Minecraft never caught me the way it did for millions of others, but Square Enix’s Dragon Quest Builders just might. After spending several hours with the game, it is scratching the same itch that Minecraft does while also treating me with kid gloves. Even the game’s developers would admit there’s a lot that Builders borrows from Minecraft. Though the devs changed up a few things too. Dragon Quest Builders creates solid, familiar and addictive gameplay that moves away from its inspiration while still wearing its influences on its sleeve.
So how does Dragon Quest Builders build upon and ultimately break away from Minecraft?
Less Blocky Visuals
Part of Minecraft’s charm is its graphics. The game’s signature voxels are basic and somewhat crude, but they’re universally known and beloved. The look of the game doesn’t change no matter where you play it, and fans would be outraged if it did.
Dragon Quest Builders, however, doesn’t look much like Minecraft at all. Parts of it does: the landscape is just as blocky, so that’s a nice, familiar touch. But aside from that, Builders‘ visuals are decidedly more “next gen.” Dragon Quest games have a certain look, and Builders retains that vibrant, cartoony style while upgrading it to feature more details. It all looks and moves splendidly. The grass and trees are lively, the nights are dark and spooky, and the creatures are animated, cute, and sometimes even menacing. A lot of time and care was put into the graphics of this game. Square Enix made a deliberate decision to avoid recreating like Minecraft, so while the blocks might look the same, nothing else does.
Yes, There’s a Story
The biggest difference between Minecraft and Dragon Quest is that Builders has quests and some semblance of a story. Now, it’s not an incredibly complex story, but it is a story nonetheless. It’s set in a world where the evil Dragonlord has cursed all people. They don’t remember how to build things anymore — what a shame. You play the “Builder”, a hero who does know how to create houses, beds, weapons and more. Like I said, it’s not an amazing story, but it at least gives players some purpose to all the creation.
The story comes loaded with quests, most of which require you to learn new formulas and craft items. They’re basic quests that take very little time, but even that’s a radical change from Minecraft. Part of the joy of Mojang’s game is that there is no story at all. You’re plopped down in the middle of a randomly generated world and are set loose upon it. Do what you want, build what you want; no rules, no restrictions. It’s an exciting and intimidating approach that Dragon Quest avoids in favor of a stricter and more traditional formula.
The structure works for Dragon Quest but will leave those who have played both games feeling a little fenced in. It’s a big, big world in Builders, and sometimes you just want to cut loose and run wild, but you’re reeled in by another quest. The game doesn’t keep you on too tight a leash, though, and it ends up being a lovely mix of free-roaming fun and structured gameplay. It’s a major change from Minecraft. It makes Dragon Quest feel more like a game and less like an ever-expanding experience that’ll devour all of your free time.
Much Deeper Combat
Then there’s the combat. The combat in Builders feels like it’s straight out of The Legend of Zelda. You get to build your selection of swords or clubs or mallets along with shields and armor galore. Then you head out into the game’s rolling hills to conquer bad guys. It’s simple hack-and-slash stuff that feels a little clunky and a little rusty but is still a lot of fun. The camera angle never seems to quite agree with you, and you have a tendency to run into your enemies when you’re trying to simply parry or jump at them. Despite that, fighting in the game is enjoyable and much more required than it is in Minecraft. Luckily, your villains don’t blow up when killed. Dang Creepers.
Keep Crafting Simple
Things get complicated in Minecraft. Just head to YouTube and watch videos of players creating smelters, enchanted weapons, simple machines. Gosh, I’m tired just thinking about it. Dragon Quest Builders doesn’t get remotely as complicated as that. You’ll create a lot of items, but it’ll always be pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Most creations only take a few steps and only a small number of items. Need a chest to hold all your stuff? Boom, done. How about a new weapon to slay monsters? Sorted out in just a few simple steps. A new bed to sleep in? Finished in the blink of an eye.
The complex crafting is part of what makes Minecraft fun. It doesn’t hold your hand; it makes you figure it out yourself. That’s not what Builders does. Builders tells you what you need to make and how you have to make it. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take away the fun from the game.
The areas where Builders differs from Minecraft — graphics, combat, story, crafting — remain exciting and entertaining. Some will say the game is Minecraft with training wheels and that’s a valid point. It certainly holds your hand more than Mojang ever did. But Builders still retains its sense of exploration and adventure. It might be too simplistic for diehard fans of Minecraft, but it’s a big, open world of block-built fun.