Dragon Quest Builders 2 (Switch) Review

The Dragon Quest series has been a mainstay on Nintendo consoles for decades now, and the Nintendo Switch is no exception. Dragon Quest XI, which originally released last year for PlayStation 4, is set to receive an enhanced edition later this year on Nintendo Switch. As part of DQXI's ongoing marketing push, Nintendo even managed to bring the game and its protagonist to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the form of the recently released fighter The Hero.

Given the heavy focus on the newest mainline entry in the series, it'd be easy to overlook another recent Dragon Quest release on Switch: Dragon Quest Builders 2. Doing so, however, would be a mistake. With its unique melding of Minecraft-inspired building, Zelda-esque exploration, and traditional Dragon Quest storytelling, DQB2 is an ambitious sequel that makes for a wonderful addition to the Switch library. The game isn't without its share of technical hiccups, but the compromises made to bring Builders 2 to the Switch are totally worth the hours of fun you'll have playing the title from the comfort of, well... anywhere.

Dragon Quest 2 has a simple yet captivating premise. As a "builder" – a profession known for providing creation to the world – the player has been captured by the Children of Hargon, a cult hellbent on resurrecting the Master of Destruction and plunging the world into ruin. After the ship the builder had been imprisoned on crashes, players find themselves on an untamed island, dubbed the Isle of Awakening. There, the protagonist becomes acquainted with Malroth – an irritable boy with a penchant for violence – and a headstrong female castaway named Lulu.

After a brief tutorial, which tasks players with building Lulu a home and cooking her some food, the protagonist encounters a shipowner who offers to ferry the builder and his companions to a nearby civilization. At the behest of Lulu, who dreams of having her own kingdom, the protagonist and Malroth set off from the island to gather the necessary materials and personnel needed to transform the Isle of Awakening from a fledgling landmass to a thriving city-state.

It's from here that Dragon Quest Builders 2 really picks up. Gameplay takes place across ten levels: the Isle of Awakening hub world, three persistent "main" islands (each of which follows a distinct quest line, complete with unique characters, locales, and bosses), and six smaller randomly generated islands used to farm for additional materials. On the core islands, players are tasked with building up various settlements as part of a specific subplot; at Furrowfield Farm, for instance, players must find and harvest different types of crops in order to restore life to the village's Deitree, while on Khrumbul-Dun, players explore a mine in search of rare metals to restore power to a magical golem.

If you've ever played Minecraft before, you should feel right at home, though Builders 2 has some clear differences that distinguish it from the competition. The game takes place predominantly from a third-person perspective (though players have the option of switching to a first-person mode for added immersion and some additional precision). Building is more robust; the game features hundreds of materials and items, as well as over 40 blueprints" which allow players to construct pre-designed structures in Lego-like, brick-by-brick fashion. Exploration is also integral to the experience, with sprawling islands and an importance placed on discovering landmarks, finding NPCs, and searching for hidden nooks and crannies.

If there's anything the game takes inspiration from, surprisingly, it'd be Breath of the Wild. While that comparison has become a bit cliched over time, a lot of Builders 2's most entertaining mechanics – a stamina meter, a paragliding tool, and bite-sized puzzles that are hidden around the map – feel like they were inspired directly by the freedom and creativity afforded to players as Link back in 2017.

There's also a fair amount of RPG mechanics, which pay clear homage to Dragon Quest's roots. Enemies dot the landscape, from slimes to giant monstrosities. Combat is frequent and, despite being relatively mindless, adds some light leveling mechanics as the builder and Malroth gain experience by defeating enemies, receiving new abilities in the process. Perhaps most important, though, is that by completing daily tasks like harvesting crops and building new structures, players gain experience used to level up their settlements and the people who live there.

This core gameplay loop of Dragon Quest Builders 2 – exploring, gathering resources, building structures, and developing your townsfolk – is nothing short of exhilarating. There's something both addictive and oddly cathartic about seeing your village grow from a few townhouses to a fully realized community. DQB2 does an excellent job of layering on additional mechanics throughout the game's meaty 40-50+ hour campaign to ensure that players never get too overwhelmed at once. While it can feel like a slow burn at times, the gradual buildup of different mechanics, recipes, and structures allows DQB2 to really flourish the longer you play; this is a game where you get what you put into it, plain and simple.

The action runs fairly well on the Switch console, though there are some noticeable compromises compared to the PlayStation 4 version of the game. Whereas Builders 2 runs at 60fps on Sony's console, the game is capped at 30fps on Switch, both when docked and in handheld mode. Even with the reduced frame count, I still found myself encountering dips in performance, particularly in docked mode during some of the game's busier segments. Nothing serious, to be clear, but certainly noticeable, especially for those particular about playing at a consistent frame rate.

DQB2 on Switch also suffers from some lengthy load times, specifically when booting up the game during a new play session. On average, it took me about a minute to get to the title screen, though the game was relatively quick to load my save file from there. Thankfully, DQB2 has close to no loading screens once in game, similar to titles like Uncharted and The Witcher 3. Those who utilize sleep mode for long stretches will likely be able to circumvent the initial loading slog, but even if you elect to boot up each and every time, I found the loading to be forgivable given the sheer scope of the game.

Visually, Dragon Quest Builders 2 looks quite nice on Nintendo's flagship console. Environments pop with color, while textures and character models have an impressive level of detail, regardless of whether the game is docked or undocked. The only real grievance I have stems not from the game's visual prowess or art style, but rather from its text boxes, which are noticeably tiny – especially when the game is docked – with no option to increase the default font size as of the writing of this review. Like DQB2's frame rate issues, the ant-sized text boxes are hardly game-breaking, but are unfortunate nonetheless.

Builders 2 also features co-operative play with friends either wirelessly or via internet. However, as has become the norm with most Nintendo Switch titles, communication is hindered by the lack of any in-game voice chat. Those willing to fiddle with Nintendo's phone app or seek out third-party software like Discord should have a fun time exploring and building with friends, though the sheer ease of PlayStation Network makes the PS4 version of Builders 2 the superior choice when it comes to online play.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 is an impressive game that shines especially bright on the Nintendo Switch. The game's constant sense of progression and discovery is a joy to behold, whether you're docked to a television, relaxing on the couch, or playing from somewhere else entirely. While the game's performance issues, small text, and barebones online functionality put a slight damper on the fun, the ability to play the game wherever you want more than makes up for it. Whether you're new to the Builders series or are fresh off the original game, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a great addition to the franchise and a solid choice for your Switch library.