Video Games

Portal Knights vs. Dragon Quest Builders

Portal Knights vs. Dragon Quest Builders

At a glance, Portal Knights and Dragon Quest Builders are quite similar. They’re both RPG takes on the classic Minecraft formula, so they both feature malleable worlds constructed of cubes. They also both include a system of travel based around portals.

However, spending time with both games makes it clear that each has its own unique identity. Here are some of the big differences.

Visual Style

Portal Knights

While these two games have a similar aesthetic, Portal Knights is the prettier game. It’s much richer in detail — every cube is beautifully crafted — and there’s a border effect on certain block types, allowing you to make much more aesthetically pleasing constructions. The characters might look a tiny bit like LEGO figures, but the character animations are great. Looking at just about any screenshot will show how great the lighting effects are, and there’s a cool effect that blurs distant objects to create a real sense of depth.

Dragon Quest Builders applies a Japanese design flair to its characters, but it squishes these characters down, giving them giant heads, chubby torsos, and tiny little arms and legs. This limits the expressiveness of any character and results in their animations looking a bit stiff — it may not immediately be apparent, but it becomes clearer when compared against the animations of Portal Knights.

Polish

Dragon Quest Builders

Dragon Quest Builders comes out of Square Enix, and Dragon Quest is a decades-old franchise. It should come as no surprise, then, that DQB is a very polished game. Its worlds are designed — not randomly generated — so you’re not going to come across any of the anomalies that come with randomly generated environments.

Portal Knights comes out of a much smaller studio, yet it looks and feels like a bigger-budget title. It does have its quirks, and its randomly generated worlds mean you’re more likely to find things that make you go “What?” For instance, you’ll find NPCs living happily in flooded, underwater areas with their campfires and torches still lit.

However, from a purely mechanical standpoint, Portal Knights feels great to play since the controls are nice and tight. Dragon Quest Builders is a bit looser.

Story

Dragon Quest Builders

Dragon Quest Builders tells a story of a world in disrepair where the inhabitants have lost the ability to build things. Your character awakens this long-dormant ability and must use it to rebuild several villages across the land. It’s perhaps a bit contrived, but it sets the tone nicely and at least attempts to explain why NPCs can’t build things on their own. The downside, however, is that the game’s flow is dictated by story events. You’ll be given a lot of free time to build and craft, but the game is perpetually encouraging you to complete story events because that’s how you get new crafting recipes and abilities.

Portal Knights is set on a planet that’s been blasted apart, and the only way to travel between the pieces is by portal. The duty of the titular Portal Knights, then, is to travel from piece to piece, take down big bosses, and reassemble the planet? After the introduction, the narrative steps aside and lets players forge their own stories. Recipes and abilities are gated behind a progression wall, but keeping that progression untethered to any story element means the players have more control over the overall flow of the game.

Which game is superior comes down to taste. If you want a more focused, story-centric game, Dragon Quest Builders is going to appeal to you. If you want a more free-form building experience, Portal Knights is the better choice.

Character Customization

Portal Knights

In Dragon Quest Builders, you are being guided through a linear series of events. You can name your character and pick a gender, but aside from that, every player character is essentially the same.

Portal Knights, on the other hand, features a character creation system that gives you a good deal of control over the look of your character. You’ll choose gender, facial features, skin tone, hairstyle, and more. The game also features a cosmetic gear tab, which means you can armor up based purely on stats while keeping the look of whichever armor or costume set you like the best visually. On top of this, Portal Knights lets you choose a class type — Warrior, Ranger, or Mage — which will drastically impact your approach to combat.

So from a character customization perspective, Portal Knights is undeniably leagues ahead of Dragon Quest Builders.

Combat

Portal Knights

For most of Dragon Quest Builders, you’ll be wielding a sword or a hammer, so combat is about getting in close, dealing some damage, and backing out of the fray to dodge attacks. It’s a finicky system that more often than not results in your character getting too close to an enemy and taking damage, or staying at a safe distance and swinging a sword harmlessly at thin air. Combat, then, is largely based around maintaining the perfect distance from a foe. It can be a little frustrating in a 3D space, when such distances are difficult to intuit. The game does introduce some ranged magical attacks in the later portion of the game, but it’s not always easy to judge the direction of your projectiles.

Portal Knights, on the other hand, adds an Ocarina of Time-inspired lock-on mechanic, which makes melee combat far more manageable and makes ranged combat a breeze. With the class selection mentioned above, you can pick a class based on your playstyle. The Warrior is a melee damage dealer, the Ranger is a master of long-distance attacks, and the Mage has a vast array of spells.

If combat is a big deal to you, Portal Knights is going to be the more satisfying game.

Boss Battles

Dragon Quest Builders

In Dragon Quest Builders, a boss fight happens at the end of every chapter, and most of that chapter’s story will be based around characters helping you prepare for that battle. Once you complete a boss fight, the chapter is pretty much over.

In Portal Knights, there are three bosses scattered across your world. They bottleneck your progress in progressing to later parts of the world, so you’re forced to do battle with each if you want to continue to discover new pieces of your world. However, once you finish a boss fight, you can keep going back and re-fighting the boss. Since every boss has the potential to drop rare items, you’ll want to spend time farming these bosses until you get the stuff you need.

Plus, Portal Knights also allows you to challenge Hard Mode versions of each of its bosses, bringing the boss fight total to six.

Portal Knights Dragon Fight

To sum it up, Portal Knights‘ boss fight progression feels closer to an MMO or perhaps even something like Terraria, whereas Dragon Quest Builders‘ feels more like a traditional Japanese RPG. Personally, I think the former is more satisfying, but that’s a matter of preference for sure.

Building, Mining, and Crafting

Dragon Quest Builders

Obviously, the fundamental elements of any Minecraft-like video game are building, mining, and crafting, and both Dragon Quest Builders and Portal Knights include all three. There are some key differences, though.

In Dragon Quest Builders, mining is more limited vertically. From ground level, you’ll only dig down a few blocks before you hit the bottom of the world and are unable to travel any further. In Portal Knights, you can dig all the way through a world until you fall out the bottom.

Both games feature crafting systems with recipes gated behind progress. As mentioned earlier, Dragon Quest Builders ties its progression to story events while Portal Knights takes a more complex approach. Your crafting abilities and recipes are based on various crafting stations, which you rank up by finding the proper materials, which you can only find in certain worlds. Therefore, there’s a natural progression that happens as you explore later worlds, but you still feel like you’re moving at your own pace.

Portal Knights

The real difference is in building. Portal Knights takes a more free-form approach, letting you decide when and where you want to build. Dragon Quest Builders forces you to build during certain story events, and it lets you build during other story events. If you’re focused on your village, most of your building is constrained to a small plot of land — anything built outside that plot will not count toward your village’s level (or the corresponding story event). As an additional caveat to this system, trees or crops won’t grow outside this plot, which forces you to design each village with this in mind.

Clearly, Portal Knights places more focus on these elements, while Dragon Quest Builders uses them in service of the story it’s trying to tell. Neither approach is objectively wrong, but each will appeal to a different sort of player.

Leveling Up

Dragon Quest Builders

Portal Knights features a fairly traditional level-up system. You gain XP by killing enemies and completing quests, and leveling up will unlock perks via the game’s version of a skill tree. Many types of armor have a level requirement as well.

Dragon Quest Builders, on the other hand, ties its level-up system to its villages — you level up your village, not your character. You’ll gain XP by building more complex buildings and decorating them. This is the game’s way of encouraging you to color inside the lines and stick with the building types it recognizes. It also de-emphasizes combat, because aside from harvesting resources, there is no tangible benefit to vanquishing a foe.

The Gameplay Loop

Portal Knights Running Through a Field

In Dragon Quest Builders, the main gameplay loop is this: do a quest, get a recipe, build a thing, fight a wave of enemies, repeat.

In Portal Knights, it’s more like this: find and repair a portal, travel to a new part of the world, farm resources, return to a home base and upgrade your stuff, return to the previous world and attempt to find a new portal.

The real difference in a nutshell is that Dragon Quest Builders focuses its gameplay loop around its story while Portal Knights focuses it around a rhythm the player will naturally fall into over time.

As a huge caveat to that, Dragon Quest Builders also wipes your progress every chapter, going as far as to force you to unlearn many of the recipes you’ve learned in previous chapters.

Co-op

Portal Knights

Dragon Quest Builders is mostly a single-player affair. Mostly. There’s a “Creative Mode” world where you can build things on a platform, and those things will be randomly shared with other players, appearing in their own “Creative Mode” worlds. As far as teaming up with your friends? Forget about it (though Square Enix is considering multiplayer for a sequel).

Portal Knights features up-to-four-player co-op online; two-player, splitscreen co-op locally. If you want to play with friends, Portal Knights is an option (and it’s far better with a group than it is solo), while Dragon Quest Builders is not.

Conclusion

Portal Knights Ranger

I think the best way to summarize the difference between these two games is that Dragon Quest Builders is a Japanese RPG with Minecraft-like elements, while Portal Knights is a Minecraft-like video game with classic RPG elements.

Josh Wirtanen owns this place and has opinions about pretty much everything. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuajwirtanen.