Mike Salbato
E3 2019: Dragon Quest Builders 2 Hands-On Preview
Create and build with more variety than ever.
06.28.19 - 1:27 PM

Square Enix's booth at E3 this year was segmented into three main parts, each with their own theme and queue to access. Final Fantasy VII Remake, FFXIV: Shadowbringers, and The Avengers were each showcased in large, highly decorated areas within the booth and all made a strong impression. And then, over to the side were four PlayStation 4 units set up for Dragon Quest Builders 2. While the display lacked the pomp and circumstance of the major three titles, it's the game I was most excited to check out besides Shadowbringers. It's probably because of my childhood love of LEGOs, but the building aspect in the first game just really clicked with me. I initially saw DQB as a cash-in on Minecraft's popularity, but once I played it, I couldn't put the game down for months.

If you played the first game, my to-the-point preview is this: It's exactly what you wanted in a sequel. The visuals are spruced up, the tools are set up in a more intuitive way, the controls are no longer abysmal, and the scale of the world is so much grander that it seems, allowing you to run wild with your creations.

If you're new to the Builders games, both games follow a similar general formula, in which the main story mode is divided into differently-themed areas, each with its own materials and recipes and a unique cast of characters. You help various NPCs in each area by fending off monsters, collecting resources, and building, building, building.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 Screenshot

The E3 demo offered two experiences: One from the beginning of the game, with a lengthy tutorial on crafting, building, and combat, and one that starts further into the story. From what I could see, the tutorial demo was the same demo version that was made available on the Japanese eShop and PlayStation Stores (and is coming to other territories on June 27th), so I chose the second experience.

This demo plopped me down on an island that was once fertile land for farming, but is now largely covered in spoiled soil, so naturally a lass who enjoys gardening asked me for help in cleaning up the land. The first Builders technically featured farming elements, but it was a very minimal part of the experience, and only ever used once (maybe twice?) to progress in the story. Farming looks to be more core to the experience in the sequel: the townspeople can help you till soil and tend to crops. In helping make the land more suitable for farming, I was asked to help create a reservoir out of a nearby spring. This meant using my trusty hammer to break up some soil blocks and moving them to the spring to essentially create a big bowl to hold the water that would flow from the rocks. Both gathering and placing blocks feels about the same in DQB2, just faster and smoother. Faster and less clunky basically describes all of the sequel, but this is the first indication of that I got.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 Screenshot: mighty hammer

For building large structures, the break, collect, place method still seems ideal, but Builders 2 adds a fantastic new tool with the glove. This glove lets you simply pick up a block or object and move it. It sounds minor, but for quickly moving things around, it's just way easier than having to deconstruct, select from your inventory, and re-place each thing. I expect the glove will get a lot of use when I play the full game.

The way tools are assigned to buttons has been entirely rethought this time around. In the first game, your weapons and hammers were essentially all considered weapons, and they had durability meters that meant they would eventually break, forcing you to craft new ones. DQB2 still has a variety of swords and hammers, but as far as I noticed, durability is no longer a concern. Moreover, swords and hammers are assigned to different buttons, allowing you to have both at hand, whether you're collecting resources or battling slimes. It's a really nice quality of life improvement that leads us to the next helpful change: The controls.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 Screenshot: character group

I don't know exactly what madman decided it was a good idea in Dragon Quest Builders to make the X button the "do everything" button, but I suspect it's the same person that assigned the same button for interaction and jumping in Final Fantasy XV. I understand the Vita was at a disadvantage with fewer shoulder buttons than its console counterparts, but using the same button to talk, confirm, craft, and open the menu (?!) was maddening. Builders 2 fixes all of this (controls on PS4/Switch): Square/Y is your weapon, Circle/A switches builder tools (hammer/glove), R2/ZR uses the current builder tool, and the menu is, as one would hope, opened with Options/+. Circle/A also is used to interact and talk, but accidentally switching to your glove when opening a door is far less intrusive than your main menu opening. I rarely talk about controls in a review, let alone a preview, but since they were the biggest gripe some of us had with the first game, I really wanted to highlight how they fixed it.

The combat in the demo felt the same as the first game, which means getting very close to enemies, attacking, and backing up to avoid damage. However, trailers have shown more variety with special moves you can execute with your totally-not-evil companion Malroth, which should help keep combat from getting too stale.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 Screenshot: character backlit by flame

While the demo didn't give me enough playtime to fully experience the sheer size of the worlds in Builders 2, the expanded scale and underwater exploration looks to be adding a lot to the core experience. With plenty of new building options, fewer restrictions, new flowing water, multiplayer online co-op (which is cross-platform), refined controls and gameplay, and a robust in-game bulletin board system for sharing screenshots, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the sequel I've been waiting for. I definitely recommend checking out the demo which launched on PS4 and Switch on June 27th before the full game launches on July 12th.