Back when I reviewed the first Dragon Quest Builders for the Switch, I fell in love with it and found it near-perfect. Almost a year and a half later, I still look back on it fondly as one of my favorite Switch games. Now that Dragon Quest Builders 2 has finally come to the West, I’m finding myself falling in love all over again.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes the formula of Minecraft mixed with Dragon Quest of the first game and polishes up plenty of aspects, adding several quality-of-life features as well as additional gameplay elements. The sandbox-builder with added RPG-style quests system is still front and center here, but it takes a backseat at the very beginning of the game. Instead of standard builder fare where you’d find yourself starting from scratch, building up a house and progressing into bigger and bigger projects, the story is front and center.
A Solid Foundation
You start the game as an apprentice builder who is a prisoner on a ship commanded by monsters. Once the captain learns that you’re a builder, he puts you to work doing chores around the ship, teaching you the mechanics of building, crafting, and combat along the way. You work through a few quests and then the ship is rocked by a storm, which means you’re then tasked with repairing holes in the hull. After a few tries at this, the storm becomes too much and the ship is overcome. When you wake up, the shipwreck has washed ashore and you encounter a young man by the name of Malroth. You don’t recognize him from the ship, but since he has amnesia he can’t remember how he arrived on the island. The both of you end up rescuing the only other survivor of the ship, Lulu, and the three of them are quickly tasked with rebuilding the island by searching out new inhabitants and materials from nearby islands.
This is where Dragon Quest 2 really begins to shine over its predecessor. In the first game, chapters were entirely isolated from one another, so much so that when you finished one chapter and travelled to the next, you were starting nearly from scratch every time. This time around, you start from this base island, the Isle of Awakening, and travel out and back between the different islands of each chapter, bringing characters and materials with you to help rebuild and repopulate your home base. Plus, you can go back to these islands after clearing their chapters to check in on the residents that stay behind. It really helps each chapter of game feel more cohesive and part of a fluent narrative, instead of, ironically, like their own island inside of the story.
Exciting and Efficient Individuals
The characters themselves help the game feel much more lively as well. As soon as you meet the enigmatic and edgy Malroth he begins to follow you everywhere. The two of you might as well be joined at the hip; you even level up together, sharing the same EXP bar. He provides handy backup in combat as well as with collecting materials, though as a character focused on destruction rather than creation, he’s not able to craft or build things like you and other characters you’ll meet. The other NPCs in this game are plentiful early on, and lively as well.
While the story and most of the dialogue are well written, I could have done without the abundance of characters who spoke in an accents — they definitely add a lot of variety and life to the characters, but it was sometimes way too hard to understand what was being said when it felt like every other word was a literal phonetic spelling of a different dialect. Despite this, the characterization in Builders 2 really won me over and I connected with several of these characters, human and non-human, because of it.
NPCs also have a much larger role in rebuilding settlements this time around. In the first Builders game you were the sole person with “the power of the builder.” So every task was solo. In Builders 2, almost every character you meet will end up wanting to be a builder, just like you. As a result, they can learn to do things like tilling your fields, planting crops on their own, and even constructing buildings based on your blueprints. When tasked with recreating a pretty lengthy river, I originally lamented that fact I’d have to do it alone — but then my friends jumped right in to help clear a path for it, without me having to lift a finger.
Building Something Great
In fact, several of the quality of life changes in Builders 2 are building and crafting related outside of being able to have NPCs help you out with it. Early on you’ll get the gloves, a tool new to the series that will allow you to pick up a block or piece of furniture without breaking it down, meaning you can quickly rearrange things in a room or for a puzzle without having to deal with tearing it down if you end up placing it incorrectly. Your tools and weapons also don’t degrade or break after too much use this time around; you can focus on exploring and gathering materials to your heart’s content without having to worry about packing three extra hammers and four extra swords for your journey.
Outside of building, Dragon Quest Builders 2 also introduces a few very helpful changes when it comes to exploring the world. First and foremost is the change I was most excited about after playing the first game, the ability to run. No more slow marches to your destination; you can now just hold down a button to break into a sprint. Additionally, each island now has several set fast-travel points — you can zip back and forth between important locations with ease. You can also travel in and under deep water now (though this is rather slow), and you’re given a Breath of the Wild-esque glider near the end of the first chapter, allowing you to travel across great distances at a faster speed than running.
Also brand new to Dragon Quest Builders 2 is multiplayer. Unlocked a little ways after completing chapter one, but before chapter two, you can invite other players to visit your Isle of Awakening, or go and visit theirs, and build alongside them. None of the story is available to be played in multiplayer, unfortunately, but building with your friends should still be plenty of fun. Be aware that you’ll each need a Switch and a copy of Dragon Quest Builders 2 in order to play together — there’s no split-screen multiplayer here.
As far as running the game on Switch is concerned, I have just a few gripes. The loading times were long, especially in the beginning of the game. Now, the starting point is where you’ll encounter the most loading screens anyway — between the initial boat, loading the Isle of Awakening, and then loading the first chapter’s island. I imagine they’re long and frequent towards the beginning because these islands are massive, and once you arrive at an island there aren’t many chances to throw in a loading screen, so they have to load them all at once. That being said, after those initial load times, you won’t even see another loading screen for hours, unless you close the game and reopen it. Once you need to travel back to the Isle of Awakening, you’ll be granted with a slightly shorter load time, but any other new islands took their sweet time to load again.
The game stutters quite a bit when entering a room with a roof or several decorations. When playing in handheld, I encountered times when it took a second for the blocks I was breaking to actually disappear; and in reverse, sometimes placing blocks was choppy and delayed. In the grand scheme of things, these issues aren’t a huge deal for me, but some people might find them irritating.
The Final Product
In the end, Dragon Quest Builders 2 improved on its predecessor in almost every way. It’s enjoyable, adorable, and addicting. Just last night I found myself playing until almost 4 in the morning without feeling like any time had passed at all, and then I eagerly booted it up again as soon as I woke up. It’s not often that franchise spinoffs can win me over so effectively, let alone twice in a row, but the improvements and additions made in Builders 2 have me feeling like Dragon Quest Builders is more of a franchise, rather than just a builder-game spinoff. I’m already crossing my fingers for Dragon Quest Builders 3, but until then I’ve got plenty of room to build, and plenty of friends to build with, on the Isle of Awakening.
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System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 12, 2019
Categories: Role-Playing, Action
Developer: Square Enix