The Builder Has Left the Building

Sod off! Not going anywhere before fixing that mess on the left…

Even if the Dragon Lord put up a commendable fight, peace has come once again. With challenges and everything, Dragon Quest Builders provided a merry 43-hour adventure that left a most positive aftertaste. Despite the lack of building space and the sense of urgency, the game didn’t go for strike three and I even got surprisingly used to living with its numerous minor flaws. Still, after completing four mini-stories, I’m now so exhausted that the free mode, Terra Incognita, is probably something to be sampled at a later time; even the story mode is comprehensive enough to quench a mild thirst of building stuff.

The game gets extra credit for its wonderful controls. One might think that building and, especially, managing dozens of resources with a joypad would be sheer impossibility. Against all odds, however, everything works just fine. Granted, nothing is as easy and intuitive as it would be with a mouse and a keyboard but the control scheme is still delightful. The player can only carry 15 different resources at a time but as soon as the home base gets a jumbo-sized coffer, it automatically stores everything that gets picked up. That chest is also manageable from anywhere around the world, so all resource hoarding journeys are eventually a matter of simply picking up anything that seems even remotely interesting.

Since this is a third-person view Minecraft, building stuff is slightly awkward and often requires the player to be positioned just right. Still, the outlines of anything to be placed are always visible and give a good idea on what will happen. With a bit of care, accidental placements can be avoided altogether. Then again, if that happens, it only takes a couple of swings from your weapon to return any resource or a constructed item back to your inventory.

When the hometown citizens require something a bit more complex and premeditated, the request is given as a blueprint. It’s a handy way to first determine how much space will be needed. After choosing a spot and putting it down, it only takes a single press of a button to see what the outcome should look like, and what and how many resources or items are needed in the process. Most user-friendly!

The battle mechanics aren’t particularly hot but not entirely hopeless either. It mostly takes time to get used to the pitiful range of melee weaponry. Sword slashes and mallet swings often miss even when you’re pretty certain they should connect. Inch closer, and you easily suffer contact damage. Just wielding wildly isn’t really a strategy here, given how earnest the feisty adversaries are to bring down not just your health, but also the number of your preciously crafted healing items and the durability of your weapons and gear. Instead of mindless button smashing, it’s often better to get used to dodging an attack and then delivering a couple of blows of your own. This makes the fights a bit slow but economical on the long run. In a worst case scenario, the battle is fought at home. This is when the inhabitants of your town join the fray and it usually results in total chaos where it’s hard to pinpoint individual enemies while pretty much every blow breaks apart blocks of previously constructed buildings. After a bout like that, it’s not uncommon to spend the next day just repairing the damages.

The day-night cycle is annoyingly short anyway; maybe 10-15 minutes in real-time. At night, visibility drops dramatically and pestering mage ghosts manifest to fling fireballs at your way. The most obvious plan of action would be to just call it day, go to sleep, and regain all health points in the process. However, if you’re interested in overcoming the (admittedly optional) time challenges, every moment should be utilized as effectively as possible, even if it means stumbling around in the dark with spirits hot on your trail.

In order for Dragon Quest Builders to have been legendary, it should have rolled all of its four chapters into one consistent campaign without any build area restrictions but a constant feeling of revising an existing design into ever-greater heights. Its days should’ve been longer and its nights shorter. It should’ve given players a chance to enjoy it at their own pace without that constantly nagging feeling of time passing by. Such simple (?) adjustments would’ve probably turned it into a genuine JRPG Minecraft, one that would’ve stolen hundreds of meaningful hours from its players. As it stands, it’s just a damn promising baseline that has all the required ingredients, yet makes it needlessly hard to willingly devote one’s every waking hour to the vision. Then again, perhaps it’s better this way.

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