Puzzle Quest 2
Puzzle Quest 2 is on track to deliver all the familiar mechanics of the original in a great framework of adventure and exploration. The original Puzzle Quest had that rare combination of engaging but simple mental puzzles and addictive progression that made hardcore gamers sit and play for dozens of hours, even though the baseline experience was only a few steps past a casual game of Bejeweled. We had a chance to check out a brief glimpse of Puzzle Quest 2 last month at GDC, but a recent version of the game from D3 let us dig deeper and explore more details on the game. We also came across a wealth of new screens and art for the game, along with the game's first trailer.
Puzzle Quest 2 shakes up the surrounding trappings of the game with a new fantasy world, a more dynamic character development system, and a tighter lens on the action. But the core battle-oriented matching system is familiar and just as fun as it was the first around. At least that’s how it seems after the first couple of hours. We’ve yet to dive into the full final game, which is scheduled to come out sometime late this spring on both Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo DS. However, we explored all the new character classes and got a firm handle on the game’s new mechanics as we delved into the early quests.
Players have four classes to pick between as they enter the world of Puzzle Quest 2, and both gender options are available for every class. The Barbarian is your well-rounded and most straightforward battler – he or she has strong offense and defense, and the best two-handed weapons are reserved for them. The Assassin has high damage powers like the starting ability Sneak Attack, and he or she has exclusive access to high level poisons. Sorcerers have low life points, but their spells offer the most diverse gameplay options, dealing high damage one turn only to alter the board on the next. The last class, the Templar, seems designed to appeal to the careful, more deliberate player. High defense and the highest life point totals make them hard to take down in a fight – a feature that is accentuated by their ability to wear plate armor and use massive tower shields.
Once we picked our hero and chose one of three difficulty settings, we were treated to the game’s intro, as narrated by our chosen character. Sent to investigate the troubled town of Verloren (The German “verloren gehen” means “to be lost”. Get it? The Lost Town?), it’s clear from the start that more is afoot than some recent disappearances. A huge tower is buried in the ice right by Verloren, and the visit of a female paladin seems to have disturbed the slumber of a long-imprisoned daemon. Our hero has been sent to investigate the buried depths of this tower to uncover the truth.
The first quests of the game are all oriented at getting players familiar with the game’s basic concepts. Unlike the first Puzzle Quest, this sequel pulls the camera in to a close isometric view, allowing you to navigate your character around an area to speak with individual townspeople and creatures, challenge different monsters in the area, and investigate strange sights. The vaguely manga styling of the first game has been replaced by a solidly western aesthetic of fantasy art, and each screen is packed with detail and color.
The Puzzle Quest 2 Trailer
Initially, it’s all about pushing back a goblin raid that threatens to overwhelm Verloren, which gave a good picture of how the gameplay has changed this time around. In our early battles with the goblin invaders, the trade-off of turns between you and your opponent remains the same – match three or more of the same color gems to build up mana, or attack your enemy by matching skulls. Experience and gold no longer show up on the board, but there are a few new gem types to consider. Purple gems are now a fifth type of mana used to fuel your powers. In addition, the new gauntlet gems add a third way to deal damage beyond skull matching and spells. Matching gauntlets builds up your weapon power, which can be used to swing either of the implements equipped to your left and right hand. Even with these adjustments, the matching game feels incredibly straightforward, and should be a welcome return to gamers who were put off by the gravity-oriented system of the sci-fi spin off, Galactrix.
As we wandered Verloren and rid it of its swarming evils, the more involved RPG features of Puzzle Quest 2 became apparent. Passing levels grants the expected increases in stats – you can choose between several ability scores that each affect a certain capability in battle. There are also static power unlocks that show up at certain levels that are unique to your class.
At any time outside of battle, you can open up a menu that gives access to inventory, spell book, and quest log. There’s also a neat little button that lets you search the current room for secrets, such as hidden doors or treasure.
Inventory is filled with all sorts of info, including the option to fully equip your character. Fill two hand slots with weapons and other devices (like poisons) that can be used in battle. The other four slots each layer additional items and armors to buff up your hero. Your spellbook menu shows your current loadout of spells – up to five can be set to bring into battle, but far more than that unlock over the course of the game’s 50 levels.
As we wandered Verloren, we also got a glimpse of the game’s challenges and minigames – special matching puzzles that alter the normal rules to fit a particular objective. In one minigame, we had to match special water bucket gems to put out a fire. In another special challenge, we had to bash down a door by matching door gems on a grid in a certain number of moves.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that we’re headed into the mysterious buried tower that lies on the outskirts of town. Within lies floor upon floor of dungeon exploration, dozens of strange creatures, and a wealth of hidden passages. Where the first Puzzle Quest focused on a world-spanning journey through an abstract world only seen from above as a distant map, the new Puzzle Quest 2 delivers a much more focused narrative and a clear view of the main character and their surroundings. The game addresses a number of the small dilemmas that haunted both Challenge of the Warlords and Galactrix, but remains completely familiar to players of the first game. As our demo ended at the outer edges of the buried tower, it was hard to put the controller down. It’s easy to foresee many hours lost in the dungeon crawl that lies beyond.