Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a charming deviation from the main Dragon Quest series, with joyful gameplay and a detailed and expansive game world.
Dragon Quest has seen a lot of spinoffs over the years, from the Pokemon-esque Dragon Quest Monsters through to the musou action of Dragon Quest Heroes - and that's without mentioning that Super Smash Bros. inclusion. With 2016's Dragon Quest Builders, Square Enix took on survival and crafting mechanics, and the title did well enough to deserve a sequel.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 runs adjacent to the main series, much like its predecessor. This means that there's plenty for long-term Dragon Quest fans to sink their teeth into, with some well-known lore that places the spin-off after the events of Dragon Quest 2. However, it stands very much as its own game, not really requiring much knowledge of series at all in order to enjoy it.
As a matter of fact, a history with Dragon Quest Builders isn't even compulsory here. Dragon Quest Builders 2 plays a fair bit like the previous entry, but Square Enix and Omega Force have made a wise decision to once again ease players in gently. Whereas some may be a little intimidated by a series that - although excellent - is now on its eleventh main series entry, Dragon Quest Builders 2 embraces newcomers with glee as well as offering upgrades to the last game that returning visitors will appreciate.
From a gameplay perspective, this means that Dragon Quest Builders 2 straddles the line between an extremely light action RPG and the kind of crafting and survival mechanics showcased in the likes of Minecraft. Players will spend their time changing the landscape, building settlements, and gathering materials while fighting the monster inhabitants of its huge game world.
Because of the size and the scope of the game, this means that there was the potential for players to feel adrift. Dragon Quest Builders 2 avoids this by providing a linear story for users to follow, giving access to new islands periodically that expand the player's understanding of the mechanics.
It's worth pointing out that Dragon Quest Builders 2 is no slouch in the plot department, either. It's nothing revolutionary, but a strong enough Dragon Quest fare full of well-formed characters and with a fair bit of fun dialogue - even though those constant text boxes can drag on a bit. It's a different form of Dragon Quest, but it's Dragon Quest all the same.
This gives Dragon Quest Builders 2 a very different feel to many other survival and crafting games. While successful examples of the genre like Subnautica leave somewhat nebulous directions at best, Dragon Quest Builders 2 lays a clear path for players. There's always scope to try new things and ignore instructions, but to progress fully there's a way in which the game should eventually be played.
This works well, in general. Coming in somewhere between Minecraft and Stardew Valley, Dragon Quest Builders 2 maintains a large scope of building a world from the bottom up with the minutiae of managing tasks and keeping others happy. Functioning and self-contained settlements form a big part of the game, and in truth it's very satisfying to see things come together, even with a bit of hand holding along the way.
In part this is down to the way in which Dragon Quest Builders 2 offers up a to-do list of smaller jobs. In turn these form larger plans within the game, but there is a constant trickle of smaller quests to be done, from the functional asks of building a bathroom through to missions that thrive on a player's instinct to explore.
A near endless list of chores could get boring fast, but every quest - however minor - gives something back. Often in video games, things like fetch quests provide nothing but an arbitrary amount of experience and progression through the story that could be found in other ways, but Dragon Quest Builders 2 offers something different. At the end of each quest, there's something tangible - a new recipe to uncover, a new blueprint revealed, or even new buildings created altogether.
In general, this more structured form for an open creative sandbox works incredibly well. Players who have experienced other survival games, particularly the more opaque Minecraft, might be hesitant to hand over ultimate control of their destiny, but Dragon Quest Builders 2 turns this more linear approach into a real sense of progression. It taps into what players love about Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, where a major part of the enjoyment of it all is to see how the player has maintained a routine to help the world grow.
That's not to say that there's no creativity to be found, though. Although there are the aforementioned blueprints to use to help players build stock buildings and rooms, the rest of the time players can unleash their artistic side. This means that most of the creative aspects of the game are under the player's control still, even if they do come within a narrative framework more direct than its competitors.
This works well a lot of the time, but there are some downsides. When trying to get things done, the bombardment of requests from other characters can get a little grating. Because of this, users will need to work out when to have a moment to breathe on their own, because Dragon Quest Builders 2 will always give them something new to do.
Working out when to ignore those desperate voices after a new bedroom or water feature is an important skill to learn quickly. Sometimes it's best to wander off and build something different, and balancing the open aspect of the game with its mild fantasy story gives the best of both worlds. After all, occasionally you'll just feel like you need to go and flatten a mountain or fly off the edge of a cliff into parts unknown.
By blending these two cravings, Dragon Quest Builders 2 becomes an extremely moreish game. There's a satisfaction to be found in ticking off a checklist with visible success, while elements like the hunger meter and a day-night cycle that unleashes more powerful beasties at night are never too taxing. At its best, Dragon Quest Builders 2 becomes one of the most relaxing gaming experiences players can find around.
This alone makes it worth playing, as there's something liberating about trading real world worries for a more pastoral focus. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a light fare that provides hours of fun, a palate cleanser to more arduous experiences that is much deeper than it may at first appear.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is out now for PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.