Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

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Like peanut butter and jelly, the Bejeweled-style puzzles and role-playing elements in Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords are a perfect match. The game smooshes these two flavors together, mingling their tastes into something unique and delicious. In a metaphor like this, the Nintendo DS is two slices of hard plastic bread, but don't focus on that.

Not everything is rosy, however. There's a dark secret hidden in the tiny plastic card living in my DS. It's time to bring the truth to light -- Puzzle Quest will stop at nothing to beat you.

Difficult games are one thing. It's okay for a game to be hard. Even though many people play games to relax or just "have fun," there's a large contingent that play games for the challenge of the experience. Games are a mental exercise first and foremost, and there's nothing wrong with a puzzle that can't immediately be solved.

Puzzle Quest isn't difficult in the meaning above, however. What Puzzle Quest does is intentionally manipulate the player into screwing themselves.

Here's how it works: During combat, players try to match three board pieces to collect their bonus. These pieces can be mana gems, experience, gold, or skulls that attack the opponent. Matching four or five gems gives you an additional turn, allowing the player to string a combination of board moves for maximum bonus. So if you can match more than three gems repeatedly, you can piece together an impressive turn. Once three gems have been matched, your turn is over. Simple enough.

But what if a match isn't immediately apparent? Some of us haven't spent years playing Bejeweled while procrastinating at work, so our minds aren't trained to find those elusive patterns. In this situation, the game will suggest a piece to move, indicating the match you should make. An arrow will appear beside the piece, as if the game is looking over your shoulder and telling you what options you have left.

DO NOT LISTEN TO THE GAME.

Making this match will almost always give the computer the chance to bend you over, stringing together massive combos that end with the computer opponent maxing their mana reserves while scoring 50+ points of damage on your (or in this case, my) fragile wizard body. And while you're staring at the screen watching the pieces magically fall into place for the AI, it's easy to imagine that your DS is smirking.

AI in this case stands for "Asshole Intelligence."

We've all accused a game of cheating. Racing games like Burnout are notorious for catching up computer-controlled racers near the end of a track, and RTS games like Starcraft have been known to let the AI build resources up faster than the player. FPS games will often let enemies hit the player from impossible positions on the higher difficulty levels. Situations like this are defended by the design philosophy stating that rules can be bent to provide a challenge for the player, and for the most part these are acceptable. After all, the game only has your best interests in its cold, digital heart.

Puzzle Quest doesn't care about your interests. It's not here to challenge you, to make you think. Puzzle Quest wants to stamp out the human race, four mana gems at a time. It whispers lovingly into your ear, inviting you to move that gold piece, promising power, glory, and, um, gold. It winks and smiles, as if to say, "Trust me. I wouldn't lead you astray. Put your faith in me and the world can be yours."

When you finally make your match, earning your measly four xp, its smile takes a menacing twist. Time seems to stop, and then the realization hits you: You're boned.

Don't let this knowledge stop you from playing what is otherwise an enjoyable experience. Puzzle Quest brings a level of depth and complexity to my DS that I haven't had since Age of Empires, and it's very easy to pick up and learn. Just don't be lured into thinking that everything is five by five between you and your DS. The machines are rising against us. It starts with the mana gems, and ends in human enslavement. Be vigilant.

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Comments

Great article! I know both the joy and the hatred for Puzzle Quest and its bastard AI.

I don't own a DS and thus will not buy this game, the perspective was still enjoyable.

Demiurge wrote:

Just don't be lured into thinking that everything is five by five between you and your DS. The machines are rising against us. It starts with the mana gems, and ends in human enslavement. Be vigilant.

xkcd wrote:

This is silly, of course. The enemy will be born in the network.

I still haven't managed to find this game anywhere. I may have to break down and order it.

The little white arrow is a succubus. That said, when there's one 4/5-gem match on the board, the temptress identifies it pretty reliably, and that's usually the best move. The threes she recommends, though, are total bait.

Not only that, but sometimes I've seen the AI give you a move that does nothing for you while there is another move of three that will result in a 4 of a kind after the gems reset from the initial pick. And don't even talk about how the AI always seems to know what the first 3 rows above the top row you can see are.

Haven't found the game anywhere and I have it ordered, but it has still not arrived. Hopefully soon I will have it in my hands... ohh sweet sweet puzzle goodness.

Out of curiousity, the associated screen shots are presumably from the DS version? They don't match quite what I've been spending hours and hours staring at by now. I don't think they're from the PSP version, either, from what I recall of those.

Either there's been an update to the game since I picked it up back close to when it first came out, or it's a concept art that didn't match the end version.

What I think I find more annoying than the "how about here" arrow, is the regenerating foes that spring up on the paths, particularly ones that cannot seem to be skipped, even when riding on a trained-to-12th-level flying beastie. They just end up making it needlessly take close to an hour to travel from one location to a far-away one instead of a few minutes -- If I want to spend the time to grind away to gain a level, okay, but otherwise let me move on with the quests I've queued up!

But, seriously, it's a fun game, and I'll likely be sad when I've finished the story line. Thanks for the perspective, Demi.

P.S. Has anyone had a location that you've successfully sieged revert? If it's happened to me, I've not noticed it, but the game states that it's possible, and I've successfully taken over all that I've reached, as far as I recall.

Great game. I'm playing this on the DS and it easily steals hours of my time.

I would like to be able to turn off and on the 'autohelp' function, or even better, toggle it between all the possible matches on the board. I hope you're joking about the evil AI however - I've seen about an equal number of good results to bad results from following their hints. But usually you're better off thinking carefully about the mana you need, buffs you can cast, etc. etc. rather than mechanically clicking on their suggestion (unless it's a skull match or a 4-5 gem match, which you pretty much _have_ to take when you see it).

My favorite part of the game right now is using Blazing Skulls (or whatever) the mage ability that turns greens to skulls and blues to reds - if you plan it right you can get an extra turn to start a long chain of extra turns from this.

I've been playing the PSP version, and I don't think it has the autohelp feature. I think I recall what you guys are talking about from the PC demo I briefly played, but I've never seen it on the PSP. Sounds like it's just as well.

Croaker - I've had cities revolt on me, and had to re-siege them. Citadels appear to always be level 15, which makes the fights easy, even though they have extra hit points.

As for the White Arrow of Temptation, it is a tricky and fickle arrow, which has made Stun my Knight's #1 spell by far. I grab red and green mana like it's going out of fashion and I curse enemies with high resistance to those colors.

I've really enjoyed the game and it has not left my DS since I bought it.

For the annoying regenerating enemies on the map, train your mount higher. I think mine is level 16 or 17 and I can bypass nearly everything except for giants and ogre mages.

Scaphism wrote:

For the annoying regenerating enemies on the map, train your mount higher. I think mine is level 16 or 17 and I can bypass nearly everything except for giants and ogre mages.

Yikes! Do you get more than a couple of seconds to make your move by level 16? I was really feeling the time pressure by level 12, but I'll give it a try this evening.

How does the game announce the revolt? Do you have to get around to visiting the location again before you see anything, or do you get the news "on the wind" wherever you happen to be at the time? There are locations I've sieged that I just don't visit much at all -- see my complaints about the regenerating, so-far-unskippable pathway-blockers.

I've found that there are two kinds of cities, as far as my magic user is concerned: Those that have a bunch of hits (>300) but can be ground down in time, and those that start out with normal sort of hits, but have an insidious item that causes their skills to go up 5 every time you cast a spell.

It was one of the latter types that I failed to capture after multiple attempts. I just couldn't figure out what was going on. I'd have them well on the way to defeat using my typical approach where I cast spells pretty often, and seemingly suddenly it would blast me down harder and harder. Now having learned my lesson, I've figured I just have to sit back and and only use skull-matching attacks until near the end. These battles end up taking longer than the 300+ grinds.

There is a PC Demo, but be warned this game is highly addictive.
http://www.infinite-interactive.com/...

I bought the DS Version after playing the Demo for some time.

Yeah I noticed the self-serving hint arrow after being slapped a couple of times. "Here, let me help you." "Thanks!" *SLAP!* "Ow!" *crunch*crash*zing*ZING*BOOM*crunch*crunch*crash* "Your hero is near death."

Gad dammet!

I just beat my first Citadel today. I finally saved up and got the Flameblade, which deals increased damage based on the number of reds on the board. Generally, I now hit for 10+ on a regular 3-skull match.

Then, I coupled this with the Woodland cloak, which gives me green mana when I deal damage. Combining that with high Fire Mastery, I tend to have a good stock of red and green, which fuels pretty much all the Warrior's direct damage spells.

Using this, I was finally able to beat them down.

Croaker - When a city revolts, a message pops up. You don't have to visit the city to hear about it.

For mount training and citadel-attrtition battles, I recommend Mirror armors and Troll Rings. Gather blue mana so that you heal at the start of each turn. You are going in fighting a battle of attrition, so skew it in your favor. Mount training does get pretty hectic, I believe is is 3 second turns at this point. I have missed a few turns in a row, but having a troll ring really helps - even if you "waste" your turn, you gained health and are hopefully close to treading water.

The good thing is that skull matches tend to be pretty obvious so I am usually able to grab those. Otherwise I just take whatever I can see.
For slower paced citadel battles, the Gnollkryss Sword is good.
I think the Citadel you are thinking of is the Elf City, Silvermyr(sp?). Its Battle Skill goes up each time you use a spell. For a mage I'd say cast only very long-lasting buffs like Haste and be content to match skulls. I imagine that fight is especially hard for a mage - it was difficult for my knight but not insurmountable.

(I've used the same Accessory, the Ultimate Troll Ring, for nearly the entire game. I think it's brokenly good, particularly given the knight's playing style. I would almost recommend not using it to preserve some challenge, but if you have to break it out for one or two fights, no problem.)

I don't think the white arrow is intentionally misleading. It seems to work in this order:

  • If there is any skull-match move with a red skull (the +5 damage ones), it shows you that first.
  • If there are any 4- or 5-piece moves, it shows you those next. Note that it does NOT show them to you if there's a red skull that's matchable. 4-skull moves take priority over all other 4-piece matches.
  • If there are any three-skull matches, it then shows those;
  • Finally, if all of the above aren't true, it picks the 3-piece match that your ENEMY needs the most. Usually. Not always. This is great in fights where starving the enemy of mana is a useful tactic. In other fights, well, not so much. Sometimes it shows you mana you need. Sometimes it shows you total crap.
  • In NO case does the computer move look ahead, so you have to think about what will happen if you take its advice.

This means that if you get a suggested match of a red skull, STOP. Pay very, very close attention. Otherwise, if you get a suggestion for a 3-er, that means there are no immediate 4-way moves on the board. You might still be able to get one from falling pieces, but there are no obvious freebie moves available.

One thing I think I might have noticed: if you are winning crushingly, the suggestions seem stupider. If you're losing badly, the suggestions seem smarter. They never seem to violate the rules I list above, but within those rules, it may be exercising some discretion.

Malor wrote:

I don't think the white arrow is intentionally misleading. It seems to work in this order:

  • If there is any skull-match move with a red skull (the +5 damage ones), it shows you that first.
  • If there are any 4- or 5-piece moves, it shows you those next. Note that it does NOT show them to you if there's a red skull that's matchable. 4-skull moves take priority over all other 4-piece matches.
  • If there are any three-skull matches, it then shows those;
  • Finally, if all of the above aren't true, it picks the 3-piece match that your ENEMY needs the most. Usually. Not always. This is great in fights where starving the enemy of mana is a useful tactic. In other fights, well, not so much. Sometimes it shows you mana you need. Sometimes it shows you total crap.
  • In NO case does the computer move look ahead, so you have to think about what will happen if you take its advice.

This means that if you get a suggested match of a red skull, STOP. Pay very, very close attention. Otherwise, if you get a suggestion for a 3-er, that means there are no immediate 4-way moves on the board. You might still be able to get one from falling pieces, but there are no obvious freebie moves available.

One thing I think I might have noticed: if you are winning crushingly, the suggestions seem stupider. If you're losing badly, the suggestions seem smarter. They never seem to violate the rules I list above, but within those rules, it may be exercising some discretion.

Do you see what's going on here? This poster is applying logic to the situations I painstakingly described for my fellow Goodjers. He is obviously one of the machines. Do not fall for his clever ruse.

Well, i played some other bejeweled type games and not single of them was screwing me this bad. I havent played PQ for couple of weeks because it became a drag for me. I pulled out old bejeweled game for pc instead. I'm pretty angry at makers of PQ because of their so called AI, that fu**ed up a VERY good game. I was so looking forward of getting it... And now i hate it. Mrs Threedee also hates it, even tho she is self confessed bejewelled nut.

I'm putting my cart on ebay today, because this article just confirmed my fears of game cheating. Hell, i can tolerate cheating in FPS or any other game type (to some extend), but not puzzle games. You are already straining your brain finding right combos and all you get in return is either loads of skulls falling in favor of AI, or mana.... Cheating puzzle, from either side, loses its purpose, meaning, and becomes waste of time...

Dont get me wrong, i dont complain about any other properly HARD puzzle, but this is unacceptable...

I have a couple issues with the cheating, but only when it comes to the computer knowing what's above the screen, or occasionally I get the feeling that it knows when it's going to get an "extra turn", because it'll pick a 3-mana move first, and THEN go for a 4-mana move. Like it knew it would have the chance. Doesn't happen often though, and I figure the computer needs an edge, since I rock so hard.

I have only myself to blame when I go for the white triangle (usually out of laziness).

I tried to give this game a shot last night (bought my wife a copy a couple weeks ago, and she's glued to it), but apparently you can only have 2 saved games or suchlike, and I wasn't sure it was cool to delete one.

The more I think about it, adding a story to a puzzle game really gives you a reason to play it longer. Excellent game design.

I am absolutely positive that the AI KNOWS when it is going to get an extra turn from matching 3 gems/coins/xp/skulls. I am also relatively certian that the AI knows what is going to fall from the top. In general I do not have a problem with it until you get to a match where the AI can juice itself up to hit for 30 a pop for matching 3 skulls. Don't even get me started on bigger hits than that. One time I got wtfpwnt in the face for 65.

Great article and today is the first day since I bought Puzzle Quest that I removed it from my DS after getting the pulp beat out of me for the 10th time in a row.

Malor wrote:

I don't think the white arrow is intentionally misleading. It seems to work in this order:

  • If there is any skull-match move with a red skull (the +5 damage ones), it shows you that first.
  • If there are any 4- or 5-piece moves, it shows you those next. Note that it does NOT show them to you if there's a red skull that's matchable. 4-skull moves take priority over all other 4-piece matches.
  • If there are any three-skull matches, it then shows those;
  • Finally, if all of the above aren't true, it picks the 3-piece match that your ENEMY needs the most. Usually. Not always. This is great in fights where starving the enemy of mana is a useful tactic. In other fights, well, not so much. Sometimes it shows you mana you need. Sometimes it shows you total crap.
  • In NO case does the computer move look ahead, so you have to think about what will happen if you take its advice.

This means that if you get a suggested match of a red skull, STOP. Pay very, very close attention. Otherwise, if you get a suggestion for a 3-er, that means there are no immediate 4-way moves on the board. You might still be able to get one from falling pieces, but there are no obvious freebie moves available.

I'm fine with this until the final step, but you can't apply a rule and then say it "usually" applies. With the three piece matches, what I think the computer is suggesting is a match which will lead to a 4 of a kind or something on the next turn, without regard to whether it's your turn or the enemy's turn. That would make sense in a way because there's no way of telling if you'll get an extra turn, say, because you had a high percentage chance of an extra turn when matching reds or something like that.

As for accessories, I gave my ultimate troll ring away to a homeless guy who looked like he needed it. Rune weapons are far better than anything for sale in the game. The accessory I have at the moment gives +6 of all types of mana every time I get a 4 of a kind, with a 20% chance of poison. That means that with a warrior, once I get to 15 red mana (starting with 12), I hit berserk rage which usually leads to a 4 of a kind, then just start spamming deathbringer until it's game over. It's very cool to hit things for 180 points. A whole bunch of monsters in the end game didn't even get a turn in.

Man, I tried this game last night. Even against the practice dummy, I could hardly ever find a move without the computer's help. This may not be the game for me.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

Man, I tried this game last night. Even against the practice dummy, I could hardly ever find a move without the computer's help. This may not be the game for me.

It gets better. And don't play when you're tired.

Yeah, I was totally tired. Okay, maybe I'll try it again. My wife is telling me the same thing.

Just beat it last night. I'm not sure if I got the "bad" ending or not, I was kind of going for it. They certainly made the run up to it interesting.

I'll just confirm that there is no help arrow in the psp version. Which is great...except for when you've been staring at the screen looking for a match for 5 minutes and can't find one.
I wish the game was a little better at giving feedback on whats going on when the enemy is taking a turn.
A lot times I'll just take what seems like random damage and it feels like the computer is cheating (for instance the computer player has no direct damage skills and appears to move a skull next to another skull (but not a third one) and then they disappear and I take damage). I'm pretty sure its not, but I would like to know exactly whats going on.
(There should be an accessible event log or something)

Still haven't given this a second chance, but this morning I did blow about 30 minutes on the PC demo for Bookworm Adventures, which I dearly wish was available on DS. Fun game!

Jolly Bill wrote:

Just beat it last night. I'm not sure if I got the "bad" ending or not, I was kind of going for it. They certainly made the run up to it interesting.

Dang. I'm stuck at the final boss battle. We're both "level 50" but that doesn't make us even. He wipes me out in a dozen turns and I can hardly touch him in that time. His 20+% magic resistance across the board (and growing) makes it pretty difficult for a mage to beat the dude, or at least for my character and my playing style, which usually has been a long battle of attrition.

The game caps you at level 50, too, so there's no going off and grinding through a bunch of random fights to get a little tougher...

Which sucks...