Once upon a time, a chap called Notch invented this thing called Minecraft, and the rest is history. Dragon Quest Builders, which released in 2016, took the “digital Lego” concept and add some much-needed context to it, in the form of JRPG overtones and the rich Dragon Quest universe.
Unsurprisingly, the mix was a success - enough so that here we are, three years later, with a sequel to review.
The core premise remains the same: explore a variety of worlds, battle enemies, level up, discover new types of material, and build increasingly more awesome (and more complicated) structures. A key difference this time around is that each of the sub-worlds (islands here) are technically all linked up and part of the same overworld, which you can explore simply by hiring a handy-dandy ship captain as your personal ferryman.
There are loads of other differences too, but I won’t dwell on them as the key audience this time around is probably new players. You certainly don’t need to have played the first to enjoy the second. Suffice to say there are a LOT of “quality of life” improvements that make the adventure more about the fun of it and less about managing your inventory.
If you’re worried that DQB 2 will somehow be less compelling by combining two genres, it’s time to put that to bed. While it’s not the worlds most in-depth RPG, it’s no slouch in that area either. There’s just enough character development, story progression, and most importantly, sweet loot on offer to make it a perfectly complete game as an RPG alone. Similarly, the building stuff is rich with nuance; there’s a lot to work with here and near limitless options when deciding how - or what - you should build next. I frequently got lost throughout the course of this review for hours at a time, building castles and crazy contraptions that the quest did not need, but I really wanted to play with so… the quest had to wait.
The pace at which you unlock things is excellent too. To start with, complexity comes from how you stick simple things together. Soon enough, there are complex interactions to consider too, as all manner of crazy videos and posts on the official subreddit can attest.
There are also loads of characters this time around, and you feel much more connected to their plight. From the rich background of your pal Malroth to the way you’ll feel super protective of a chicken. It feels like everything in this world - you included - matters, and that feeling changes how you connect with the experience.
Combat’s a little on the dull side, but that won’t be a shock to fans of ARPGs. You swing, they swing, you can avoid if you want, but you’ll probably prefer to build good enough armour, so you don’t have to because it’s not that compelling. Boss fights are more interesting, with bigger tells and more potential environmental interaction, but let’s not get crazy - it’s not going to set the world on fire in the combat arena.
On Switch, some little niggles might be of interest to those with multiple consoles to choose from. In later areas, I did notice some slow-down, and you can spot pop-in even early on. I don’t know if those issues are apparent on other systems, but it’s likely that they’re not - or that they’re less pronounced. It wasn’t enough of a problem to warrant playing on a different system in my case (I’d still go with Switch personally, as this will likely be my go-to lunchtime game for a while yet) but if you’re a stickler for frame rates, you’ll likely get annoyed when it dips into the teens on occasion.
Another issue the Switch version experiences - and one that is sure to be made worse on the Switch Lite, with its smaller screen - is the itty-bitty text. It can be crazy hard to read in handheld mode sometimes, with button icons occasionally being completely indecipherable. I had to resort to experimentation to figure out how to proceed.
Given the wide variety of ways in which you can interact with the world, it’s probably not surprising to learn that the controls can get a bit complex sometimes too. It’s not that each interaction is complicated, but more that there are so many of them you’ll likely switch options when you mean to swing your hammer or pick up a block when you meant to do something else. It’s never a major chore, but I did find it never really went away, either, and I’ve been playing it for a while, much to Dan’s chagrin, i’m sure ;). (Editors Note: It's ok Alan, having been hooked on it for the last week myself, I completely understand)
Fortunately, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is absolutely everything, and more than any reasonable fan of the first game could wish for. Everything here is better, the experience is fantastic, and there are literal boat-loads of content available to tinker with. There are even options in the very late game that let you change up key ways in which the title operates, should you prefer to just build things and not battle monsters, for example.
If you like building and you like an ARPG adventure game, this is probably as good as things are going to get - ahead of Dragon Quest Builders 3 in 2022 (or whenever) - it’s that good. Get it - you can thank me later.