PC Game Review: Puzzle Quest 2

I recently reviewed the Nintendo DS version of Puzzle Quest 2, and since then the PC version has hit Steam. As I said, the DS game made good as a true sequel to the “Casual Meets Hardcore and Loves It!” surprise hit from 2007. Back then the PC version was the most feature-packed and inclusive version. So does the new PC game live up to the solid performance of the DS version? Read on and find out!

The Hype:

Puzzle Quest 2 marks the return of the world’s leading puzzle adventure series and its trademark blend of match 3 gem-based gameplay and fantasy role-playing. Rewarding and accessible for all levels of gamer, it is the ultimate delivery system for the mental escape that puzzle gamers seek.

* Absorbing puzzle gaming with a purpose with Puzzle Quest?s beloved match 3 gameplay with all new gems and attacks.
* Immersion beyond the puzzles in a fantasy universe with hours of exploration, limitless endings and a new map and exploration system.
* Simple but deep rewards and customization including new unique character classes tuned to multiple skill levels and Satisfying RPG character leveling and rewards

The Reality:
I had detailed the history in the DS review, but rather than making you head to that article, let’s recap:

Way back in 2007 a little unknown company called Infinite Interactive came out with Puzzle Quest, a game that looked to meld a casual puzzle game mechanic with a true role-playing game. The game was very well done and wildly successful, and I own the game for the DS (2 copies for multiplayer), PSP, PC, Mac, Wii and iPod Touch. All but the Wii version were well worth buying. The problem is crafting a follow-up. As I mentioned, Galactrix was pretty lackluster as it put too much emphasis on things that were simply not fun.

Now they are back with a ‘true’ sequel. Puzzle Quest 2 is another fantasy role-playing game wrapped around an enhanced ‘match 3’ puzzle game engine immediately familiar to anyone who has played Bejeweled. That was an attraction of the original game, and the alterations to that system are one area where Galactrix fell flat.

Another complaint folks had about Galactrix, and to an extent about the original game, was a perception of ‘cheater AI’. In other words, since the game ‘knew’ what jewels would fall it could plan moves accordingly. This was directly stated not to happen in the original Puzzle Quest, and based on my experience I know that by keeping my eyes open I got more ‘fatal chains’ (you get the first move and keep getting ‘extra turns’ until you wipe out the enemy without them ever getting a single move) than ever happened to me.

Galactrix was a different issue – there still wasn’t cheating happening, but the randomness associated with the added dimensions made things feel out of control way too often.

Fortunately, Puzzle Quest 2 uses the same core mechanic as the original, and it works every bit as well. One interesting change is that you get hints for moves immediately, and generally speaking if you don’t take the suggested move the enemy will – sometimes it is good to choose the recommendations, other times you are much better off making your own choice.

As mentioned, the core combat mechanic involves matching 3 gems. If you match 4 you get an extra turn, and matching 5 means creating a wild-card AND getting an extra turn. Matching gems fills the pools for those colors, with power icons filling your weapon attack and defense, and skulls doing direct damage to your opponent. As you fill your color pools you can make use of game-changing skills to cause massive damage or otherwise alter the flow of combat.

The between-battle gameplay is somewhat different from the original game. Previously you had an avatar on screen that you moved around an overland map from location to location and sometimes encountered non-quest enemies. Now you are controlling an actual character moving through towns and dungeons in isometric perspective, speaking to individuals as you might in a normal RPG. This definitely changes the feel of the game more towards a standard RPG.

To add to the RPG feel you choose your character type, get a different appearance based on class, and get to name your character. Others will refer to you by name in dialogue, and will mention your character class. When combat begins, a cool animated ‘Enemy vs. Character’ graphic splashes across the lower screen, with your chosen name displayed. It seems like a small thing, but it adds to the immersion.

Taking certain character classes means unlocking skills as you gain levels. For example, my Sorcerer Trislyn gets a Mage Strike, the ability to channel specific mana types, Fire Bolt, a Finger of Death spell, and many more. Also, every character can carry a weapon in their main and off-hand. Each of these spells/skills/weapons has a required amount of mana or power to use, which you gain by matching gems. This makes each turn a strategic choice about being on the offense, defense, or building mana for a later strike. Whatever you do, you know you don’t want to set your enemy up for a big turn!

The different skills and character types make a big difference in terms of your character, and also in the enemies you face. Since Puzzle Quest 2 is very combat heavy, it is nice to know that you aren’t facing same enemy after same enemy, but instead seeing some real variation in the flow of battles.

Some of the dungeons and areas get rather large, so one great new feature is fast travel. Once you unlock a ‘portal’ it is always available to you. So you can get deep into a dungeon and defeat a boss, head back to town and then return to mop up the rest of the enemies in the area.

Aside from the combat puzzles, there are six mini-games to challenge you including looting, hidden item puzzles, lock-picking, disarming traps, and so on. These are all variants of the matching puzzles, but with enough changes that they keep things fresh and present a nice diversion.

The PC version is essentially the same as the DS version with very few differences. The DS version breaks things between top and bottom screens, so there are some things you do directly and others that happen indirectly. With the PC it is all direct, so you simply click on a spell and BAM it is activated. You get better explanations and spell effects.

The graphics of the DS version were one area I criticized as feeling undercooked – there was little improvement from the 2007 original, and I still felt occasional lag. The PC version is definitely much improved – when outside of battle it feels like a well done 2D isometric RPG with a modern flair. In battle the gems are detailed, the effects are flashy, and there is a great overall sense of style that pervades the entire experience.

My biggest complaint with the PC game is that every time I finished something the game would lag for several seconds before acknowledging the accomplishment and allowing me to move on to the next step. For example, if I had a quest I just completed, the quest icon would stay over the quest giver as though they had a new quest for me. But since I had just finished the DS version I knew exactly was going on and just had to wait for the game to catch up and let me move along. I was forgiving in the opening town sequence since it all happens pretty quickly, but it kept going the same way throughout the game and became tiresome after a while.

The save system is one of those things that folks will either love or hate – and personally I love it. After every ‘state changing’ action such as combat or lock-pick or equipment change, the game takes a few seconds to auto-save. It is relatively quick and painless, and keeps you from losing progress in the case of a battery failure or other incident. The PC version also fully saves progress upon exit, so you simply continue when restarting the game.

But those minor criticisms aside, Puzzle Quest 2 is a worthy successor to the 2007 original game and allows us to forgive and forget the unfortunate Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. It has enough of a story to keep things engaging, enough cool combat and mini-games and side-quests to keep you going for hours, and enough differences in skills and character types to keep you coming back again and again for more.

As for which version I prefer, it is again a tough choice: the PC version is more polished and has better graphics, but the DS is more portable and lacks some of the forced waiting of the PC version. Since they are essentially the same game, I recommend thinking about how you will play – if you’ll play on the go without a netbook, grab the DS version. But otherwise the PC version can give you the ability to play just about any where. And hopefully a Mac version will be forthcoming soon as well! Either way, this is a sequel worth playing.

Where to Buy: Steam

Price: $19.99

What I Like: Core ‘Match 3’ system is well implemented; Story keeps you engaged; Very challenging enemies; Different classes FEEL different; Deeply rooted RPG system

What Needs Improvement: Only local multiplayer; Game makes you wait too long between actions

Source: Personal copy of game.

Categories: Gaming, Reviews


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