Dragon Quest Builders Review
In the post Minecraft world we live in, we expect to be able to explore vast worlds and build anything we please. With Square-Enix’s Dragon Quest Builders, we are taking the step towards making these games more than just obsessive compulsive disorderlies and entering a world of actual progression and gameplay.
Dragon Quest Builders starts out rather simple. Simple fetch quests and small area tasks teach the player where each thing is, where it goes, and what its for. Your task as the non-hero is to save the world from the Dragonlord who has released darkness and chaos throughout the land. You are given a square plot of land and the tools you need to get started and then with the quests in front of you it is a simple to and fro playstyle of step by step building for your community. Growing the town consists of building blueprints received from townsfolk to upgrade your capabilities. In order to build these structures you need to scout the area for various materials and compile them within a large coffer.
One of the best parts of the entire game and a huge improvement to the builder formula, a “Colossal Coffer” allows the player to access his entire store of inventory on the fly, anywhere, at any time. Gone are the days where you can only carry a certain amount of materials, stunting progression with meaningless backtracking to store said items in a home cache. Instead Dragon Quest Builders allows the player to have instant access once the Colossal Coffer is crafted. As a very experienced Minecraft player told me how he felt, the Colossal Coffer is like a universal “backpack” for access to all your items. Progression wise, this does not break the game as you can only build a Large Coffer once several hard to find items are required. Additionally, while mining or gathering materials for building, anything obtained once the player’s inventory is filled gets automatically transferred to your large coffer inventory. It’s a huge change to the genre and since each chapter has you start over with no items and new objectives, it never feels overpowered to have that kind of ultimate inventory access. Instead it just adds to the possibilities of building and wonder.
Story in Dragon Quest Builders is plain but that isn’t necessarily a problem as this game is about building. Unfortunately the progression with chapters is a bit flawed in that the chapters are split with progress only affecting each chapter. While not that big of an issue, focusing on the story divides the world from progression and just gives a sense of having to grind even harder to accomplish the same goal. With OCD I didn’t care to lose my town I just spent 10 hours building as the prospect of doing it over was a challenge I relished. Unfortunately I could see how this would really deter someone from wanting to continue, having spent over 10 hours building a community of buildings to only lose it all and get forced to start over in a harder area to continue. Again, not too bad for me but slight tampering with the formula could help.
Battle in Dragon Quest Builders leaves something to be desired but does not feel poorly developed. If anything development for the battle system must have been decided early on as it’s a simple and effective approach, allowing for pick up and play regardless of first chapter or third chapter. The formula of building and growing a community comes with upgrades to weapons, armor and accessories that help the player venture further into the overworld. The player has a basic set of 2 moves, (attack and 360 charged power swing) and with these moves is charged with besting multiple monsters in short range combat. The hit area for the attacks is severely limited though and tactics for combat reflect that. While some knock back is made from the swing of the sword, strategy is extremely limited in combat to a dance of attack, move out of the way and repeat. While not expecting a god of war combat from a building game, it would still be nice to see at least an attempt at fun fighting.
End chapter bosses are a different matter and should be heralded. An end-chapter Boss battle consists of not only besting the area warlord but also utilizing the games core-concept of building to do so. This culminates boss battles that are up to the player to come up with a creative solution that will ultimately save the town from an imposing threat. Instead of a straight forward boss battle with mechanics to figure out, Dragon Quest Builders shines here, tasking the player to build in order to defeat the monster. For example in Chapter 2, ballistas are required to attack the monster throughout the fight and in order to do so, a creative solution is needed. Since my first attempt was disastrous, reloading a save file I made right before the battle allowed me to create a structure that would allow me to place the ballistas in strategic locations. This all felt well executed and extremely inventive to the builder formula. Finally, once the area boss is bested, new pillar of light will lead the hero to another land filled with adventure and more people to save.
Alongside the battle mechanic is the need to heal and eat in order to keep the player fully powered while adventuring. To do this various edible items are obtained from throughout the area both in the form of crops and beast meat. These items are then cooked in kitchens that you can build inside your community. Bonuses are available for cooked food that combines healing materials with edible materials to great effect. Life bars and stamina bars require the use of medicine and food which are grinded from throughout the area. This leads to upgrades in the kitchen for better recipes. Community members also contribute by placing items in a community chest within these rooms for the player to use. Upgrading a kitchen to a cafeteria gives more items in the a community chest for the player to use as well. While stamina and health definitely play a part in the full experience of DQ Builders, it never feels arbitrary and instead just fits the ultimate goal within the game.
In order to do more and take less damage, respectfully, the crafting of better equipment throughout the game gives an added layer of progression. With each chapter starting with a wooden hammer and plain clothing, it is on the player to accumulate the required materials in order to upgrade hammers, weapons, shields and armor. Better weapons help in besting harder monsters while better hammers are needed to mine harder materials utilized in crafting story advancing items. Additionally tools are crafted like shovels, fishing poles and rakes (to name a few) that add layers of gameplay to the builder formula.
A huge component missing from this game was multiplayer. Granted, this game benefited from focusing on a single player campaign, It can’t help but be felt like a major part of this game is missing by not letting 2 people work together to create something. One of the major reasons Minecraft is so successful is that anything is possible since people can work together to create anything they can think of. It seems like for now Square-Enix is content with dabbling in the genre, rather than redefining it.