Mar 20

Written by: Thryon
3/20/2009 5:39 PM  RssIcon

Box Art
Magically Delicious
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Release Date: October 10, 2007
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
On Xbox.ca Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is described as a puzzle game with role-playing elements. The site also promised a game that is like nothing you've played before. Actually I have played this game before, well sort of. Puzzle Quest reminded me of several other games. The best way I can describe it, the game is a fusion of the best parts of Bejeweled, Heroes of Might and Magic and Magic: The Gathering all combined into one neat little package.

While I can describe the game itself, classifying it is more difficult. I would say that the game's main focus is the puzzle aspect, but others may argue that it is the RPG element is most predominant, while still other gamers could even successfully argue that the game is mostly strategy based. In truth, the game relies on all three elements equally, and to remove any one element from the game, would result in just another Bejeweled clone.

When you first start the game, you must choose your hero. The choices are your standard RPG offerings, as you can choose to be either a druid, a knight, a warrior, or a wizard. The characters differ only in what attributes they will upgrade easiest. The Warrior for example will upgrade easiest on power and defense skills, and more slowly on magical skills. The choice of character should depend on your style of gameplay. Take some time and make a choice. Once you have chosen your character the game begins.

The game will start you on the main world map. This is the portion of the game that reminded me of Heroes of Might and Magic. From this world map, you can travel from location to location following predefined paths to visit various areas of interest, be it cities, dungeons or different creature lairs. Also similar to Heroes, is the way you ca upgrade your citadel (castle), by spending the money you earned during combat. These upgrades will unlock other options in the game, such as the ability to capture creatures or create magical items. Both games features a turned based combat system. The game does differ from Heroes by the fact that the map screen is not turn based, allowing you to move as far as you wish or make as many upgrades to your citadel as money will allow. In Puzzle Quest, there is no tedious resource gathering as only gold is required to build upgrades or hire companions. In Heroes your goal was to seek out powerful artifacts to empower your character, but in Puzzle Quest your challenge is to locate powerful runes. These runes are used to forge magical items that enhances your character attributes. The runes are most often found in lairs and are often protected by fierce and powerful creatures. Some runes can e obtained by completing quests. Quests are available to you at each city.
Screenshot
(Click for larger image)
At one point in the game, most likely withing the first few minutes, you will be faced with your first combat. The combat portion of Puzzle Quest is the meat of the game. It is mix of Magic the Gathering and Bejeweled. While this combination does sound odd, just like peanut butter and bananas, the outcome is actually quite amazing. In combat, the goal is to reduce your opponent's life down to 0. Once your foe has no life points left, you have won the battle. Just as in Magic, you can use a combination of direct attacks or spells to achieve this goal. Each spells will require various combination of the four mana types that is available in the game to cast. What is different to Magic is the way you collect your mana and attack your opponent. Ther are no cards to lay down an turn sideways. Here mana is obtained on the combat field. The combat field itself is an 8 by 8 grid filled with 8 different tiles randomly distributed for a total of 64 tiles. The goal is to swap two tiles either horizontally or vertically to create a row or column of 3 matching tiles or more. Matching 3 tiles will allow you to gain mana if you matched coloured times, gain experience, gain gold or perform an attack on your opponent. Matching 4 tiles will net you an extra turn on top of the previous result, and matching 5 tiles or more will result in the appearance of a wildcard tile (and all the previous benefits as well). Matched tiles will disappear from the screen, dropping any tiles above them down to fill in any gaps left by the removed tiles, and new tiles will drop from the top to fill in any gap. The game board will always contain 64 tiles. I mentioned that the game features 8 different tiles. They are:

* Red, Blue, Yellow and Green coloured tiles: These four tiles represent the four types of elemental magic in the game (fire, water, air and earth). Each tile provides 1 mana point per tile removed, so clearing a row of 3 red tiles will result in 3 red mana points being added to your mana reserves.
* Skull tiles: Skulls are used to attack your opponent directly. Matching 3 skulls will drain your opponent for 3 life points. The game also introduces glowing skulls with +5 on them. These special skulls provide 5 extra points of damage to your opponent and destroys all surrounding tiles when matched with any 2 or more other skulls.
* Experience tiles: These purple * tiles provide additional experience points once battle is over indifferent if you won or lost the battle. You gain one experience point for each experience tile removed.
* Gold tiles: These gold $ tiles provide additional gold once battle is over indifferent if you won or lost the battle. You gain 1 gold piece for each gold tile removed.
* Wildcard tiles: Wildcard are multi-coloured square tiles that contain a multiplier number on the tile. As their name suggest, wildcard tiles can be matched with any coloured tiles, but not with skulls, experience or gold tiles). When a wildcard tile is matched with a pair of same coloured tiles, it will provide the amount of mana normally acquired in the match multiplied by the number on wildcard tile. Multiple wildcard tiles can be combined for huge mana gains.

Once the battle is done, you will be awarded gold and experience, indifferent if you were victorious or not. Once you have acquired enough experience points, your character will level up. At this point, you will need to choose how you wish your character to advance. As I was playing a warrior, I focused most my points on doing direct damage, and increasing my personal heath and very little on magic. This way, I can stand toe-to-toe with my enemies and take a quite a beating and still come out on top. Your style of game play may be quite different, so you will want to adapt your character to your style of gameplay, just as in any real good RPG game.
Screenshot
(Click for larger image)
As your character progresses, he/she will gain spells automatically, but most spells will need to be acquired from captured creatures. After you defeat one type of creatures 3 times, you will be offered the opportunity to capture the next creature of that type when initializing combat. If you choose to capture the creature, you will be presented with a game grid with a number of predetermined number of tiles in a pattern, and your challenge is to remove all the tiles from the screen. There is no combat, spells or strategy here, just pure puzzle. Depending on the level of the creature you are trying to capture, this can be quite easy to extremely difficult. The good news is if you miss, you can retry as many times as you like. Once you have captured the creature, return to a city to attempt to learn it's spells. To learn a spell, you are once again brought to a game grid of 64 tiles, but you must now removed a specific amount of coloured tiles and scrolls from the game. Scrolls are created only when you match 4 or more tiles. 4 tiles will create one scroll, and 5 or more matched tiles will create two scrolls. The stronger the spell, the more tiles and scrolls you must match.

The final type of game is with the creation of magical items. During your various quests and battles, you will come across runes. Back at a city, once you have performed the required citadel upgrade, you can attempt to forge magical items using these runes. When creating an item, you choose 3 runes, one from each section of runes, that you will match together to create the item. Each rune adds a new magical effect to an item. These vary from stopping damage, to adding extra coloured mana to your reserves. The difficulty level for forging the item will depend on the runes you choose (it will be displayed on the screen for you). Once you have chosen your runes, the game screen loads up with the now familiar grid of 64 tiles, but this time you will notice special anvil tiles. Your goals is to remove the number of anvils from the game as indicated in the bottom right hand side of the screen. Anvils will appear randomly among the flow of tiles, and can only be removed by matching 4 or more tiles in the row or column that the anvil is present it, or by matching 3 or more anvils. Easy items may only require 1 or 2 anvils to re removed, while extremely hard ones may required a dozen or more anvils to be removed. One key note to make is that you can remove anvils or scrolls from the game by matching an +5 skull nearby. When a +5 skull explodes, any removed tiles count towards your tally.

This weird but wonderful mix is all held together by an interesting storyline (better than most full retail games). The story will be told as you progress in the games more than 150 quests. Once you complete the single player game (or want a change of pace), you can then take your beefed up character on Xbox Live and test out his/her mettle against other players. The multiplayer game reminded so much of Magic as you spend a lot of time prepping your character, choosing the perfect spells to use. I forgot to mention that your character can carry only 6 spells, and 5 other items (weapons, shield rings armour...etc) with him at once, so choosing the correct items from your collection can make the difference between winning an loosing in this game.

The game does have some flaws. The AI often makes really obvious mistakes (but you can't help but grin when you zap em using their mistake) and there is no difficulty options to make the game tougher for hardcore players. The multiplayer aspect could use a tournament option, as this game lends itself to online tournaments.

Bottom line is that Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is a unique gaming experience that will appeal to just about any type of gamer out there, be you hardcore or casual, be you puzzle fanatic or RPG fanboy, there is a bit of something for everyone (except for First Person Shooter fans...you guys stay far far away. Nothing to shoot in the face here).

The game is 1200 MS points, or about $16. That is a bargain for a game of this quality. Heck I paid $60 for BlackSite: Area 51, and that game blows. You can at least download the demo for free.
--Brian Wray

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