Puzzle Quest 2 more dungeon crawl than RPG

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords was a groundbreaking blend of gem-swapping and role-playing, where you played a heroic adventurer who battled baddies via match-3 showdowns. Puzzle Quest 2, retains the fantasy setting but slims the gameplay down quite substantially. Whether or not you think it’s an improvement depends on whether you prefer the epic RPG feel of Puzzle Quest or the lighter hack n’ slash vibe of its sequel.

For those unfamiliar with Puzzle Quest‘s compelling blend of match-3 and RPG, an explanation is in order. Just like an RPG, players have a character that they can level up, equip with spells and armor, and use to explore a vast fantasy landscape. Whenever an enemy is encountered, the action switches to a match-3 grid where the two combatants take turns trying to pummel each other. Matching skulls on teh grid causes damage to the other player, and matching colored gems gathers mana that is used to cast spells.

Puzzle Quest 2

In Puzzle Quest 2 the overhead map is replaced with top-down Diablo-like rooms. Your character can move between them freely and use portals to quick-travel between the current location and the town, which serves as home base. They’ll encounter enemies standing around, some of which are off to the side and can be bypassed, while others are directly in the player’s path and must be vanquished in order to continue.

Where Puzzle Quest boasted numerous RPG trimmings like a huge cast of characters and an expansive world map to explore, Puzzle Quest 2 has the feel of a dungeon crawl. Not only does much of the action takes place indoors, but there’s more of a dungeon crawl mentality of explore the area, loot items until your inventory is full, return to town to sell off extra stuff and upgrade equipment, and go back for more. Along the way you’ll engage in hundreds of one-on-one match-3 showdowns with orcs, goblins, gelatinous cubes and other monsters. The story is pretty throwaway, and the characters don’t have a whole lot to say.

The match-3 gameplay has been tweaked as well. You still attack your opponent by matching three or more skull icons, and collect colored gems to charge mana supplies to unleash offensive and defensive spells. Gone from the playfield, however, are the coins and experience point icons (instead you earn gold and xp by completing battles and quests, and looting – more on that later). Replacing them is a new gauntlet icon, which accumulates points for launching attacks with your equipped weapon. In other words, the game has introduced the weapon as a third way of dealing damage to an opponent in addition to offensive spells or matching skulls.

Puzzle Quest 2

One of the most fun new additions to Puzzle Quest 2 are a crop of new match-3 mini-games for situations like bashing down doors (matching gems causes door icons to appear in the playfield; match enough of them to win); searching for hidden treasure (create enough matches to light up the squares beneath the gems); and looting treasure (match treasure icons to collect extra coins and items).

There are also a couple of extra modes. Tournament – where you choose four monster characters for yourself, and four for the computer to control, and go at it until only one player is left standing – is great fun. There’s also an online multiplayer mode available through Steam that lets you play the match-3 part of the game against people on your Steam friends list in real time. This feature was not yet enabled at the time of writing this review so we didn’t actually get to test it out first hand.

Puzzle Quest 2 is much more than a simply slapping a fresh coat of paint onto the first game and calling it a sequel. Fundamental changes have been made to both the RPG and match-3 portions of the game with the result that emphasis seems more on combat than role-playing and exploration. Players who thought Challenge of the Warlords got bogged down under the weight of its epic fantasy setting will appreciate Puzzle Quest 2‘s more streamlined approach. Personally, while I found the match-3 as addictive as ever (the “one more round” hook is still firmly in place), the streamlining of the world around it made the game seem like that much more of a grind.