When the first Dragon Quest Builders title released, I was not sure what to make of it, my first though was another me-too Minecraft clone, but the more I played it, the more I realised just how different it was. After sinking way more hours into it then I should admit to, I was ready for more and now that I have invested more hours into the sequel, this is one of those rare sequels that improves on almost everything.
The story that is on offer this time around, makes a little more sense than the first, though, not by much, so it is better to think of it as a reason to run around and build things, then anything else. Your character wakes on a ship, that is crewed by monsters and there is one there, championing Hargon, the one who will let the world be destroyed, once they and the almighty destroyer return. Serving as the tutorial, it gives you the basics, before the ship is sunk and then you wake on a seemingly deserted island. Soon though, you discover your travelling partner in Malroth and demanding, yet caring Lulu and after some more basics, you will be given the island by the local hermit, or at least the ghost of him. But as the island has nothing going for it, you have to head to other islands to recruit people to help make it something special and with that, the first island calls.
It is not long after you get to the first island, Furrowfield, known for its lush green fields and plentiful farms, that you realise that things are wrong, as the ground is more purple and muck than anything else. The citizens that live there are attempting to grow things, but there are spores that release a toxic gas that kills plant it touches and when you offer to help fix things up, people avoid you, informing you at building is a sin and anyone found to do it, will be smite by the Children of Hargon. It seems that after the three heroes defeated Hargon and his monster, they began to spread word that, everything happened because of the builders and over the years, people became scared of building and anyone found to be doing it, was to be punished. It is a premise that is hard to accept at face value, but within the context of the world, it works.
Story aside, the gameplay is where the largest amount of changes has happened, there are of course the big noticeable ones, where they make an improvement to the overall game, but there are countless smaller ones. Perhaps the most noticeable change is in how the towns you are helping to build, level up; as you complete tasks, build rooms and complete other requests, the residents will literally burst with happiness, which is shown as hearts popping out of them. The more someone wanted something to happen, or the more complex the task, the larger the happiness and when you collect enough of it, you can level up the base. Doing that will unlock new items that you can build, as well as recruiting more people to the local cause, which in turn helps grow it even more, the cycle can be pretty addicting, especially when you are only a few hearts away from another level.
Building still requires the same basic understanding, you can only build items that are connected to other ones, resources still need to be gathered and so on, so you don’t have to relearn the wheel here. The changes though, stem from the controls, previously, you could build/dig up or down, with the left or right triggers, now though, they are mapped to the left trigger and shoulder button, leaving the right side open, in this case, the game maps your tool to the right trigger. At first, I thought this was an odd decision, but the more I used it, the more I felt it worked for what it was attempting to do, as you will be building up and digging down, a lot, there is something simple about using the should and triggers to achieve it.
When it comes to building, you still have the place button, Square on PS4 and X on Switch and that giant outline box that appears will guide your placement of items. Where things change up with it, is the blueprints can be placed down, where blocks already exist, whereas in the first game, you had to have a clear space for them. But whacking items to the ground is not the only change, the game now adds timers to items, mostly related to cooking and smelting, as well as letting you choose how many items of something you want to craft. Previously, you could build one or a specific amount of an item, depending on what you were making, so this is a big change, as you can now build the specific amount at once and not have to go through the same animation cycle per item, but where things have improved, there are downsides.
With the controls, for some reason, almost everything that is core is limited to one button, X on PS4 and A on Switch, which means that if you want to interact with someone, an item or change your primary tool, it is all done with that. The problem with this method is that, if you are too close to someone, but want to change your tool, you will need to move away, change tool and then go back, given the amount of buttons, including that one is not used at all, this could have been done better. The game also lets you play the entire thing in first person view, which is actually fun for the most part, but there are a lot of issues with it, the most obvious one being that when you are talking with people, you won’t always get to see them, if your character does not move around. There are almost times, when you start to make something, that the game forces you out of that view and into 3rd person, only to swap back a few seconds later, which is just odd.
But for those issues, there are even more things that the game does better, the addition of the cape is perhaps the best, as not only is fall damage almost non-existent, it allows you to travel larger distances with greater speed. You can now also go underwater, in the first game, you could only go ankle deep, but now you can dive into everything and find new items and locations there, just avoid the mermaids. Perhaps the most impressive change is that the towns and the folks that live in them, are vastly improved in almost everywhere, with the town size being the most noticeable, as they are now far larger, giving you more space to play. As for the folks themselves, they actually behave like people, so first thing in the morning they will run to the kitchen and get some food, if you have a bath or shower, at the end of the day, they will head there to get cleaned up from working and toilets are things now, with folks lining up if someone is already using it. These touches help make the world feel like it is alive and as different classes exist, people will go and occupy there day, with the task that they are meant to do.
What makes it even cooler is that you can now leave items behind and the villagers will make use of them, for example, leaving seeds in a chest will have the farmers plant them, water and harvest when ready. Plus, if you leave a chest in a kitchen, they will also go and put the grown food in there, leaving another villager to cook it, all the while you are out doing other missions. By the end of the first Chapter though, something strange happened, I was tasked with building a giant tree and it required a massive number of items to do so, but once I had laid down the first 50, the townsfolk came rushing over and wanted to help, and by help, it meant they were taking over and they built the rest of it, then the next two stages, which left me time to do what I wanted, it was a very welcome change. One annoying aspect of them, is for some reason, they still insist on jumping onto the walls to get around, which means from time to time, they will find themselves on the outside of your walls, leaving them open to being attacked.
Of course, all that is in the story mode, you can also build up the Isle of Awakening, which is the entire reason for venturing out to the other islands. As you return with new helpers, they will take over a small section of land, and slowly turn it into a replica of their own island, well as long as you help them out. For the first island, they wanted green fields, forests and a river, which required me to begin digging out a river, the second group wanted a massive pyramid, but thankfully they built it themselves. As you begin to expand each area, more objectives become available, which in turn give you more things to aim for, it is a cycle that is fun and easy to get lost in. The only downside, the helpful folk that you bring back, won’t wander between areas on their own, you need to manage them, bringing someone from one area to another, or such, but there are also limits on the number of people that one area can have in it.
One area that looks like nothing changed, but where a lot did, is in the games presentation, there are many little things that have improved between the first and second titles, but you would only know if you went looking for them. This is really visible, when you enter the first person view, as you get a lot closer to parts of the game, than you would normally be able to, the textures, in darker spaces are a little odd, but for the most part the quality has been increased and even better, there is no noticeable difference between the PlayStation 4 and Switch versions. The game still maintains its charming chibi inspired character design and the enemies are as cartoonish as ever, but it is the world itself that has evolved, with some areas really standing out. Now as you can submerged in water, there is a whole new world to explore down there, but it is the water on ground that is impressive, with shadows and light bouncing off it, even when the water is muddy and yuck, it still has a life to it. Some of the other elemental effects, like water and such are also a treat, the area of Moonbrook is delightfully fun, with the snow, but as anyone who has lived in snow covered areas, there is a darker side to it, which the game shows off quite well. The game still has an issue with audio levels, the music is loud or quiet, and there is a lack of speech still, but overall the audio works, just get ready to listen to the same themes repeatedly in each world.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 has taken everything that the first game did well and amped them up to new levels, there is a host of improvements that make the game even more fun to play this time around. There are some issues with the controls, having almost all your core actions assigned to the one button is just stupid, but if you can adapt, you should be ok. Even though I have completed the story and built up my island, I find myself going back for more and with the game coming out, I can’t wait to build with mates.
PlayStation 4 review code provided by Square Enix, Switch review code provided by Nintendo