Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a delightful sequel that -- pardon the pun -- builds on its predecessor in a lot of welcome ways. This isn't a huge leap forward by any stretch, but if you enjoyed the first Dragon Quest Builders, then you're probably going to love this.
Right off the bat, Builders 2 does a great job of easing you into your new role as the world's most creative hero. One of the most charming tutorials in recent memory gets you up to speed with the basics, and from that point on, the game introduces new concepts and tasks at a steady pace. Titles like Minecraft, where you're given a huge amount of creative freedom right from the word go, can be incredibly daunting, and so the streamlined, story-focused approach that Builders 2 takes is brilliantly judged.
For the most part, anyway. There are times when some players will no doubt feel like they're being boxed in. While you're always free to build and craft anything that you know the recipe for, the story does, at points, force you to keep moving, effectively putting your personal projects on hold until you complete set objectives. Compounding the issue is the fact that Builders 2 takes a long time to really get going -- there's a good 10 to 15 hours of learning the ins and outs of gameplay before it feels like you're finally let off the leash.
Again, not all players will appreciate how the title holds your hand, but this does allow for more cohesive storytelling. As we've largely come to expect of Dragon Quest, the plot itself is nothing wholly unique or original, but it's all told with a wink and cheeky smile. The series' trademark charm is very much alive and well here, and the whole thing's presented with more confidence and whimsy than it was in the first Dragon Quest Builders.
A more prominent supporting cast is also a factor. There are a number of characters here who you'll gradually get to know over the course of your adventure, each with their own often comical quirks. But aside from your hero, the most important member of the cast is Malroth, a lovably brash, club-wielding companion who's with you every step of your journey.
Whether you're out adventuring, beating monsters black and blue, or simply gathering materials, Malroth will be by your side. As a computer-controlled partner, he's incredibly handy to have around. He's a force to be reckoned with in combat, and he'll even collect ingredients and materials, adding them to your inventory. Malroth's inclusion ends up being an inspired addition to the Builders formula, and he's a great example of a non-playable companion who genuinely makes your life easier.
As with the first game, there's a dangerously addictive gameplay loop at the heart of Builders 2. You're set a task by adorably squat characters, you venture out into the world to stockpile materials, and then you get building. Whether you're constructing a home, digging out the bed of what'll soon be a river, planting a forest, seeding a farm, or even putting the finishing touches on an outdoor toilet, building remains an accessible, rewarding process. Obviously your options are rather limited to begin with, but as you unlock more and more recipes, concepts, and blueprints, developing your cosy little town into a bustling kingdom becomes an obsession.
Indeed, the building part of Builders 2 is engrossing, but this wouldn't be a Dragon Quest game without opportunities for grand adventure. The title takes place in a world made up of islands, and as the story progresses, you get to visit each and every one. Naturally, there are new materials to find as you travel further and further afield, but the game also places a lot of importance on exploration. There are secrets to discover, powerful monsters to slay, and rare rewards to claim. Need a break from all of that building? Just pick a direction and head off into the wilderness.
It's a bit of a shame, though, that the combat system remains so basic. Clearly, fighting monsters isn't the game's focus, but it would have been nice to see some sort of meaningful evolution from the first Builders. This is still a case of whacking a creature with you weapon before running away from its telegraphed attack, and then repeating those same two steps until it's dead. Having Malroth as an ally does speed things along, but the distinct lack of depth means that over the course of this lengthy journey, it's difficult not to just zone out, even during the more interesting boss fights.
But it's hard to care too much about the action when Builders 2 is so good at keeping you busy with other things. Purely as part of the aforementioned gameplay loop, the combat gets the job done, and Dragon Quest's many colourful monsters make for consistently charming opponents.
So Dragon Quest Builders 2 sounds pretty cool, but what about co-op? Frustratingly missing from the first game, co-op has been put forward as a selling point for this sequel, but the reality is that this still isn't the kind of full-blown cooperative multiplayer that a lot players wanted. For starters, the story is not playable with others -- it's strictly a single player experience. Hopping online with friends -- there's no local co-op, just to be clear -- plops you onto a separate island where you're free to build whatever you want, but there's no real exploration. It's essentially a multiplayer building mode.
Now, obviously, Builders 2 wants to tell a proper story, complete with characters and set events, and so incorporating multiplayer into the campaign may not be a viable option. We can understand that line of thinking, but some sort of survival-style co-op mode would have made for a fantastic addition.
Oh, and before anyone asks, Builders 2 does away with its predecessor's structure. A sticking point for many players, your progress, including your items, equipment, and gathered materials, would essentially be wiped whenever you moved to a new chapter in the first Builders. It was the game's way of keeping things fresh, but it understandably annoyed a lot of people. Anyway, that's gone in Builders 2. Although you can't carry over all of your materials when you sail off to explore a new island, you do keep your character level, equipment, tools, and building knowledge, meaning that progression is constant. Phew.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 does a lot of things better than its predecessor. A better story is propped up by better characters, and even though the opening hours are slow, there's a better overall flow to the game. All in all, Square Enix has constructed a rock solid sequel that, while safe and undeniably familiar, should satisfy both returning players and newcomers alike.