Originally debuting earlier this year on the handheld platforms, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is a refreshingly original mash-up that blends multiple, disparate genres beautifully. It combines the simple-to-learn yet difficult-to-master gameplay mechanics of Bejeweled with the remarkably deep character customization and Tolkienesque aesthetics of a high fantasy role-playing game, while also drawing upon the exploration and management aspects of classic turn-based strategy gaming. The result is a gaming experience unlike any other available today, and one that you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
A Land of Dragons and Five-Chain Combos
Even if you’ve never played Steve Fawkner’s Warlords and Warlords: Battlecry games, you’ll be instantly familiar with Puzzle Quest‘s world of Etheria, as it is a land filled with the staples of any self-respecting fantasy setting. Elves are flighty and reclusive, for example, unaccepting of outsiders. Dwarves (both male and female) are well-bearded and care a bit too much about treasure. The orcish horde rampages across the countryside, razing anything in its path while evil walks the earth in the form of the living dead. Upon choosing one of four different classes during character creation — Druid, Knight, Warrior or Wizard — you will embark on a quest to rid the land of its troubles. This all sounds like the setup to your next hundred-hour adventure, and actually it is. The difference here is that combat and the other core challenges available are resolved by playing slightly modified games of competitive Bejeweled.
Instead of working on a tile board on your own, the 8×8 battle grid is where two opponents face off, taking turns to destroy gems and other symbols. There are four key colors to destroy that represent the elements of air, earth, fire and water. Matching these will in turn generate mana of that same color that powers your character’s spells and abilities. Match four tiles and you gain an extra turn, while matching five nets a turn and a wild card that can help set up the next move. Players and monsters each have a hit point total that must be depleted in order to win, and attacks are generally made by matching skull icons on the battle grid. There are also purple star icons that represent experience point gains, while coins increase your character’s pool of gold.
There are many tactical decisions to be made from turn to turn, and herein lies the beauty of the gameplay. You’ll always be looking for ways to stretch out your plays, seeking out the mana necessary to cast your spells while simultaneously denying your opponent of the resources they need for their own attacks, preventing them access to skulls or key combos. Finding ways to stay alive during each challenging game is hard enough, but also dedicating turns to collecting coinage and experience points lends itself to a deeply fulfilling and ultimately very satisfying game. You’ll even want to forfeit a turn by intentionally making a mistake on the play field, in order to goad the CPU AI into giving you that much-needed opening.
The extent to which Puzzle Quest makes use of the trappings of role-playing and strategy games is incredible. With a level cap of fifty, you’ll have many different ways to customize your character, choosing to increase its attributes in ways that gainfully affect your ability during battle. How you spend your stat point allocation from level to level is up to you, but characters can gain certain skills at a lower cost based on their specialties. Wizards, for instance, are adept at fire and air mastery, and are more cunning than most, so points in that attribute make it more likely that they go first in any given game. Knights in turn have higher morale and battle skill than their robe-wearing counterparts, giving them a larger hit point pool and dealing more damage with skulls, respectively.