Square Enix's blocky adventure has spawned a sequel, and we've dived into both the PS4 and Switch versions to see what's going on.
We love Minecraft. In fact, so do millions of players out there, and rightly so. The title is brilliant, but if there's one thing it has always been lacking in, it would have to be an immersive storyline. Sure, there's the whole situation with the Ender Dragon, but it has never really felt as gripping as the well-written stories you'll find in lots of single-player games.
This is where Square Enix comes in, as back in 2015 when the first Dragon Quest Builders was announced, we weren't sure of what to make of it. However, players loved it, and not only did it manage to survive, but it succeeded to the point where it spawned a sequel, which is where we are today. Dragon Quest Builders 2 has developed the series into something else, bringing its very own identity in the most chibi-but-blocky way it possibly could, doing so alongside a storyline more expansive than lots of modern titles can offer.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is an action-RPG sandbox title, developed by Square Enix and Omega Force. Designed as a sequel to Dragon Quest Builders using a chibi-blocky art style hybrid, it sees players pitted on an adventure where they are tasked with rebuilding the world, striking back against the Children of Hargon, a destructive cult of calamity, with the help of your trusty compatriot Malroth, a man with a peculiar aura around him (as if he's influenced by a darker force). Malroth doesn't have the skills of a builder like you, however, he is exceptional at fighting and will assist when in combat or when you are destroying things. Unlike Minecraft, this isn't a simple sandbox, but instead, there's a narrative rooted in the sandbox that allows you to be creative whenever you desire.
You play as a builder, a powerful being with the ability to design and construct countless creations using the many available blocks throughout the game. In the beginning, you start with nothing except for the clothes on your back, trapped on a prison ship with a monster crew. During this time, you are put to work, performing mundane tasks aiding your skeletal masters, in a tutorialised level that teaches the basics, such as how to pick up and place blocks, engage in combat, and even crafting. While it can feel like you spend an eternity aboard the vessel, this is incredibly minimal when compared to the rest of the game, which starts after an unusual shipwreck, leading us to the first explorable island.
One of the main things we noticed at this point was the sheer quantity of dialogue and the way it is used. Dragon Quest Builders 2 deploys witty humour and slang terms to get a point across and develop each character. Sometimes this seems funny and adds to the experience, however, in some cases (the Furrowfield Farmers, for example) the use of the Somerset country dialect feels really forced and a little bit cringy, especially if you're British.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes place on a series of different islands, each with their own identity. For example, Moonbrooke is a snowy world ravaged by war, known to train great fighters, and each of the other islands has its own unique feature. The exception to that is starting area The Isle of Awakening, which is bland and filled with basically nothing. That said, as the story progresses it will be your job as a builder to fill it with creations such as rivers, forests, and even ginormous pyramids. This, in turn, is the general idea behind the story of the game - as a builder, you must travel to different locations, helping the people you meet, whilst simultaneously rebuilding the island and learning new skills to bring back to your own island, where you're trying to make a builder's paradise.
Players can move and aim the camera on the sticks, jump on Circle/B, attack with Triangle/Y, switch items and interact with Cross/A, place items with Square/X, use tools with R2/ZR, sprint with R1/R, look up with L1/L and down with L2/ZL, and change camera perspective (first- to third-person) by clicking in the right stick. On top of this, opening the options menu will allow access to your inventory, save menu, hints, and the Builderpedia, a document containing all known recipes, blocks, enemies, etc. As for the many tools, they allow different interactions with the world itself. The builder gloves, for example, allow you to carry and move blocks; the hammer allows you to destroy things; and the glider lets you fly over distances. These are just a few of the unlockable tools, some of which can be upgraded as the story progresses.
You'll need these tools to assist in the rebuilding of each destination, you will have to engage in tasks such as farming, fighting, and general construction, all in an effort to win over the loyalty of the residents there, freeing them from the of the tyranny of the Children of Hargon. The main job you will perform, believe it or not, is building incredibly large and complex structures for the people using a blueprints system. This is basically a template telling you which blocks you need and where to put them, as well as enabling the assistance of the NPCs when constructing. If you think we're exaggerating, these structures are usually over 10,000 blocks in mass, so don't expect to finish one in half an hour. Likewise, considering the sheer number of unique blocks in the game, the structures won't be made from just one material, so instead expect your inventory to be packed with entirely different blocks or placeable items.
Dragon Quest Builders II looks similar to Minecraft in most aspects except for its character design. The world and every block in it, even water and lava, are designed block by block, meaning one cube of dirt looks identical to every other cube of dirt. The difference? This doesn't use pixel effects at all, making everything look less retro than Mojang's title. The characters are where the true differences lie though, as they don't look as though they should fit in the world since they use a chibi style instead. For those unfamiliar with this style and unsure why it seems so abstract in this blocky world, think Mii characters from Nintendo, in Minecraft. The soundtrack, on the other hand, seems to have taken its inspiration from the Dragon Quest titles of old, featuring heaps of RPG-esque twangs that make you feel as though you're on a grand adventure. This also changes depending on where you are, or whether you are in combat, at which point the tempo accelerates and the soundtrack changes to reflect the danger you face.
Combat itself is very simple to understand, although there is depth if you really want to test your mechanical prowess. Performing an attack is as simple as pressing Triangle/Y, and while this generally sorts out most fights, you can also look to use heavy attacks by holding Triangle/Y or use the 'ultimate' ability by pressing R1 and Cross/A once it is charged. If you simply want to pass through combat sequences, button mashing will suffice as Malroth will do lots of the heavy lifting, but you can look to learn each individual attack of each enemy and train your fighting around that. For example, one of the many enemies in Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the Hammer Hood, and these little blighters are weird mole-looking creatures wearing a hood of fur as a helmet and wielding a mallet as a weapon. A standard attack from these fellas will damage you, but a heavy attack will also knock you back. To be efficient against these guys you should look to move out of the way of the heavy attacks, allowing you to better damage the enemy.
As well as basic moves, some enemies can use status effects on you, such as poison, paralysis, or sleeping. This works very similarly to Pokémon, in the sense that when you are hit, you are less able to fight and are more liable to defeat. To counter this, you will have to look for where a status effect attack will land and subsequently dodge it. Once an enemy has been eliminated, they will usually drop an item, as well as some experience to level your character. Levelling is largely not that impressive, and while it increases your health, occasionally increases your stamina, unlocks some new recipes, and strengthens Malroth, this isn't all that impressive.
Boss fights, on the other hand, bring loads of new mechanics to combat. From our experience, these boss fights are incredibly easy, but they are entirely unique in terms of how they play. For example, the fight against Madusa - a cyclops ball with snakeheads - will require you to use her own attacks against her by reflecting them with a mirror operated by a mountable golem friend. It sounds a little confusing but just think of it as a fight in which you play in a mech suit with a shield.
Throughout the game, you will find not all enemies are inherently bad. Some enemies, once defeated, will offer you an opportunity to befriend them, earning a new companion to drag around on your treks. Likewise, you can do the same with animals, except this doesn't require you to earn their trust through ritual combat.
Dragon Quest Builders II does have a lot of its content accessible in multiplayer, be it local or online. To start with, there is a snapshot feature which is essentially a camera mode, that allows you to share your journey with others online in a sort of in-game social media. This camera mode does have a lot of tweakable features such as filters and changeable expressions, which makes it a lot of fun to mess around with. The actual online mode is a bit of a chore though. Unlike most modern titles with online coop, you can't just jump into it, as each player must complete the Furrowfield chapter, sitting at around 10 hours playtime in (at a minimum). Even then it's not seamless, as you must enable your world to be online and then people have to join, ultimately making a hassle out of a feature which should be much simpler.
On the topic of playtime, we just want to take a second to really emphasise the length of this game. You might think it has a decent-sized campaign that's maybe 20 hours long, but you would be wrong; it actually has an incredibly long single-player campaign, the sort of length to rival iconic RPGs such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Sometimes the sheer length of it can feel draining when playing, but then a new event will take place and your interest will be piqued again. Another notable point is Dragon Quest Builders 2 has very few forced loading screens, with the majority coming from fast traveling. Even in these cases, load times are very quick, so much so that we would often fast travel even short distances since it was quicker than running.
To wrap everything up, we wanted to share a quick comparison between platforms since we've spent time with the game on both PS4 and Switch. In our opinion, the title is better suited for the Switch since the control scheme is so simple and it feels as though the graphics are not implemented to their full potential on PS4. What we mean by that is on Switch, Dragon Quest Builders 2 looks almost identical to the PS4 version, which is something you don't hear very often at all. Likewise, it doesn't struggle to run with the Switch's lower processing power and therefore works equally well.
All in all, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is an enjoyable game that fans of Minecraft, RPGs, or any creative types will likely have fun with. There's enough content to satisfy even the most committed of players before even looking at online features and the season pass content which is promised. However, interested adventurers should be aware the storyline can feel dreary in places and the online features are an absolute task to get working properly. With this being said, few games have offered a world as diverse, charming, and unique as the one present in Dragon Quest Builders 2, making for a great experience for players new and old alike.
8 / 10
Jam-packed with interesting and enjoyable content stretching over a massive storyline, Tons of enemy, block, and location variety, Plays equally well on both Switch and PS4.
Online is a chore to enable and cannot be accessed straight off the bat, Sometimes the tasks in the game can feel repetitive and boring.