Dragon Quest Builders Review: Working The Land

Dragon Quest Builders serves as the jumping-off point for a new tale in a new period using an old setting–the storied land of Alefgard from the first Dragon Quest. It’s an alternate reality that begins where the original game ends, but with a twist: the hero from the first game didn’t defeat the Dragonlord. No prior knowledge of the series is required, but having a familiarity with the its jingles and diverse bestiary helps to invoke a strong sense of nostalgia

Given that the world-crafting genre is uncharted territory for Dragon Quest, Square Enix was wise to make the tutorial equal parts concise and informative. This allows you to start building within minutes of launching the game, and it’s satisfying to get the hang of building complete houses, crafting items, and surviving the Alefgardian wilderness. A seemingly menial task like bricklaying is made easy when it only takes one button to set the brick above, below, or at head level. Moreover, the process of upgrading a wall with higher-quality bricks works in one convenient, single-input motion.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

It’s almost as easy as adapting to Dragon Quest Builders’ combat, which isn’t as frenetic as fighting in Dragon Quest Heroes–but it moves more quickly than the main series’ turn-based battles. This orientation period also showcases the game’s heavy emphasis on RPG-inspired questing. Building a bathhouse feels less like a chore when there’s a checkmark, a congratulatory jingle, and a grateful NPC who has a reward for you.

Supporting Dragon Quest Builders’ story and its objective-intensive draw is a foundation built on 30 years of franchise nostalgia. No, you can’t explore settings in later mainstream installments like Zenithia (seen in Dragon Quest IV, V, and VI) or Dragon Quest VIII’s Trodain. Still, coming across familiar monsters, such as metal slimes, and well-known items like chimaera wings, will make any Dragon Quest fan smile. It’s surprising how well all these elements–running the gamut from the music to the bestiary–have been adapted to this malleable world. Enemies drop crafting ingredients rather than experience. Energy from digging is replenished by eating food. The overworld, as revealed by the camera positioned way up high, won’t show the original 1986 map, but the blocky art style will resonate with old-school JRPG enthusiasts.

It’s not Alefgard as we’ve known it, but it’s no less inviting–thanks to the familiar aesthetics and the classic low-level enemies who litter the land near your town. Exploring simply for the sake of it isn’t time wasted here. Going off in one direction can yield a wealth of resources for crafting items. The only variable that would devalue any free-roaming excursion is when you’ve maxed out your capacity for an item type–a tough task, since you can carry 99 of something.

Even though the world’s terrain is open to manipulation, the maps remain faithful to classic JRPG world design. For example, the farther you venture from civilization, the more likely you’ll run into tougher enemies. The journey to a quest destination is seldom a straight line, as Alefgard presents myriad distractions, often with worthwhile rewards. The forests, deserts, and towers have their share of obscured secrets–the kind you often reveal by swiveling the camera. It’s doubly rewarding when using visual clues to hunt for treasure underground and inside mountains. A missing block or a brick that looks out of place can be a hint to a nearby prize, such as a useful set of 25 windows for your future buildings.

Advance through the story enough, and all manner of slime and golem will turn the tables and perform a siege operation against your town. You and your comrades work to protect all four sides of your base while you reinforce the perimeter with barriers and automated fire-breathing gargoyle statues. In other words, Dragon Quest Builders plays like a tower defense game at times, putting a delightful twist on the popular genre. You’re defending a square area rather than a winding route, and not all of your support options are stationary; this only enhances the diversity of activities in a game that throws plenty of goals at you.

Invasions can do significant damage to your towns, and even if the resources to rebuild are plentiful, repairing your inns and workhouses can be time-consuming; but you can avoid this process altogether if you wish. Dragon Quest Builders’ Free-Play mode saves you the grief of hostile monsters and offers more peaceful islands where you can get your architectural juices flowing.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Dragon Quest Builders is full of opportunities to take breaks from questing and defending your town. The franchise’s endearing aesthetic, defined by Akira Toriyama’s character designs, can make the simple process of building and designing rooms around town fly by. To customize an inn, you need simply place a torch, and get to work laying out beds and other furniture as you wish. Although you can share your personalized building creations, it’s not possible to visit your friends’ worlds. It’s also disappointing that there’s no cross-save support between the PS4 and Vita versions, despite the fact that they feature the same content.

The excellence of Dragon Quest Builders illustrates the versatility of this 30-year-old franchise as much as it speaks to the engrossing appeal of Minecraft-inspired creation. The story-advancing draw of quests goes hand-in-hand with the depth of a crafting system that cleverly uses monster drops as some of the game’s building tools. Whether you want to focus on completing assignments or build with no specific purpose, the game is feature-rich enough to suck up untold hours, even if this happens to be your first Dragon Quest experience.

Editor’s note: Dragon Quest Builders’ re-release on the Nintendo Switch proves to be a splendid fit for the hybrid console. Its downgrade to 720p on the Switch is negligible when the framerate is smooth and comparable to the other platforms. The Dragon Quest series’ loveable art style, anchored by Akira Toriyama’s character designs has never veered toward hyper-realism, which is why this port’s visuals easily flourishes even at lower resolutions. And whatever your preferred Switch control and viewing setup, navigating your industrious hero and crafting complex structures becomes intuitive over time.

The Switch-exclusive features–limited to the free-building non-story mode–adds another layer of endearment to a game already brimming with charm. You’re now paired with a Great Sabrecub who–despite its preciously compact size–is mountable for swift traversal across your custom maps. This feline who first appeared in Dragon Quest V isn’t the only new throwback, though. Free-building also features retro customization options, allowing you to make 2D landscapes in the style of the original Dragon Quest. It’s the type of well-designed fan service that will bring smiles to the faces of fans of the franchise.

The flexibility to mold the land and vanquish endearing monsters on a large screen and on the go offers a welcome level of convenience the PlayStation versions lacked. While this is obviously a benefit of all Switch games, the involving nature of Dragon Quest Builders, particularly the sense of player ownership in carving the land to your liking makes this game a strong match for the Nintendo platform. – Feb. 7, 2018, 11:00 AM PT

Rate This!

Dandara Review: Off The Wall

Dandara defies its platforming heritage by subverting two ubiquitous ideas: jumping and running. Neither is present in the traditional sense within this surreal, Metroid-inspired adventure. Rather, the heroic Dandara slings herself to any wall, ceiling, or floor she fancies, thumbing her nose at gravitational forces that would dare stifle her kinetic charm. This spin on standard movement sets Dandara apart, making it feel different from every other exploration-heavy platformer. When you’re zipping carefree through its labyrinthine world, Dandara is a complete joy, but control hiccups and a story that’s too vague for its own good often undermine its unique charm.

Although Dandara is based on a Brazilian figure who helped lead a slave revolt in the late 1600s, you wouldn’t know it based only on the game’s surreal tale. The story is one of oppression told through vague metaphors about a broken world whose currency, salt, is in short supply. The sporadic conversations Dandara has with the trapped inhabitants does little to inject the world with any sense of humanity. The story is simply too abstract to create the lasting bonds that could have propelled Dandara forward with a real sense of purpose.

Thankfully, the imaginative action sequences grab hold of your attention in ways the story cannot. Dandara doesn’t walk. Instead, she leaps to designated spots that dot the walls, floors, and ceilings. Aiming the analog stick in a given direction shows where Dandara will land, and though her reach is limited, you can quickly bounce between surfaces to dance past enemies or arrive at a nearby treasure chest that’s waiting to be opened.

This simple action is the basis on which the entire adventure is built. Because Dandara’s leaps have limited range and you can only latch on to certain places, navigating each room becomes a small puzzle as you decipher how best to reach the next area. In some places, there are rotating blocks or gliding platforms that Dandara can control by firing a burst of energy from her palms, while other rooms have tracking lasers that demand a frantic pace lest you wind up dead. There’s a great variety in what each section demands, ensuring you don’t fall into a dull routine of simply looking for the white spots along the walls without any deeper thought.

Of course, Dandara can do more than just leap to any surface. She has a projectile weapon at the ready, one that’s slow-acting so you can’t just spam your foes. It takes a second or two to charge so you have to plan your assault–if you don’t, a wayward projectile could smack you while you’re gearing up for a strike. This smart system means that even though you always have the ability to fight, it’s often better to avoid confrontations rather than risk taking damage. Eventually, Dandara does acquire new projectiles that can be unleashed instantaneously, but these are limited by an energy bar. Because every attack has an obvious downside, mastery of movement is ultimately the key to staying alive.

However, mastering movement is no easy task. Even though I spent more than 10 hours exploring this world, I never felt completely in control. The line that sprouts from Dandara to show where you’re going to land can be fiddly. Too often I had to adjust and then readjust my aim because it would auto-aim to a specific spot that I didn’t want to be on. And though that wasn’t much of a problem, quickly bounding across a hazard-strewn section was way trickier than I would have liked. Precision felt like it came at the cost of speed, so I would get smacked around by enemies as I tried valiantly to make my way to a safe area.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7

There’s one section late in the game that should have been the exhilarating climax everything had been building toward. It has narrow walls and five different types of enemies preventing any chance of reprieve. I was all set to show off my jaw-dropping movement abilities and dispatch the enemy swarm with the style I had learned during my hours with the game. But the reality of the situation was that instead of evading the homing missiles barreling toward me, I would accidentally fly directly into them. The same clumsiness persisted as I tried to time my leaps to counter an enemy flipping between the floor and ceiling. Because I had so much health by this point, I was able to progress with little more than a bruised ego, but it was an ugly victory. That moment in platformers where you show off all that you learned is one of the reasons I love the genre. Moving so awkwardly even as I reached Dandara’s end was a bummer.

It’s a shame that the control can be a little tricky, because Dandara is an utter delight when things really click. There’s a boss fight early on where you chase an enemy through the nothingness of space. Platforms appear out of thin air as you hunt him, and you have to bounce across the broken landscape while dodging projectiles and spawning enemies to get close enough to land a counter attack. When I finally vanquished my opponent, I felt like taking a bow. The speed and precision required pushed me to my limits, and though I died a dozen or so times, it was a serious rush when everything coalesced into a beautiful dance. But Dandara doesn’t often reach those heights. Later scenarios require even more speed and precision than that early boss fight, and because there’s a slight auto aim on your jumping point, I often felt bit out of control as I zipped around.

If you play on the PC, you do have the option of using a mouse, but it’s a little cumbersome. Although it’s slightly easier to aim for a specific spot, it’s much slower, and areas where you have to quickly bounce from one place to the next, avoiding traps on the ground while dodging projectiles from angry enemies, are tougher without a controller. No matter which control method you choose, though, Dandara is forgiving enough that I never got angry. Frequent checkpoints mean you’re rarely more than 30 seconds from where you last died, and Dandara has plenty of health to help her withstand a few stray attacks.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7

The level design is another strong point. The world rotates as you turn ceilings and walls into floors, making you put a little thought into figuring out which way is up. But even as everything flips and twist around you, it’s still clear where you need to go next. There are only so many unexplored paths at a given time, so a quick peek at the map should be enough to get you moving to your goal. And as you explore, there are plenty of fascinating sights to behold. The most impressive comes late in the game in a nightmare world where swirling vortexes dot the foreground while mystical islands drift behind you. It’s a stunning area that made me pause to take it all in. The same mesmerizing feeling came from the enchanting music. Even though the story comes up short, the visuals and music really transport you to an imaginative world just begging to be discovered.

Careful explorers are rewarded with bonuses that help against the tougher boss fights. Dandara can use the salt she collects from defeated enemies and treasure chests to boost her abilities. Although you don’t need to upgrade often during the early going, as you earn more and more salt toward the end of the game, and the bosses get harder and harder, you really need the extra burst of health and energy these upgrades provide. But, more importantly, it’s just fun figuring out how to reach every hidden room and unlock every treasure chest. Even when a chest doesn’t yield a particularly valuable reward, simply solving a tricky puzzle to get the chest is satisfying on its own.

There have been so many Metroid-inspired games that it’s almost impossible to stand out. Dandara’s unique movement abilities ensure it’s at least significantly different from its peers. But the same reason that Dandara is so unique is also its biggest setback. The sense of mastery never quite comes, resulting in a game that flashes its potential in one scene only to undermine that thrill soon afterward. Even with its occasional stumbles, though, Dandara offers enough excitement and beauty to push you onward.

Rate This!

Prey Review – Updated For Patch 1.02

With a sophisticated setting built to accommodate classic RPG mechanics we don’t see often enough in modern games, Prey feels both new and nostalgic at once. A wonderfully explorable science-fiction environment proves dense with interactive systems, intrigue, and ever-present danger. And even though combat’s only slightly preferable to the weak stealth options, I was a little surprised at how quickly my time-played clock seemed to tick toward 40 hours before I reached the end.

The first hours of Prey are enticing, with a mind-bending psychological opening scene that foreshadows a story more interesting than what the main plot ends up being. It’s fairly strong nevertheless, with some interesting implications and a few surprising characters who keep things moving along during dozens of hours of exploration. Its twist on the typical amnesiac protagonist premise prompted me to question everything I was told as I roamed the enormous and fascinatingly anachronistic space station, Talos I.

Continue reading…

Rate This!

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Raises Nearly $225K for Charity

The first Charity Invitational and livestream event for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was a huge success, raising almost $225,000 to support the recovery of hospitalized children.

Check out the highlight video below, which was created in celebration of the event’s success.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ Charity Invitational, which was announced last month by the game’s creator, Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene, took place on May 4. The event featured 128 streamers from North America and Europe who were grouped in teams by region to compete in a series of matches.

Continue reading…

Rate This!

Halo 6 Won’t Be at E3 2017

Halo developer 343 Industries has confirmed the next mainline entry in Microsoft’s sci-fi shooter series won’t be at E3 2017.

In a post on reddit, 343 community manager Brian Jarrard (aka sk7ch343) tempered fans’ expectations for this year’s expo, saying that while the studio will have something at E3, it won’t be tied to Halo 6.

“I’ll slip into my Dreamcrusher persona for a minute in the name of realistic expectations: We’ve said this already but we’ll have a little something at E3 but it’s not related to the next major entry in the franchise,” Jarrard said.

Continue reading…

Rate This!

Halo 6 Won’t Be at E3 2017

Halo developer 343 Industries has confirmed the next mainline entry in Microsoft’s sci-fi shooter series won’t be at E3 2017.

In a post on reddit, 343 community manager Brian Jarrard (aka sk7ch343) tempered fans’ expectations for this year’s expo, saying that while the studio will have something at E3, it won’t be tied to Halo 6.

“I’ll slip into my Dreamcrusher persona for a minute in the name of realistic expectations: We’ve said this already but we’ll have a little something at E3 but it’s not related to the next major entry in the franchise,” Jarrard said.

Continue reading…

Rate This!

Darksiders 3 Announced With Trailer and First Info

THQ Nordic and Gunfire Games have announced that Darksiders 3 is currently in development and is scheduled to release sometime in 2018 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

The game is set to be an open-world action adventure that includes a focus on exploration and environmental puzzles and will continue the series’ staple hack and slash combat with a new protagonist, Fury.

Above: Watch the CG announcement trailer for Darksiders 3.

It’s set around the same time as the events of Darksiders 2, which was released almost five years ago, and will follow Fury’s quest to destroy unique physical versions of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Continue reading…

Rate This!

X-COM Spiritual Successor Hits Crowdfunding Target

Phoenix Point, a spiritual successor to the X-COM franchise, has reached its crowdfunding goal, and now has two more goals to aim for.

The crowdfunding page on Fig went live last week, and has since reached its original $500,000 goal. With 36 days left, there are now two stretch goals.

At $650,000, you’ll be able to drive vehicles in tactical battles. The stretch goal description says: “Deploy vehicles to tactical battles for carrying troops and providing heavy weapons support. They can also be used for retrieving equipment and materials in raid missions, and for safe evacuation of soldiers or civilians in danger. There will be multiple construction options and a variety of weapons turrets available.”

Continue reading…

Rate This!