Published on September 23rd, 2019 | by Jamie Davies0
Dragon Quest Builders 2
There is enjoyment to be had with Dragon Quest Builders 2, it’s just spread a little too thin and interrupted by the occasional rotten patch.
There’s nothing quite like a good blanket; warm, cozy, and fresh smelling (usually). That doesn’t mean I want to spend all day underneath one. Experience tells me that things get damp, sore, and smelly surprisingly quickly, wrapped up in even the most luxurious cotton. Dragon Quest Builders 2 (DQB2) feels like the kind of inviting blanket you could sink hours into… until the bedsores set in.
Set a while after the first game’s heroic builder liberated the world from monster rule with the power of construction and creativity, it has since redescended into ruin under the power of monstrous cult, “The Children Of Hargon.” The task of once again banishing monster-kind and bestowing the power of creation upon the world falls on yet another silent, but ever cheery builder, controlled by you. Joined this time by Malroth, your builder’s loyal and suspiciously violent pal. The two of them will travel across seas, gathering materials, friends and knowledge; helping folks along the way and ultimately working to build a home base: “The Isle Of Awakening” as a vibrant hub of creation away from the building-averse Children Of Hargon.
Whilst simple, the story should have been interesting enough to carry the game’s relatively significant length — it didn’t need to be an elaborate tale worthy of a chunky fantasy novel and it wasn’t. There were some twists, enough distinct characters and an engaging through-line established between the player character and their partner. Frustratingly, the story is hamstrung by how monotonously it’s delivered, to call it patronising would be a severe understatement. Before and after each of the numerous objectives, you’re required to read through countless lines of dialogue which insist on constantly reiterating whatever’s happening in the story at the time, (You know, in case you didn’t adequately grasp the nuances and complexities of this simplistic, child-friendly video game plot) and that’s if the dialogue has any significance at all. The long-winded, conversation heavy games that work, do so because of skilled writers, interesting characters and an engaging story. DQB2 has a serviceable story, and at best, recognisable characters; it seems to be trying to obscure its shallowness with mountains of dialogue. DQB2… it’s okay to be shallow in some respects, there’s no need to hide it; your depth lies elsewhere.
Predictably, the brunt of your time in DQB2 (“B” for Builders may I remind you) will be spent constructing various houses, establishments, and monuments of increasing extravagance for the legions of followers who find themselves inspired by your buildery ways. Needless to say, this is the part that the folks at Square Enix can’t afford to bungle and I’m pleased to report, they succeed triumphantly. The basic mechanics of placing blocks should be familiar to anyone who has seen or played Minecraft at all, which is to say, anyone who’s owned a pair of functioning eyeballs at some point in the last decade. DQB2’s depth lies in how buildings are categorised based on the components within them, so for example: if you chuck some beds and lights inside a room, the game will recognise it as a social bedroom; add some decorative armour and weapons to the mixture, you’ll have yourself a barracks for the rough and tumble soldier types in your settlement; scrap the whole interior and instead place an altar, candles, a holy statue, and a few benches inside to create a chapel, if you wanted to let your town’s spiritual side flourish.
The flexibility afforded to the player with this building system means that the set “building request” missions usually don’t end up stifling your creativity, but encourage you to explore the many types of structures you can create. Fulfilling a villager’s request also causes your residents to gather around your creation and erupt with showers of a collectible, colourful heart currency in a show of appreciation that might not sound satisfying but really is. In addition to the room categorization system, there are eventually a couple of gauges introduced that judge the “fanciness” and “style” of any given room based on the materials it’s made out of and the objects within it. These judgements feel a little artificial and can lead to the player filling rooms with tacky trinkets to fulfil some “fanciness” quota like a hoarder with a passion for interior design. Thankfully, these additional meters come later in the game and can mostly be ignored.
Everywhere you look, large and small improvements have been made to address complaints raised towards the original game; Square Enix have clearly been listening to their fan base. Tools which speed up and ease building, more efficient travel options, unbreakable equipment and the ability to receive combat and building assistance from your villagers are all welcome additions to this sequel. Most welcome of all however, is a persistent “home island” that you don’t have to permanently leave behind; constantly being forced to abandon settlements forever to progress the story in the first game really took the wind out of your creative sails.
Unfortunately, not all of the first game’s issues were remedied: there are some allusions to improving the slog of a combat system, in much the same way that holding a bar of soap is an allusion to actually taking a shower. When it comes down to it though, combat is still a monotonous bore that’ll see you tapping the same button anywhere from once to 200 times per enemy. Seriously, it’s enough of a drag that I sometimes found myself counting swings into the hundreds. The only variation comes in the form of a heavy attack that does 3 times more damage than the regular attack… at the cost of taking about 3 times as long to perform, which as far as I can tell makes it completely redundant.
Playing DQB2, you’ll soon be sucked into its rhythm of taking requests, gathering, building, upgrading and progressing the story (with the occasional stumble called combat). It’s mesmerising in many of the same ways that these slow paced, construction games often are; perfect for chilling out with some music, a podcast or some low-effort TV. Wisely, the missions almost never force themselves upon you, leaving you free to build, explore or mine resources until you’re ready to continue. Although, the starting suite of materials leave a lot to be desired, so you’ll probably want to play a decent chunk of the story to unlock some better gear before you really dig into building your Utopia for real.
DQB2 is undeniably engaging, time seems to slip away when you’re held in its clutches. It’s a shame that for all of its power to hold your attention, it doesn’t do anything valuable with it. There’s a “time-wasting” element to all entertainment, but something about the cyclical nature of DQB2 shines a big old spotlight on that fact, with chapters following the same story beats again and again with minor variations, making you question why you’re continuing with its grind. Sessions with DQB2 — particularly the lengthy ones — too often end with feelings of emptiness and twinges of regret.
While certainly an improvement over the first game in just about every conceivable way, this sequel seems caught between two opposing gameplay styles that just end up detracting from one another. On one hand, the sandbox ‘chill out and build stuff’ style is interrupted every five minutes by mostly inessential dialogue and combat which — if being generous —can be described as a nuisance. On the other hand, the action/adventure ‘play through a story’ style is drawn out and stuffed with enough filler content to make that story a chore to experience. These two styles really don’t go hand in hand; the fusion might work for some players, but I feel that it’ll turn away more folks than it draws in. There is enjoyment to be had with this title, it’s just spread a little too thin and interrupted by the occasional rotten patch. Give it a go if you’re in the mood to relax and find your block placing Zen, those looking for an action/RPG to sink their teeth into will find themselves frustrated very quickly here.