Posts by Tag / GAME: Dragon Quest Builders 2 (13)

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Capsule Review: Dragon Quest Builders 2

A Minecraft-like game of gathering, crafting, and building wrapped in an action RPG. Set after the end of Dragon Quest II and loaded with callbacks to that game’s characters and events, the story casts you as an apprentice Builder who teams up with the amnesiac Malroth in human form (who does not remember that he is actually the demonic Master of Destruction) to stand against the Children of Hargon, a monster-led church that has outlawed building.

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Dragon Quest Builders shouldn’t block free play with the story

One thing that both Dragon Quest Builders games are weird about is the relationship between the story campaign and the free mode.

In DQB1, you can access the free mode (“Terra Incognita”) right away, but many recipes and resources are locked behind completion of the respective chapters of the story campaign. Since the entire point of Terra Incognita is to build freely, this makes the early access a pointless compromise since you have to play through the entire story to unlock everything.

In DQB2, things are more unified and the free mode (“Buildertopia”) is not actually separate from the story mode - instead, you have to complete the story before you can access it. Then the islands where you can build freely (and engage in multiplayer!) become available as destinations.

This feels like needless audience-narrowing to me. Some number of players are interested in the story and some number of players are interested in free play, and these groups overlap but they aren’t identical. I’m here for the story and not the free play (the entire reason I play DQB instead of Minecraft or Terraria or whatever is the context provided by the story and characters) so the games do work for me, as I can finish the story and then just stop. And players who want both, specifically in this order, are of course well-served. But players who don’t care about the story and just want to build freely in a Dragon Quest world are still obliged to play through what amounts to a full-length RPG before they can get what they want. This isn’t going to be worth it for many such players, and they won’t buy the game.

In DQB2 it’s even worse, since the Buildertopias feature the series’s only actual multiplayer so far. Want to play DQB2 with your friends? I hope you all want to play through the 45+ hour-long story first! (Can you imagine if Call of Duty made players finish a campaign that long before it let them online? Or if Smash made you finish World of Light first?) This can get in the way even if you do want to play the story - I played on PS4 and then found out a friend had the game on Switch, and if I could have jumped straight in to multiplayer I might have double-dipped so we could play together. But I’m not willing to pay full price for the game again and put that much time into repeating content again. And can you imagine how frustrating it would be to lose your save (which can happen for many reasons that are not the player’s fault) and then not be able to go play with your friends anymore unless you replayed the entire story?

Maybe there’s something I’m missing, but I just don’t see a compelling reason to constrain the gameplay this much when the styles are so different. In my view, the player should have full access to free play with all recipes and materials attainable in that mode, without ever having to start the campaign. I personally wouldn’t use this, but from comments I’ve read online, plenty of players would, and this seems like an easy way to increase the game’s audience without sacrificing anything.

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A Few Tips for Dragon Quest Builders 2

There are several useful things to know in Dragon Quest Builders 2 that the game doesn’t really hint at so you wouldn’t even know to try to look them up. I’ve collected a few that I stumbled on here. I expect there are more.

Apart from the first one, they are mostly for the late-game or post-game so they include some structural/mechanical spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

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Literal and Figurative Walls in Dragon Quest Builders 2

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that you can’t have a fully-safe base in Dragon Quest Builders 2 while you’re doing story stuff. I noted before that this led me to rush the story bits, and got a comment saying “…I just stopped trying to make things look nice and tried to get things done faster I can get to building again”. So why does the game do this?

We don’t know the designers’ intent, but my theory is that this is about forcing a playstyle. (I actually wrote that article because I wanted to explain the concept so I could use it in this very conversation.) That article explains in more depth, but the basic idea is that a game’s designers notice that the game’s incentives are motivating players to behave in ways that don’t seem fun, but rather than change the incentive structure they simply block off or discourage the behavior they don’t want.

If this is what happened here, then presumably it went something like this: Random attacks were put in the first Dragon Quest Builders so that players would have to regularly defend their bases in order to create tension/pressure and leave the player feeling like an active protector. But in practice, a lot of players just built unbreakable defensive walls around their base, removing much of the tension and making it possible to almost completely ignore the random attacks. This also created a weird design constraint that made all bases look more alike, look less like they organically fit into the landscape, and have worse views of their surroundings.

They wanted to avoid this for Dragon Quest Builders 2. But instead of digging in to understand why players were building these walls and find ways to remove the need for the walls, they just made it so enemies could break through anything the player could build. They didn’t remove the motivation for using the strategy - they just made it so the strategy no longer worked. This meant that any player who had chosen to build the walls in the first game would probably still want to in the second game to solve the same problems, but now wouldn’t be able to solve those problems at all. It’s like the designers are saying, “Come on, you’ll have more fun if you fight enemies a lot!” and some of us frustrated players are left saying, “Did it occur to you that maybe I bought your building game because I wanted to build?”

Again, I don’t know that’s why this happened, but the outcome is the same regardless. Uninterrupted building time is positioned as a reward for completing story arcs - and in fact, once you finish the whole story you get the ability to craft an item that completely prevents monsters from spawning. So those of us who want to build uninterrupted used to be encouraged to build a wall; now we’re encouraged to rush the story instead.

For me, this makes the game worse. By far the biggest reason I enjoy the Dragon Quest Builders over something like Minecraft or Terraria is the context provided by the story and characters. That gives me a reason to build that isn’t really present in those other games. And once the story is finished, that reason mostly vanishes. The characters are still around, but they’re harder to stay invested in when they just cycle through a few lines of dialog and no longer have any goals or concerns.

In the first Dragon Quest Builders, one of my favorite things to do was to take a break from the action mid-chapter to redesign or improve my town. When I tried to do that in Dragon Quest Builders 2, it was an exercise in frustration as I was continually interrupted and often had to take extra time to perform repairs as well. So I stopped doing it and rushed the story - and then once I had uninterrupted building time, I no longer felt like there was a reason to improve the town. So I didn’t bother - and one of my favorite experiences in the game was just gone.

So what would it look like if the designers had instead modified the incentive structure so that players no longer felt encouraged to build walls? I can’t speak for every player, but for me I think the real problem is repairing. Repairing is time-consuming without being creative and to someone with my completionist/perfectionist/vaguely-OCD-like tendencies, the possibility of missing a couple blocks or items somewhere along the way (which absolutely happened in the first game) drives me batty. Attacks make me anxious because they create the possibility I’ll need to repair - if that were removed, they wouldn’t really bother me. (My evidence for this is a bit in Chapter 3 where the base gets attacked by enemies that can’t be kept out - once I realized they also couldn’t break anything, I stopped panicking when they showed up.)

In Dragon Quest Builders 2, villagers have the ability to build to a blueprint and to repair your base after story battles. If they could also repair after random battles, I think that would basically solve the problem for players like me. The attacks would still create tension and pressure and an opportunity to actively defend your base and people, but you wouldn’t be punished if you choose not to immediately drop what you’re doing and rush to handle it.

I’d definitely want to do some playtesting if I were actually in charge of a decision here, but my instinct is that this would be a better experience for everyone.

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Dragon Quest Builders Sequel Wish List

After I played Dragon Quest Builders, I made a list of improvements I’d like to see in any then-unlikely-seeming sequel. Well, now I’ve played Dragon Quest Builders 2 and found it a textbook example of how to make a good sequel, with several ways it improved on the original. So I thought it’d be fun to go back to my ridiculous pie-in-the-sky I-want-a-pony pipe dreams and see how many came true.

Spoiler alert: it was almost all of them.

Here’s the list - my commentary will follow each item in italics.

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Renewable Resources in Dragon Quest Builders 2

One of the small things about Dragon Quest Builders 2 that I really like is that Explorer’s Shores mean a lot of important resources are infinitely renewable.

It felt really good to unlock infinite wood and know I’d never have to commit deforestation again to be able to make what I wanted to.

And at one point in the Furrowfield chapter, I basically stole an entire hill from a remote section of the map in order to do some landscaping. As amusing as it was to feel like Carmen Sandiego, I felt bad for defacing the natural environs. Once the Explorer’s Shores were available, I could go steal all the earth I wanted and it would just come right back.

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Is “guide spam” a thing now?

Is it just a thing now that big game launches are followed by bad gaming websites rushing out low-quality “guides” for SEO spam?

Dragon Quest Builders 2 is by far the biggest game I’m playing near launch in quite a while, so I don’t know how representative my experience is, but—

Every time I have a question about the game and want to look something up, my search results contain a lot of really bad resources. Mostly from gaming websites I’ve never heard of and which have clearly whipped together a dozen or so nearly-useless “guides,” each of which is three paragraphs of padding around the simple answer to an obvious question that nobody would have to look up anyway (like a “Where to Find Bark” guide, when there’s one quest that needs bark and it sends you to an area filled with obvious bark) or that only covers the first part of the game (like guides for all the scavenger hunt locations that only include the first two scavenger hunt islands).

I get that it takes some time for those generous and industrious players to put together the comprehensive, high-quality guides, and I’m used to not getting any results when searching this stuff on new or obscure games. I’m not used to getting many results, but terrible ones! There actually are some really good DQB2 guides out there, but it’s taken me a while to sift through the crap and find them.

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Oh, right. Signal fires.

I mentioned I really like how Dragon Quest Builders 2 has you bring systems back to your home base and use them there. After the island that teaches you to make defensive traps, I got really excited to design my own trap gauntlet for the enemies attacking my home base. I came up with a layout I was sure would be much more effective than anything the story had set up previously, and the NPCs were cheering me on, reminding me of all the traps I had at my disposal and telling me to just use a bunch of them in whatever design I thought best.

Unfortunately, they don’t remind of you the signal fires that create rally points for your soldiers. Those came very early in the previous chapter and I had completely forgotten about them. And without them, the trap gauntlet is completely useless because your people will just charge right through it themselves as soon as they see the enemy and engage with them out past it and none of the traps will even get triggered.

Just one little reminder line of dialog would have gone a very long way. I still won the fight, but it took far longer than it should have and I didn’t get to see my trap gauntlet in action.

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Dragon Quest Builders 2 brings it all together

The biggest problem with the original Dragon Quest Builders was how disconnected the chapters and mechanics were. You’d go rebuild a town and save it from the local menace using interesting systems like defensive traps or treating the sick or mechanical constructs. Then you’d move on and start from scratch, and none of those systems came back or got any further development. The only way to play with everything was to use the wholly-disconnected sandbox mode.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 fixes this in a clever way. You still travel to separate areas to rebuild towns and save them from local menaces using interesting systems - but these are always trips from your base of operations and you are explicitly visiting the other areas to find new materials/techniques/recruits to bring back. During each sub-story, you start from scratch because each arc has its own focus - but then you bring it all back together and let things build on each other in a larger, interconnected space where you have much more freedom.

This allows for the best of both worlds - story sequences with clear tight scopes and arcs, and the freedom to play with all your toys together along with the story characters you’ve gotten to know. It’s great.

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Damn skeletons don’t give me time to think

It’s important to me that games let me set my own pace.

Some of that is just the freedom from interruptions and time pressure that you can’t get in the real world, but a lot of it is also down to pacing. Being forced to stop what I’m doing and juggle my inventory or hunt down limited resources can ruin a game’s atmosphere. So can repeating content through forced grinding or punishment.

My latest example comes from Dragon Quest Builders and one of the few things I think the sequel does worse than the original. In both games, your towns are periodically attacked by groups of monsters. I’m not talking about boss fights or story battles - just random groups of monsters that show up and try to do some damage.

In the original, it was always possible to build structures out of materials that the random monsters couldn’t break through. You could build a defensive wall around your entire town if you wanted and then the monsters couldn’t even get in (except for the teleporting ghosts that showed up at night to harass your villagers, but they couldn’t destroy anything). This placed a constraint on building choices, but one you could manage however you chose - you either had to use unbreakable materials, respond very quickly and effectively to every attack, or repair things after attacks. I generally chose to build defensive walls and then engage the enemies outside of the walls on my own terms, knowing the town itself was safe. This also meant I didn’t have to panic whenever the enemies attacked - I could finish what I was doing, and then go stomp them.

In the sequel, this just isn’t the case. You can sometimes briefly get ahead of the curve, and it’s more of an issue in some chapters than others, but in general the randomly-attacking groups of monsters include at least one or two strong enemies that can break anything you can build. This means the constraint is no longer manageable. Every time you come under random attack, you have to drop whatever you’re doing and rush to the battle or part of your town will likely be destroyed and need to be rebuilt.

I feel like the intent here was probably to solve the “problem” that in DQB1 folks could just wrap their town in walls and ignore the random attacks, but I don’t think that was a problem. I liked it! I liked that my base could become a safe space where I could relax and freely rethink town layout and rebuild everything at my own pace. In DQB2, that’s significantly damaged - I get interrupted and lose my train of thought. It disrupts my flow. And toward the end of chapters when the tension is ratcheted up and the random attacks happen more frequently, I feel compelled to rush the story rather than take time to perfect my town - because if I do take that time, I’ll just get interrupted over and over and over.