Dragon Quest Builders' PC version is a joy to revisit
My love of Dragon Quest Builders and the PC platform has a storied history, especially when I originally took the time to review the PC version of Dragon Quest Builders 2 4 years ago; and it feels genuinely baffling that we hadn't gotten the first game on PC until now. Thankfully, the wait has resulted in a demonstrably better PC version than Dragon Quest Builders 2, though it's not without its own set of quirks - and not every issue from 2's port has been addressed with this release.
Let's get it out of the way; remarkably, quite a bit of what I wrote about Dragon Quest Builders 2 on PC 4 years ago remains the same. At its core the port is solid, the PC controls are excellent much as they were back then - and players have access to both a fully uncapped framerate, as well as proper 16:10 support for Steam Deck. However, one of the main issues from Dragon Quest Builders 2 remains; notably, that the game is very poorly multithreaded, and this results in a pretty noticeable CPU bottleneck at higher graphics settings. You won't be able to keep a solid 60 FPS at max settings on Steam Deck, and that's purely due to the CPU bottleneck; dropping down Shadow Quality and LOD Distance to "Normal" is generally enough to smooth things out. Even then, you'll really only notice the framerate dips whenever you're in the main settlement for a chapter; elsewhere, you'll be north of 60 FPS when uncapped, regardless.
Speaking of graphics settings, the options are more than a bit weird. First, you have a general Graphics Quality option, but additional elements like Shadow Quality can be set separately, and in fact shadows will look noticeably different at the same setting depending on the global Graphics Quality. In practice, this seems to determine whether or not shadows will be softened, or remain unfiltered. Perhaps "Shadow Resolution" would be the better name for the option, when that appears to be what it actively changes. Other than shadows, LOD and texture filtering - the game's graphics options are fairly sparse. Not that the game would've benefited too much from any additional options, of course.
Testing performance on my other systems - my laptop with a Ryzen 9 5980HX and my desktop with a Ryzen 7 7700x - shows similar behavior when it comes to the CPU bottleneck. In spots where I would dip below 60FPS on Steam Deck, I would stay north of 120 FPS on my desktop and closer to 75~80 FPS on my laptop. This is a true CPU bottleneck, as the game's performance remains identical whether I run it at 1080p or 1440p; the game, unsurprisingly, is very easy to run outside of the CPU limitations. I wouldn't be shocked if the game would respond especially well to Ryzen 3D vCache CPUs, but I don't have one to test with and as such it must remain a theory. I also was unable to test the game on any Intel CPUs, and while I don't anticipate any issues I can't attest that you won't run into any if that describes your PC setup.
One thing to note about Steam Deck support specifically, is a few quirks that seem to result from the game's Steam Cloud implementation. Did you know that there's a SteamOS feature that allows a game to automatically sync your saves to the cloud when you're putting the system to sleep? Well, Dragon Quest Builders supports this feature, and will even download your latest saves when waking the system back up. This means you can play a bit on your Deck, put it to sleep, and seamlessly switch to another PC without much concern. It's a nice feature to have, but there's a few problems in practice; one, the game doesn't autosave when you do this, and by default autosave doesn't always activate as often as I'd like. Second, while the game will download your most recent saves when resuming from sleep - you'll have to return to the title screen in order to actually load the updated saves. Finally, there's a pretty annoying bug with the game upon waking from sleep; the game's audio will be completely dead, necessitating a game reset.
All in all, it makes what's otherwise a really cool new feature - the main truly new feature for this port compared to the mobile phone release - into a bit more of a mixed bag. Ironically enough, the fact that players will want to return to the title screen to load their saves makes the fact you'll need to reset the game at least marginally less annoying in practice. If you're going to be returning to the title screen anyway, why not just close and reopen the game anyway? I still hope these issues can be fixed, but they don't tarnish the port in any major way.
As previously stated, this PC version is based off of the mobile release from a while back, and as such comes with a number of upgrades that were introduced with that version. Players have access to the Big Bash from Dragon Quest Builders 2 - which should be especially useful when gathering materials for crafting - as well as the ability to enter Cursor Mode; where players can directly build their towns with the mouse, dropping and destroying items without any of the positioning required with a controller. While it isn't perfect - it would be great if you could see a preview outine before you placed an item, or if you could rotate it in some way - but combined with the Big Bash, it makes progressing through the game feel significantly faster as busy work is greatly reduced.
While controller support is just as strong as it was with Dragon Quest Builders 2, the additions to the keyboard and mouse control scheme truly makes it the definitive way of playing the game. They even fixed the horrid default mouse sensitivity bug that Dragon Quest Builders 2 had! Crucially, players can rebind keys for keyboard, mouse and even gamepad; much like with Dragon Quest Builders 2, the game supports Steam Input and can show the proper button prompts for the controller that you're using. Combined with Big Bash and the excellent KB/M quality of life features, Dragon Quest Builders 1 has never played better.
While it's been a long wait to finally get the game on PC, it feels like it's been worth the wait - despite some of the small issues that have cropped up. Here's hoping we've got another Dragon Quest Builders waiting for us in the years to come.
Copy provided to RPG Site by Square Enix.