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Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (PC) artwork

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (PC) review

"After playing the Steam port of Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign, I realized that the match-3 genre can still prove engaging if executed correctly."

I recently swore off match-three puzzle games after constantly getting harassed by Facebook friends to help them out in Candy Crush. I tried it for a few weeks but grew tired of the concept and blocked it. I loathe how addicting that sort of games is, since in the end they're often so mindless and unrewarding. However, after playing the Steam port of Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign, I realized that this genre can still prove engaging if executed correctly.

MPQ is a basic tile swapping game with an RPG twist, just like the other Puzzle Quest titles. When matches of the same color are made, ability points (AP) associated with said color are also gained. When enough AP is built up, one (or all) of the player's three heroes can unleash their powers on the opposing team. It’s a simple concept, but there's a lot of strategy involved.

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (PC) image

Initially, players are awarded four Avengers to be used for their first team: Iron Man Model 40, Modern Storm, Modern Black Widow and Classic Hawkeye. They serve as a great introduction on how to build a proper squad, something that becomes important once additional heroes are unlocked. Each of them have two or three abilities that must be leveled up via comic book covers, which are won by completing missions and tournaments. Abilities correspond to a specific color, so it's in the player’s best interest to create teams that feature as many colors as possible. That way, they're not left trying to decide between using Original Black Widow's blue power or Classic Storm's, for example.

There are numerous characters to unlock, some of which are just different versions of the same one (currently, there are 4 available Wolverine options). Figuring out the best way to build your team may seem overwhelming, but it soon becomes apparent that MPQ contains “classes” typical to most RPGs. Some are tanks (any of the Thor or Iron Man choices), while others are pure damage (Wolverine), healers (Classic Spider-Man or Original Black Widow) and support/hybrid classes like Magneto and The Hood.

Balancing the roles of each character is where MPQ really shines. This allows players to create a team where each hero complements the other. Let's use one that consists of Marvel Now! Thor, Astonishing X-Men Wolverine and Modern Storm as an example. Thor can use his yellow ability, Thunder Strike, to damage the opponent and create more green tiles, which then allows extra green AP to be built up so Wolverine can use Feral Claws to attack and lay down “Strike” tiles that make matches more powerful. Meanwhile, Storm uses Hailstorm (black) to create “Attack” tiles that dish out extra damage after every turn. There are other possible strategies with these three, which means they make for a powerful combination when they're leveled up and their powers are maxed out.

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (PC) image

MPQ is the most fun during featured events and player vs. player (PvP) tournaments. They involve either extra story missions or “hard mode” versions of the prologue quests, or PvP matches that are team-ups with a new character or restrict what kinds of teams can be used, such as only allowing Dark Avengers squads.

It should be noted that MPQ is free-to-play (F2P). I'm certain this is causing some of you to groan, but this is an F2P with hardly any paywall. There is some waiting involved, since you’re limited to only 5 health packs to heal injured characters, but they're both replenished within a few hours or less. The only items available to purchase are Iso-8 (required for leveling) and Hero Points (HP) used to buy character packs, new roster slots or level powers. However, both Iso-8 and HP are obtained as prizes for completed missions or for reaching a certain rank in tournaments. HP is uncommon, though, so you may want to splurge on some just to build up your roster and collect all the characters, like I did.

All told, I've spent about $40 on MPQ. Considering the fact I've sunk over 110 hours into the title, I'd say I have definitely gotten my money's worth. This isn't to say I don't have issues with the game, because there are some problems. The biggest of those involves PvP. All too often, it's entirely possible to fight your way up to a rank tier that has the prize you want, only to be attacked numerous times in a row by opposing players, thus making it impossible to rack up enough points to secure the best awards. It doesn't happen all the time, and HP can be used to buy “Shields” that block you from attacks, but it's insanely annoying when it does.

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (PC) image

My other quibbles range from being locked out of certain events because I don't have the proper character(s), to witnessing glitches like the opposing team using a string of powers even though they don't have sufficient AP. Fortunately, MPQ is updated all the time with glitch fixes and balance patches. Still, when troubles like this arise, they do tend to suck away some of the enjoyment.

The bounty of characters, fast-paced action and countless strategic possibilities make Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign absurdly playable. Crafting that perfect team able take control of the board and last for numerous consecutive rounds is satisfying to say the least, and the lack of an obvious paywall gives everyone a chance to do that without diving deep into their pockets. This is F2P and match-three done right.


Tayo's avatar
Freelance review by Tayo Stalnaker (April 13, 2014)

Tayo is a lifelong gamer hailing from Portlandia. After a stint reviewing movies and music for his college paper, he co-founded the Dangerous Kids video game podcast in 2009. Now he's writing about games instead of yapping about them into a microphone.

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