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CONSOLE: PlayStation 4 DEVELOPER: Square Enix PUBLISHER: Square Enix
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 11, 2016 GENRE: Action-RPG; Sandbox
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

I am the Dragon Warrior!

There are few role-playing game series from Japan that have much sway and influence nor have carried on for as many years as Dragon Quest. With artwork penned by Akira Toriyama (of Dragon Ball fame), this series' characters and scenarios are engraved into the memories of gamers everywhere. In what other series can you enjoy a nice Puff-Puff?

With the immense popularity of block-laying construction and building simulator Minecraft, gamers are looking for procedurally generated experiences like the randomly generated weapons in Borderlands or whole new planets to explore in No Man's Sky. It was inevitable that big companies like Square Enix would want some of the action and thus... Dragon Quest Builders was conceived?

Well, no. Because while it greatly resembles Minecraft from a visual point of view and has a world constructed from textured blocks, DQB greatly differs from the aforementioned LEGO-like construction toolkit in the gameplay department. Sure, the game contains crafting and inventory management but also features quests and side-quests, and a predetermined and therefore NOT randomized world. While this put me off at first, in the end I felt comfortable working within the confines of the game.

In the original Dragon Warrior (which was at one point the localized name for Dragon Quest), you are presented with the option of joining the evil Dragon Lord and having the world cleft in two, with the darkest and dankest recesses given to you. This is the bad ending, but DQB presents you with the scenario where the hero agreed to the Dragon Lord's offer — what would have happened to the world had the hero said "yes".

You start off as a lifeless husk in a grave underground, revived by the goddess Rubiss. Why? Because you are the legendary Builder! The Dragon Lord stripped mankind of its ability to build, and as such, only you now possess the ability to turn raw items into new and useful things.

There are four chapters in the game's story. Cantlin (a green and beautiful land), Rimuldar (a disgusting swampland), Kol and Galenholm (the token fire and ice worlds), and finally Tantegel (a once green and bustling land now dead and decayed). Each chapter features its own characters and story and requires you to craft various objects for often unthankful and self-absorbed NPCs. As you progress, you learn how to build new types of objects and how to gather new materials previously inaccessible.


Brick by boring brick...

The main method of building up your town in each chapter is to create rooms. A room needs a wall two blocks high, a light source and a door. Using that as a basis, you can then turn your empty room into other kinds of rooms by changing things around or adding more stuff. Stick in two nice cotton beds, and the empty room becomes a basic bedroom. A cookfire and a chest turns it into a crude kitchen.

Kill enemies, gather loot, mine the minerals, construct new and more impressive tech... and, of course, defend the town! At certain points, mobs of enemies will come and attempt to wreck your wonderful town. Defend it with your best weapons and receive prizes such as 'teleportals' which take you to exciting new islands, or life seeds which boost your maximum health.

At the end of each chapter, you are stripped of everything and have to start over. At first, I hated this. After having built up Cantlin to be a beautiful bustling balustrade, I had to leave all my items, buildings, and progress behind. But in doing so, the game makes each chapter a definite ending point, where continuing on means accepting your duty as the great Builder and giving up everything you own to continue your fateful journey.

Each chapter has its own focus. Chapter 1 focuses on teaching you how to build defenses, Chapter 2 focuses on medicines and remedies, Chapter 3 will teach you how to make elemental weapons, and Chapter 4 is, well, I don't want to spoil it, but I enjoyed that chapter the most.

Each chapter takes on average 10 hours to beat, and can become quite a slog when it boils down to finding one or two items and not knowing which small area of the world that enemy spawns or that mineral is buried. I'd wager that future runs of each chapter would be more streamlined as you go for the optional goals you missed, but quite frankly I don't feel like playing this game ever again.

It's true that this game is an absolutely splendid thing to look at but to play? Huge attention was paid to keeping it authentic and truthful to the original Dragon Warrior, but some of the core gameplay things irk me. Not being able to level up but relying solely on the things you make kind of sucks. Having to clamber the entire mountainside for one specific type of enemy to appear is kind of bollocks. If the game was a bit more helpful and told you off the bat where to find particular ingredients, I'd probably forgive it more.

It's astonishing in regards to presentation and appearance but those gorgeous stylized visuals and orchestrated music tracks can't do much to cover the mediocre back-and-forth item farming that the game uses as its core crutch. As I always say, don't get me wrong as I thought this game is not only well above average and wonderfully constructed, but... the mundane structured tedium and endless monotony of building ad-nauseam is a real buzzkill merely but two hours in. Maybe I'm stupid for not expecting this much building in a game called "Builders".

Once you unlock it, a free building mode named Terra Incognita opens up, which allows you to farm for items and create what you want without bounds. But without the structure in place that the quest-driven story mode offers, I feel absolutely zero motivation to play this mode at all. In a way, the very thing I hated about this game was still the one thing that dragged me through to the end. A list of chores with no real thanks for your efforts... At least there was a reason to play it through. Terra Incognita on the other hand, ehhhhh...


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