Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
has more depth than almost any puzzle game I've played before. It is the perfect outlet for someone with not enough time to devote to a full-blown RPG or adventure game that doesn't want to give up those elements of exploration and character building. A game where you build experience, outfit your character, and have interesting story elements isn't usually in the puzzle category. Puzzle gamers may be a little baffled by Puzzle Quest
, but they may find themselves backing into RPGs after playing this game.
There are options to play a quest as you begin the game or jump right into a battle. During the quest, you can break away to fight individual battles with stronger opponents for training purposes. You can also jump in and play a multiplayer battle. These are typical puzzle games that will appeal to you in those moments where you don't even want to think about anything but finishing a few quick challenges. The neat thing is how the single-player modes still allow you to accrue experience for the main game. In the Quest mode, you'll be asked to choose a character and roll your attributes, much as you do in classic D&D games. After choosing a class and distributing points across a list of magic abilities and character qualities, you'll be thrust into battle.
The mechanics of battle are simple enough, but you'll need to win on the game board to complete objectives in the game. There is a substantial element of chance in Puzzle Quest that will have you groaning as you get close to an objective and get trumped. The good news is that strategy plays a major role in winning. The main modes are competitive, turn-based, and pit you against an opponent using the same board to make combinations of gems and other objects. Matching three objects will cause them to disappear and if you match colored gems, you'll add those colors to your spell inventory. There are various magic spells you can learn throughout the game, depending on your character type. Your enemy also uses spells. When you embark on special quests or undertake challenges, you will see different rules. Sometimes you won't be against an enemy, but just trying to solve a puzzle on the board by shuffling pieces around until everything disappears. Timed battles are included, as are puzzles that involve collecting specific amounts of each object before running out of moves.
The best thing about Puzzle Quest is how each puzzle is wrapped around an activity that fits into the classic RPG/Adventure genre. You start the game with an itinerant hero, long on nobility but short on cash and rep. After a few quests, you collect money and can purchase items to upgrade your character. After battling for a bit, you find that you can capture enemies and force them to reveal their magic to you. Some enemies can be captured and used as mounts. Mounts help you move quickly around the game world and sometimes grant additional powers. There are multi-part quests and the rewards are typically money and experience. Each quest drives the story forward and you can even duck into local pubs to hear juicy rumors. The overarching story I can take or leave, but at least we have a coherent story in a puzzle game. Eventually you can invest in a castle and capture other resources that grant you more gold. It would have been nice to see a real mode that offered online competition instead of just local play. The other thing that we'd like to see is a resource management element in the game that goes beyond each puzzle. Capturing cities is a nice touch, but doesn't play as important a role in gameplay as it could.