Many people have suggested that playing Puzzle Quest is a lot like being addicted to crack, but I don’t share that view. Instead, I would compare the experience to opening a bag of potato chips. Just as you find yourself unable to stop at one potato chip and soon are in need of a new bag and a handful of napkins, Puzzle Quest sucks you in, forcing you to play puzzle after puzzle until you realize that your life has become more useless than the cast of Jersey Shore.
Now, D3 Publisher has released Puzzle Quest 2, hoping that it can capture the hearts of its consumer base once again just as the Lays Corporation did with Baked Lays. Indeed, Puzzle Quest 2 is a game that has trimmed out a lot of the fat, making for a game that is far healthier for you even if, in your weak moments, you do miss some of the rich taste of the original.
Puzzle Quest 2 offers a long list of new features to attract those who played the original to death. Some are merely cosmetic, from the new designs on gems to the huge addition of an isometric, dungeon-style world. Others affect the very manner with which you play the game, and some of the changes are so drastic that, well, they’re going to take some time to explain.
The change with perhaps the greatest effect on gameplay is the addition of action points, which are used to activate weapons and items that you’ll find throughout your travels. This has huge repercussions for gameplay; the assassin, for instance, can equip poisons and, with a relatively small number of action points, cause damage over multiple turns. It’s a remarkably effective way to achieve victory – far more so than matching skull gems. In essence, action points allow a number of completely different approaches to playing the game, making any given battle more enjoyable than those in the original.
In addition to weapons, equipment plays a far larger role in Puzzle Quest 2. You’ll find headgear, chestplates, and more, and all equipment can be upgraded using materials gathered from chests. While you’ll constantly be finding new equipment, which can be earned in chest minigames or purchased from shops, upgrading is a necessity, as it can give an item a serious boost to its properties. The implementation isn’t perfect, though. There’s no easy way to compare two pieces of equipment, which is especially troublesome when you’re given a choice of new equipment after a quest, yet you have no way to see which choice will benefit you most.
Addition to the list of new features is a greater variety in puzzles. The basic match-3, 8×8 grid is far from the only puzzle you’ll encounter in Puzzle Quest 2. In some enemy encounters, you’ll see far larger grids, many of which are populated with stone blocks that cannot be moved. While this won’t turn your play strategy on its head, it’s nice to have a different grid burned onto your corneas every once in a while. The game also includes a number of new minigames, including a chest looting minigame that tasks you with matching various booty-themed gems to earn money, materials, or even rare equipment. These help to keep your time with the game feeling fresh, even though you’re still just matching gems.
There are some instances in which Puzzle Quest 2 removes or streamlines elements of the original, which for better or worse makes the game feel like a more straightforward affair, and much lighter on the difficulty. Leveling up is now simply a matter of choosing which of the five stats you want to add a point to, which means less time for stat management and more time for gem matching. This is a good change, as you can still take a variety of developmental paths for your character, and can even reset your stats if you find that you’ve assed it all up. You’ll also find things like mounts and sieges are absent, but most of these are elements of the original that you didn’t want to bother with anyway.
However, I was sad to find that one element of the original is almost completely gone: its silliness. The story of the original was pretty bad, but I found myself engaged thanks to the absolutely ridiculous dialogue traded between the player character and the various colorful characters throughout the world. In this installment, the player character is silent, the NPCs are boring, and the overall story is…well, I think there’s an overall story. Basically, the writing of this game is so unbearably vanilla that players may have a harder time fulfilling their desires to see the end credits. Once you tire of gem matching, the writing and story certainly won’t beg you to stick around.
And while we’re on the topic of things that are vanilla, if you played the original game, you probably remember the music, not because you enjoyed it, but because it was somehow annoying and catchy at the same time. Such is not the case with Puzzle Quest 2, as its musical approach seems to be proficient only in the skills needed to avoid a T-Rex: stay quiet, don’t make any sudden movements, and maybe no one will notice that you’re there. It sticks to the medieval-ish musical approach of the first, but it’s all just really boring. Make sure your media server is running to stream some Harry Belafonte or something.
There’s also multiplayer, including head-to-head duels and tournaments, which is an interesting Pokemon sort of mode; you choose four monsters from the game to fight against your opponent. Playing puzzle games online is always a tough thing to do, as any good player is going to take some time to think about his moves, meaning that matches will involve a lot more waiting than you’ll get used to in the single-player mode. Still, if you’ve got two people who are OK with this, you’ll get some good competition out of both modes.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to this: is the game still fun, especially for those who had their fill of the original? There’s no doubt that this is a better overall game, and it’s going to provide enough new puzzle styles and beneficial changes to draw in people who are already Puzzle Quest fans. It’s easily the most fun I’ve ever had with a puzzle game (yes, that includes Tetris). However, this still isn’t your game if you were born hating match-3 games, or you’ve been aging your hatred long enough to put it amongst the finest reserve wines. And for anyone who simply hasn’t tried Puzzle Quest or match-3 games, I only have one thing to say.
Welcome to the addiction.
Puzzle grids look detailed and vibrant, but the environments in isometric view just aren't nice to look at. Bits of art that pop up, like character portraits, are nicely done.
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Match-3 gameplay gets an upgrade, with a variety of minigames and deeper equipment systems to keep players matching late into the night.
Not much praise can be given to the game's sound, from the mediocre voicing to the forgettable music.
The road is long, and while not everyone will see journey's end, you'll get far more than 1200 Microsoft points of enjoyment along the way.
An overall better game than its predecessor, Puzzle Quest 2 expands upon and streamlines the formula to produce one of the most enjoyable puzzle games ever.