Monday, March 6, 2017

[REVIEW] Dragon Quest Builders (PS4)

Dragon Quest Builders
Played on: PS4
Genre: Action RPG, Survival
Developer/Publisher: Square Enix

Given how I love open-ended adventures with a focus on crafting and building, you'd think I'd be all over Minecraft. However, some of that game's quirks, such as the first-player perspective, questionable character design, and lack of objectives, are too off-putting for me. If you change all of those to something more akin to my tastes, you get Dragon Quest Builders, and that makes Square Enix's take on the survival genre a game I surely won't soon forget.

One of the most obvious ways in which Builders expands upon Minecraft is in how it plops an honest-to-goodness RPG on top of the formula, complete with quirky characters and great dialogue that sometimes gets lough-outloud funny. Your character is the legendary Builder, who after a long slumber wakes up in a time humans have lost the ability to build structures. The goddess speaks to you in order to get you on your way, and from the get go she clarifies you're not a hero. This means no matter how many monsters you defeat, you never get stronger. What you get, however, is loot, which is used to craft structures, rooms, equipment, and whatever else strikes your fancy.

The game is structured in chapters, and there are four in total. In each of them, you'll help the population of a portion of the game's world, striving to return ruined settlements to their former glory, before finally tackling a boss battle. Each of the towns you help bring back to life has a different focus (which I won't spoil here), and this makes the whole thing feel fresh each time. Depending on the needs of your fellow countrymen, you'll figure out new recipes to use in the game's several different crafting stations.

Of course, it also helps that each section offers a gigantic open world to explore, which means Builders's four chapters feel like four different games, each with the potential to last for dozens of hours. There are many missions to undertake in each of them, along with tens of secrets to unveil. This is a game that truly rewards the curious, as every new biome you come across is sure to present a bunch of new enemies, plants, minerals, and assorted materials to help you in your building quests. The depth is huge, and the gameplay loop is so addictive that I often found myself almost physically unable to put the controller down.

If you fancy just sitting back and building to your heart's content, without the pressures of a plot and specific missions, the game has got you covered with Terra Incognita, a full-on sandbox mode. Here your settlement can span an entire continent, and you can even share specific structures with other players online. As you progress through each of the game's main chapters, new islands become available in Terra Incognita, allowing you to get previously unavailabe materials. You'll often get frendly mosters visiting your settlement, and can even take them on foraging missions with you. You can't really talk to them like you can to the humans in the game's main mode, however, and can't really assign rooms or buildings to them. This makes your settlement feel like a ghost town, and I have to admit it made Terra Incognita's novelty wear off a bit fast.

Dragon Quest Builders is a gem of an adventure that allows you more freedom that any entry or spinoff in this beloved series. It takes the Minecraft formula of building and survival and adds a Dragon Quest RPG on top of it, complete with quirky characters, epic missions, and the franchise's well-known wildlife. It enthralled me for weeks with its depth and its charm, and has become one of my favorite PS4 games so far.

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