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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (444)

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Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5
ActRaiser Renaissance 4/5
The Outer Worlds 3.5/5
Cris Tales 3/5
Warframe 3.5/5
Immortals: Fenyx Rising 4.5/5
Boot Hill Bounties 4/5
Pathfinder: Kingmaker 2/5
Borderlands 3 4/5

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Dragon Quest Builders 2   PC (Steam) 

Quality of Life    4.5/5 stars

“Dragon Quest Builders 2” (“DQB2”) is the much-demanded follow-up to 2016’s “Dragon Quest Builders,” which was originally released as a PlayStation 4 exclusive before being ported to the Nintendo Switch in 2018. “DQB2’s” 2019 release hit both of those platforms simultaneously, but also hit PC via Steam a few months later, and even made its way to Xbox in 2021. Unlike its predecessor, which was developed internally by one of Square-Enix’s business studios, “DQB2” was actually farmed-out to OmegaForce, an internal development division of Tecmo-Koei – a publisher better known for the ‘Dynasty Warriors’ or ‘Musou’ series, with OmegaForce itself behind the two ‘Dragon Quest Heroes’ musou-style spinoffs.

Presentation
Like its predecessor, “DQB2” is built in the PhyreEngine free-to-use devkit maintained by Sony to encourage small-time developers to create games for the PlayStation ecosystem. Nearly everything about the game’s looks is comparable to its predecessor, with slightly shinier and more-detailed textures, as well as more emotive expressions on characters’ faces. “DQB2” is, essentially, a voxel-based game, presenting a massive game world composed entirely of 3D pixel-cubes to create a thoroughly-modern 3D Sandbox game with a lot of the look, feel, and charm of 8-bit and 16-bit pixel art. As with its predecessor, only the world is voxel-based, with human characters and the iconic stable of ‘Dragon Quest’ monsters presented as standard cell-shaded models. The monsters look fantastic and as true-to-form as ever, while the human characters, each sporting a face designed by manga/anime artist Akira Toriyama, are all chibi-style big-headed dwarves.

Audio in “DQB2” is also nearly identical to its predecessor. There are numerous MIDI-grade remixes of classic ‘Dragon Quest’ music – composed by the late Koichi Sugiyama. While most of the soundtrack’s focus is, unsurprisingly, on nostalgia for “Dragon Quest 2,” there are some excellent tunes drawn from other games in the series, including one of my all-time favorites from “Dragon Quest 4.” There’s still no ‘real’ voiceacting in “DQB2,” with NPCs generally making a handful of grunting noises, laughs, and cheers (it’s particularly noteworthy that the male version of the main character laughs like an absolute retard), or standing around offering gratuitous applause for the player’s actions.

Technically, “DQB2” is quite solid, and has an absolutely massive scale in comparison to its predecessor. Building zones are no longer uniform squares, and the overall size of structures the player can/must built is significantly grander and more impressive. These behind-the-scenes and under-the-hood improvements come with the addition of two-player networked coop, which is, unfortunately, limited to two players building on the host’s home island, with no way to experience the game’s story campaign together. While I personally experienced only one minor, but persistent graphical bug, with the game refusing to hide the mouse cursor even while using an Xbox controller, some PC gamers haven’t been as lucky. However, between the excessive DRM on the console versions and the fact that the PC version includes all of the DLC for free with the purchase of the base game, I can’t help but maintain that the PC version is the one to get.

Story
With the original “Dragon Quest Builders” philosophically exploring an alternate outcome for the world of the original “Dragon Quest,” it should come as no surprise that “DQB2” is intimately intertwined with the events of “Dragon Quest 2.” In that ancient NES RPG, a trio of heroes, each descended from the hero, Erdrick, set out to put an end to the machinations of one Hargon, a self-styled high-priest who worshipped a God of Destruction known as Malroth. “DQB2” tells us as much in its prologue, and also informs us that Hargon and Malroth have been defeated by these Scions of Erdrick.

We are introduced to our hero (or heroine – it’s up to the player) on board a dilapidated ship operated by monstrous cultists calling themselves the Children of Hargon. Our hero is a Builder, and as a human with the powers of imagination and creation, he is antithetical to the doctrine of destruction preached by high-priest Hargon. Thus the monsters in Hargon’s cult have rounded up as many Builders as possible, and are in the process of taking them away… somewhere that they’ll be out of the picture and allow the Children to do their destructive work unmolested.

Cracks in the Children of Hargon’s doctrine begin to appear immediately, as the skeletal captain of the ship recruits our hero to patch holes in the hull, while a number of other beastly and demonic crewmen require aid with similar trivial tasks. However, our Builder’s aid turns out to be in vain, as the ship is hit by an unknown force and sinks.

When our Builder re-awakens, he finds himself on an unknown island in the company of one of the other Builders from the ship’s brig – an annoying, pink-haired girl named Lulu – as well as a mysterious boy with red eyes, pointy ears, and a crazy hairstyle who introduces himself as Malroth and states that he can’t remember anything besides that.

This trio of newfound friends soon encounters a mysterious apparition, who refers to himself as the Hairy Hermit, who informs them that the island they stand upon is the Island of Awakening, and it was once the home of a great and accomplished Builder who traveled to a range of nearby islands, crafting wonders wherever he went, before mysteriously disappearing and leaving the islands to fall under the sway of the Children of Hargon. The Hermit then encourages our hero and his new friends to start rebuilding the Island of Awakening however they like, while a hilariously-caricatured merchant named Brownbeard shows up, offering to chart courses to neighboring islands and to ferry the Builder to and fro as much as he wants.

Thus begins a tale that takes place over 5 Acts, with our Builder and Malroth traveling to neighboring islands and helping the people there to rekindle their ability to create and build. While the original “Dragon Quest Builders” felt incredibly formulaic in its Act structure, “DQB2’s” individual chapters have a much more unique feel to them, while the ongoing mystery of Malroth’s hidden past and true identity – which is obvious to long-time ‘Dragon Quest’ fans and anyone who actually reads the game’s prologue text – slowly unfolds throughout the entire narrative. In spite of the obviousness of who-and-what Malroth is, there are still plenty of twists and turns throughout the narrative that keep things interesting. This game also features a ‘modern’ ‘Dragon Quest’ localization, which is true to the series’ tone and intent, with plenty of puns and excessive alliteration scattered all over.

All told, “DQB2” is a pretty long game. It took me about 80 hours to get through the entire story for the first time. However, players seeking to unlock all of the achievements can plan to play for well over 100 hours. Like its predecessor, there is plenty of endless, free-form creativity to be had, though there is a bit more direction provided even in the free-creative portion. Unfortunately, some of these ‘targets’ are incredibly tedious and poorly explained – things like breeding pets and setting up item shops – and can leave a bit of a sour taste on the game’s final moments.

Gameplay
Like its predecessor, “DQB2” is essentially what you get when you mash-up “Minecraft” with ‘Dragon Quest.’ Our hero is a Builder, and thus not particularly fantastic in combat, but as a complement, Malroth accompanies our hero everywhere, bringing his penchant for destruction to bear against all manner of monsters and inanimate objects. Combat is, thus, a team affair, though it is still the basic Action/Adventure-style employed in the original “Dragon Quest Builders,” and very distant from any kind of RPG mechanics, outside of weapon and armor upgrades that become buildable as the game progresses. Indeed, while Malroth does get stronger and deals more damage as he levels-up, our Builder only gains a few hit points at each level. Of course, “DQB2” is significantly less combat focused than its predecessor, with enemies serving more as places to harvest materials than obstacles.

Within each self-contained Act, the Builder is tasked to restoring a livable level of civilization on an island dominated by the Children of Hargon. How better to restore civilization that by simply rebuilding it!? Thus the people the Builder encounters will ask for a variety of buildings and structures, and it’s up to the player to provide those things for the NPCs in a rather free-form way. Each of the game’s numerous room-types has a specific recipe, requiring certain types of furniture or lighting be placed within. Rooms must also consist of fully-enclosed areas with 2 blocks/voxels worth of wall height surrounding the whole area, and a door of some sort.

All of the objects required for assembling rooms are crafted by the Builder using resources gathered from the environment. Wood, stone, fiber, ore, etc. all comes from destroying environmental objects (including monsters), while blocks/voxels themselves can typically be dislodged from their location and moved around freely upon the game world’s universal grid.

While most of “DQB2” is indistinguishable from the original “Dragon Quest Builders,” two things stand out specifically. First, the size, scale, and scope of the building areas and projects the NPCs in each chapter demand is far greater in the sequel than in the original. Indeed, nearly all of the Acts in the game eventually reach a plot point that revolves around building an absolutely enormous structure in multiple layers. The complexity of these layouts would actually go from ‘interesting’ to ‘tedious’ were it not for the fact that the NPCs actually help build these mega-structures, so long as there’s a box full of components for them to pull from. The fact that NPCs can be automated to assist the player in this way is interesting, as it allows for a degree of multi-tasking, with the player frequently sent off to do something elsewhere on the map while the NPCs build.

The other key difference in “DQB2” is the sheer quantity of Quality of Life improvements that make building much less of a chore. Most important of all is the fact that the Builder’s inventory is absolutely massive this time around, allowing the player to make it all the way to the post-game optional content before needing to stop and think about building chests to store excess items. Other important QoL improvements include the removal of weapon durability and the conversion of the Hunger Meter from an abstract ‘loaf’ meter to a simple percentage. Furthermore, during confrontations against the Children of Hargon’s generals and their minions, any damage done to the player’s buildings is automatically repaired once the battle is over. Together, these QoL upgrades remove 90% of the gameplay faults that hampered the original experience.

Overall
While on the surface it may appear to be ‘just more of the same,’ “Dragon Quest Builders 2” offers a huge number of impressive improvements that make for an overall better experience. The solid presentation, the twist-filled narrative, and the Quality-of-Life-boosted gameplay all come together to create a truly excellent spinoff that manages to do its own thing to a great degree while remaining emphatically, unapologetically ‘Dragon Quest.’ I hope Square-Enix, with or without OmegaForce, has at least one more of these games in them, since it would be nice to finish out the original ‘Dragon Quest’ trilogy from a Builder’s perspective.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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