I’ve been playing Puzzle Quest 2 recently. The game is brimming with polish and potential, but has one major flaw that mars the experince.
First the interesting. The game is extremely self-consistent, which impresses me. Every facet of the dungeon-delving adventure is translated into match-three. Battles, lockpicking, trap disarming, everything. This is quite powerful, for the player only needs to grasp the simple basic concept and he or she is ready for anything. Every game has some slight variations, but they should be simple to understand. This game would definately be amongst the games I would use to introduce new people into the world of interactive entertainment.
The game is quite newbie-friendly. The graphics are appealing, the loot is plentiful and shiny, the player gets new stuff almost constantly and the game features well-done guidance. The player never feels lost. And the game is quite light, after all, it’s pretty much bejeweled. It’s perfect for small doses of mindless gem-matching. I believe that if I want to make a low learning threshold, I will take pointers from this game.
But. The flaw. The game is imbalanced. People who want challenges from the game are going to be disappointed. I’ve been playing as an Assasin, and pretty much the first build I did was invincible. Poison the enemy, go into stealth, use strikes. Protected behind my near 100-point armor and insane amount of HP, the monsters do not stand a chance. Only when I voluntarily switched build to a one-hit-wonder that does 188 damage with one fell swoop, the game got a bit more interesting. This is problematic. I believe that this would be a good game to have murderously hard Hard mode.
Another thing that affects the difficulty is the AI. It feels stupid most of the times. The AI can play the field competently, but it does not use its spells to full effect. Only the Green Dragon and Ghosts feel like they have ever used their spells as they should. One of the reasons might be that it feels like the computer does not gather mana efficiently. It prioritizes skulls and action points over mana, even when casting spells would do a lot more. Skulls are not very important unless the creature has a lot of skull damage bonuses. Usually it’s more efficient to use weapons and special abilities.
The undead are a perfect example of AI tomfoolery. They have an ability to turn blocking gems (gray gems that do not move) to +5 skulls. Most of the undead fields have a 2×2 block in the bottom, and usually it has at least one skull adjacent. Countless times the computer could have cast the spell 3-4 times, but it does not. When it does use the spell, it does it once and then continues elsewhere. There is no justification. It has purple mana and it is the only spell that requires it.
How would I fix this? The problem is that combat does not feel dangerous. There is no foe that I know I can’t beat. So more deadliness is required. If I did not have time and resources to tweak the priorities of the AI, I would just hand the opponents a lot more skull damage bonuses, more skills and more powerful spells. This way the game becomes more tactical; If I can’t execute my strategy, while harassing the opponent, I will lose. Note that this is only for Hard difficulty level. Normal and Easy are good for new players, as I have stated.
The game’s story is also not very interesting, but in the end, it does not matter much. The fun activities in the game are killing monsters and gaining shiny loot. And achievements. I believe Puzzle Quest has one of the most interesting Achievements since Valve. Getting Epic Win and Epic Fail requires much thought and luck. I found that the funniest achievement is We Don’t Need No Water, in which you must fail the tutorial skill challenge. Easier said than done.
In short: Puzzle Quest 2 is an excellent game for introducing completely fresh people to video gaming and dungeon delving, but does not offer much challenge to those who seek it. That, or then I am just so damn good.