Puzzle Quest 2
Puzzle Quest 2 is on track to deliver all the familiar mechanics of the original in a great new 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. Last month, GDC afforded the opportunity to take a brief glimpse of the new game in action. This month, we dig deeper into the gameplay options the game presents, and take a look at some of the game's great art and screens, along with the its 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 time 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 from as they enter the world of Puzzle Quest 2, and both gender options are available for each class. The Barbarians are well-rounded and straightforward battlers – they have strong offense and defense, and the best two-handed weapons are reserved for them. The Assassins have high damage powers – like the starting ability Sneak Attack – and they have exclusive access to high-level poisons. Sorcerers have low life points, but their spells offer the most diverse gameplay, dealing high damage one turn only to alter the board on the next. The last class, the Templar, seems designed to appeal to careful, deliberate players. High defense and the highest life point totals make them hard to take down in a fight – a feature 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 (in German, “verloren” means “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 near 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 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 guide your character around an area to speak with individual townspeople and creatures, challenge different monsters, 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.
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 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 the implements equipped to either your left or 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, and static power unlocks unique to your class will show up at certain levels.
At any time outside of battle, you can open up a menu that gives access to your 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 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 your character’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 journey through an abstract world only seen from above as a distant map, Puzzle Quest 2 delivers a more focused narrative and a clear view of the main character and his or her 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 beyond.