There's no doubt that 2007 is going to be one of the biggest years in video game history. When you think about games like Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Metal Gear Solid 4 it's almost too much to get your mind around. But not every game coming out this year is based on some brand new engine or part of a multi-million selling franchise, there are a few smaller titles that deserve your full attention. One of those games is Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, the upcoming game from D3 and Infinite Interactive.
To simply call Puzzle Quest a puzzle game would be missing the point entirely; this is more than just another Tetris or Lumines. Instead Puzzle Quest takes all of the fun of a game like Bejeweled and combines it with an exciting role-playing game. You heard that right; this is really just a role-playing game masquerading as a puzzle game. Throw in some city building, a lot of character customization and a compelling story and you have one of the most original games of the year.
At first Puzzle Quest looks and feels like your typical role-playing game, you control a small character as he makes his way around a large map going from town to town looking for adventures. But things won't stay like this for long, the moment you jump into a battle you will find yourself playing a turn-based puzzle game unlike anything you've seen before.
The one-on-one battles are similar to the classic game Bejeweled in that you have an 8 x 8 board full of icons of different shapes and colors. It is your job to match these various icons up into groups of three, once you've done that those three icons disappear and three more will come tumbling from the top of the screen. Where Puzzle Quest differs from all of those other Bejeweled clones is that you are not doing this task by yourself, instead you are taking turns moving an icon and then letting your opponent move an icon.
But these aren't just normal icons, each shape and color represents something you will need in order to win your fight. For example, the four colors represent different kinds of mana (red is fire, blue is water, green is earth and yellow is air). Matching up the mana icons will allow you to perform special magic attacks, manipulate the board and heal yourself. You will also find icons that represent money and experience, which means that matching those icons will give you cash to buy weapons and armor while the experience will allow you to level up your character. Perhaps the most useful icon is the one shaped like a skull; match three of those icons up and you will automatically attack your opponent with whatever weapon you are holding.
On paper all this sounds kind of complex, but I found Puzzle Quest to be extremely intuitive and easy to learn. It didn't take me much more than two or three minutes to catch on to what I was supposed to be doing, and the battles are exciting (and original) enough to hold my attention no matter how many times I have to play them.
The game also has a surprising amount of depth, knowing what kind of magic to use and when to use it is key, and it's always important to keep your character current with the biggest and best equipment you can buy. Best of all you can upgrade your skills and magic by playing mini-games (which are also slight variations on the Bejeweled style of puzzle game). This game even allows you to capture enemies, build up your various strongholds, and learn all kinds of new techniques. Couple this with the fact that you can play as four different types of characters (including a knight, warrior, druid and wizard) and you have one deep handheld role-playing game.
While I have only played the early parts of the game, Puzzle Quest promises hundreds of hours of game play, a huge story, diverse locations, and over 150 unique missions. And we ahven't even started talking about the multiplayer modes. When the game ships in March you will be able to go online and battle it out to see who the real warrior (or druid, knight and wizard) is. You will also be able to track your progress via the high score boards. And if that wasn't enough, there will be downloadable content that will allow you to add new professions, spells, monsters, items, runes companions, missions and so on.
If you haven't noticed there is entirely too much content in this game to mention it all in depth in a short hands-on preview. I still have a lot of dungeons to crawl and monsters to kill, but you can expect a lot more on Puzzle Quest around the time it ships in March. Now is the time for you to sharpen your swords and puzzle skills, because I have a hunch this is going to be one role-playing puzzle game you won't want to miss.