Dragon Quest Builders 2 is bigger, bolder, and way more addictive than its predecessor. It’s the kind of game you can pick up to play for an hour, and find yourself having lost half a day to it in the blink of an eye, and I absolutely love it.
If you missed the original, released back in 2016, Dragon Quest Builders is best described as Minecraft crossed with a JRPG – Dragon Quest specifically, unsurprisingly. You’ll farm materials, build shelter, and aid villagers as you slowly but surely build up a mighty civilization from dirt.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the first game was seeing the fruits of your labour slowly start to come together after hours of graft, and Dragon Quest Builders 2 builds (sorry) on this concept in spades.
In Dragon Quest Builders 2, you’ll take on the role of a builder. Before long, you find yourself washed up on a mysterious island along with two companions, who demand you build them a simple shelter, learn how to cook basic meals, and essentially help prevent the incompetent fools from dying of exposure.
After that, a series of events reveals that, surprise, you’re now the owner of this mysterious island – which is known as the Isle Of Awakening. Your job? To turn this rocky, barren land in the middle of the ocean into a thriving paradise.
To do this, you’ll need to learn the tools of the trade. The game has a wealth of recipes, tools, and mechanics to get to grips with, so it wisely chooses to introduce you to the myriad of systems slowly but surely via the course of the story, which is fairly standard JRPG fare, but the fun dialogue and characters help to keep things entertaining.
For example, on the first major island you visit, you’ll meet a town full of farmers and learn how to grow crops, build various rooms, and manage a small town’s worth of people as you overthrow the monsters that keep attacking and reclaim the land as your own. When you’re done, you’ll take a number of villagers back with you to the Isle of Awakening and apply what you learned together to help bring greenery and crops to the island.
The next island you visit will teach you all about mining and building more ambitious materials. Once again, you’ll ultimately recruit a band of merry locals to head back to your main island and lend their expertise there.
This forms an immensely satisfying gameplay loop, in which you’ll learn more and more advanced skills through the story on the various islands, and then head back to the Isle of Awakening, which is essentially a freebuild mode that’s been woven into the main experience in order to build up your very own island paradise.
See, while the other islands require you to build certain things and carry out certain quests, the Isle of Awakening is very much your blank canvas to do what you want on. If you’re not a very creative soul though, there are optional goals to complete, such as build a restaurant or grow a certain amount of crops, that will help you move in the right direction.
Some players might be put off by the sluggish pace of the early game – the farming segment can last a few hours and essentially feels like a full game in itself – but it felt fine to me. While I love Minecraft, I always found the idea of simply being dropped into the world with no real goals a little daunting, so having story reasons to build, create, and learn in Dragon Quest Builders 2 is greatly appreciated.
With that said, withholding the game’s multiplayer mode and the option to freebuild until after you’ve completed your quests on the farming island seems like an odd choice, especially when more seasoned builders who enjoyed the first game will be familiar with much of what the game is teaching them.
Still, if veterans can be patient and work through those first few hours, they’ll be rewarded with a title that’s much richer and deeper than the first game, with a ton of quality of life improvements that make building much more of a breeze, including the ability to earn unlimited supplies of various materials via scavenger hunts on special bonus islands and a Breath of the Wild style cape that lets you soar through the air and explore great distances quickly.
There’s also a first-person mode this time around, although I found it made building a little too fiddly, and characters who were talking to me would either clip into me or disappear if they got too close. That’s not a deal breaker though, as third-person works just as well as it did in the original.
The hours I lost to this game over the weekend because I told myself I’d “just build a wheat field”, before realising I’d instead built a wheat field, an irrigation system, two toilets, a barn, and a modest cabana was ridiculous, but the constant sense of progress, that everything you’re doing is having a positive impact on the game’s world, is intoxicating.
I think my wife may have walked out to stay with her mother at some point that weekend, but I’d just worked out how build roofs so that was my priority, obviously.
One of the other major ways in which Dragon Quest Builders 2 stands apart from its predecessor is in how the NPCs take on a much more proactive role. You’ll have a constant companion who handles the brunt of the combat for you, since builders aren’t supposed to be great fighters.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get stuck in yourself, but having a mate by your side means it’s very rare that you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by a random mob of enemies, which is great, since combat really isn’t the point of the game.
With that said, there are still some fun boss fights to be had, and the art of slaying monsters has been greatly refined since Dragon Quest Builders to feel an awful lot more rewarding.
Villagers will also chip in and help a lot more this time around, which may prove divisive for players who’d rather take control of everything. The more you help out and complete requests, the quicker you’ll be able to upgrade your followers and their capabilities. I found it eliminated an awful lot of the busywork personally, as they’ll till fields, plant and water crops, prepare meals, and even gather materials for you.
Some will doubtless have a problem with when the NPCs start to chip in with the actual building, but I have to stress that they only help out with the absolutely massive projects that would otherwise take you hours to complete on your own.
There were only a small handful of times that I found myself dragging my feet because the NPCs had everything in hand – for the most part, their help simply allowed me to focus on the big picture stuff and start planning the next project to expand my glorious budding empire.
In short, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the perfect sequel. It takes everything that made Dragon Quest Builders great (the bright visuals, fun dialogue, and guided approach to building) while throwing in a ton of fun new features that make DQB2 one of the most consistently rewarding and engaging video games I’ve played all year.
I literally spend all my free time either playing it or thinking about playing it, and that, to me, is the sign of a game that’s done good work.
The insistence on hand-holding and guided projects won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for a colourful, relaxing alternative to Minecraft with an almost embarrassing amount of content, this is the game for you.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.