Puzzle Quest 2 [Xbox Live Arcade] (Xbox 360)

Second Verse, More Addictive than the First

by Jonathan H. Cooper

It has been three years since D3 published Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, a game that blended together the RPG and puzzle genres in a way no one though possible. The result was, simply put, magical, and proved more addictive than anyone expected. Since then, the style of gameplay has been replicated on several occasions, and the puzzle/RPG game type has slowly evolved into an entire genre, featuring such hits as Gyromancer and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. After a failed attempt at bringing the series to the future with Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, D3 is returning to the world of fantasy, and has released Puzzle Quest 2 to its eager, addicted fans.

While it might sound like a criticism to say that Puzzle Quest 2 is a much less ambitious game than Galctrix was, it actually isn't. Where Galactrix failed was in attempting to overcomplicate things, and, in turn, spoiling the simplicity. This isn't a mistake to make twice, and while the game has numerous additions and changes, it manages to do so without straying too far away from the formula. Instead, they've focused on adding in new elements that work with the old ones, and cleaning up the presentation to make things play more smoothly.

Puzzle Quest made its name by blending together the match three gameplay of the puzzler Bejewled with a turn-based RPG system. Matching different color gems adds them as mana to players' reserves, and can be expelled in order to use spells. It, essentially, replaces every gameplay element with a puzzle, so picking locks, looting chests, bashing in doors, and casting spells are all accomplished with modified versions of a match-three puzzle. It's as addictive as it is simple, and a mechanic that is maintained in the sequel without any huge modifications. That said, there were some changes made to the core game, which is battling foes on the puzzle grid. Purple Gems, which rewarded players with experience in the last game, have been turned into another mana source, and the Gold Pieces have been taken away and replaced with Gauntlets, used to earn Action Points. Action Points can be spent to use items, of which the player can carry two hands worth at all times, allowing further customization of the character. all of which were for the better.

These changes come with a revamp of the interface, which makes viewing all necessary information much simpler. The only area where the UI falters is with the new equipment, falling victim to the follies of older RPGs. When looting or purchasing items there's no way to see if it's better than the ones already equipped. It would have been simple to add an extremely comprehensive comparison system, even if only a moderately functional one would have been necessary. Instead, players need to go to each item and wait for more information to pop up, something that feels simply archaic amidst the otherwise blissfully designed game.

Improvements continue into the actual campaign itself, which has seen a complete overhaul that makes the original's feel almost like a tech demo in comparison. In the first game, players essentially bounced around an overworld map, stopping at different locations to battle opponents. Now, it's a dungeon crawler, with numerous side quests and optional missions to encounter while exploring a number of locations, occasionally returning to town to turn in quests and purchase or upgrade items. While the story is still completely secondary and, for the most part, ignorable, it's a lot more fun to play through, and should provide a few dozen hours of play to reach the end. Even then, the different classes play so differently that additional playthroughs are almost mandatory, and should allow hundreds of hours of entertainment. Multiplayer adds to the replay value, and being able to go online with both traditional battles and the new Tournament Mode, which has players competing against monsters, makes the Xbox version a must buy for those looking to play competitively.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was one of the most addictive games of all time. Its blend of genres and stunning gameplay left lines scored in touch screens and tiles burnt into televisions.  Now, the sequel has managed to improve upon the original in every way, even fixing the AI, which many believed "cheated" before. While it doesn't attempt to reinvent the gameplay in every way, the chances are numerous, and, as Galactrix proved, there's something to be said about staying true to your roots

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  • loltim

    I played this for the entirety of July 5th. Love it.

    Thanks, America, for gaining your independence and giving me Monday off!


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