I’ve never really been interested in games like Minecraft; I like a game with goals and objectives, so being plonked in the middle of a world and told to just build stuff doesn’t really excite me. I need a reason to continue or I quickly lose focus and get bored, so that’s where Square Enix’s Dragon Quest Builders comes in! At first glance it looks like a Minecraft clone, but thankfully it is so much more than that. It’s an easily accessible game with strong RPG elements, charming characters, a strong narrative as well as a world that is a delight to explore and craft in.
The game takes place as an alternative ending to the first Dragon Quest game. Instead of the Hero being victorious, the evil Dragonlord has won and the world has been plunged into darkness. You begin the game by waking up inside a crypt, your memories gone and only the voice of a spirit to keep you company. You get told that you’re special, as you’re the only person in the world with the power to create and build. It is up to you to bring light back to the world and save humanity, and as such you’re given a banner of hope and told to go forth and build.
Upon planting your banner firmly in the ground a great shaft of light is released and people across the land are attracted to the beckoning light. Your journey has just begun…
The mechanics of the game are fairly simple, but upon placing my first block of dirt in my base I felt hooked. This little patch of land was mine to turn into the fortress of my dreams! The first person to come to my mini-empire was Pippa this sweet, but slightly beard obsessed person, was my first friend in this strange land. The game has a very simple character creation mode, but even with the only choices being male or female and a choice of hair and eye colour it’s amazing how little time it took for me to feel connected to my little builder and her cheeky responses to people. There’s a diverse range of characters to meet and some pretty amusing conversations can occur between them all.
Dragon Quest Builders has a fairly simple game play loop; you’ll go out and explore nearby lands to find new materials, build rooms and items for your base, and help your fellow villagers. They’ll then give you new quests and you’ll go out exploring and building again. It sounds like a really simple game, but I can’t emphasize enough just how enjoyable and rewarding it is. You never quite know what you’re going to find when you go exploring – maybe a poisoned lake, an abandoned mine, or even a pyramid. At one point I came across an old ruined castle and I seriously had to drag myself away from it as I really wanted to try to rebuild it, or replicate it at my base! There’s loads to see and exploring thoroughly will reward you with new items, hidden quests, and blueprints for rooms. After completing certain quests you’ll also gain access to teleporters which will warp you to nearby islands, giving you even more places to explore.
It’s important to stay well fed in the game, as you have a hunger meter which gradually reduces over time. If it reaches zero then you’ll slowly begin to lose health. At the beginning of the game you’ll mostly just be foraging for food, but you will soon learn recipes that will allow you to cook tasty meals – filling more of your hunger meter, and offering bonuses like restoring HP or buffing your stats.
Thankfully the villagers will be a great help with your hunger (no, I don’t mean that you can eat them….). Build them a crude kitchen with a chest, and in turn they’ll cook food and leave you little treats in the chest. Other rooms like workshops will also inspire the villagers to be productive and leave little gifts for you. It feels like a nice little thank you for saving them and building them a safe home.
I was initially a little worried about inventory management as you can’t really carry much, but thankfully it doesn’t take long until you can build a ‘colossal coffer’. You can store a hell of a lot in here and as an added bonus you can access it even when far away from your base. This makes exploring a lot more efficient as you don’t have to keep trekking back to off-load all your materials.
The camera can be a bit of a pain at times, out in big open spaces it’s fine but as soon as you get into tight spaces such as a mine or rooms with a roof it becomes difficult to see what your doing. You can zoom the camera in by pushing it into the ground (which makes it zoom in close to you), but it would have been nice to have a bit more control over this.
Another, very minor criticism that I have is that there isn’t a quest log. You can re-speak to villagers to remind yourself what you need to do, but when I’m out in the wild and have gotten distracted with exploring a new area it would have been nice to have some kind of log to refer to. The game does provide you with a few orbs which you can place down anywhere to act as markers on the map, but it’s simply not as easy as having a quest log.
Combat in the game is quite simple; you have a sword or club and swing it at enemies, and your only way to defend is to move out of the way of incoming attacks. It’s a shame that the combat wasn’t slightly more developed, but it’s also obvious that the combat isn’t really the game’s main focus. Your Builder doesn’t level up and so the only way to get stronger is by crafting better weapons and armor. You can also eat Seeds of Life to increase your HP, which you’ll receive from completing quests or find hidden around the world.
Occasionally your base will also be invaded by monsters. Some villagers will hide when this happens, but others will join you in fighting against them. Although I never felt in any real danger from these little skirmishes, it did feel good to see the villagers rise up with me to defend the base.
Because normal fights against monsters are fairly simple it’s easy to become complacent which can trip you up in boss fights. End of chapter boss fights happen at your base, but none of your villagers can come and help you. The way you’ve built your base up can be a help or a hindrance to you. The second chapter boss consisted of a condor flying around the base which you need to hit with your ballista to knock out of the sky. Sadly I hadn’t quite built my ballista high enough so it couldn’t hit him, I ended up hastily building a tall tower in the middle of my infirmary. This was tricky to do when I had waves and waves of enemies trying to kill me! Sadly my village was pretty much destroyed by the end of that fight and I didn’t quite have the heart to rebuild (don’t worry villagers, I promise I’ll come back and rebuild one day!).
As mentioned above, the game is broken up into chapters and each chapter begins in a different part of the world. Initially it can be a little disheartening to realize that you lose all the materials, equipment, and HP stat boosts that you’ve obtained in the previous chapter. When this happened the first time I felt a bit despondent as it was a little unexpected, but thankfully it didn’t take me too long to come to terms with it. Each chapter feels like a new adventure with new materials to gather, people to meet, recipes to learn, and quests to complete. Also, each chapter’s save is stored separately so you’ll always be able to go back for a quick visit if you miss everyone!
After completing the first chapter you’ll unlock Terra Incognita mode which is the game’s free play mode. By completing various objectives in the story chapters you’ll unlock new recipes and new islands to explore. There’s no multiplayer in Dragon Quest Builders but you are able to share your creations in this mode. Some of the ones I’ve seen so far have been pretty impressive, ranging from beautiful gardens to expansive inns, floating castles and giant hero statues. I’m really looking forward to seeing some more creations in the future. If they don’t inspire you to see what you can build then nothing will!
Dragon Quest Builders is a great mix of RPG and construction/crafting game. It’s a simple game full of charm, personality and adventure! There’s plenty of recipes to learn, quests to complete and bosses to fight. Exploring every island will keep you busy for a long time and building your perfect base to show off in Terra Incognita will keep you busy for even longer. I’ve had great fun with Dragon Quest Builders and I know that I’m going to keep playing for a very long time.