Mixing gameplay styles can be like a mashup song. There are four ways it can go: a whole new genre, a beautiful mix of styles, something decent, or a bunch of noise that makes no sense. Square Enix has taken the mashup idea and applied it to Dragon Quest Builders. What do we end up with? Let’s look a little closer.
“We're all building our world, right now, in real time. Let's build it better.” - Lindy West
I have never played a Dragon Quest game, so I dug into a little history about the series so I could have at least a base understanding of the world, beyond the fact that they have the slime creatures that everyone knows and loves.
Dragon Quest Builders does tie into the series as an alternate world. At the end of the very first Dragon Quest game, the hero accepts the evil Dragonlord's offer to rule by his side and thus the world is plunged into darkness because his offer was a trap. Years pass and your character awakens as the world's new hero. Only this world’s hero is not a fighter, they are a builder.
So off you go to rebuild the world in which all cities, towns, and villages have been decimated. Planting a flag to attract wandering people to your location. As they arrive they have requests that turn into quests for you to build certain things. It might be a specific room, it might be an item that goes into that specific room, or it might be a "newly" discovered defensive item, building block, potion, or another thing.
In one of the more unique aspects of Dragon Quest Builders is that, as the Builder, you do not gain experience or levels through fighting. Nope. Building is how you level up. Building anything and everything from regular rooms to specialized rooms, furniture to decorations and so much more. You will be building a fair bit of weapons and armor too, but that is only to survive out in the wilds as you gather more resources to build your cities.
Once you build your city up to a certain level waves of creatures will be sent by the local boss to try to destroy all of your work. Some of the townspeople will come to your aid, but much of the defenses will rest on your shoulders. How well have you build up the defenses? Have you covered all avenues of approach? Basically, did you use the right defenses? Eventually, as you overcome these waves and keep building your city to higher levels, you will finally take on the boss character for that area.
When you finally defeat the boss you will then have the option to continue to build your city and attempt to complete specific challenges for that area or move on to the next area. The game does warn that you will not be able to bring anything with you to the next area, nor will you remember everything you learned to build in the last area. When the next chapter begins, and you finally awaken in another area, you realize that things are very different. You may not remember everything, but you might know something you didn’t before. You’ll have some of the same old resources and some new resources. Another boss monster (and their minions) will bring new challenges and the cycle starts anew.
"It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time." - David Allan Coe
The look of Dragon Quest Builders is in the same classic, semi-chibi, cartoon style of the current Dragon Quest series. This plus the setting gives long time fans something to connect with since the old fighting style isn’t front and center in this new world. Additionally, while most folks will think the game to be a Minecraft knockoff, it isn't. Yes, the leveling focus is on building and crafting, but there are plenty of role-playing game (RPG) touches here too; the waves of monsters attacking the city and quests to gather specific resources, to name a few. Crafting and building the city are just another part to add to the Dragon Quest the package. Spliced together they make for a well-paced game that keeps things going and always has something for the player to be doing.
“One great building does not make a great city.” - Thomas Heatherwick
That doesn't mean Dragon Quest Builders isn't without some problems. The biggest is the choice of camera placement. The second problem I encountered, which is one most players will not run into, is control lag.
Dragon Quest Builders goes with a third person camera. In the open world, it's just fine. You can move it to where you need it for better viewing of almost any area, or angle it for combat. It’s when you are mining or exploring caves that the camera’s problems come to light. Quite often I felt like I was fighting the camera to get it into just the right position. Heaven forbid I mine myself into an area smaller than just a couple blocks wide and high! The camera then gets pushed into a pseudo first-person position, only you cannot see which way your character's body is facing. Quite a few times I would try to mine ore only to find myself getting more dirt. It's a workable system, but frustrating.
I found the control lag specifically happens if the player is streaming while playing Dragon Quest Builders on the PlayStation 4 itself. I played Dragon Quest Builders for a 24 hours charity marathon and streamed the whole time. Every few hours my character would stop and not respond to anything I would do and then suddenly start carrying out half the commands I had just tried to make it do. For me I was lucky that it never happened at a crucial point in the game where I was in a major battle. But again, this only happened while I was streaming and playing on the PlayStation 4, at the same time. If I was just playing the game without streaming, it was just fine
I came at Dragon Quest Builders with the thought that it would be some kind of knock-off version of Minecraft. As such I had some preconceived notions of what I was going to get. As I played, getting into the adventure and building, those preconceived notions fell to the wayside. Square Enix did a good job splicing together an RPG with a world building crafting game. The camera system needs some work, but otherwise, the game really was a surprise of sheer fun and enjoyment. A game with a wonky camera, but hard to stop playing, I give Dragon Quest Builders a 3.75 out of 5.
Dragon Quest Builders is rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and older for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB)