At the end of every year Paste’s games contributors write about their favorite game of the year that didn’t make our best-of-the-year list. Today our Editor-at-Large Cameron Kunzelman looks at the simple beauty of Dragon Quest Builders 2.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 didn’t get the love it deserved. I ranked it highly last year, and some stalwart defenders hoisted their flags for it, but very few people were out there championing DQB2 as a game of the year. Control or Death Stranding or Disco Elysium or whatever the hell else the darlings were somehow managed to kick our humble building game down the charts. And, shit, I was a part of the problem because I did the very same thing.
But in the shadow of 2019, I’ve been thinking about the relative simplicity of Dragon Quest Builders 2 and how it delivered on a promise that’s been relatively un-delivered on in the past decade since the release of Minecraft. It gave us a compelling story about a child, their friend, and the world around them alongside a fulfilling crafting and building system. It took the shot, and it made that shot in a way that so few other games do.
A few years back, Shadow of Mordor received nearly endless accolades for how it managed to take a compelling system (the Nemesis system) and staple it onto a basic fantasy story. This mixture of the basic satisfying procedural generation loop with a bare-bones narrative was so compelling, in fact, that it made people very forgiving of both things that it whiffed on and weirdbad ideologies that it implicitly supported.
I think that DQB2 manages something that’s just as thinly elegant as that game or Arkham Asylum or Tomb Raider or any of the other games out there that are so clearly accomplishing what they set out to do. These games often leave a lot to desire in the sense that they feel like they don’t have much to say beyond themselves and that they don’t have much depth, but in that way they’re like a perfect circle drawn by hand. The accomplishment itself is the surprising thing. The magic of the stapling and the hiding of those staples generates the surprise.
And I think because of that Builders 2 is going to stick around longer than a lot of other games that got a lot of praise this year. I don’t know what would ever drive me to play Gears 5 again, but I know that there’s a certain feeling and a certain set of mechanics that Dragon Quest Builders 2 is going to deliver for me that literally nothing else can. You get your RPG story, and you learn how to make bathrooms and hotels and spas and blacksmith shops and a thousand other things. You build a little society of happy people, but you also quest around in the wilds and the dungeons looking for the items that will make them happy. You bring those things back and, dammit, the people are happy.
Elegance is the best word for it, and I think in a decade it’ll be one of the underlooked treasures that a whole generation of players will get to visit anew because it wasn’t promoted and pushed as much as Sekiro. And I think those new players are going to be extremely lucky to get to play it.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman. He is the Editor at Large for Paste Games.