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Dragon Quest Builders (Switch) Hands-on Preview

by Daan Koopman - January 11, 2018, 6:47 am PST
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Let's build with a quest line, an adorable plot and many defined rules.

Dragon Quest is my favorite role playing game franchise. The larger than life characters make the entries fun, and something I spent a dozen sessions on. When it comes to non-main titles, I’ve had my grievances. Personally, I find hard to commit to something that doesn't have a number at the end. Harsh? Maybe, but that doesn't make it less true. Let us take today's game, Dragon Quest Builders, for example. I purchased the game on PlayStation 4, because I wanted to support the franchise. I am, however, only touching it now due to the upcoming Nintendo Switch release. And to my surprise, I am enjoying it a ton now that I've started playing through the adventure.

Dragon Quest Builders throws you into a weird version of Alefgard, the world of the original game. I say weird because this world was destroyed by the evil Dragonlord and thrown into darkness. The humans were forced to live beside the ruins of destroyed towns with nowhere else to go. Now help comes in the form of a legendary builder that will stop the chaos and be the hero that the people deserve. Well, you aren't allowed to call yourself a hero. In any case, there is a plot to follow, so we have to go forth and build.

Before we get to that though, I must say that I'm impressed by the care in the writing. Dragon Quest games usually have grand written characters, and this game isn't any different. This is what will push you forward for the most part as well. As you build up a town from zero, humans will come towards you as they search for refuge. You need to complete quests for them, which will see you searching for materials or people. A good chunk of the adventure is filled with reading those boxes of text, and Builders knows how to keep you engaged. Apparently, you are the only person who can combine items or build. In fact, the inhabitants have forgotten what the word ''build'' even means.

With its focus on the plot, you wouldn't be unreasonable to think that Dragon Quest Builders guides you through the experience. It certainly can if you want it to, and you wouldn't be wrong in doing so. Your character stays quite the same with the materials and town being the changing factors. It doesn't exactly help that you're well guided to your main quest destinations, which get stamped with a big Q on the map. That being said, each town has a slew of side quests and these enable you to get things done in your own way. Each of the four locations can take up to ten hours before you move on, and start the gameplay loop all over again.

That gameplay loop isn't hard to grasp. You begin by accepting a quest, and going on your merry way. In the beginning, the materials are kept simple so that you get eased into the idea of it. Next to the materials, you might need to get some earth to build chambers or complete new houses. It sees you picking away at the environment, leaving the marks of your work there forever. Along the way, the worlds are filled with the Darklord's minions that are more than willing to take you down. You can defend yourself to a certain degree, but later on you will need certain gear crafted to push yourself onward on the map. The further you go, the more unwieldy the world around you becomes. That being said, death never comes with a harsh penalty. You lose some of your items and are teleported back to the town you were building up.

The simple combat mechanics never annoyed me for the most part. It’s simply swiping your weapon until the opponent meets a simple yet effective end. Where I did get really frustrated was at the end of a chapter. It is here that you fight against bosses by making unique weapons that require rare materials. Even then, you aren't quite done. There is a specific way in how you need to defeat them, which adds to the frustration factor of the whole thing. I had more deaths than I would like to admit, which is time better spent on the next phase of the journey.

After collecting everything you need, it’s time to focus on the task at hand. One of the objectives early on is a place to house the workspace and some storage space. It sees you getting a blueprint with specific rules on what should be placed within. It is one way how Dragon Quest Builders keeps you in check, and forces you to play its ideas. While the building and placing is your standard building game fair, the way that the towns develop and what you use is vastly different. Progression doesn't carry over from one chapter to the next and at every beginning, the slate is wiped clean. From collecting plants to mostly mining, each chapter has its own specialities to keep the building aspect alive and unique. By building a lot, your town will grow in level and open up even further.

Other tasks in the game are fulled focus on creating useful items for the inhabitants. It’s not uncommon to see a new ally ask for some medicine or simply a bed to sleep on. Regardless of what the quest is, more important are the rewards presented to you. You might be granted new workshop recipes or additional materials to get more work done. Between all that hard work, it is important to keep eating. You see, your character in this game has a stomach and not supporting it may result in some unfortunate side effects.

While the regular game keeps you in line, you will be able to make your own creations in the Terra Incognita. This will unlock after the first chapter is finished, and will keep expanding with every additional one you wrap up. It is truly a free-build mode as the enemies will not attack your base, allowing you to have a pure creative outlet. The things you make here can also be shared online for the world to see. On the flip side, you can explore what others have created as well. After I while with the game, the Terra Incognita was the perfect way to kick back and have some simple fun.

Dragon Quest Builders looks pretty good on the Nintendo Switch. Now the landscapes aren't the most breathtaking thing ever, but it gets the job done. The world is entirely built out of voxels, which adds to the retro look and idea that you're in Alefgard. Regardless of how you are playing the game, you can pretty clearly see what you're doing. Well, for the most part. The third-person or overhead camera points work excellent in most of the places they are utilized in. The same, however, can't be said for the first-person mode that is used in tight places. It feels really cramped, and you don't always know where you are going. Another annoyance is that the music isn't anything to write home about. It is fine in smaller chunks, but after a while, I found myself putting on different music while I played.

As this is the Nintendo Switch release, you can expect to take this with you anywhere. This is a nice touch, and gives you access to the full Dragon Quest Builders experience. That being said, there hasn't been much added beyond that. There are no touchscreen controls to speak of and other unique features aren't really noticeable either. At the very least, there is some original content for this release. While riding on a Great Sabrecub, you will be able to find additional retro styled customization options. One of the treats is a big Dragon Quest Game Pak that can be displayed in your original creations. That is at least something I suppose.

Overall, I am enjoying my time with Dragon Quest Builders. Unlike other building games, there is a strong quest focus that I really appreciate. You don't feel overwhelmed as much, and have clear directions of where you need to go. For those who want to lose themselves, there is also a good number of side quests to seek your teeth into. Does that mean everything is just fine and dandy? Of course not. The boss battles are a hassle, the music is forgettable and the Nintendo Switch release doesn't add much additional content. In the grand scheme of things, that won't stop you from building until there is no tomorrow.

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Dragon Quest Builders Box Art

Genre RPG
Developer Square Enix
Players1 - 2

Worldwide Releases

na: Dragon Quest Builders
Release Feb 09, 2018
PublisherNintendo
RatingEveryone 10+
eu: Dragon Quest Builders
Release Feb 09, 2018
PublisherNintendo
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