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Review: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: E10 - Everyone (Ages 10 and up)
My Rating: Ages 6 and up
Genre: Match 3 / RPG
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2007
Review Published On: July 21st, 2021
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Steam

Save System:

Your progress is automatically saved whenever you return to the map or exit the game.

To pause the game, you can bring up the pause menu by pressing ESC.

Summary of
Major Issues:

Most of the issues revolve around concepts discussed in the story, which can get dark at points. The majority of the game is otherwise fairly clean, as it's based around Match 3 minigames.

Screenshots

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A typical battle

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Exploring the world

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Having a chat with Drong



Game Overview

Match 3 games are a dime a dozen - and surprisingly enough, that's usually a good thing, as most games in this genre use the same general formula to tell their own stories or accomplish different things. Puzzle Quest is another example of this style of innovation, as it replaces the more traditional RPG mechanics with different Match 3 minigames. Truth be told, this actually makes it feel like more of a single player board game than a CRPG, but that's just another part of its charm.

In this game, you take on the role of a nameless hero (or heroine) from Etheria, who is training to become a knight. Most of the early game involves either training scenarios or minor tasks, as would be expected from a random squire, but soon it becomes clear that something terrible is brewing behind the scenes. Eventually you learn that Lord Bane, a literal god of Death, has returned and is beginning to build up his power to the North. Naturally enough, you end up being saddled with the quest to save the world.

But, you're not going to be facing the god of Death alone. As you complete tasks, you'll gain companions, helpful NPCs who will aid you in battle. Their aid may come in the form of reducing the enemy's hit points before the battle begins, or perhaps they'll convince your opponent to take it easier on you. Of course, politics being what they are, some areas will refuse to let your party pass as long as certain people are with you, so choose your companions wisely. Gameplay wise, nearly every action has a Match 3 minigame attached to it. Battles are waged by matching tokens, with skulls representing direct attacks and colored orbs standing in for different flavors of mana. Once a side has acquired enough mana of a specific color, they can use "spells" instead of matching tokens. Despite the name, spells aren't necessarily magical; a "spell" in this game is simply a ability that can be used in battle. For example, wild animals may have "spells" like Bite, Howl, or Trample. Spells can inflict damage, heal injuries, protect the user, alter the game board, or even grant extra turns, so mastering your character's abilities is a crucial strategy.

To this end, you also have the choice of four different character classes, each of which has different abilities and focuses on different ways to manage the board. Your playstyle will need to adapt to work with your chosen class' strengths, but in general it's easy enough to figure out a method that works most of the time. The equipment you carry and the mount (if any) you ride also plays a role in how your character handles in combat, so if there's a weakness you need to deal with, there are ways to work around it.

Other things you can do as you continue your journey include forging custom made magical items, taming monsters so that you can learn their abilities or ride them as a mount, train your mounts for additional bonuses, and even lay seige to towns and villages. These are optional, but I'd suggest forging equipment with the best runes you can find. Forged items tend to be more powerful than anything found in a store, after all. There is also an Instant Action mode. This mode ignores the story progress and allows you to jump into combat with an enemy selected by the computer. You can tweak the selection to be easier or harder, depending on your preference, but the general idea is that you'll face an enemy who is roughly as strong as you are. Winning battles in this mode gives you experience and gold, just like battles in the main game, making this a great way to earn a little more cash or get a little stronger before progressing further in the story.

All in all, Puzzle Quest might getting a little long in the tooth, but I'd still recommended it to anyone who enjoys RPGs or Match 3 games. It has all the number crunching and story elements that RPG enthusiasts love, and tons of careful tile matching for puzzle fans, bringing together the best of both worlds.

Points of Interest

Actions affect the plot
As you wander around the world, you'll have the option to partake in many sidequests. These can change certain elements of the story, sometimes even adding new sidequests or paths later in the game. An early example is a quest where you are tasked with escorting a princess to the town where her wedding will take place. This is an arranged marriage, one she's especially unhappy with, and you have the option to either rescue her or deliver her. How you resolve this dilemma can have ramifications later in the game, so choose wisely.
Surprisingly long campaign
The story campaign is divided into at least four acts, starting with your character's early training. This first act doubles as the game's tutorial, but it's not really that noticeable as the choices you make in this part help mold your new character into becoming the hero(ine) they were destined to be. In total, it can take more than ten hours to complete the story, maybe even more than twenty hours if you're serious about collecting runes and building up a roster of captured monsters.
Incredibly forgiving gameplay
Many of the minigames can be difficult. For example, if you try making an item with powerful runes or fight an enemy that's well above your level you're going to have a hard time successfully completing the minigame representing that task. But, failing to complete a minigame simply returns you to the situation you were in before; you don't lose the runes, nor are you penalized for losing the battle. You just need to attempt that minigame again.
Requires non-standard Windows features
One of the major problems with running older software is that it doesn't just become dated, it stops being compatible with newer systems. Case in point, Puzzle Quest requires a feature called Direct Play, which isn't a standard part of Windows anymore. It can still be installed easily enough (you're even given a prompt to install it), but users may not want to go through another installation or alter their Windows system to that extent.

Concerns and Issues

Minor violence
One of the perks of resolving conflicts via a minigame is that you don't usually see the battles themselves. So, despite abilities having names like "Eat Skulls" or "Death Dive", the most that happens is the tokens on the board move around. The most "violence" you'll see in a typical battle would be the narrator calling out "Your hero is near death!" as a warning that you're losing.

On rare occasions, you'll see the aftermath of a great battle as part of a cutscene. These illustrations are also very family friendly, keeping any depictions of violence to a minimum.
Fantasy monsters and magic
As this is a story set in a high fantasy world, magic is everywhere. You'll encounter everything from ogres to harpies, minotaurs to various forms of undead; pretty much the standard for fantasy RPGs. Magical items are par for the course, and everyone can use many different "spells" to aid them in combat.

Of particular interest is everything done by Lord Bane, the god of Death. His magic, unsurprisingly enough, tends to fall under the header of necromancy. This is the branch of magic that deals with death, and is generally used to kill or create living dead, like animated skeletons or zombies. Bane also uses it to create a type of monster called an "aboleth". These are best described as giant magical amoeba, created using whatever "spare parts" he couldn't use to make undead warriors.
Cannibalism
One of the companions you can have is Drong, an ogre who loves sampling just about anything vaguely edible. This often means tracking down interesting rocks or monsters for him to eat, as his appetite is legendary. Disturbingly, he has no issue with dining on other ogres.
Suggestive outfits
Many of the women in this game are depicted wearing low-cut or otherwise moderately revealing clothing. There doesn't seem to be enough cleavage on display to worry about in my opinion, but this apparently bothered the ESRB enough that they felt the need to include a warning about it.
Attempted child sacrifice
Towards the end of the game, there's a possible sidequest that might be a bit squicky. Long story made short, Bane's minions have kidnapped some wolf cubs with the intent of sacrificing them to Lord Bane. Obviously, you'll put a stop to that if you accept the quest.
Honorable Death
One of the companions who can join your quest is an old minotaur called Sunspear. Each companion has sidequests of their own, and in his case, his questline deals with a darker aspect of the minotaur culture. Like other warrior cultures in fiction, they believe it's dishonorable to die of old age, so he requests your help in finding a suitable monster for him to battle. That way, he can die in battle against a worthy foe, as his culture believes is right. After death, he returns as a spirit to continue helping you.
War between deities
Long ago, Lord Bane defeated the minotaur god Sartek, and tore the war deity into several parts. Part of your quest involves getting the minotaurs to accept you, and, once they are allies, helping them find and reassemble their god. Sartek is very angry over what Bane did to him, and once the player defeats Lord Bane in battle, he will arrive and dismember the god of Death as payback.

On a related and hilarious note, if you have Drong in your party at this point, the crazy ogre will actually attempt to dine on a portion of Lord Bane's dismembered body. Completely ruins the seriousness of the moment, but it's one way to prevent Lord Bane's followers from piecing the god of Death back together again.