When the announcement was first revealed that my favourite RPG franchise Dragon Quest would be coming out with a new spin-off that combined the universe with the building and creation aspects of Minecraft, I was skeptical. I never understood Minecraft as a trend, mostly because I’m not good at creating things out of my imagination. This skepticism quickly vanished as soon as I discovered the place where my town would be built, met my first fellow villager and noticed the trademark Slimes happily bouncing around the environment. Dragon Quest Builders adds quests and other light RPG elements to its creation premise, and the results are very simple yet satisfying in the best way.
Quite quickly you realize that you have special powers as a legendary builder, and must restore Alefgard to its former glory, destroying the evil Dragonlord in the process. This starts off relatively simple, with you putting together bedrooms for your villagers to sleep, a workshop to be able to build more elaborate structures and a kitchen so that you can cook meals to keep your stamina up. Things evolve beyond this almost as quickly as they begin, with monsters regularly attacking your town, requiring you to build fortifications to add to your defenses.
What I love about this is that the Dragon Quest Builders doesn’t just throw you into a sandbox and tell you to build without context. Every villager who joins your city comes with quests that must be completed which trigger the next event. It would feel like a tutorial in many ways, except the cute stories and witty dialogue completely masks this, as you venture through portals to other worlds, searching for hostages kept captive by shape-shifters or collecting evil idols protected by monsters.
“Combined with the story elements, this progression feels natural and never really overwhelming…”
Building is, also, very simple to understand. With the game being played in third person perspective, it’s easy to lay out plans and then execute them, after gathering the relevant materials that you need from the world. Every monster you kill, every block of land you destroy and every… well every THING that you see can be broken down into raw materials, which over time will inspire your character to think up other items that can be created. Combined with the story elements, this progression feels natural and never really overwhelming; quite literally, you won’t be able to learn about creations that you don’t have the materials to create them with.
The visuals and sound are trademark Dragon Quest, with a variety of monsters from the franchise and references to worlds and history that fans will instantly be familiar with. I knew instantly when I was told about trying to find out how to make a hammer that I would be searching out a Hammerhead, and different colours of goo quite clearly appear when you kill Slimes. There is a logic to it that is instantly recognizable for anybody who has taken part in this universe before, which never failed to make me smile.
Combat in Dragon Quest Builders is a relatively hack ‘n’ slash, and while you’ll learn new moves and upgrade your weapons, it does feel pretty one-note. I wasn’t expecting an in-depth RPG combat system or anything like that, but sometimes its simplicity left me wanting more. It also frustrated me when monsters were attacking my city and quite close to it that I, on occasion, destroyed part of the city myself with a sort of friendly fire. Not that it was hard to put the pieces back together afterwards.
In fact, there isn’t much of a penalty for falling in battle or failing; everything can be rebuilt easily, and simply going back to where you fell allows you to collect the items you may have dropped. There is no real sense of urgency outside of the missions where you must defend against attacking monsters. This is to the games credit, as the leisurely pace means that you’re never under pressure or feeling like there are harsh deadlines on what you’re doing. Where so many games intentionally cause frustration and increase difficulty, Builders feels relaxing and cathartic; I found myself returning to work on my city over and over, and it’s still growing.
The Bottom Line
What seemed like an odd idea in theory is just excellent in execution. There is something pure and genuine about this game, and its style is suitable for kids but also very engaging for adults as well. The nods for fans of Dragon Quest, the relaxed pace and the simple but addictive structure ensures that you’ll always have something to do while never feeling overwhelmed. Dragon Quest Builders perfectly captures light RPG elements combined with creativity and exploration that makes it effortless to pick up and impossible to put down.