The old adage of "don't judge a book by its cover" doesn't just apply to printed matter. When you first see images and screenshots of Dragon Quest Builders 2, it's easy to write the game off as yet another blocky-building sandbox game. But Dragon Quest Builders 2 is more than just your run-of-the-mill material-gathering, object-crafting, block-laying game. Its virtual community-creating gameplay stands out among the crowd, jam-packed with the warmth, joy, and charm that makes the Dragon Quest series so delightfully memorable.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 begins with your player character, a Builder with the ability to move and create objects, winding up stranded on a strange archipelago. Long ago, these islands flourished with a great civilization–up until a cult called the Children of Hargon gained power, destroying all that existed and forbidding those in its thrall from creating anything new. It's up to you and your mysterious friend, a snarky, aggressive boy named Malroth, to destroy the cult's hold on the people and restore these islands to their former glory, one block at a time. Much like how the original Dragon Quest Builders was a take on a what-if ending for the original Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes the ending of Dragon Quest II and turns it on its head–but you don't need to be familiar with that game to get a lot of enjoyment out of this one. (You will appreciate several of the callbacks, though.)
The core gameplay loop in Dragon Quest Builders is immensely satisfying. You have a central island, the Isle of Awakening, that acts like one big sandbox, along with several other islands both large and small that you can visit to gather materials and advance the main story. The larger islands all feature a big, overarching quest to restore a destroyed population center, which you'll accomplish by completing numerous smaller sub-quests to build facilities, find new materials, help individual NPCs, and explore different areas. Completing these quests rewards you with the gratitude of those you've aided, which in turn yields new item-creation recipes, improves the skills of the NPCs at the base, and brings more characters to the area to help with building, farming, mining, and monster-slaying. When you finally complete the lengthy main quest on each of the bigger islands, several of the NPCs will return with you to the Isle of Awakening, eager to aid you in building your own unique city and letting you run absolutely wild with your creative town-building concepts.
Part of what makes this gameplay loop so fulfilling is that doing these dozens upon dozens of small errands for NPCs rarely becomes tedious. The characters you meet in Dragon Quest Builders 2 are lively and full of personality (and funny accents), and helping them out with their needs to receive their heartfelt thanks just feels really, really good. You also get the joy of watching a town transform from a barely-functional series of ramshackle hovels into a thriving community thanks to your persistence and kindness. When you finish a new building or complete a task, the populace gathers around to showcase their elation and shower you with gratitude points–a simple reward that nonetheless feels wonderful to get.
It also helps that the world itself is tremendously fun to explore. The varied settings you encounter in your quest offer a variety of things to discover: towering hills, sandy beaches, secret underground caverns, ancient ruins, waterlogged bogs, and so on. You'll find plenty to do out in Dragon Quest Builders 2's expansive environments, and by exploring, you're amply rewarded with rare materials, optional side quests, some new NPC companions, and even a few simple puzzles that yield nice rewards upon completion. There are even a few randomly generated small islands you can sail out to that offer fresh experiences every time you visit, allowing you the chance to see interesting procedurally-made environments, collect lots of unique, rare materials and bring them all home to build the city of your dreams.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Dragon Quest game without many of the series' beloved monster designs. While a few non-humans are friendly to you, most of the monsters you encounter are strict adherents of the Children of Hargon and want nothing more than to destroy you and everything you've made. You'll have to fight them off if you want to keep on building. Unfortunately, you're a Builder, not a fighter, so your combat prowess for a lot of the game feels quite lacking.