It was only a matter of time, really, until Breath of the Wild – one of the best games of the last few years, and a valid contender for one of the best of all time – started to make its mark on other video games, but this is the first time it feels explicit. Dragon Quest Builders 2 came out in Japan towards the tail-end of last year, a follow-up to the 2016 original that itself crafted together an exquisite mix of Minecraft and the long-running, much-loved RPG series. The sequel streamlines things, throws in a dash of Breath of the Wild inspiration and comes out of it all feeling refreshed and refined.
The underpinnings are still mighty familiar from the first time out. You’re stranded in a land where building is outlawed, and it falls on you to bring back a spark of creativity, pushing out further into the wilds to pick up resources that you bring back to your base to build it up and attract more citizens, slowly providing them with facilities to keep them happy. It’s a hypnotic loop, and in keeping with the Dragon Quest vibe a sedate one too, as you engage in the lightest of combat out in the field before indulging in some light construction when you return.
You’ve a companion, too, in the form of Malroth, a mouthy, tempestuous young thing that follows you by your side when you venture out beyond your camp (later you have a dog that joins your party too, and who can sniff out certain resources – and yes, I’m delighted to confirm that you can pet the dog). There’s a through line that, if you’re a veteran of the series, might feel familiar – just as the first Builders used the very first Dragon Quest game as its template, so this sequel takes on Dragon Quest 2, with many of the same locales, characters and plot beats (which does, unfortunately, mean a key plot point is robbed of much of its power if you’ve ever played the original).
It does mean there’s a glorious 8-bit mini-map in the corner, while the world itself, built as it is out of chunky squares, feels like a Famicom RPG inflated and expanded into three dimensions. There’s that same sense of open-ended exploration – made all the more delightful by the new dash feature which has your character running through fields with their arms held wide by their side like a joyous toddler – and the same breezy fantasy underpinning it all. Judged as a straight-up Dragon Quest game, Builders 2 acquits itself well – though obviously there’s more to it than that.
The building has been beefed up considerably this time out. There’s a new emphasis on agriculture, your first task seeing you build a farm from scratch as you seek out seeds and then sow them in fields. There’s more help from the fellow villagers you recruit, with your base levelling up as you perform tasks for them, eventually unlocking the ability for them to build alongside you (there’s also multiplayer, too, with up to four players able to be whisked off to an island that sits outside of the main quest to create whatever takes their fancy, while community features are now more closely woven into the fabric with shared screenshots and creations close to hand). There’s even a sense of Sims-like autonomy as your villagers go about their business, queuing up for the bath-house in the evening or lining up patiently for the outhouse toilet where they might deposit their ‘night-soil’ (which, of course, you can then use to fertilise the land).
There are less small nuisances than last time out, too. Both weapon and armour degradation are gone, your building tools are now broader and the crafting has been whittled back to the bare essentials, with a UI that’s been similarly pruned back and that gently guides you in the right direction when it comes to fulfilling requests. You can sprint while out in the field, and no longer are you stripped of your abilities and blueprints at the end of each chapter – lending Dragon Quest Builders 2 a much more cohesive, coherent feel.
It’s a small tweak that makes a big difference, tying together the various isles you explore into one whole. It’s out in the open where the Breath of the Wild influence can be felt, too, with small puzzles posited around the map for you to solve, rewarding your inquisitiveness, while the simple act of just poking around feels improved thanks to the dash and, later on in Dragon Quest Builders 2, your acquisition of a cape that works much like Link’s paraglider.
Beneath that, it’s still every inch a Dragon Quest game – and there are a lot of inches, as this is absolutely vast. The landscape has that same bucolic draw, the pace that same stately – you might say glacial – tempo, and atop it all is the pretence of simplicity that then gives way to some serious depth.
And in the end it’s not so much Breath of the Wild that makes the biggest mark on Dragon Quest Builders 2, though, as much as it is Dragon Quest itself. Here, that sense of adventure, of pushing forward into new lands to make new discoveries and to unearth the warmth and character that’s always been at the series’ heart, is re-emphasised. It’s a wonderful thing, really, and the most fun I’ve had with a Dragon Quest game in years.