The term “Minecraft clone” is thrown about pretty commonly these days. It would seem that any game with an emphasis on building mechanics, is instantly shunned as a copycat. For the most part, people are correct. There are a lot of Minecraft clones, and there are a lot of games that haven't managed to capture the same level of success. This may well be about to change though; enter, Dragon Quest Builders.
Dragon Quest Builders is the latest attempt to cash in on the Minecraft fanfare by offering players a similar premise; big open world, lots of enemies, building mechanics and a ton of dirt blocks. The big difference being that where Minecraft has multiplayer and limitless exploration. Dragon Quest Builders gives players a narrative and purpose. This subtle change adds so much depth, bringing some much needed gravitas to the block building genre
The game starts by throwing you into the world, with little explanation other than the fact you are not a hero and shouldn’t approach the game as such. This is a little muddled given the fact that NPCs flock to you, treating you like the second coming of Jesus. I think the developers meant to portray that you are not the archetypal “hero”character, you’re a glorified Handy Andy; sent to help rebuild the world after humanity tore itself apart in an age gone by.
Building starts off slowly: the first NPC the player meets feeds players a set of tasks to do, which start off fairly simple before gradually becoming more complicated. The quests set by NPCs never feel to hard or unfair, with each incremental difficulty increase feeling natural. The narrative perfectly drives the building and vice versa, it’s rare to see gameplay and narrative work so harmoniously rather than clashing or falling behind one another. The narrative itself isn’t wholly original, and it’s not going to win any awards for literary excellence but it does have a certain charm to it. There's the occasional adult joke stuck in, helping the game tow the line between kid and adult friendly; think Spongebob Squarepants .
The combat on offer is simple, but there’s often enough of a challenge from enemies to make it interesting. Imagine a more stripped back version of A Link To The Past where all you are able to do is swing a sword and jump, on the plus side you do also eventually learn a sweet spinning sword attack (You can see why I went for the Zelda comparison now).
While there are a varied number of enemies, the simplicity of the combat often makes it pointless as it always boils down to jumping out of the way and catching them on the counterattack. I’d have really enjoyed the inclusion of a roll, it would have added the chance to be more risky during fights while giving players more choice.
The worlds are incredibly well built, with the developers choosing to mix a certain amount of procedural generation with fixed points of interest throughout the world. It always feels like there’s something around a corner, or over the next hill; whether it be a new person that can join your town or just a new material, exploration always feels justified. There are several chapters in Dragon Quest Builders, all representing a different geographical variant. This is a smart move as it adds a new set of buildable materials in each area, materials that are based on that specific location.
It can be a little frustrating between chapters as the game essentially forces you to give up all you have built and earned during the previous segment. This forced restart is a bitter pill to swallow when you find yourself without all the tools you've created, having to rebuild all over again. Frustrating as it may be, it makes sense within the world of Dragon Quest Builders. The game is trying to build this overall sense of dread and hopefulness, so it works in the sense that you are also being downtrodden and forced to start from nothing.
Once players complete chapter 1, they are then able to start playing Terra Incognita mode. This is the closest thing to Minecraft in Dragon Quest Builders, with players having a large but finite area in which they can build outside the main story’s constraints. In this mode players are able to upload their creations for other players to see and interact with, it might not be the full multiplayer mode some would like but it’s a nice touch either way. Players will also find an arena battle mode to mess about with, adding potential replayability for those that have finished the title.
People often say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and while many would chalk Dragon Quest Builders down to a simple imitation, it is so much more than that. Yes, the building mechanics are there, but so are the excellently designed environments and characters.
Dragon Quest Builders is one of the best games I’ve played this year, it’s so good that I’ve had to wrestle my girlfriend for the controller because she can’t stop playing herself. Solid gameplay and simple storytelling give players a reason to keep coming back, simply put, Dragon Quest Builders is a game for those that enjoy structured creative freedom, even if that is an oxymoron.
Dragon Quest Builders (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Solid gameplay and simple storytelling give players a reason to keep coming back, simply put, Dragon Quest Builders is a game for those that enjoy structured creative freedom, even if that is an oxymoron.