Puzzle Quest 2 review
I fell hard for the original Puzzle Quest. The reliance on puzzles as the main mechanic for battle removed much of the randomness that frustrated me about RPGs; no need to worry about laying it all on the line, only to have invisible dice-rolls determine your fate. The puzzles were coupled with dangerously epic battles that often lasted 30 minutes or more, and tested players’ abilities to strategize multiple moves in advance. Puzzle Quest 2 interjects more traditional elements from the role-playing genre, to positive and negative effects.
The core concept of battle remains the same. You and the computer A.I. take turns manipulating eight rows and columns of gems one at a time to match like-colors. Matching three gems fills the appropriate mana pool for casting spells, and matching four or five gems also grants you an extra turn. The matched gems disappear and new gems fall from above, exactly like PopCap Games' Bejeweled. Returning players will be relieved to know that the A.I. has been improved and rarely uses its clairvoyant knowledge of gems to make outlandish combos.
Spells rarely deal or heal x-amount of damage in a straightforward manner; instead, they often tie back into the board of gems. For example: Enrage randomly turns gems red, which can be useful for finishing matches quickly, unless your opponent has Pummel, which deals damage based on the number of red gems. Veterans will recall the skull gems, which deal direct-damage, but there is a new element. Action gems allow players to activate weapons and shields to deliver serious direct-damage or bolster defenses.
The most noticeable change happens immediately after choosing one of four classes: Barbarian, Sorcerer, Assassin, or Templar. Instead of moving around an impersonal map and interacting with the world via menus, the camera is zoomed in on your character, in a town populated with 2D sprites. To go to the shop, you have to physically walk there and speak with the merchant. When the dungeons call, you have to get your hands dirty and crawl through the catacombs and connecting hallways. It’s very reminiscent of the room-by-room progression from classic RPGs.
The new look gives Puzzle Quest 2 far more charm and personality than the original, and most certainly a better feeling of progression, since the visuals of the dungeons change the deeper you go. Of course, no dungeon would be complete without secrets. Inquisitive adventurers will find plenty of chests and side-quests tucked away in side-rooms. If you feel like speeding from battle to battle, that’s fine as well. Portals to different sections and the town are extremely common, and glowing arrows will (generally) direct you along the most efficient path.
Trudging through dungeons is no fun without a wide assortment of ogres and gelatinous cubes to battle, but this is where Puzzle Quest 2 falters, considerably. Nearly every battle in the original was momentous; opposing sides struggled for survival, and deviously plotted attacks and counters well in advance. Battles in Puzzle Quest 2 are more numerous, noticeably shorter, and significantly easier. I’ve lost my fair share of fights, but I have yet to be truly challenged. I can’t recall how many times I fell into dazes as I slaughtered through lines of nameless goblins and completed quests with no emotional attachment. I won, but there was no sense of pride or accomplishment.
As Puzzle Quest 2 veers toward traditional RPGs, it struggles with the finer touches that we have come to expect from the genre. There is no way to compare the stats of your current equipment against those of prospective items without flipping back and forth through multiple menus. Even the basic ability to view your maximum mana is missing, which is very important for choosing your spells.
Simplicity seems to be the new direction of the series. Veterans can say goodbye to the deepest features from the original game, including city-sieges, building citadels, capturing monsters, and researching spells. Filling the void is a vapid story and a stream of battles that require marginal skill and yield tons of loot. With the addition of weapons and improved A.I., the puzzle-based combat has more potential than ever, but Puzzle Quest 2 lacks the challenge and depth that made the original so memorable.