If you know nothing about Dragon Quest Builders 2, the pitch essentially boils down to Dragon Quest meets Minecraft. Builders retains elements from its classic JRPG series and places them into a world so blatantly inspired by the famous crafting game that it would be easy to mistake the game for Minecraft. It’s not just a pure carbon copy of Minecraft however: Builders 2 expands on the formula and morphs that into its own kind of beast.
Builders’ additions to the formula create a more scripted, narrative experience and one that places more emphasis on community building and management than Minecraft ever would. While Builders presents a charming and unique take on familiar gameplay loops, it also falls short when it comes to its combat systems, controls and generally hand-holding the player far too much. Overall though, Dragon Quest Builders 2 competently matches two distinct genres together to *ahem* craft something utterly unique.
Firstly, how does this amalgamation work? After a lengthy tutorial, Dragon Quest Builders 2’s campaign has the player dropped off onto a number of different biomes to play around in. But the player isn’t let off the leash straight away. The whole goal in each of these regions is to complete a series of blueprints, special requests and missions to build and level up a central community. What starts of with you making small toilets for a villager, fast turns into creating large, sprawling spaces for the different NPCs in your community.
This structure has its own pros and cons. Builder’s hand-holding nature is sometimes a massive hindrance to the rest of the game, especially in the early hours. When you’re dropped into a new fantasy land it’s natural to just want to explore, especially when Dragon Quest Builders 2 doesn’t put that many roadblocks in your way to do so. But this never accommodates for the player finding things out of order. You can explore all you like and find the things you’ll eventually need to progress the story but you won’t be able to interact with them until you progress the story. This might be standard design in most open-world games, but in a sandbox like this I don’t think I really need the game to tell me I’m ready to collect my tomato seeds.
While this linear progression is a major annoyance when you just want to enjoy a sandbox experience, it does also have its own merits. Minecraft’s formula is built on finding your own fun, but this can be too much of a broad goal for some. Dragon Quest Builders 2 offers a more curated experience. The game’s main building quests will give you blueprints telling you what to build, and it’ll show you exactly how. It’ll then be up to you to find what you need. This sometimes stifles creativity when everything you need is in the next room, with no crafting required and no input over where any items go. But most times there is enough flexibility here for players to display creativity while following already laid out blueprints.
For some players, this linearity will come across as monotonous. For others that are fans of Mincraft’s crafting and customisation but don’t know what to do with all its options, you will find the scripted nature a welcome change of pace. And when Builders 2 does let you off the leash it’s spectacular. Seeing classic Dragon Quest monsters towering above you never gets old. Plus, the real-time combat and exploration mean that these monsters are allowed to interact with you in ways the main series would never allow for.
The Dragon Quest references don’t stop at just the monsters though. Iconic jingles, sound effects and scores are all lovingly implemented here, adding a wondrous feeling of nostalgia at every corner. Many parts of Dragon Quest lore are also present in Builder’s simple and fun story, which is set in an alternate reality version of Dragon Quest II. Overcoming the evil Hargon starts off like any RPG endeavour does: background noise while you slaughter slimes. It soon escalates to the nonsensically over-the-top anime jibberish the series is known for. It’s fun. It doesn’t always make sense. Go for it. For a game that dresses itself with just a playful presentation I was surprised by the amount of adult innuendos in the writing. More than just the jokes, there are some direct references to dark subject matter in the dystopia these characters live in that always took me off guard. I was not expecting to find a beach-full of dead bodies in my first few minutes playing a jolly Dragon Quest spin-off.
Builders 2 is also a decidedly less lonely game. Even when playing alone, you’ll always have a handy sidekick to follow you around the world, fighting monsters and keeping you company. But when you’re back in the main community you’ll have a whole cast of characters to interact with. They’ll also help out around camp using the facilities you’ve provided. They can water crops, cook food and help defend the land when swarms of enemies come to invade.
That brings us to the less than impressive combat. The hack-and-slash action here amounts to nothing more than button mashing and basic positioning. Smaller enemies will just need you to spam the attack button and firm any damage until the fight is over. Tougher baddies will signal when they have a more deadly attack coming, but these can be easily avoided by running away over swerving around them. You also have a Zelda-style spin-attack, but this takes so long to charge and covers so little area that it’s never really worth using. The combat is never bad; it’s just never really engaging.
The combat is so underwhelming because of how well the rest of the game marries JRPG mechanics with block-building ones. Almost everything you do in the world will allow you to progress somehow, whether that’s levelling up your stats, RPG-style, or levelling up your community to learn new recipes and customisation options. Sometimes these two things collide; levelling up might give you new recipes for equipment that also have stat buffs attributed to them as well. It’s always satisfying to progress in Builders 2.
Overall, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is going to be the perfect game for some people and the most tedious of ones for others. Presenting a more directed take on the classic Minecraft structure, this succeeds at retaining that creativity while actively giving players something to work for and something tangible to do. But, more impressively, Builders 2 never feels like a pale imitation. It blends its JRPG roots with new inspirations to effectively ask the question: what if Minecraft was a JRPG? Some of the baggage that comes with that should be ironed out for a potential next game, like the unnecessarily long tutorials and exposition dumps. However, the merits that come with that fusion makes Dragon Quest Builders 2 a delight when it lets you loose.
Explore the world of Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One