It may look more like Diablo this time around, but Puzzle Quest 2 plays just like the first game. Which is a good thing, by the way.
Let's get one thing straight: I absolutely loved the first Puzzle Quest. It was a combination of the notoriously addictive Bejeweled with the almost-as-addictive thrill of leveling up via an RPG. What's not to love about it? So after being horribly, horribly burned with Gyromancer, the idea that we might be getting a new Puzzle Quest game that didn't suck was tremendously appealing, to say the least.
The first thing I noticed - and the first thing anyone who played the original game will notice - is that Puzzle Quest 2 is on a much more intimate scale this time around. Rather than moving around an overworld map from town to town, PQ2 feels much more like a dungeon-crawler a la Diablo or Torchlight. There isn't any free movement; you're still selecting specific locations and moving to them, but it's now "walk to the merchant" instead of "ride down to this city."
Thankfully, with the removal of cities comes the removal of city sieges - which is a good thing.
As with the first game, you select a character class based off of a classic fantasy archetype like Barbarian or Paladin, and I was pleased to note that the male Barbarian I started out as clung fiercely to the Barbarian cliche of running around in one's underwear in sub-freezing temperatures. The snow-covered village that serves as the game's tutorial was under assault by a band of goblins, you see, and I wasn't going to get a silly little thing like frostbite get in the way of kicking their ass.
PQ2's "combat" plays much the same as in the first game - i.e., it's Bejeweled. Matching three gems of a color gets you mana with which to cast spells and use abilities, matching skulls does direct damage; you've seen this all before if you played Puzzle Quest. Some of the more extraneous features have been given the boot, though: Rather than having to earn experience and gold via matching their respective tokens, it's automatically awarded after every fight which is much less of a hassle.
A new addition is the ability to activate equipment: There's a new type of gem that awards "action points," and those action points can be spent on attacking with an equipped weapon or defending with a shield. In essence, it's basically just another spell or ability in your roster, but it'll be interesting to see how it plays out later in the game when you have more powerful (and theoretically more varied) items at your disposal.
There are also new challenge maps to mix things up. At one point, the goblin invaders set a building on fire and we were asked to put it out. Matching blue gems (water) gradually put the fire out, but matching red gems (fire, natch) did damage to us and just made the fire stronger - or you could spend action points on using a bucket of water, which did more "damage" than the Bastard Sword I'd been using. Clearly, in the world of PQ2 water buckets are simply more effective weapons than two-handed swords.
The game looks very nice on both XBLA and DS, and despite the smaller, more intimate scale it's clear that this is essentially just more Puzzle Quest with some new additions and some of the more clunky and unnecessary elements given the boot.
But really, what's wrong with that?