No idea yet whether this is going to be a regular column, but seeing how addicted I am already to Puzzle Quest before even getting hold of the full game, I thought I might as well start a journal. First things first, Infinite Interactive posted a Puzzle Quest April Fools' joke on how to access the cheat menu.
The "Toggle AI Cheating" is an insider joke, some people complain that the AI cheats, but I'd say the AI is simply better at playing the game than most players are. The "Show Nude Heroes" and "Play Secret Cow Level" are giving the joke away. Much better hidden is that the access code apparently is morse code for "I AM A NOOB". I wonder on how many cheat code sites this fake information will be copied. :)
I ordered the PSP version from Amazon.co.uk, but they are unusually slow this time, and give me a projected delivery date of mid-April. So I followed the advice of one of my readers and ordered from HMV instead, who just mailed me that they already shipped it. So I hope to get it before the Easter weekend. Until then I'm stuck with the PC demo version, limited to level 7.
But after some experimenting it turned out that there are more monsters to fight in that PC demo than I thought. The trick is to save all your money, until you can buy a forge for 600 gold. That opens up another mini-game to forge items from runes, and as you get these forged items for free, the initial 600 gold investment is well spent in comparison with buying items from shops. But more importantly, at least in the demo, once you have the forge you can battle a new mob at every tower on the map, by selecting "search for runes". If you win those fights, you get new runes, and can combine them with the existing runes to forge more different items. And the runemasters you fight are level 15 to 30, which with you being level 7 max is a serious challenge.
These hard fights allowed me to evaluate better the four character classes in the game: druid, knight, warrior, and wizard. The difference between the classes are in what spells they get, and in how many points it costs to raise which stats. As you only get 4 points per level, you can't really afford to put many points into a stat that costs 3 points to raise, you're better advised to divide your points between those that cost 1 or 2 points. This predetermines in which stats the different character classes will end up being good at. So here is my review of the Puzzle Quest character classes:
At first I liked the druid, because the first spell he gets is a healing spell, Gemberry. He also gets Calm to remove status effects. By healing yourself you can prevent yourself from losing, which means you eventually win. Unfortunately the druid isn't very good at damaging his opponents. His battle stat, increasing the damage from skulls, costs 3 points. And he doesn't get all that many or all that good damage dealing spells, only Forest Fire in the demo. Against the harder runemaster opponents the fights always took very long, and when the opponent had a way to heal himself they got downright unwinnable.
The knight is a bit better. For him the battle skill costs only 1 point, so by putting lots of points there he has a good damage potential. His spells are a mix of many different types. Board manipulation, like getting all the experience point purple stars with the "Divine Right" spell, or destroying a gem that's in the way with "Thrust". A limited way to gain life with the favor spell (Every time you gain experience, 50% chance of gaining +1 life. Obvious combo with Divine Right.). And the knight gets the awesome Stun spell, which both damages the enemy and lets him lose a turn. But as the knight gains mana slower than a druid or wizard, he'll still be doing most of his damage with lining up skulls. The knight is a kind of hybrid class, although more leaning towards melee.
The warrior is probably easiest to play, I think I'll chose that class for my first "real" game when I get hold of my copy. The warrior is another class where the battle skill only costs 1 point, so if you are good at lining up skulls on the board, you'll deal tons of damage. And again mana gaining is slower than the caster classes. But his spells come in only two flavors: dealing damage and manipulating the board. Against some harder enemies I was able to win by simply constantly denying them the blue and yellow mana they needed for their abilities, which is easy with a Wild Lore spell (Destroy all blue and yellow gems.) Such mass destruction spells of certain gem types also increase the concentration of the other colors, which if correctly pulled of can give awesome chain reactions.
The final class, the wizard, is a lot harder to play, but very powerful. While the battle skill costs 3 points for him, the wizard can gather mana quickly by putting points in fire and air mastery. The wizard has by far the best damaging spell, I ended a couple of fights by just using the mana I had to cast several Fire Bolt spells in a row. Haste is also very nice, dealing 4 damage every time you get an extra turn. That should be awesome at higher levels, because besides getting extra turns when you manage to get 4 tiles in a row, you also increase your chance to get random extra turns when increasing your mastery of the four elements. The wizards weak point is his morale skill, which is low to start with and costing 3 points will forever remain low. As morale determines your life points, and also much of the damage reducing armor in the game needs a certain minimum morale, the wizard is very vulnerable.
Apart from the class spells you can gain other spells, if you build a dungeon, capture a monster by beating it three times, and then play a mini-game to steal one of his spells. These stolen spells cost you more mana to cast, but might give you a better rounded selection of spells. Apparently you can only carry 6 different spells into battle, so you'll have to chose which mix is good.
Choosing a different class very much changes how you play this game, which is great for replayability. I found it very interesting how your spells and abilities, and those of your opponent, change each battle into a different experience. A warrior killing a skeleton is a totally different game than a wizard killing a bat. By having role-playing elements in the game, you can modify the difficulty level by leveling up or equipping yourself with better gear. (Apparently monsters go up in level too, but only in a fixed level range. Lets say one specific monster can be level 18 to 24, then if you're lower than 18 it will be level 18, if you're between 18 and 24 it will have your level, and if you're above 24 it will be 24.) So you can eventually outlevel a monster you found too hard to beat earlier. Losing a battle in Puzzle Quest is no big deal, you still get some gold and experience, and just try again. The only way is forward, until you hit the level cap of 50 and complete all the quests. Given the many different features and possibilities that Puzzle Quest offers, this promises to be an entertaining journey.