It Takes a Village
HIGH Any of the overwhelming boss fights against huge foes.
LOW A glitch that left me unable to drop the person I was carrying.
WTF No, I’m the idiot for not realizing I was supposed to make a battleaxe at the loom.
The theory, as I see it, is that Minecraft would be a great game if it were ever finished.
Of course it’s successful, but it remains maddeningly and (at times) charmingly unfinished. Dozens of titles have attempted to recreate Mojang’s success, leading players across scores of worlds to mine trillions of blocks, but none of them has managed to feel like a fully-realized narrative experience. Until now.
Dragon Quest Builders is the thing that finally encapsulates the promise Minecraft always held for me. It takes the core gameplay of open world crafting, places characters in a curated world full of goals to achieve, and then allows something beautiful to happen — it’s crafting for something other than idle play or showing off.
The adventure begins in the Kingdom of Alefgard long after the events of the original Dragon Quest. The Dragonlord has ruled for as long as people can remember, and monsters run rampant over the remnants of human civilization. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, largely because they’ve been stripped of the ability to build things. It’s into this world that the player appears as The Builder — a mythical figure who will return humanity to its former glory by reminding them of their potential and teaching them to once again transform raw materials into completed goods.
The gameplay is third-person survival crafting. Each of the game’s areas features unique resources to be collected, monsters to be fought, and a town to restore. Rather than tasking the player with building a single sprawling base (although that’s an option in the sandbox mode) DQB sends them to a series of increasingly-shattered environments and asks them to perform the miracle of reconstruction time and time again.
While that sounds like it might get old fast, the game does an incredible job of keeping each new area feeling fresh, so that starting from scratch in a new village multiple times never comes off like repetitive busywork. There’s a constant stream of new crafting stations to build, new recipes to figure out, and new rooms to design. I rarely found myself going more than a few minutes without uncovering some new item or a new way to use an old one.
The developers have even streamlined the process of grinding for resources. Early in the game, players will unlock a magic chest that allows them to magically teleport found resources back to their village — there’s never any reason to fear that a long jaunt into the wilderness for collecting will be interrupted by the need to head back and clear out The Builder’s inventory.
Another big part of what impressed me about DQB was the degree to which the game encourages and rewards experimentation. While the game will provide blueprints for each village’s necessary structures, there’s plenty of space available for players to stretch their design muscles. The towns are graded with a point system — any complete room is worth a certain value which can be raised through decoration. Use the right kind of decorations, and players can wind up transforming it into an entirely new kind of room!
While the crafting and building are fantastic, the combat isn’t quite up to snuff. It never descends to the kind of awkward flailing the defines Minecraft‘s combat, but the old-school, top-down fights leave quite a bit to be desired. The player can arm their avatar with swords or hammers, but neither have particularly long ranges. Worse, all of the enemies move remarkably fast and home in on the player. While it’s serviceable — a Zelda-style spinning sword attack really helps — the melee doesn’t shine the way the rest does.
For anyone who’s ever looked at Minecraft and found its lack of structure daunting, DQB is a more focused, more accessible version of it. And, while it may not have the scope of that genre-defining title, there’s something special at its the core — an exploration of what it means to build a community. The game’s ‘building’ isn’t just about bricks and mortar, but about restoring places where people can work together to create something better than anyone could accomplish on their own. Dragon Quest Builders may not be designed to go on forever, but it offers dozens of hours of crafting, construction, and an utterly engaging story to get lost in.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Square Enix Business Division 5 and published by Square Enix. It is currently available on PS4/PSVita. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 50 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Alcohol References, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, and Mild Suggestive Themes. Not only is this game safe for your kids, I’d actually suggest that it’s a pretty healthy game for them to play. It’s all about creativity, helping people, and making the world a better place. There’s some mildly lascivious dialogue and imagery, but nothing so strong that even tweens would have a problem with it. Some of the implied content in the dialogue can be a little dark, though – humanity went through some rough times between Dragon Quest and DQB, and characters aren’t shy about discussing it.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All of the game’s audio cues have visual components, and the story is presented entirely through text, so you’ll be fine.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. and it’s kind of annoying, since both ‘menu’ and ‘activate/talk’ are mapped to the same button.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.