Out of all the stops I had pre-arranged at PAX East the D3 Publishers booth, to see Puzzle Quest 2 was one I was anticipating the most. The original Puzzle Quest had dominated dozens of hours of my life on two platforms and while Puzzle Quest: Galactrix wasn’t the game I hoped it would be, Puzzle Quest 2 seems to be a return to the game's roots.
Arriving at the D3 booth I was happy to see some comfortable couches, an assortment of swag and of course Puzzle Quest 2 on screen ready to be played. Itching to grab the controller I was swiftly sat down by one of the designers and introduced to the new game in the series.
Puzzle Quest 2, for those that don’t know the series, is an RPG-driven, "match three" puzzle game. As you travel through the game world you encounter creatures and then wage battle in a puzzle game. It sounds simple and it is at the start, but if what I played is any indication it has the potential to be even more addicting than the first game.
Puzzle Quest 2 has a few subtle and not-so-subtle differences from its predecessor. The first and most visually striking is the change to an isometric view of the action; you have a clear view of your character as they move from space to space. Speaking of characters, there will be four character types in both male and female choices as well.
Movement is based on key points, so rather than navigate by ‘walking’, you tap on the DS or move to the desired destination and click X which causes your character to move there. Everywhere you need to go is clearly marked and identifiable as your destinations and goals. As in the first game you have missions that you can get from people, but this time they are tracked very clearly and visible when you speak to the person.
Finding your path and who to speak to is very apparent. I was immediately getting a Diablo vibe as the game is a dungeon crawl with overland character interaction. Once you have talked to a character and received a mission you can click on the enemy or location to start a battle. This swiftly brought up the puzzle screen and I noticed the other changes. There are no longer any money or experience gems, meaning that the matches are purely combat oriented and you no longer need to grind away in puzzles to gain those bonuses.
This is a great adjustment to the Puzzle Quest dynamic. I recall many hours delaying completion of a match so I could match money and XP gems so my character could advance. With the new system you can focus on attack and resource generation, which streamlines and speeds up the puzzle battles greatly. Replacing the missing gems is a weapon gem and the purple gems are now an additional resource.
The weapon gem is tied directly to your weapons attack ability, gain enough weapon resources and you can launch a special damaging attack. Of course you also amass powers fed by the resources from the coloured gems as you play through the match. I really liked the addition of weapon powers; it added a further depth to the already deep game.
After a match you are awarded experience, money and sometimes items depending on how well your match played out. You can still grind to gain more XP and money, but now at least you are playing matches instead of just drawing them out as you match up the money and XP gems. Leveling in Puzzle Quest 2 is simple and effective with an automatic class and power increase as well as an upgrade to your attribute of choice occurring when you hit the next level.
There is also a welcome and detailed paper doll inventory system where you can equip dual weapons or a weapon and shield, as well as armour and accessories. When speaking to the publisher I praised their dedication to keeping this an RPG experience as opposed to the disappointing RPG-lite experience given by Square Enix’s Gyromancer.
There will be many weapons, items and sidekicks available as you progress through the game. I was not able to see all of these features in my short playthrough, but I was told that weapons will be upgradeable and the sidekick system will add further depth to the game. Sidekicks will grant bonuses and abilities and will be a replacement of sorts to the mount system in the first game.
Missions will be familiar to any RPG player with the standard ‘save this person’, ‘stop that group’ and ‘battle this boss’ style scenarios. There will also be challenge missions that give an objective to complete. The one example I tried was an out-of-control fire that I had to combat by gaining enough blue resources to activate my water ability. The addition of these non-standard challenges adds a nice variety to the game.
I didn’t have nearly as much time with Puzzle Quest 2 as I would hope and I left itching to play some more of the newer streamlined experience. From every indication I saw and played, Puzzle Quest 2 will take the nice additions from Puzzle Quest: Galactrix while keeping the heart and soul of the Puzzle Quest experience. This of course means many of us will soon spend dozens of hours absorbed in this experience once it is released this spring for the Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS platforms.