By emphasising structure over survival, Dragon Quest Builders beats Minecraft at its own game
- Its clear story structure gives crafting purpose
- Seeing your town evolve over time is immensely satisfying
- Town defence sections are too easy
- Combat lacks depth
Available formats: PS4, PS3, PS Vita
With its blocky, voxel landscape and reliance on crafting to make your way in the world, the comparisons with Minecraft are inevitable. However, while Dragon Quest Builders almost unashamedly draws on the same driving mechanisms as Mojang’s mega-hit, its foundations go much deeper, providing players with a much-needed girder of purpose to help overcome that crushing sense of Minecraft builders-block.
It begins in much the same way as Minecraft, as your first tasks involve building a rudimentary bedroom, kitchen and workstation to teach you its basic systems. However, instead of then simply sending players off into the unknown once those first tutorials are out of the way, Dragon Quest Builders pins its progression on creating a safe haven and local community for its dozens of NPC characters roaming the dark, gloomy land of Alefgard, allowing you to see the fruits of your labour take shape and evolve over the course of several hours.
You’ll still need to venture out into the wilderness to collect supplies for your various active quests, but coming back to a central hub makes each journey seem all the more worthwhile. Likewise, the more quests you complete, the more townspeople will flock to your newly developed digs, enhancing that overall sense of steady progression.
It helps that Dragon Quest Builders keeps things simple, too, as you’re automatically notified what new items (or ‘recipes’, to use the in-game parlance) you can make as soon as you discover a new material. Some might say this takes the fun out of the more experimental side of games like Minecraft, but for me it’s a welcome concession that only makes the game more accessible. There’s less guesswork involved, for starters, and it makes it much easier to see what your next step should be, whether it’s upgrading your armour to the next level of endurance, or giving you decoration ideas to deck out your town with when you get back.
There’s less backtracking involved, too, as once you build the aptly named ‘colossal coffer’, you can just go out and collect, mine and harvest to your heart’s content, as any items that don’t fit in your immediate on-hand inventory will automatically whizz back to the coffer in your home town. This takes a lot of the stress out of material collecting, and it also encourages you to venture out and explore the wider landscape, as you don’t need to worry about running out of pocket space all the time. If you do need something, then a quick trip to the Items menu will let you swap materials in and out, making it even more flexible when you’re out on the road.
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I’d advise taking a few precautionary items with you, though, as the monsters roaming the lands of Dragon Quest Builders can be quite formidable if you stumble across them unprepared. Unlike other games in the serious such as Dragon Quest VII, which employs a strict turn-based system, you’ll be fighting monsters in real-time here, using your various assortment of crafted weapons and tools to whack them into oblivion. It’s not particularly deep or complex, but there are a handful of special moves you can learn, such as a spin attack, if you defeat special quest creatures spotted by your fellow townspeople.
This adds a little bit of nuance to its fighting systems, but it’s a shame these skills aren’t utilised more in Dragon Quest Builders‘ biggest new addition to the Minecraft formula, its tower defence sections. These are often triggered once your town levels up or you reach the next stage in your cycle of quests, and involve having to defend your town from waves on monsters.
Naturally, you can always go out there and give them the old one-two if you feel like it, but when preparation quests start requiring you to build fortifications, you can more or less sit back and wait for them to obliterate themselves on spike traps as they walk into walls until it’s all over. It’s severely unbalanced, and completely takes the fun out of each encounter.
Still, combat issues aside, Dragon Quest Builders does a lot of things right. It’s a more matured, structured take on Mojang’s unstoppable behemoth, and it’s a more than worthy contender to Minecraft‘s voxel-shaped crown. The fact it’s also one of Sony’s CrossPlay titles, which allows you to transfer your save file between your PS4, PS3 and PS Vita free of charge, only makes it more appealing, as you carry on your quest on the go without having to buy a second copy of the game.