If Puzzle Quest: Galactrix's sci-fi trappings and hexagonal battle board left you feeling cold, then perhaps a straight shot of retro Puzzle Quest will bring you back into full-on PQ addiction. That's the bet that developer Infinite Interactive is making with the upcoming Puzzle Quest 2, a sequel to the original swords-and-sorcery puzzle adventure game Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords from 2007. The game is due for release this summer on Xbox Live and the Nintendo DS. And, as we found out during some hands-on time earlier today, Infinite Interactive has tweaked the formula of the original game without upsetting the apple cart completely.
Though technically a sequel, PQ2's storyline and characters have nothing in common with the original game. This time around, you play as a lone adventurer who discovers Verloren; an unhappy city that has a connection to a mysterious nearby castle. Your goal is to uncover that connection--to do so, much hacking and slashing must occur. Put more accurately, much gem matching must occur, which will then allow you to hack and slash the various enemies you'll encounter in the game's single-player adventure.
Matching gems of the same color in three-, four-, and five-count rows is still at the heart of PQ2's gameplay, but unlike Galactrix, PQ2 is still played in a rectangular grid with gems dropping down from the top. However, the changes that have been implemented are subtle at first, and they have some significant impact on gameplay. For instance, experience points and gold have been removed from the grid--you now earn money and experience after a battle is finished. In its place, purple mana has been added (along with associated spells that use purple mana). There are also gauntlets strewn throughout, and matching them will earn you action points that will let you attack with any of your equipped weapons.
A focus on weapons and items over the spells that were such a huge part of the original Puzzle Quest is another difference. Though spells play a big role in combat (especially if you're playing as the sorcerer class), attacking with weapons can be just as effective, as we found out when playing with a barbarian-class character. This class can dual-wield weapons and use two-handed weapons (such as the bastard sword). A single swipe of our character's axe did a hefty 10 points of damage to an opponent. A character's defensive rating can affect the amount of damage he or she (or it) takes, and you can cast spells, as well as wear armor, that will increase your armor rating.
Your character has a number of slots for items that you collect during your adventures; two slots for weapons, shields, or potions you can wield in battle and four slots for armor (head, body, legs). After battles, you'll also pick up elemental items you can use later in the game to improve your weapons and armor.
In true Puzzle Quest fashion, you'll be matching gems on the play grid even when you aren't immersed in combat. There are occasional challenges you'll run into as you go; early in the game's tutorial, you'll need to fight a raging fire by battling it on the grid. Of course, the fire can't fight back, but if you unwittingly match red gems, the fire will gain strength. Another challenge required us to bash down a castle door; in gameplay terms, we had to cause a set amount of damage to the door in a certain number of turns in order to succeed. There's also a treasure-hunting minigame that you'll occasionally find after beating a monster where you can earn cash by matching gold, silver, or bronze coins or special items like potions by matching keys on the playing grid.
Beyond the subtleties of gameplay, Puzzle Quest 2 has an art style all its own--forgoing the manga influence of the first game for a more Western art style. In addition, the game's interface has changed a bit--instead of moving around a character icon on a map of the world as in the original game, the camera is drawn down closer into the world. In the tutorial, for example, you'll explore the city of Verloren and interact with individual townsfolk as you go.
Puzzle Quest 2 will feature four character classes: the offensively minded, magic-using sorcerer; the weapons-first barbarian; the defensively strong templar; and the stealthy assassin. All of these character classes will have strengths and weaknesses of their own. You'll be able to pit those characters against the game's single-player campaign or against other players via online multiplayer in the Xbox Live version of the game and via ad hoc wireless on the Nintendo DS. Our brief time with the game was just that…all too brief, and we look forward to sinking more time into the game in the near future.
There's no firm release date for Puzzle Quest 2 yet, but publisher D3 is expecting the game to come out this summer.