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Connect WAR: Puzzle Quest 2

Remember 2007's mutant-evolution-of-bejeweled Puzzle Quest? The sequel, Puzzle Quest 2 (no subtitle here, but feel free to invent your own in the comments), hits Steam this Friday. I've got my hands on it early, and I've spent the last couple of hours matching my way to victory over various goblins and ne'er-do-wells. Ooh, it's good. How good? Read my impressions after the jump.

Again, phrases like "Hopelessly moreish" don't come close to describing what's on offer here. The first game's combination of Bejeweled's puzzle-gambling and an RPG's character development was devastating enough already, and the sequel adds all kinds of minigames and a richness to the RPG elements. Playing Puzzle Quest 2 is like having an invisible man stood behind you, a man who starts jabbing you with a club if you turn away from the screen. But how can you fight a man you cannot see? You cannot. No-one can fight that man.

In case you didn't play the first, combat works like this: You go waddling up to a swarm of rats, or a troll, or a skelington or whatever, and as the battle starts you're presented with a grid of various things. Matching gems earns you various colours of mana, matching skulls deals damage to your opponent, and (in the sequel) matching gauntlets gives you points you can spend on using the arms you've equipped in your hands. Match 4 or more of something and you get an extra go, but that's small beer compared to the cascades of matches and points and damage and EXCITEMENT you can orchestrate if you're clever, or lucky.

The sequel actually starts slowly, but once you're given free reign to accept side quests or go wandering off and get your ass kicked then this man with the club materialises. The tension of PQ2's combat emerges when you start facing down tough opponents, as does this obsession with improving your character, and the new isometric viewpoint comes into its own when you start exploring the game's dungeon.

Now I've got to the stage where I don't trust myself to dip in to take a screenshot, because I know I won't emerge for 25 minutes.

I'm not exaggerating there. The above screenshot took at least 20 minutes, because I decided I wanted a shot of the dungeon with my Assassin facing the camera. That meant defeating a particularly tough swarm of rats, which took two very long tries.

The only reason I'm not recommending you all run off to pre-order it right away is because it's so addictive and so lightweight that I find it enormously annoying how easily I can lose an hour to it. But then, that's the same problem I have with tower defense games, so I'm aware I'm in the minority here. I'll just let you make your own mind up.

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