The problem with fantasy worlds is they have a giant target taped to their backs saying “Decimate Me.” Once you’ve got a happy, peaceful civilization working towards an age of enlightenment it’s only a matter of time before an evil overlord comes along to stomp it flat, ruining everything and leaving behind little more than a handful of legends of past glories while the survivors scrabble for existence. Sometimes survival requires a hero to rise up against the darkness, but in Dragon Quest Builders it needs someone a little more constructive than a warrior. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is an all-new story set after the events of Dragon Quest 2, but at the start its world isn’t in much better shape than the first game’s ruined land. A strange cult has eliminated all creation, causing the world to slide into decay, but an apprentice builder has escaped their grasp and is determined to revive the land.
I was able to play Dragon Quest Builders 2 at PAX East, and while the demo was short, it showed off a few new tricks while hinting at several more. There were two chapters to choose from, but seeing as I’d already played DQ Builders to completion and time was tight, I skipped the tutorial scenes and dove right in to the first chapter. At this point in the game the builder (I chose female and stuck with her default name Creatrix, which sounds like she should be flaunting a tight studded leather outfit) has met up with her companion Malroth, who fights alongside her through at least the early parts of the adventure. After landing on the dock at the ruined island of Furrowfield you go exploring to get the lay of the land and seek out some healthy plant life, but instead find a deadly pink fungus whose gaseous emissions poison the ground and kill any nearby plant life. Before being able to look into this further there comes a cry for help from a distant ridge, where a lone woman is trapped by a band of badboons below. One quick fight later, in which the builder pokes at the monsters with the hammer for a single hitpoint at a time while Malroth does actual damage, and the threat is dispersed. They still give each other a cheerful high five at the end of the encounter despite somebody *cough*Creatrix*cough* being dead weight.
On top of the ridge is exactly the person they’d want to meet, a farmer determined not to let the blight of the land interfere with her crops. They follow her back to her home just in time to see a pink spore kill both the last of the wheat crops and the villagers’ final hope the ruins that had once been a farm could feed anyone ever again. After a bit of talking Creatrix figures out how to construct a scarecrow, and a little resource-harvesting outside of town turns up the appropriate materials as she beats up trees and vines with the hammer while Malroth keeps the monsters away. After that it’s back to the crafting station to put the scarecrow together, then plant it in the field to turn what had been a few blocks of dirt into a field. This is exactly what the farmer had been waiting for and she promptly gets to work tilling the dirt, dropping a yellow heart behind her with each completed block.
The yellow hearts are gratitude points, which goes towards leveling up the builder’s abilities plus motivating the town, but my time with the demo didn’t go quite that far. After planting a few cabbage seeds and building an irrigation pool to catch the water coming out of a small hillside (showing off flowing the new flowing water feature) the demo came to an end, which is probably for the best because I could easily have blown an hour or two undertaking villager requests while trying to get a weapon decent enough that Malroth isn’t doing all the work in battle.
While the PAX East demo was nice, it was only a tiny slice of the full game, and didn’t progress far enough to show off some of the major upgrades the sequel has received. There are two big changes that aren’t readily apparent from playing a portion the first level in that there’s now multiplayer so you can build with up to three friends and the world progression of the first game has been ditched in favor of a more traditionally RPG-ish structure. In the first Dragon Quest Builders once you’d finished an area it was done, and while you could go back and re-do the chapter associated with that area from scratch, that was a long way to go to clean up a few missing secrets. The world of Dragon Quest Builders 2 is much more open, although you still need to load up the area when traveling from one major section of the world to another. This means certain resources may only be found in a specific area, making for quests that can have you traveling far and wide to build the the necessary structures to revive the world. This will also help the game feel like a single quest rather than original’s fractured approach that only came together at the very end.
While Dragon Quest Builders is a weird little spin-off from the main series, it’s a weird little spin-off that works far better than it’s got any right to. Fusing Dragon Quest and Minecraft turned out to be a fun idea, and while the first was a well-executed proof-of-concept, the sequel is knocking off the rough edges and refining the gameplay with improvements big and small. The previously-mentioned flowing water is joined by a higher building ceiling so you can make taller structures, villagers are now much more useful, helping out in laying down blocks on blueprint structures or fighting with you, etc. It’s a big new adventure rendered in an adorable style, filled with all the likeable charm that Dragon Quest is known for.