A month or so ago Nintendo released a demo for Dragon Quest Builders on the Switch. It was a game I’d considered checking out in the past but never got around to, so the opportunity to play a demo was pretty great. I could come to a final decision on whether or not I truly wanted the game. I downloaded it, played it, and was completely sold on the concept. I purchased the full game and although it took me a few days to have time to play, I’ve been diving in over the past week and thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on the title so far.
I wanted to share my own screenshots from the game but won’t be able to this time around because I’m working off of a hotel internet connection, and it doesn’t cooperate with my Switch. At some point I might do a post giving a tour of the towns I have built so far. For now, please enjoy official images from the internet that fair use
hopefully applies to.
So what is Dragon Quest Builders about? Well, you play as a character designed by you – and by designed I mean you choose gender along with skin, hair, and eye colors – who wakes up in a weird cave with no memories. I know, I know, you’ve never heard of such an original and compelling concept. The voice of a mysterious goddess speaks to you and tells you that you’re destined to save the world, but honestly you don’t care all that much about it. You just want to build stuff. So the goddess lets you loose in hopes that you’ll accidentally save the world while doing whatever you want.
That might be a bit of an oversimplification, but like most Dragon Quest games the overarching story isn’t really the focus of Builders. The land of Alefgard is ruled by the evil Dragonlord, who has given the realm to monsters while humans struggle to survive in an pseudo-post-apocalyptic era. As the Builder, your mission is to restore the ability to build to the rest of humanity, allowing them to reconstruct their civilizations and maybe, just maybe, to break away from the Dragonlord’s tyranny entirely. You do this by saving one city at a time in an episodic series of chapters.
Those familiar with typical Dragon Quest structure probably aren’t surprised by this. The RPG series tends toward the episodic by focusing on a contained story within each town you visit, all tenuously linked to the overarching narrative but able to be experienced on their own without much trouble. This is particularly true of Builders as you basically start over from the beginning in each chapter, having to build a ruined town from the ground up using only the barest of resources (at least, that’s been my experience two chapters in).
You start out in a region of Alefgard that was once the city of Cantlin, a mighty fortress that was protected by a powerful golem in the center of town. Now there’s a whole lot of nothing, so you have to work to return the city to its former glory in order to draw humans back in. You start out with one human companion who helps you learn all the basics about building up a city. Learning about how to create proper rooms, the cycle of day and night, the need for food – all of these elements are slowly introduced to you as you complete quests, which is a great way to keep the game from being too overwhelming right from the get-go.
Dragon Quest Builders is honestly a great example of steady progression. You are given free reign to gather materials and be as creative as you want with the supplies you have to work with, but each region is divided into multiple islands that can only be accessed by progressing the story and unlocking teleportals. Because each island within a region has different materials, you can only craft so much before you get to the next area. Getting a teleportal and unlocking a new island is always a blast because it comes with new quests to complete and new materials to discover, and most new materials will immediately reveal new recipes to you when you collect them.
You’re free to take the game at your own pace. There are times when I plow through story quest after story quest, but there are also times when I spend much of my time gathering materials to build things for my town. While rooms have to contain certain things in order to count as a particular room type, you can control their size, location, and any extra decorations within them. Do you want a town that’s all on one level with one huge sleeping quarter and then multiple shops around it? Or perhaps each citizen has a private room within an apartment-like tower? These choices are yours to make and making them is just as fun as pursuing specific quests.
CRAFTING VS GRINDING
While monster fighting definitely features heavily in this game, it isn’t rewarded with experience points like a typical Dragon Quest title. Your character does not get better by defeating monsters. Instead, monsters drop materials that you can then use to make cool stuff to improve your town – and possibly your weapons and armor. You are only as good as the things you create, which makes the reward structure a bit different than the typical RPG. Monsters aren’t worth your time if you don’t need the materials they are going to drop.
When it comes to crafting, you generally learn recipes either from quests or from picking up one of the required materials for a specific item. More powerful items require rare materials from the islands within the region that are sealed behind teleportals, while the main island with the city upon it primarily carries the basic materials you need for the bare necessities. You can construct a very Spartan city with few decorations and only the practical needs provided for, but this may not allow you to level up the city to its full potential.
The fact that all of the game’s reward mechanisms are focused around crafting makes it a very satisfying endeavor to pursue, and often the excitement of a new creation is accompanied by the excitement of completing a certain quest or having the final ingredient in a cool recipe you’ve been wanting to try. It’s an excellent way to reward the player because you’re not just earning “levels” – you have a physical structure or cool item that reflects all of the hard work you’ve put into a project. And this is made all the more impressive by the fact that different regions of Alefgard emphasize different crafting projects.
When my time in Cantlin began to come to an end, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It certainly felt odd – the items I was crafting seemed incredibly strong and it felt like the materials going into them were exceedingly rare. “This seems too short,” I thought, “how much further can they realistically go from here?” What I didn’t know was that when I moved on to the region of Rimuldar, it would be a return to the basics and yet the basics would be very different from the expectations that Cantlin set.
It would be awfully boring to simply build up five different cities that required the same room types and materials. Just changing the boss for each region wouldn’t be particularly compelling. Luckily, Builders avoids that pitfall by emphasizing different mechanisms and providing a completely different set of resources in each region. Sure, there are a few common staples, but once you move past the bare basics Rimuldar is very different from Cantlin. There’s less of an emphasis on weapons and armor, and almost immediately you find yourself building new room types you never used in Cantlin as well as new types of crafting station. The way you add new people to the town is also more complicated and involved, requiring more complex structures in order to meet your needs.
I was enjoying Dragon Quest Builders in Cantlin, but the transition from Cantlin to Rimuldar has been such a blast. It really shows off what the game is capable of, how each region feels very unique and the episodic structure applies not only to the game’s storytelling style but the gameplay as well. Rimuldar challenges you in ways that Cantlin does not, forcing you to engage more game mechanics and to build very different structures. But because you start from nothing each time, you get the thrill that comes with the beginning of something new, driving you to complete as much as you can. The early levels of a game are often the most exciting for me – the discoveries, the quick advancement, the new characters – and Dragon Quest Builders allows you to experience those wonderful “beginning” feelings more than once by having each region sort of reset the game.
I’m really enjoying Dragon Quest Builders and would definitely recommend it to RPG fans or folks who like to create and build inside the game world. Now I’d like to hear from you, adventurers. Have you played the game? What were your early impressions with Dragon Quest Builders? Let me know in the comments below, and remember that if you think you might be interested in this game that you can always check out the free demo in the E-Shop to help you decide!