Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, the hybrid puzzle/role-playing game from Infinite Interactive, was one of the sleeper hits of 2007. The addictive gem-matching battles, combined with the ability to learn new spells, forge items, and take on fellow players in online battles, have created a legion of fans. The expansion pack, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords - Revenge of the Plague Lord, offers a new boss--Lord Antharg, brother of the ultimate foe Lord Bane--within a newly opened southern area of the map, as well as an increased level cap. Priced at a fairly steep 700 Microsoft points (the original game was 1,200), Revenge of the Plague Lord greatly increases the replay value of the game by doubling the number of character classes. But the quests in the new region are limited at best, and the final boss doesn't feel as epic as his predecessor.
If you come to the expansion with a level-50 character (the maximum allowed in the standard game), you'll find 25 new quests, compared to the 150 in the full game--beginning in the southern city of Gallia. Successful completion of the quests adds about five or six hours of new gameplay and unlocks three achievements. If you choose to level your character all the way up to the new cap of 60, there are many more hours of battling to be done as well. This in itself represents pretty good value for the expansion pack. If you'd accumulated large numbers of experience points within the standard game, you'll find that your character automatically levels up when you download the expansion.
With a high-level character, some of the battles within the southern map can feel pedestrian--defeating a series of level-16 opponents, while fun, isn't overly challenging for an experienced player. Appropriately scaled-up enemies would have added a little spice to the proceedings; with a character at level 50 or 52, you're unlikely to lose a single battle on the southern map until taking on the final boss. Lord Antharg is a strong boss character, but battling him doesn't feel anything like the climax of fighting against Lord Bane at the end of Puzzle Quest's first act.
Where Revenge of the Plague Lord really increases replay value is in the addition of new character classes. The warrior, druid, wizard, and knight characters are now joined by the bard, rogue, ranger, and warlock classes. The game will allow you to have eight different characters saved at any one time, and the potential to replay the game eight different ways offers great value for the money. Each main spell is related to a character's skills--for example, the bard's spell is based on performance and songs, whereas the ranger has snipe. Taking up a new character means learning a new set of tactics and balancing the available skill set, which makes for a different experience each time you replay it.
As you'd expect, there are new enemies to battle throughout the new section of the map. Many of them carry on the theme of the expansion: Plague priests, tasters, and witches guard near Lord Antharg while ur-ghouls lurk nearby. There's also a set of quests related to the inhabitants of Stormreach, which culminates in a fairly tough fight against the Stormking. Increasing the range of opponents helps with the challenge of the battles--some of them have truly devious spells, which make capturing them a priority and helps keep the gameplay interesting, even if a high-level character will rarely lose to them. It also means that if you use the "choose opponent" option to level up or practice spells and tactics, there is an even greater number of enemies from which to choose. There are also new items to collect, but none are outstandingly powerful, and there didn't seem to be additional runes on offer.
There are some small glitches in the expansion. For example, there's a quest marker that shows up as green when it should be red because it is the next step in the questing process, and some players have had trouble opening up the final quest. These are relatively minor oversights, but they're deeply frustrating if you can't work out how to move forward. Additionally, a number of minor changes to the existing character classes appear to have been made in the name of balancing, which might prove annoying if you find that your favourite character's weapons or spells are no longer as effective as before.
The online multiplayer is as fiercely competitive as ever. Level-60 characters will make short work of most comers--so don't be surprised if you get unceremoniously beaten to a virtual pulp from time to time. However, it is possible to level-cap the matches and test out your skills on a similar opponent.
Revenge of the Plague Lord is an expensive expansion pack (especially now that the full game is only 800 Microsoft points through the Arcade Hits programme), but for fans of the game it's a must-have. The extra achievements are a bonus, but the real value comes in trying out the new classes and relearning the game from a different viewpoint. When you throw in the human dimension of taking each of your characters to the multiplayer arena, you have a package worth downloading.