Puzzle Quest’s ground-breaking innovation allowed D3 to catch the attention of the gaming community. With its fantasy-laden atmosphere and Bejeweled-esque gameplay, Puzzle Quest was a hit among RPG lovers and casual gamers. Although D3’s attempt to launch Puzzle Quest into space garnered a less-than-desirable reception, fans of the original grew wide-eyed once D3 announced Puzzle Quest 2. Does Puzzle Quest 2 build on the successful formula of the first, or has the cascade ended?
Grab a sandwich and drink before you sit down with this one…
At its core, Puzzle Quest 2 resembles its predecessor. Match gems in order to gain mana, skulls to deal direct damage, and align four or more to gain an extra turn. With this foundation, not only will fans find a familiar home that they can easily dive back into, but newcomers can easily compete with foes from the get-go. The developers, Infinite Interactive, listened to criticisms of the first, and got rid of gold and experience gems, as most people seemed to view these pieces as inconsequential. What we gained was a fifth type of mana and action points. The fifth type of mana needs no explanation, except that it helps categorize spells better than the first game did.
On the other hand, action points require a bit of an introduction. Aligning these blue fists allows the character to use his or her weapon and shield. The weapon is straight forward: it’s another means of dealing easy, direct damage. The hero’s shield is a little more complicated. Puzzle Quest 2 introduces an armor system, which sometimes halves damage. Activating one’s shield raises the defense of the character, making them more likely to halve damage. This mechanic would be a welcomed trait if it didn’t do two things: make the game too easy and draw out battles longer than necessary.
These two flaws make Puzzle Quest 2 a chore to play. Let’s face it: most folks aren’t playing Puzzle Quest 2 for the storyline, since, well, it’s shallow to say the least. This leaves gameplay, which is neither challenging, nor speedy. While I have only played two of the classes available, I can verify that both classes have easily exploitable combinations that render the game formulaic and dull. Three difficulty settings are available, but the game’s still the same on each setting. Players will win with an ounce of strategic calculation and the ability to see four potential gems lined up. Conversely, players will lose to punishing cascades by sheer luck, or by being distracted by the TV or YouTube, missing several 4-of-a-kinds in one battle.
Now, why might players be distracted while playing? The game moves at a sluggish pace, forcing players to sit and stare as pieces slowly fall and activate chain after chain. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game offered a quicker setting, but forcing gamers to watch dull animations for the hours this game offers is unforgivable. If the game were challenging in any capacity, save the unfair chains that will inevitably turn the tide of battle, then this might be more easily overlooked. However, both of these faults coupled together render this game unplayable, except for Bejeweled addicts. Again, I have to ask: where is the QA?
Some other furnishings and differences from the first may appeal to fans, but they’re minor details when looked at alongside the flaws. Most obvious at first glance is the omission of the overworld map. Instead, players are treated to a more personal, three-dimensional field separated by grids. Here, our protagonist interacts with townsfolk and fights enemies by directly clicking on them. The change is merely aesthetic, since dungeon crawling boils down to little more than clicking on enemies to trigger battles.
One interesting addition is the treasure, trap, and spell puzzles. Similar to minigames, these distractions are fun in that they use the same basic game mechanic, but with varying goals. While learning new spells will seem familiar to fans of the first, the appearance is a welcomed treat. In fact, I’d say these puzzles were what kept me going amidst the constant barrage of formulaic battles.
Minigames aren’t new to the series, though. Without relying too much on comparisons, it’s hard for one to validate the move to one city when the ability to create a city and use its various parts was one of the best aspects of the original Puzzle Quest. Not only were the minigames more fun, but the rewards carried more weight and encouraged the player to revisit his creation.
It’s like Diablo, except terrible
An odd trend has emerged amongst dungeon crawlers of all kind. Whether gamers are playing Diablo, Etrian Odyssey, or Puzzle Quest 2, chances are that a cavernous, ominous dungeon burrowing into the earth will leave the protagonist locked into one city, only to pop his head back up for equipment, quests, and fresh air (and maybe to use the toilet). Though, no matter what game’s being played, one thing’s for certain: the townsfolk have nothing interesting to say. The quests are merely fodder to keep poor consumers (who are trying very hard to enjoy the game) voluntarily accepting the cheap illusion that they’re accomplishing something for fascinating, three-dimensional characters. At least Diablo has a creepy, uncomfortable atmosphere, and the townsfolk feel like prisoners making a last stand against evil. Even Etrian Odyssey, which doesn’t even seem to try to offer a deep storyline, evokes curiosity from the verdant, violent maze underneath the city.
Puzzle Quest 2’s plot changes continuously. Initially, the hero works as if a mercenary, fighting monsters that plague a snowbound town. As she ventures deeper into the catacombs, a menacing evil seems to be corrupting once peaceful races, and – you know what? You know the plot already. I won’t waste anymore of your time here. It’s typical, uninspired fantasy lore, and it’s garbage.
It’s pretty, though!
Personal preferences aside, Puzzle Quest 2’s change in art style looks good. Consistent with its reliance on traditional European fantasy mythos, the humans and creatures are drawn in a Western style. Intricate in detail, traversing room after room is visually appealing, and variety keeps the eyes engaged. At times, the ornamentation in each room will seem random, and if players are motivated to nit-pick, they may wonder why the mines have so many empty cages. Nevertheless, a handheld RPG with as much detail in its dungeons as Puzzle Quest 2 is a welcomed change.
A lotta sound, light on music
In no way a complaint, Puzzle Quest 2 seems to rely more on excellent sound effects, and less on adrenaline-infused music. What music is available is pleasant or mildly haunting, and never distracting. On the other hand, great effort seems to have been put into sound effects. An introductory noise for each encounter suits the enemies, and even clicking on menus or destinations feels purposeful and weighty. If only the rest of the game paralleled these aesthetics!
Patience is not only a virtue, it’s a necessity
Although Puzzle Quest 2 will induce much teeth gnashing with its slow menu loading and screen transitions, those brave enough to waste their time on this game should maintain as much patience as possible, since rapid stylus-poking may result in unnecessary goblin or skeleton battles. Puzzle Quest 2’s navigation system works alright at first glance, but when an enemy is placed too close to exits, sometimes players aren’t able to click on the exit, and hit the enemy instead. Someone savvy enough to realize his time is being wasted will rapidly press on the exit to get to the destination as soon as possible. However, slightly erroneous tapping can lead to precious minutes wasted on an inconsequential battle. Some other issues remain in regard to control, but none hamper the game quite like poor hit-box choices.
No more, please
D3 struck gold once, which is fantastic. Aside from the titans of the gaming industry, many developers have trouble creating a truly innovative title that’s also good, old-fashioned fun. That was Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. However, after two major mistakes with what’s essentially the same design, one has to wonder if they should throw in the towel on this franchise. No matter the class, variety in gameplay quickly boils down to formulaic exploitation of broken design. The lack of genuine difficulty leaves the game flavorless, and the omission of something even mildly resembling the city of the first game boggles the mind. For the Bejeweled addicts, this game may be time well spent, but for the rest of us, this game should be quarantined and left to die.