Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords manages to combine the best elements of both puzzle and RPG genres on the same package.
Countless of times we have seen developers attempting to marry distinct game genres with unpleasant results, but Challenge of the Warlords is one of the rare exceptions. Released by D3 Puzzle Quest was a revelation for many people when it first came out. The game combines the role-playing elements of a standard fantasy RPG with the accessible and addictive match-based puzzle of Bejeweled. This odd combination was really ingenious as the game it’s much better than the sum of its parts. The disparate elements blend in and add depth to the familiar gameplay.
At the beginning of your adventure you can create a character from one of several classes (druid, warrior, knight and wizard), set the character’s base attributes and special abilities and then set out on a quest. The main objective is to save the world of Etheria from the forces of Lord Bane. Puzzle Quest starts with an overview of a pretty generic world map that shows you different places like villages, cities, caves, dungeons, castles and some enemy territories. You need to be familiar with this map, as you’ll travel around this world accepting several quests and fighting random battles against monsters that’ll maliciously block your path. Fortunately, you’ll get items, armor, spells and equipment along with new partners that’ll eventually join your party. Besides this you may also mount some monsters, craft items out of runes or even siege cities. Variety is an important part of Puzzle Quest as it keeps things interesting even after a few hours of play.
The gameplay is very similar to Bejeweled, as you need to match at least three stones of the same color to make them disappear from the board. What’s really interesting is that instead of playing against the clock or yourself you are always fighting against an enemy and both of you play on the same board taking turns. Once a player runs out of life the battle is over. To perform an attack you need to make a row or column of at least three skull-shaped pieces, and you can also use several spells or special abilities. Additionally, to use a specific spell you need mana, which you acquire it by aligning stones of a specific color.
These spells may require up to four types of colors to be performed, but as long as you don’t use them you can keep them in reserve on your mana pool. There’s a lot of strategy involved in Puzzle Quest as you don’t want to make a reckless move that your opponent can take advantage from on his next turn, so the game is always forcing you to think strategically. Besides the already mentioned mana stones you’ll also find gold and experience, which you can use to buy bonus items or level up respectively.
Furthermore, matching more than three stones at a time gives you an extra turn, which you may use for your advantage. You’ll fight hundreds of enemies along the way and unfortunately some of them can be frustratingly hard, but even if you lose a fight you’ll earn a small amount of experience and money. Similarly to games like Diablo every time you level up you gain new points that you can distribute between seven attributes. The inclusion of attributes along with the presence of partners that provide bonuses on battle and extra plots, gear, spells and beasts you can mount keep gameplay fresh even after playing the game for hours. Besides the main storyline there are many side quests for you to do, and even if you choose to ignore then the game is really long.
Graphically Puzzle Quest looks really crisp and clear. The 2D aspect of the game is quite good even when there aren’t many flashy effects. The music is great, as it fits the tone of the game and it’s surprising how well it integrates with the gameplay. Considering that the other versions of the game have some quirks and minor inconsistencies the PC version should be one of your first choices.
Despite the cookie-cutter story, Puzzle Quest is an easy game to recommend for either strategy or RPG fans, but what’s most remarkable about the game is that is both refreshingly unique and addictive. Despite coming out a few years ago it holds up incredibly well and the combination of genres makes it a difficult game to put down. Even when it can be quite challenging, variety makes Challenge of the Warlords suitable for almost anybody.