When it comes to games with a crafting or building theme, such as Minecraft or Subnautica, it has always been easy to see the appeal. Such games call back to childhood hours spent building things with household items or LEGO, making something vaguely spaceship- or car-shaped, constructing whole worlds while stretching your creative and imaginative muscles. With such a built-in nostalgia factor it’s no wonder that these sort of games appeal to adults as much as they appeal to children, such is very much the case for Dragon Quest Builders.
While easily dismissed as a Minecraft clone on visuals alone, the newest installment into the long standing
A spinoff to the original Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest Builders is set in an alternate timeline where the great evil that threatened the world had not in fact been defeated. Humanity has been stripped of its power to create, leaving them scavengers, unable to fix the ruins of the world they had once inhabited. Without the knowledge to craft weapons, monsters overtook humanity, forcing them to shelter in run down buildings or dirt holes. This is where your character comes in. Brought back from the dead by the Goddess, you escape your tomb with one mission, to save the world by rebuilding it.
The game itself is split into two modes, Story mode and free build mode. Story mode is further split down into four stand-alone chapters, each counting as a different game to your console so you won't accidentally save over data from another chapter. This enables players to go back and continue to build and develop their townships, even after they have completed the story for that particular chapter and moved on. This is particularly handy since different challenges, such as finding certain recipes or beating world bosses, are revealed to the player once a chapter is complete, meaning you can complete the story, find out what the challenges are, then return to the chapter at your leisure to clean up remaining tasks.
Each of the four story sections are themselves split into four areas, a new one becoming available after certain tasks or quests have been completed. Quests are given by NPCs, which you can attract to your town by improving on it, and generally range from item crafting or fetching, to base improvement or rescuing someone from monsters. Occasionally a battle quest will be given, pitching several waves of enemy monsters against you and what fortifications you have built for your town. These get increasingly difficult, culminating in a mini-boss fight against a monster leader. On successful completion a portal to another part of the level becomes available, granting you access to new materials and recipes. This continues until you have explored all four areas and have satisfied enough requests, each chapter requiring more than the last, to trigger the end of chapter boss. These fights put everything you have learned from the current chapter to use and, if you clear it, activate yet another portal to the next continent and the next chapter.
The saves aren't the only way the chapters are standalone though. At the start of each chapter almost everything you have learned to that point is forgotten, forcing you to relearn quite a few recipes from scratch. This is not as annoying as it seems, since each chapter’s landmass is so varied and different; from swamps to snowfields, deserts and mountains, the materials on offer aren't always the same. What may have required a bone and iron scraps on one continent will require wood and metal ingots on another. These items are in the minority as each chapter focuses on a different game mechanics, such as base defence, complex mechanisms, vehicles, NPC care and status effects, meaning there is always a lot of new things to make, normally around one hundred a chapter. This keeps the game feeling fresh and, though it is reported to be around twenty to forty hours long, you can see the game lasting over a hundred hours as you explore what's capable of your new recipes, like building a roller coaster of death or filling a moat with lava.
Crafting itself is done through crafting stations, Much like in the game Terraria there are multiple variations on each individual station, each one offering different available items and recipes built in. For example a normal cookfire can allow you to make steak from meat, but a barbeque can help you turn that meat into a much more filling burger, making it a more efficient way to fill your characters hunger meter which will deplete over time. Not only that, the items you put into rooms alongside the crafting stations can actually influence NPCs in town to craft items from that station or make the items you do make stronger. This is done through the game’s blueprint system. Blueprints are often the subject of quests, asking you to make rooms in your town that follow a specific checklist of items, turning a normal room into something more, like a cafe, workshop, or an inn.
The games other mode is Terra Incognita, or free build mode. In this you are free to build whatever you want, gathering items from islands unlocked through completion of story mode or stepping into Terra Australis where all the monsters hide. All crafting recipes in this mode are restricted to ones you have learned through the game’s story and, given some are hidden around each chapter, it gives you an incentive to go out and fully explore the chapters before coming here. Whatever you build can be shared online using a ‘Share Stone’, allowing you to swap creations with friends or strangers. You can use a similar stone to download other people’s creations, either randomly selected from all uploads, or through a code each upload is given. It is not unlike Animal Crossing and their town codes, only you will never see another player.
This is one of the game’s only downfalls, the other being a tiny amount of lag if you blow up too many things at once, and to be honest it's quite a big one. Minecraft, Terraria and its kind all offered online multiplayer, enabling people to work together, in fact it is one of the biggest selling points for both games. Dragon Quest Builders has no multiplayer at all. While it has already been said that SquareEnix would consider implementing multiplayer in a sequel it is little solace to those who would have enjoyed being able to play this game with friends. Despite that, the game is fun and highly addictive. The rather steep difficulty curve in story mode, coupled with the high number of hidden item recipes and blueprints mean it will take some time before you're able to utilise the free build mode to its fullest. That being said, given the adorable and gorgeous graphics, the large and varied landscapes, and the beautiful soundtrack of remastered songs from the series, it's time you won't begrudge spending.