The original Puzzle Quest came out of nowhere with a bizarre mix of RPG elements and Bejeweled-style gem matching to challenge preconceived notions and turn the gaming populace into a bunch of hopeless addicts. Its sequel, Puzzle Quest 2 doesn't mess with the gem-matching mojo too much, but refines the overall experience by adding new RPG elements, swapping out new minigames for old, and getting rid of features that were annoying, or pointless, or both. Get your doctor on speed dial: It's time to get addicted all over again.
Puzzle Quest 2 starts as so many RPGs do, with you choosing from a set of pre-designed character classes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. There are no stats to manage or skill points to assign, just a hero to choose and a path to follow that takes you to your very first quest which, naturally, involves a bit of rat killing. Unlike its predecessor, which had you plotting points on a 2d map and cycling through chat bubbles in flat cut scenes, Puzzle Quest 2 lets your character actually walk around towns and dungeons. It's a bit of an illusion - you can't roam freely, only follow set paths - but it's far more inviting and visually interesting than a map and a menu.
Your mission in Puzzle Quest 2 is a grandiose battle of Good vs. Evil that I stopped paying attention to about thirty seconds into the opening cutscene. The individual quests you take, both those that further the story and the extraneous side quests, are far more interesting and immediate than some random Big Bad threatening All That's Good In The World, anyway. Whether it's convincing a goblin to stop attacking a town or tracking down the creature of a young girl's nightmares, your approach will be the same - pick a fight, take down the bad guy.
The core of Puzzle Quest 2's combat remains largely unchanged from the original - match three or more gems of the same color to receive mana to power your spells, or match skulls to do direct damage - but adds some much-appreciated improvements. Gone are the experience and coin gems that you never matched unless you didn't have any other moves to make, replaced with purple and action gems. Purple is just another color of mana at your disposal, but action gems, represented by small gloves, are what you tap when you want to use an item like a weapon, potion, or shield. Weapons add a welcome layer of strategy to the fighting, especially now that both you and your opponent will frequently block attacks automatically, taking only partial damage. The more powerful a weapon is, the more points it costs to use, leaving you free to go for lots of small attacks or a few big ones. Combined with your spellbook and the skulls, you've got plenty of offensive options.
Combat typically ends with you collecting gold, experience, and a bunch of random detritus like wood and iron that at first appears to be completely useless, but which can be stockpiled to upgrade your gear. The upgrades aren't cheap but can turn a run-of-the-mill sword or shield into something truly masterful. If you'd rather not wait until you find that fourth emerald you need to improve your sword, you can always just flat-out buy new stuff, too.