August 19, 2010


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Puzzle Quest 2 (360/DS/iStuffs/PC)
Infinite Interactive
By Glenn "Flameblade" Given

Line up gems to bring down hit points in Puzzle Quest 2, the amplified sequel to the darling hybrid puzzle/RPG breakthrough Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.

Developer Infinte Interactive struck gold in 2007 with its addictive blend of Bejeweled style gem-matching, class-based RPG leveling and strategy. There is an instinctive understanding among players of the structure and strategy of gem-matching games thanks in large part to their ubiquitousness on the Internet and smart phones as quick, satisfying time-wasters. Deep-fry that in the stylization of the fantasy role-playing genre and youíve made the digital equivalent of crack cocaine.

Puzzle Quest 2 players choose from one of four archetypical roles: Barbarian, Assassin, Sorcerer and the holy Templar. Each character has an arrary of attacks and maneuvers that enable him to damage opponents, protect himself from damage or manipulate the gems on the playing field in some manner. You trigger these abilities by lining up three or more gems and collecting the mana that matched gems provide to power your attacks. You also have the option of matching skull icons to do direct damage to opponents or gauntlet icons to power up equipped weapon attacks. While eliminating skulls from the play field is always a good option, it loses some umph as your abilities grow more deadly. Extra mana and damage are earned by creating chains of matches and cascades of falling gems. Aligning larger strings of gems creates multiplier gems that triple to septuple the mana provided as well as granting extra turns.

Simply matching whatever gems stand out to you is a sure road to defeat, though. There is a far deeper strategy at play here beyond clearing the board. Many of the most effective skills are those that manipulate the board. From creating wild-card gems to casting spells to nab every gem of a specific color, it is these abilities that allow you to set up the truly devastating combinations that bring victory against the skilled (though fair) A.I. Be careful, though; I have frequently found myself reaping a great bounty of mana from such a spell but if I havenít planned ahead often the enemy is able to cash in this new board configuration for a large combo of his own. Itís delightfully tricky.

Leveling your character adds intrinsic bonuses in gem accumulation as well as unlocking new skills and spells. As you grow you become tougher and can store more mana or gain more per matched set. Additionally there is a strong gear component to Puzzle Quest 2. Characters are outfitted with arms and armor, many of which provide bonuses beyond statistical improvement.

Puzzle Quest 2 does very well by its pedigree. While its immediate forerunners (Galactrix & Neopets) had middling success in injecting new gameplay styles, PQ2 strikes the iron squarely. You can bang out a quick battle on break at work or plunk down for a puzzling marathon, both with great satisfaction. A óGlenn Given