’s what makes it such a good sequel. It takes all the charm, promise, and unexpected satisfaction of the first game and addresses all of its flaws. It’s more successful in some spots than others. I wish combat was better or just plain optional, rather than alleviated by companion characters. I also wish the tutorials weren’t so text-heavy. Maybe there wasn’t a suaver way to unload so much information at the start of the game! It sure feels like there must have been, though.
Minor issues aside, though, I’d still recommend Dragon Quest Builders 2 to damn near anybody. Want some JRPG nostalgia? Here you go! Want to build things freely and let you imagination run wild? You mostly can! Looking for a little more direction in your society building game? This has that, too. Did you really want to like the first game, but thought it needed a few more tweaks? Well, then this just happens to be exactly what you’re looking for.
These impressions are based on the first 15-20 hours of Dragon Quest Builders 2. We feel this was long enough to get a serious look at the game, but want to make it clear that we didn’t see absolutely every moment. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is surprisingly meaty, even compared to the first game, but we wanted to make sure we got our official thoughts out there as soon as possible. That way we can help you decide if you’d like to buy it or not!