Prepare to spend far too much of your time worrying if you've put the toilet too near the cocktail bar and praying monsters don't smash your new shower room to bits, because Dragon Quest Builders 2 is back to make its mix of Minecraft style building, Harvest Moon farming and Zelda-ish exploration your whole life. The first game proved just how satisfying the mix of creation and carnage could be, and Dragon Quest Builders 2 improves on the original formula like it's slinging a diamond necklace on a unicorn.
Release date: July 12
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): PS4, and Nintendo Switch
You don't need to have played a second of either the Dragon Quest RPGs or even the original Dragon Quest Builders to enjoy the sequel as the game takes you through everything you need to know at a gentle pace, teaching you how to cook, farm, build and fight. (The basics are smash stuff with a hammer, use the bits to build other stuff.) There's always a mission that will keep you busy, a major building project or multi-part objective, and a lot of side quests, which can range from building a workout room to catching a chicken. At the same time, you don't have to worry about it triggering your millennial burnout, you're free to kill time building whatever you want in between, crafting your character a sumptuous boudoir or just making sure absolutely everything in the town is at perfect right angles. Lots of games talk the big talk about making big decisions that affect the narrative, but how many let you decide whether or not the mushroom kitchen gets a dining room?
A weird, unique charm
These tiny decisions are just a small part of a massive game. There are varied and sweeping islands - thank god for fast travel - to chart and diversions along the main quest path. For instance, just when you're starting to feel like the badass king of the builders and getting work done on an actual pyramid you'll find yourself tasked with escaping from jail without so much as a hammer or sword to work with. Think the Shawshank Redemption, but with skeletons and cabbages. Often the diversions are downright weird, some involve dancing girls in bunny outfits, but it's all part of the weird charm of the world.
There are new toys to play with, like a windbreaker that lets you float from great heights in a very The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild way. The combat has seen some changes too. Not necessarily the actual hitting things with swords, that still feels a bit cartoonish and awkward, but the boss battles. They were clunky and frustrating in the original, and the joy you felt at building your town was crushed under the feet of a big monster while you waited for it to flash its weak point at you. Dragon Quest Builders 2 at least makes it feel more organic, less like a chore, and you even get to ride a giant robot to victory. Who doesn't like killing things with giant robots?
Smash and drag
Because it's my sworn duty to look for the flaws in the masterpiece, I can tell you that at times the game holds your hand a little too tightly, with characters nudging you about the next thing to do instead of letting you just get on with it. "Ooh Rachel, you've got a sign that makes a monster smash things and... look! A smashable wall." I never thought I'd feel patronized by a smiling blue blob of slime, but here we are.
10 essential Dragon Quest Builders 2 tips to know before you play
Sometimes as well the narrative, doled out as it is through text boxes, starts to drag. Sure, all the misfits and characters you meet are cute and charming, but damn they like to talk. Even the most patient lore hound might find their attention wandering to their phone, their TV, some paint that's drying in a really interesting way. It doesn't help when there are occasional odd pauses where the game seems to briefly freeze in these scenes, and that's torture when you have a row of flowerpots to build. Perhaps these issues just plague the Nintendo Switch version, which does seem to send the handheld into a frenzy that heats it to near lava temperatures.
Not that I ever let any of that, or the whir of tiny Nintendo Switch cooling fans, or the fact that I need to sleep more than two hours a night, get in the way of building my way through the adventure. I befriended - and yes petted - dogs, I built a bar out of actual gold, I gave candy to a zombie, I dug an entire river through a desert. Dragons Quest Builders 2 is a beautiful mashup of iconic games with a quirky sense of humor, and you'll be hooked on it from your first hammer smash.