Puzzle Quest 2 Review
Over the course of the last three years, game developer Infinite Interactive has really been cranking 'em out. After its original sleeper hit Puzzle Quest, the team went on to create a surprising number of variations on its genre-bending theme. (If you don't know, Puzzle Quest created a mash-up even more unlikely than Susan Boyle and Marilyn Manson by blending hardcore RPG elements with casual Bejewelled-style match-three gameplay.) This seemingly oil-and-water mix worked surprisingly well and its latest incarnation—Puzzle Quest 2—is no less successful.
The gameplay of works well, but it isn't because of the story. The plot is extremely cliché, pitting you, the skillful warrior, against an ancient evil that's oppressing the land. Considering the effort put into expanding the game to include over 150 quests, this lackadaisical attitude toward the fiction is disappointing and is reflected in the quests themselves. Especially at first, you'll find yourself sent repeatedly on quests with no more motivation than, “Hey, there's a ruckus over there—why don't you go check it out?” But wait--we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before you can jump into the quests, you'll have to create a character, choosing from two genders and four classes: Barbarian, Sorcerer, Assassin and Templar. Each of these plays differently, using items and abilities unique to its class.
Once you've chosen a hero, you're sent into a village beset by goblins and in helping the villagers, are sent on a journey into an underground dungeon. In the dungeon, you encounter the goblins, orcs, wraiths and undead skeletons common to such places and you fight them via the match three mechanic. As in the first , you collect different colored mana by matching three correspondingly colored gems. When you have enough mana, you can cast one of your offensive or defensive spells, thus damaging your opponent. If you're a fan, the playing field as a whole will look very familiar to you, since it contains more or less the same kinds of gems and the same skull icons used to cause direct damage to your opponents. A new addition to the field are "Gauntlet Gems" which help you accumulate action points; when you have enough of these, you can use a turn to either swing a bladed weapon or use a bow against your enemies for big damage. Also new in , you can buy potions and armor as well as weapons that be upgraded using materials looted from chests found lying around the dungeon.
Like in most RPGs, players gain XP during combat and when they've gained enough XP, they gain a level and can spend the resulting point to upgrade their stats. At a certain point in the game, you're given the ability to re-spec for a fee, and can swap out spells you learn along the way by referencing your spell book. In addition to combat, creative match-three variants appear in minigames which are used to search rooms, disarm traps, loot chests and open doors either by magic, picking the locks or barbarian-like bashing. Most of your time is spent in the dungeon but that's OK because it's very large, many-leveled and populated with all kinds of beasties. As you move around, you'll see your enemies before crossing their paths, which allows you to prepare before each fight. That means if you're not paying attention and you stumble into a fight because you're playing while downing a slice of cheese and pepperoni, you can always choose to flee and come back when you're better prepared.
All in all, is entertaining but not all that different from the original Puzzle Quest. This can be seen as both good and bad. The story isn't very interesting, and gamers who enjoyed the first empire-building mechanic may be disappointed to learn there is no such thing in . However, the match-three/RPG gameplay has been streamlined and enriched with the addition of “Gauntlet Gems” and the broad selection of enemies does keep things interesting. Each enemy fights very differently, requiring you to strategize, consider your character specs and swap out your spells. Ghosts, for instance, should be approached with magic since they're resistant to weapon attacks and Vampire Mists repeatedly regain all their health and are unbeatable unless you prevent them from collecting red mana.
The game's difficulty on default should be manageable for most gamers although the AI still has that suspicious degree of “luck” it exhibited in the first game, that made it seem uncannily able to create endless combos by anticipating which gems would soon appear on the playing field. Whether the game actually cheats or not is probably best left to the experts, but even in the worst case scenario, gamers who love tinkering with character builds and enjoy the challenge of getting really good at setting up gem combos will be in RPG/match three heaven. Especially competitive gamers can also test their skills against other players in the new online four-on-four Tournament mode.
Rather than a wholesale re-imagining of the franchise, offers the next evolutionary step in gameplay. It continues the original's fantasy style mechanics, in an amped-up, slimmed-down, better-looking version that adds a new camera view as well as new quests, spells and weapons. A game that can just as easily be played all day or for only an hour, is a solid, if somewhat safe addition to the franchise.