Puzzle Quest 2
key review info
- Game: Puzzle Quest 2
- Platform: Xbox 360
- Gamepad support: N/a
- Reviewed on:
- Show system requirements
The fantastically addictive match-three/role playing gameplay hybrid of the Puzzle Quest series returns with this new installment in the series in much more focused form, after grand scale of the original title and the confusing hexes of the Galactrix entry.
Gone are the huge world map, castle management and mounts in the first proper sequel to Challenge of the Warlords. Infinity Interactive has decided that the old format wasn't addictive enough, so now it added some Diablo to the mix. This simply means that you might never let go of your gamepad or mouse again, as the 'just one more battle' feeling is pervasive throughout the whole of this excellent release.
The first change Puzzle Quest veterans will notice is in the art style, as it has a more Western vibe this time around. The characters look like cartoonish versions of people belonging BioWare like role playing titles, rather than the manga inspired models of the original. Furthermore, the environment have a more crisp feeling and the colors are better saturated, making the whole package more attractive for Western fantasy lovers like me. The story is generic, but constructed well enough not to hinder the game and to provide a reason to continue fighting the many goblins and skeletons.
The audio is well done, with all the sounds being used wisely as various interfaces cues. The soundtrack is surprisingly good for an online release, many orchestral scores being spot on in terms of atmosphere.
The hero is not traveling through a huge world, as Infinity has taken a much more streamlined approach, eliminating some of the elements that brought the complexity of the first entry in the series. This is both a blessing and a curse, as some players will miss the mounts and the ability to customize the fortress or steal spells for the enemies, but others will enjoy that the match-three gameplay and dungeon crawling are now on the forefront of the release.
Players get to see their character now from an isometric perspective, as they wander through various towns, caves and underground dungeons. It is a welcome change, I think, as it makes the whole experience more personal and engaging. You get to see much more of the world that the map from Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords only hinted at through its cut-scenes.
There have been some overhauls in terms of gameplay as well, in the same direction of streamlining the game. It is good to know that by streamlining I do not mean dumbing down, as for every element taken out, a new addition comes to fill the void. It flows only more naturally this time around, making this one of the best releases available on XBLA at this time.
The match-three type of gameplay stay largely the same, with the player having to string three or more same colored gems to get mana, powering-up whatever spells they wield. The only difference between this and the original is the disappearance from the board of experience point and gold tiles. They all have been replaced by fist action tiles that act as a resource for the weapons, shields, gems and poisons that the heroes now have at their disposal.
The class system has also been modified, giving a choice between four types of characters now. One can play as a nimble Assassin, a Barbarian jack-of-all-trades, a magic heavy Sorcerer and tanking Paladin. The good news is that they have quite a strong bearing on the way you will play the game. I've played with the Assassin and the Paladin and the combos I settled on were wildly different.
I was always aiming for a quick take-down and massing for Purple mana to use as a damage shield with the Assassin. The Paladin however does not hit that hard so I amassed a huge defense rating with a spell, slowly chipping away at the enemies' health and blocking their every hit until I got to one-shot them with a powerful shield bash. Overall, The combat feels more dynamic in this sequel as you have more ways to dish damage.
The only complaint I have is a certain slowness of the interface between turns, when it does not allow any interaction with the gem board. You impatiently press the buttons on the gamepad to start matching or attacking your opponent, but nothing happens as the game has not given the information it wanted. This also happens in the exploration screens after handing in a quest. Puzzle Quest 2 stalls while it tells you how much gold and experience you receive, disabling any kind of movement for that period. It is quite annoying until you get used to it, but still feels like an unnecessary hindrance afterward.
The inventory system has been revamped and it is all for the best. You can now equip weapons, shields and potions that can be used during the battle, Infinite quietly adding another layer of customization for the characters to replace the old spell steal mechanic. Some of these items can be upgraded at a vendor in the town using components that can be looted from chests and defeated enemies.
Puzzle Quest 2 also brings in the only good innovation from Galactrix, that is the mini-games required for various tasks outside the combat. These are spin-offs to the usual match-three gameplay and do a lot to diversify the otherwise slightly repetitive experience. These small distractions can be encountered when bashing a door, picking a lock, searching a room for treasure or looting a treasure chest.
The Artificial Intelligence is better done this time around and it looks like it is cheating less. Infinity has always claimed that the AI does not cheat at all actually, but the competitive nature of the game, coupled with the blind luck necessary for some powerful combinations sometimes makes you feel like the computer is taking advantage of... well... being the computer and gives you an undeserved beating.
The game also has a multiplayer component that is really fun, giving the game even more value than it already has. The new addition is a tournament mode that allows two players to select four monsters from the title and fight until only one remans.
Puzzle Quest 2 is 1200 Microsoft Points on XBLA, 20 dollars on the PC and 30 dollars on the Nintendo DS. All versions provide the same content and polish so it is quite easy to see which one to get. It plays great with a controller and also looks quite fine on a big screen.
All in all, it is easy to recommend this excellent game, bringing the series back to the level of quality of the original, after a few lackluster releases. It is fun, it is addictive and it is quite cheap, at least on the Xbox 360 and the PC. It also does another great thing: it manages to bring together the casual and hardcore audiences. This is a title that can be enjoyed by everyone and it teaches basic concepts of role playing to non-gamers, easing in the eventual crossover to more complex experiences.