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Puzzle Quest 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Puzzle Quest 2 (Xbox 360) review


"Puzzle Quest brought together two genres – puzzle and RPG – and made them work so well that we all asked “why hasn’t this been done before?” Three years and a poorly received spin-off (Puzzle Quest: Galactrix) later and the big question is whether or not the formula holds up. It does, but rather than refine what the original offered and streamline the experience, Puzzle Quest 2’s real improvement is in its presentation (which ironically creates some new problems). "



Puzzle Quest brought together two genres – puzzle and RPG – and made them work so well that we all asked “why hasn’t this been done before?” Three years and a poorly received spin-off (Puzzle Quest: Galactrix) later and the big question is whether or not the formula holds up. It does, but rather than refine what the original offered and streamline the experience, Puzzle Quest 2’s real improvement is in its presentation (which ironically creates some new problems).

The premise is exactly the same as before with a different story: pick a class, and get questing. You can follow the main story arc closely or deviate from the path and embark on side quests for extra gold, experience, and equipment. Combat is a one-on-one affair that sees each take turns to match coloured gems and skulls. Matching the right gems allows you to use a class-specific spell or ability and matching skulls deals direct damage to your opponent. In addition to this, you can match action gems that let you use equipped weapons or potions and other items in battle – something you couldn’t do before. The ability to craft items and upgrade existing ones is also present, giving you an extra layer of control over what sort of strategy you adopt.

It has all the same positives and problems that it used to: there is some degree of strategy in choosing what gems to match and thinking two or three turns ahead, but luck ultimately plays a huge part in determining the outcome. The AI will still have occasional bouts of mass four or five gem matches to score free turns, a truth not lost on developer Infinite Interactive who reference this in the achievements.

What you’ll notice from the get-go is the absence of the world map in favour of actual environments. Rather than observing from birds-eye as you used to, it’s pretty clear now if you’re in a bustling town square or an icy dungeon. Rather than giving the player direct control of the hero, a navigational cursor allows you to select non-player characters to interact with (mainly for accepting quests or buying and upgrading equipment) or to move on to the next screen.

The new look is very attractive and works with the medieval-fantasy setting; it’s sharp and stylistic and backed up with a generic-but-sufficient fantasy soundtrack, but it arguably creates more problems than it’s worth. Questing can begin to feel like a dungeon crawl after navigating through a dozen screens to arrive at your destination, taking you away from the puzzle-battling that is the main attraction. There’s also the issue of concluding a quest by returning to whoever issued it, the time lag that occurs from quest and experience pop-ups, and a variety of other small time eaters. It sounds like I’m nit-picking because these are all small issues, but they all add up and take away the sharp pace that the original Puzzle Quest had.

Thankfully, the sprawling dungeons are made manageable by a competent quest tracker and plenty of quick travel points. There is always an onscreen trail directing you to the next objective, which is gold for main quests and silver for side quests. It only directs you for one mission at a time (which you can choose if you’ve got lots active) which may disappoint some people who like to multi-task – perhaps allowing you to track one main and side mission at a time would have been the best method – but it works fine as a guide. And when you’ve navigated the dungeon and vanquished your mighty foe, the travel portals let you get back to civilisation pretty quickly to conclude the quest and sell any loot you might have acquired.

In terms of puzzles, the environment-based navigation creates a lot of opportunities for mini-games. The problem is these mini-games (and I use the term loosely) are very similar and not particularly exciting compared to battles. Actions as mundane as looting a treasure chest, bashing in a door, or searching the environment for a hidden object are all used as an excuse to subject the player to a slight variation on the regular game. It’s true that the original Puzzle Quest had similar variations, but they were fewer and further between and less likely to get monotonous as a result. The frequency and homogeneity of the games here means the tedium will set in quicker.

Multi-player balancing in the original was notoriously difficult because you could only play as created heroes. This time around, a series of stock characters from each class are available at different levels; this is perfect if you want to play locally since you don’t have to build up two heroes in single player for an even match. This applies to online ranked and player matches, though you can battle with your created character if you want. The online puzzle community isn’t burgeoning like FPS’ or racers so jumping into an online game quickly isn’t always possible, but the improved accessibility and flexibility of multiplayer makes Puzzle Quest 2 a viable option locally or for player matches with friends.

Balance between the four classes (assassin, barbarian, sorcerer, and templar) is generally pretty good and they do have an impact on what gems you should be looking to match. Barbarians are the strongest class so a skull-matching strategy for maximum damage is ideal, assassins and sorcerers will be slightly more reliant on gems to fuel spells and abilities, and the defence-minded templar is ideal for outlasting your opponent. Each has a unique list of spells and abilities to learn but some are far more useful than others, particularly board manipulation spells that allow you to change the colour of gems and potentially score a lot of free turns. You can only equip five spells per battle though, so some trial and error is required to find out which ones suit your style.

While it’s far from a bad game, Puzzle Quest 2 feels like an opportunity missed. The attempt to improve the RPG component with well-drawn environments is admirable, but the story and voice acting are still nowhere near immersive enough for players to care about any plot or mythology that has been created. This is compounded by the time it takes away from the player through poor interface design; inventory management is needlessly clunky and it’s more trouble than it should be to quickly compare equipment statistics or where you need to spend points when levelling up. Returning to my original point: yes, the Puzzle Quest formula holds up as an enjoyable hybrid between the puzzle and RPG genres, but the way it is packaged in Puzzle Quest 2 leaves something to be desired.

Rating: 6/10

PAJ89's avatar
Community review by PAJ89 (July 04, 2010)

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aschultz posted July 27, 2010:

Hope this critique is not too editorial.

This is a good review--though there are a few things I'd figure could be patched up, if you want. Maybe parentheses are used a bit much, and sentences like "The premise is exactly the same as before with a different story: pick a class, and get questing." just don't say much. I'd be curious to see what sort of matching--in a row? Clumps? Diagonal? What works best?

adopt a strategy -> adapt

"from the get-go" should get going. Maybe "The world map of discrete locations is replaced with a first-person view of..."

"It has all the same positives and problems that it used to" has sort of already been said, e.g. that the presentation is the only real upgrade.

Maybe too many parentheses, too. In my own writing I often find they're put there as idea placeholders. For instance, the new look creating problems with the game feeling less as it should is a great observation. It might be better to say at the start. "PQ2's main difference is it looks better. But it may play worse."

"It sounds like I’m nit-picking because these are all small issues, but they all add up and take away the sharp pace that the original Puzzle Quest had." I think you don't have enough confidence in this observation. It's a good one. I also think the paragraph about minigames may be better stated as something like "Unfortunately, mini-games make looting a treasure chest, bashing a door, or searching for a hidden object all feel the same. These mini-games occur more than in the original PQ and just aren't as fun, and they belie the new graphic variety." Sometimes we dwell on stuff because we guess we need to and I think that happens a bit.

I also really like your conclusion except for "returning to my original point." You've established that PQ2 tweaks the formula the wrong way and your final sentence feels a bit forced. Your point was already made. I guess we've all oversold our points of view before, though.
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Ben posted July 27, 2010:

I believe I already said that I really liked this review. It told me everything that I needed to know, kept my interest, and rarely dallied on a point. That's pretty much what I look for if I wanted to read a review on a game I'm not sure about. I found it particularly fascinating how improving the presentation actually made the game slightly worse. You explained that really well and in a convincing manner when it could've been tough to get your point across. There were a couple of small things I didn't quite get, but I think that's more down to my lack of experience with the first Puzzle Quest than anything else.

I'm just going to bring up two nitpicks (both of which have already been brought up by Aschultz):

It sounds like I’m nit-picking because these are all small issues, but...: I sort of see what Aschultz is saying. I think he wants you to be more authoritative and try something like "These may be small issues, but..." It also shortens the sentence by quite a few words, which is an added bonus.

Returning to my original point: yes...: I'm generally not a fan of phrases that encourage you to scroll back up. I don't think there's much difference if you got rid of that and just started the last sentence with "The Puzzle Quest formula..."

But like I said, nice review!
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PAJ89 posted July 28, 2010:

Cheers for the critiques guys.

aschultz: regarding the "premise is the same" sentence, it's something I try to keep purposely brief as I've gotten over technical in the past. I can see where you're coming from in that it might be a little vague, but my reasoning (and perhaps its lazy, not sure :P) is info/video/images on games is easily available. I can't assume everyone reads/looks up on a game they're going to get, but if the reader has seen an image/video, they'll know what kind of a match game this is (or they can quickly find out). Maybe it's a trade-off, but I'm wary of over-complicating things when it comes to explaining mechanics. And I completely agree that the time consumption nit-pick was lacking a bit of conviction: I know it bothered me and probably has soured the experience for others too, but on this occassion I didn't feel I could word it well.

Ben: As I said above, totally agree on the time consumption issue. If I was explaining that to someone in person, it'd be something I'd have difficulty with too as I couldn't find the words, would have to say "here, play it for an hour" to get my point across.

There's a lot of little things that could be better, I put that down to lack of practise and sharpness. There's a glut of XBLA games I'm interested in that have just/on-the-way out, and hopefully some bigger releases at the end of the year, so maybe opportunities to get some more out later.
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aschultz posted July 29, 2010:

Hi PAJ89--thanks for considering my critique--I know how a lot of that can be subjective, and perhaps I'd give a different one a second time around.

It's tough to know what you should take for granted that people know and what you shouldn't. I agree that there's a good chunk you should. And you need to trust your own intuition on that--combined with the feedback you get. Hopefully finding a happy medium of stating enough to make the overall point and not leaving too much out there or saying more than we need to know. This is where just one critiquer's opinion has to fall short--you can't get a general view from the audience you hope to reach.

This brings up a few side points that maybe it might be useful for a person to make a blog post saying "did I do too much/little of x/y in my review, or did I get it right?" That might help people give immediate feedback without the need to feel like heavy duty critiquers.

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