If you haven't played one of the handheld versions of Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, you've missed out on one of this year's best puzzle games--and role-playing games. The game mixed these two seemingly disparate genres in a chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter fashion to produce a uniquely delectable final product. Now Puzzle Quest is on its way to Xbox Live Arcade to bring that same tasty mixture to HDTVs everywhere.
We caught up with Puzzle Quest's creator, Steve Fawkner, to find out what changes and additions have gone into this latest version, as well as what's next for the popular new franchise.
GameSpot: What makes this release more than the PSP game in high definition? How have you tailored Puzzle Quest to the Xbox 360?
Steve Fawkner: The great thing about the Xbox 360 Live Arcade version of Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is that we've not only given it the full Xbox Live treatment, with achievements, leaderboards, game matching, ranked games, and rich presence, but we have also had an extra six months to polish the game. The original PSP and DS versions of Puzzle Quest are great, but every game has room for improvement, and we have really tried to focus on improving the multiplayer experience along with adding a number of small but powerful features that make all versions of the game even more enjoyable.
One example of this is the spell timer. Some spells now have a cool-down time attached to them, so you can't necessarily cast them every turn; you have to wait from one to five turns for them to become available again. This makes the game fresh and interesting because a lot of the most powerful spells now have this tradeoff. You'll find improvements like this all through the game.
One of the biggest improvements, though, is the ability to play local multiplayer against another person on the same console. That's something you can only really get on a console like the Xbox 360, and it's a lot of fun.
GS: In the handheld game, we found that the ability to forge superior items eventually trivialized the store-bought equipment, so we were left with a lot of money but nothing to spend it on. Have you made the economy more robust this time around?
SF: We've performed a full rebalancing on the abilities of forged items. They're still very good, but now you have a real decision [about] whether you want to use the unique items you find in quests and in the shop or whether you'd rather craft a themed and customized set.
With some changes to the cost of things, along with a few new rule changes (such as no monthly income from your home city), this really sets up the economy to be in good shape well into the late game.
GS: Some enemies seemed inordinately difficult against certain character classes in the original. What have you done to rebalance the combat in this version?
SF: Every class will always have its own unique set of challenges; that's what makes the game so replayable. However, we've had lots of feedback now, and that has shown us a couple of areas where we have improved the playability.
Firstly, we've tinkered with the quality of the artificial intelligence levels to make the easy setting just a little bit easier all around. There's definitely less of a learning curve for new players. Secondly, we have changed some of the creatures' stats to keep them better balanced. And thirdly, some of the new rules, such as the spell timer I mentioned above, really help to even things out.
GS: You've just announced downloadable themes and gamer pictures. Does the game itself have hooks for extra downloadable content, such as new quests? What are your plans on that front?
SF: As you might well imagine, a game like Puzzle Quest is very content friendly. Quests, items, monsters, professions, spells, mounts, and companions could all be added into the game as extra content (and modders may very well do this when the PC version releases). I don't have anything official to announce yet about downloadable content on Xbox 360 Live Arcade, but it's certainly something we're currently working toward. And, you know, I just really want to play a rogue, so I'll probably get my way eventually!
GS: Walk us through the online experience. Will it include more features than the handheld versions? Will there be support for the Vision camera?
SF: We've got a lot of features in here specifically for multiplayer. To start with, there is the local multiplayer I mentioned earlier. Then, we have player matchmaking and ranked games, which makes it as easy as a few button presses in order to jump into a quick game with either a friend or a stranger and test out your hero's mettle.
Next, we have our rich presence and invite system to make it really simple to see if your friends are playing the game, see exactly what they're up to within the game, and to invite them in for a quick multiplayer match.
Leaderboards are implemented, as is voice chat during play. And finally, we've allowed players the option to craft powerful multiplayer heroes without doing the story every single time. Once an element from the story is unlocked, such as a rune or a spell, future heroes can either buy it from the shop, or in the case of monsters, capture them in a regular single-player battle.
GS: Give us some examples of the most brutal achievements in the game. How hard will it be to get the full 200 points?
SF: Xbox 360 Live Arcade games can only include 12 achievements, so we have to be very careful about getting each one exactly right and making sure the player is getting his fair share of them as he plays the game. Obviously, defeating Lord Bane in the final battle is one of the big ones to get, and it could take between 40 to 50 hours to reach that point, but the really brutal one is awarded for forging a godlike item in your citadel. Some pretty nasty guardians own the runes required for this, and then once you've got them, you have to beat the "forging" minigame on its hardest level. It's a double bonus when you win though, because you get the achievement and a really cool item for your hero.
GS: Lastly, what's next for the Puzzle Quest franchise (aside from ports of the original game)? Come on, at least give us something--we're big fans.
SF: We're working on Galactrix at the moment--kind of a spiritual successor to Puzzle Quest. But not just Puzzle Quest in space--we didn't want to simply clone the game and add spaceships!
But I can almost guarantee that you haven't heard the last of Puzzle Quest. Still, we don't want to rush things. We want to make sure we come up with lots of cool new ideas that will make any sequel as new and exciting as the game we're all playing now.
If you want to know one thing that I would like to add into a Puzzle Quest sequel, though, would be co-op story mode and co-op battles. Now that would be cool.
GS: Sure enough. Thanks Steve!