'Dragon Quest Builders' Brings Out Your Inner Architect

As surprising as it is fun.

Dragon Quest Builders is great at motivating you toward construction. By incentivizing the creation of bigger and more sophisticated things — bringing the series’s signature RPG elements into play as a way to furthering that process rather than the other way around — it flips genre conventions and also flips the reason you keep playing on its head.

As dictated by the game’s design, buildings are essentially any structure that’s two blocks high, containing a door and a light source; essentially they’re single rooms. The classifications get more complex than that, of course. You can add specialty crafting stations to make the room into, say, a kitchen or a workshop, or add signs and bedding to creating a private bedroom.

In terms of complexity, though, that’s all the game really requires in order to award you the points you’ll need in order to level up your base. This actually replaces personal level gaining and grinding. In many ways Builders is not at all traditional. You don’t even need a roof over your head.

That shouldn’t and likely won’t stop you from thinking outside the box (mainly because your buildings won’t even be boxes). If you’re like me, the temptation to go beyond making single rooms — or even just a series of interconnected spaces that happen to share the larger space of a ground floor base — is irresistible.

Sure, the game says all you need a two-block high structure standing on its own, but where’s the fun in that? It’s almost an inevitability that you’ll want to start crafting more ambitious structures, especially given the handy look up and down functions that let you easily hit blocks or place items above or below you, which can be handy for making roofs.

The designated space for Cantlin, the first area of the game, is relatively tight, at least without spilling out into the “wild” where monsters roam. Playing through the opening hours, I quickly found I had run out of room for new mud-packed additions to my burgeoning village. Luckily Builders doesn’t overly adhere to the laws of physics, making it easy to start expanding by simply using earthen blocks to form stairs.

Suddenly, you’ve got plenty of space for a new second floor, though some trial and error will likely be involved here as learn how much space you’ll need for your first floor ceilings. You don’t want to make your downstairs areas too cramped.

What’s so much fun about building is how quick it is. The developers have taken care to streamline controls so that you can quickly lay down a foundation (again, even one that defies gravity, if you want) and, when you want to go above the two-block height limit, it’s simple enough to create a makeshift scaffolding to climb as you fill in your new walls.

Since you can so effortlessly throw down blocks to create an outline of whatever room you’d like, there’s no need to stick simply to boring rectangular structures, either; soon you’ll probably find yourself branching out with wild new floorplans that include layering, verticality, and even cascading elevation.

Barring the odd bug that keeps the game from sometimes recognizing rooms, it’s fairly good at recognizing one when it’s finished, no matter the size or style. Make enough connected rooms and your city will start to resemble something more sophisticated than just a flattened design. (More importantly, clicking the right thumbstick will reset the camera indoors, and its pretty good about giving you a good view of enclosed spaces.)

This takes more effort than simple domiciles, of course. Still, it’s worth going out in the field to collect a healthy supply of materials to facilitate better and better buildings.

As someone who never really “got” Minecraft, I was surprised at how engrossing Builders was, and found myself spending more and more time trying to one-up my previous architectural creations with more and more complex or interesting buildings, particularly as my toolset increased. (The cladding packs, which instantly turn, say, earth to stone, are an absolute godsend.)

Giving players a sandbox without much in the way of penalties for experimentation with the building process was probably the best thing Builders could’ve done to fuse the narrative bits of an RPG with Minecraft’s free-form construction, and thankfully, if it gets destroyed, it’s not too time-consuming of a process to rebuild or improve upon it.

But I never would have guessed it would be the building itself that would keep me coming back for more.

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