Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Made For Me, but won't see The End: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Sometimes, when you want to talk about a game, it's very hard to do so while removing yourself from the equation. It can be the case that a game just so personally touches you, that your viewpoint is forever biased towards it. It can also so deeply affect you that you can't erase your history with it from your judgement. Sometimes, it's good, and sometimes, it's bad. Even if the game is the other.

Which is rather our case today.

The title may seem kind of silly, but it's very much a "what it says on the tin" situation.

I want to start out by saying that this game is great. It's a very simple concept, but a brilliant one, that leaves me thinking that I wish I had thought of it.It pretty much wraps a casual, epic fantasy RPG around a Bejewelled clone.

You're presented with a world map, which has a bunch of nodes on it. You take quests from cities, then travel to other nodes to complete quests. As you get new quests, new areas on the map open up. This in itself makes the act of accepting quests very fulfilling. You can see that the map is humongous, but you're not sure what exists on it, outside of your starting city. Your known world gets bigger as you travel and take on more quests, gradually increasing the scope of your journey. This lends itself greatly to the epic quest.

I really do like the look of the land, and it does give itself a great feeling of scope. You start out so small, and it just gets bigger from there.

When you encounter monsters, or fights, you enter the main focus of the game: Gem matching. It's very much like Bejewelled, with a few house rules, and health and mana. You have four elemental mana, which each correspond to a colour of gem. There are also: skull gems, which deal damage to your opponent; star gems, which give you experience points (for levelling); and money gems, which give you money. By matching three of any gem, you activate their power. This is how you gain your mana, money, and experience, and also how you deal damage.

What makes it really strategic is two things, though. Your opponent also matches gems on the same board, and the two of you swap turns making matches. You also can use your mana to cast spells, which have all sort of interesting effects on gameplay.

The game has really nice grpahics, which make the combat very fun and engaging. Spells and attacks are very satisfying, with lightning and explosions.

What furthers the strategy is that you have all sorts of equipment. You equip items of different types, choose a mount, and prepare spells from a list. You also have a castle you can upgrade, which eventually lets you capture enemies and monsters, forge items, lay siege, and upgrade your character's stats. When you capture enemies, you can learn spells from them, and monsters can be trained into mounts. Items are forged from runes that you can collect from guardians. And if you want to expand your empire, to gain a little more money, you can attack other cities.

Building up one's castle is satisfying. When I stopped playing, I had all but one upgrade.

You also have allies, and one of the things that really sells this game is the great writing. It has all the feeling of epic fantasy, and the characters are very unique and memorable. The half-elf who keeps getting into trouble, but is dearly loved by a select few who understand him. The dwarf who keeps talking and trailing off into incessant babble. The trickster king who manipulates everyone. The wise queen who is your master. The princess who manipulates as well as her father, but desires freedom over power.

You notice I've talked far more about the game contents than I normally do in a review. I want to make it clear, I love this game. I didn't get bored of it and stop. I didn't dislike anything about it. That's not why I stopped. This game was made for me.

Not all is going well in the kingdom, no...

And it was killing me.

I've been playing it since my semester at school ended, off and on, and it has honestly swallowed whole days. Yeah, I normally watch something while playing it, or talk with friends too, but it's important to really emphasize what it was doing to me.

For about two weeks, I was mostly unproductive. And even when I understood everything about the game, the plot wasn't progressing fast enough to make it worth the time, to me. And the story is all very pulpy. Not that there is anything wrong with pulpy, just it doesn't exactly add much to my pool of knowledge.

I realized, when I started playing past two in the morning, some nights, that it was starting to swallow me. This has happened before. Minecraft briefly got me, lasting about a month. Terraria swallowed me whole for about three weeks. Mount & Blade was crack for me for about two to three months. Hell, one of the first games I did a serious review of, Fallout 3, I spent maybe half a year playing.

It's not that I didn't learn anything from these games. That's not my problem. Though it is related. They all spoke to me on some level. Minecraft gave me the experience of plowing through mines and building my own legendary fortress. Terraria gave me the sense of exploring a huge world and slowly building defenses against it. Mount & Blade gave me the feeling of starting as a lowly noble and growing to a powerful warlord. Fallout 3 gave me a sense of a desolate future where American industry and optimism ended up destroying the world. Puzzle Quest reminded me of my love of the epic quest, and how I love seeing a world slowly unfold around me.

The game also uses cutscenes to add greater bits of narrative to the mix.

But the problem is that I didn't stop once  I learned all I needed to.

People sometimes have trouble understanding how gaming works for me. I really have no desire or urge to finish a game. I don't need to complete it 100%. The only reason I'll tend to is if the setting is really immersive, or the story and plot are really compelling. But good plots and stories aren't really something games do much of, yet, and thus I find most of the time my imagination can finish off any story about as well as any game can.

Usually I stop playing a game when I fully understand it, and I have nothing new to gain from it. It's just logical progression for me. For me, a game's climax isn't usually a narrative one, cause often the narrative doesn't capture me. It's usually a gameplay climax, where I go "ah, I underrstand it all!" and then I spend a few hours travelling around and such after. And then I'm done, I'm satisfied, and I move on.

But some games are too addicting for me. Even one I've hit that point, I keep playing. I play and play and play, till I get to that point where I start saying to myself "you know, I don't even really want to play any more, I just am".

Last night, I realized I needed to stop. I have projects I wanted to work on. Things I wanted to do. And they're vanishing under a sea of matching coloured gems.

I'm done. This game was made for me. And I have to stop before I see The End.


Normally I'd just leave it at that, but I have to say, this game is INCREDIBLY addicting. I only advise it if you have a ton of time to waste, or need something to while away bits of time with. The game is very easy to pick up and play, and autosaves after every battle, so you can leave and come back to it whenever. But if you have an addictive personality and need to do something better with your time, I don't recommend it. All in all...

Be Careful

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