Giant Bomb Review

24 Comments

Puzzle Quest 2 Review

4
  • XBGS
  • DS

Infinite Interactive takes it back to basics in just the right way with this sequel.


 The puzzle combat is more streamlined and tactical.
For the first couple of days, I couldn't put down Puzzle Quest 2. It sort of defies conventional wisdom that this first real sequel should somehow be more addicting than Infinite Interactive's breakout hybrid puzzle RPG, especially since the company's efforts in between have been less than thrilling. But it's actually because Puzzle Quest 2 is effectively more of the same, and doesn't stray too far from the first game's successful blueprint, that its marriage of puzzles and role-playing is still so appealing.

Some of Infinite Interactive's other puzzle/RPG hybrids, like Galactrix and Neopets Puzzle Adventure, tried too hard to change up core elements that didn't need changing. No such problem here. Instead of trying to get fancy with new and overly complex puzzle mechanics, the developer kept the part that worked in the original game, namely the traditional match-three puzzle gameplay. But the puzzle-based battles are leaner and more focused on strategy than before. Extraneous pieces like experience gems and coins are gone; now it's just five types of colored mana (for spells), gauntlet-shaped action pieces (for weapon attacks), and skulls (for direct damage) on the board.

With five types of mana available, there's a greater diversity of spells at your disposal and a wider range of ways you can use them to interact with the pieces on the board and then create utterly devastating combination attacks. The types of spells available depend on your character class-- barbarian, assassin, templar, or sorcerer--and naturally cater to different play styles. I played the hearty, all-around barbarian on the DS version before switching to the less survivable but deadlier assassin on Xbox Live Arcade. Discovering the ins and outs of your class and finding the most efficient ways to slaughter all the monsters in your path is one of the best things about the game. There's a lot of strategy and a tangible, rewarding sense of progression involved.

 The higher your level, the more important your gear becomes.
The way you level up and build out your character has a huge effect on how successful you are in battles. The other reason I couldn't stop playing the game is because Infinite crammed almost as much Diablo into this game as it apparently could. You find green- and blue-coded loot. You can craft better items out of component materials. Quest givers dispense tons of story-related and optional missions to undertake. Heck, it's so Diablo-like that you start off in a single town with the entrance to a sprawling, multi-level dungeon right outside it. Some of these RPG elements were present in the first Puzzle Quest, sure. But like the puzzling mechanics, they also feel more streamlined and cohesive here, and they give you a great reason to keep pushing forward through the increasingly dangerous catacombs.

The famously lucky AI (some called it "cheating") from the first game is basically nonexistent in this sequel. Enemies rarely get those ridiculous six- and eight-part cascading matches they would routinely get in every battle last time, and even when they do, the effects are far less devastating. If anything, the game almost got too easy as I leveled up, crafted better gear, and figured out more powerful ways to put together all the spells (of which you can only equip five at a time) I was unlocking. Of course, it's always a good idea to prevent the enemy from matching skulls to attack you with, but when you've got a poisoned dagger that does six damage every turn for eight straight turns, a sword that hits for 17 in a single swipe, and spells that can do anywhere from 40 to 100 damage in a single combined assault (depending on the layout of the board), it almost feels like a waste of time doing a paltry three to five damage by matching skulls yourself. I loved the way the combat dynamic evolved to focus more on my unique skills and equipment as my character got more powerful.

 The DS version is a pricier but, uh, more portable way to go.
The game does a great job of mixing up the standard puzzling combat with a surprising number of minigame types. These are all variations on the match-three theme that make you do things like matching a quota of specific mechanical gems to pick a lock, matching various types of treasure to determine the quality of loot you'll get from a chest, or filling in a minimum number of squares on the board to bash open a door. These minigames pop up frequently enough and in sufficient variety that you never feel like you're doing too much of one thing at any given time (and even the boards in the battles themselves change pretty dramatically in size and composition, based on the enemy type). For further diversion, all these minigames are available for you to play from the main menu as well, and you can play multiplayer against other players' characters if you feel like it.

Looking at screenshots, you might get the impression Puzzle Quest 2 is a full-on dungeon romp, but you don't actually do much exploring. The dungeon screens aren't much more than glorified menus where you click on doorways or characters you want to interact with, and your character merely moves along predefined paths between these points of interest, fighting the enemies that get in the way. This limitation didn't bother me much, since you're still getting to see new areas and enemy types on a regular basis, and there's still a decent amount of freedom to explore the parts of the dungeon you want to explore.

 Here is a dungeon.
What did sort of bother me was the presentational issues the game has. The DS game is a fair sight smoother and better-looking than the original DS game was, but it can still bog down a bit when a bunch of gems are moving around at once. The minigames on the XBLA version use smaller gems and game boards than the battles, for no apparent reason, and they can be hard to see if you're sitting far from your TV. Neither version communicates information as thoroughly as it should; you're presented with a bunch of arbitrary numbers on the interface around the board, and you have to intuit what they mean over time since there isn't any notation to fill you in. There are a few other nagging issues, like the way tooltips take a second to pop up every time you highlight an item. None of this stuff detracted too much from my enjoyment of the game, but it would be nice if it had a cleaner visual impression.

It's nice to see Infinite getting back to what made Puzzle Quest great in the first place. This sequel does a fine job of keeping and improving on the good parts while layering on the sort of character progression and strategy that makes you want to keep plowing ahead, long after the game would have otherwise gotten boring. I'd lean toward recommending the Xbox version because, well, I like achievements, and because it's half the price of the DS cart. But whether you want to play on the couch or on the go, Puzzle Quest 2 is a great way to wile away a few minutes, or a few hours. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
24 Comments
Edited by TheLawnWrangler

nice. never got into the Puzzle Quest series... maybe now is the time

Posted by Odyssey

So after all their crap spin offs, how did they manage to make a good game again?

Posted by Gabriel

Dang lots of good games coming out, everything's gettin 4 stars

Posted by fedorajay

The 360 demo was pretty good. Personally, I'd love to see some kind of Peggle-RPG hybrid.

Posted by Dad_Is_A_Zombie

Definitely will check it out!

Posted by monster9999

Ya its good, just havnt had time to play much

Posted by Crono

Oh god, must stay away lest I don't want to have any sort of life at all.  Great review - a lot more to it than I was expecting for a puzzle game, which is a good thing to me.

Edited by RecSpec

I picked up the PSP version of the first game and got insanely addicted to it. 

 
Can't wait for this one. Especially since this seems to have none of the issues Galactrix had.

Posted by Branthog

I went back to the first Puzzle Quest this week to tie up all the achievements since I hadn't touched it in about six months. Nobody to play with online. I sure love dropping cash on games with a few months to their lives (I imagine that the online community didn't die up just recently and that it probably happened quite awhile ago). Meh.

Posted by HODGEY3000

looks alright
Posted by MartinG

I kinda liked this game, but it was so damn slow when in between the "fights".

Posted by delicious_lie

The UI issue that I had the most problem with was not being able to see the stats of your equipped items when you choose loot at the end of a mission. I can handle memorising one or two of the stats, but not all of them. that's crazy.

Posted by Addfwyn

I really wish it'd come to PSP, as that is probably the only way I'd get to play it, but maybe I can borrow a friend's copy sometime.  Though XBoxes are a very scarce commodity in this country.

Posted by ShaunWoo

It's a fun game, but I can only play it for a hour at a time before I get bored/burnt out...but I keep coming back for more with my sorcerer.

Posted by Chubbaluphigous

I played the first one almost exclusively on the toilet.  I shall do the same with this one, and all will be right with the world. 

Posted by ponzie

Sucks that it's not coming out for PSP or even on PSN.... Really enjoyed the first Puzzle Quest.

Edited by Brackynews

Definitely some UI issues, but overall a nice proper sequel to a great franchise.
I noticed on the XBL version that the sorcerers get a much, much larger board to play on during quick matches.  Is this carried through to the XBL campaign or DS version as well (I haven't tried, and the screenshots don't seem to illustrate it)?  Seems that would be worth a mention in the review if classes offer radical gameplay differences in different modes, not just a different skill set.

Posted by audiosnag

Got the first on Live but the second on DS. Sucks that its more but nice to have it mobile. 
My assassins a wreckin machine.

Posted by Shindiggah

interesting, I honestly am not sure which version of PQ2 I wanna get if I get any, true the Xbox version is cheaper but Id love to play this on the go, plus my 360's hardrive is virtually out of space...
Posted by ThomasJay
@Brackynews:  I'd imagine that the larger board you saw probably belonged to one of the larger monsters. Some of them have 10x10 grids instead of the usual 8x8. I haven't tried playing as a Sorcerer yet, though, so I could be completely wrong.
 
As for my opinion of the game, I love it. It now feels like every type of gem serves a purpose, and the Diablo-esque loot is a welcome addition. Also, in PQ2, I feel the game is only cheating half the time, as opposed to the first one which cheated all of the time. Heh.
 
I'm playing the XBLA version, BTW.
Posted by Glak

Seems good, might pick this up

Posted by simian

I've reached level 22 and I've let to see this alleged crafting... Unless it's the weak sauce upgrade system that you do in town.

Posted by KamikazeCaterpillar

I completely agree that is really nice to slowly move away from using skulls to damage your opponents and towards combinations of spells. However, I completely disagree that the AI is not as lucky as before. I am playing on normal and like three out of four battles the AI manages to pull off a cascade eight or more matches. Granted this is not an instant death spell but the fact that it always seems to happen after I use a suggested move pushed me to turn off the suggestions. Other than this the only other problem I had was how often the game saved. I don't know if this exclusive to the DS version but the game would come to a complete halt after anything would happen and throw up a little saving banner for a couple seconds. Granted, it may only be a couple seconds but when the game saves after you fight an enemy, switch in a new spell, and change your weapon one right after the other this can become a little annoying. Overall though it definitely deserves the 4 that Brad gave it.

Posted by BadJackDaniels
 

Finally August 12 on my PC.

 
http://store.steampowered.com/app/47540/