I first heard about Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords on either 1Up Yours or EGM Live. They talked about it on both shows, and I could not quite wrap my head around the idea: a puzzle game crossed with an RPG. Sounded like an odd combination to me, but the more I started to hear about it, the more I was intrigued. I finally broke down and purchased the DS version of the game. Several hours of gameplay later, it still ranks up there as one of the best puzzle games I have ever played.
A simple premise brilliantly executed
The idea behind Puzzle Quest is actually quiet simple: take the match three puzzle play of Bejeweled and toss in a light RPG element to keep players coming back for more. In the beginning of the game, you are given the chance to choose the type of character you want to play, and you will find many of the fantasy archetypes present and accounted for, including the ranger and the warrior.
Each character has different spells and attacks he or she can learn, so who you choose does make a difference. For example, the ranger will have spells that rely more heavily on the elements, where the knight may have more direct attacks. You gain the ability to activate these spells or attacks by building mana from the puzzle; if you match green gems, you get green mana, if you match red you get red, etc. Each spell requires a certain amount of at least one and often many types of mana, and these spells can range from attacking gems on the board and getting the damage effects to hurting your opponent directly.
Beleive it or not, you can combine a puzzler with an RPG.
After choosing a character, you get into the RPG element of the game. Unfolding before you is a story of an ancient evil that is slowly starting to reawaken. It is up to you and your allies to stop this evil. You do this by moving about the land, doing different quests and fighting different enemies along the way. These battles are fought on the puzzle board, where you match the colored gems to get mana to use for your spells. There are also skulls on the board, and if you match they, you deal damage to your opponent directly. The battle is over when either you or your opponent run out of health.
Seems simple enough, right? It is, yet there is a much deeper element to this game than there appears at first glance.
More hardcore role playing than you might think
For a game with such a simple premise, Puzzle Quest is actually a serious RPG. As you progress through the game, you are given choices that will effect whether or not you gain allies. These allies aid you in battle, doing things like hurting certain types of opponents or lowering their attack capabilities. These allies can help turn the tide of combat, especially early in the game.
If you face off against a creature enough times, you can try to capture that creature. To capture, you must remove all the gems from the board you are given. The harder the creature, the harder it is to make the appropriate moves to capture them. Once captured, you can train the ones you can ride and use them to improve your speed and attack. The ones you cannot ride, you can learn their spells, which you do by matching mana and scrolls in the puzzle.
On top of that, you can lay siege to the cities around you. If you win the siege, you gain control of that city, which means it will produce income for you. Of course the city might rise up against you, and you may find yourself having to beat it again to regain control.
Capture enemies, learn spells, gain allies…. The hardcore RPG fan will find much to love about Puzzle Quest.
Add to this your standard character leveling system and the chance to craft master weapons and armor through the puzzle board, and you find there really is a much deeper game here than meets the eye. The story may be a little cliched, but the rest of the game makes up for it.
The one major flaw
You mat have noticed that Puzzle Quest is in my top 10 games of all time. Only one thing keeps it out of the top five: the one major flaw of the game.
Imagine this: you are facing off against an opponent you should be able to beat. Several moves in, it looks like everything is going your way. Suddenly, the enemy gets a rather convenient combo of gems, allowing it to gain another turn. Then it happens again. And again. In no time, this battle that was going so heavily in your favor has gotten out of hand, and you find yourself losing.
Puzzle Quest has what has been referred to as a rather convenient AI. At too many points in the game, you will find your opponent making just the right move, which leads to a chain reaction that completely turns the tide of battle. This becomes extremely annoying at the end when you are facing against Lord Bane. He is a difficult enough final boss to fight without having to worry about him “cheating.” It is the one major flaw of the game, an it will leave you needing to walk away from it on more than one occasion.
That being said, Puzzle Quest is easily one of the most addicting games I have ever played. I have payed for the DS version twice (and soon will probably get it for a third time), and I also own the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game. I guess I just can’t get enogh of it. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords gets a 5 out of 5.