Read on for Gamers-Underground.com's thoughts on the closed beta, and an early preview of this bite sized new dungeon crawler.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Heroes of Neverwinter (HoN) is a Facebook game, and as such it is built from the ground up to squeeze money from you in the form of micro-transactions. In fairness to Atari, HoN is not as harsh on the bank balance as most big name 'viral games', but the need for credits is still quite obvious from the get-go.
Like most games of this nature, HoN provides two currencies: Diamonds that can be topped up with real money, and gold which you earn in the game itself. Some items can only be purchased with diamonds (such as resurrection potions), while other items can be bought with gold or diamonds.
"Combat is quite faithful to D&D, and includes line-of-sight mechanics and a wide range of abilities."
HoN also restricts the player's ability to advance their character too fast by giving each character a pool of energy. Each adventure requires an amount of energy, and energy can only be replenished by waiting, and waiting... unless of course you are willing to spend diamonds, in which case it can be replenished at will.
While the energy system was a frustration, it is not so frustrating as to make the game unplayable. As it stands it takes around 30 to 40 minutes to earn enough energy to complete an adventure, which fits quite well with the idea of bite sized adventures.
The biggest disappointment is actually Facebook's credit system. Many of the payment methods—such as 'Pay by Mobile'—are severely broken to the point that you can be left out-of-pocket with nothing to show. But it would not be fair to hold this againast Atari and the HoN developers.
Fairly polished for a game still in closed beta, Heroes of Neverwinter is tainted with only minor annoyances, such as over zealous sound looping and instances of glitchy animation between combat. The game also delivers many features that are much appreciated in any browser-based game, such as full screen mode, and the ability to zoom in-and-out during combat.
In terms of gameplay, HoN is a typical dungeon crawler: light on story, heavy on combat, and with a little bit of exploration thrown in. Built around a central quest hub (the city of Neverwinter), players are able to easily restock between adventures, and can choose from a range of level appropriate adventures.
Combat is quite faithful to D&D, and includes line-of-sight mechanics and a wide range of abilities. Like many adventure RPGs, the player controls a party of adventures either directly, or with the aid of AI. Combat is of course turn-based, and many abilities are limited to once-per encounter, giving fights a tactical edge.
While there is an exploration aspect to the game, it is quite limited. Dungeons will have optional rooms, and on rare occasions these rooms will sometimes require some exploration to find. For the most part though, the game follows a simple pattern: enter room, kill everything, collect loot, choose a direction, and repeat.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the game is the party system. Unlike most RPGs, you must rebuild your party before every adventure. It is clear that this was done to encourage the social aspects, but unless you have many friends playing (impossible during beta), it can get very expensive as recruiting party members costs gold. Add potions, and generally you make just enough each adventure to cover your expenses for the next.
The story aspects of HoN are poor at best. There is a story, including quest chains, but the writing is bland and adds little to the game. For the most part the story seems to exist soley to justify the locking of dungeons, with many dungeons accessible only if you have gathered items from other dungeons.
Achievements, quest rewards, and loot, loot, loot; HoN has all the features you would expect of a modern adventure RPG, but brings a social media twist to them all.
As strange as it sounds, Heroes of Neverwinter does not offer traditional multiplayer. Instead the focus is on 'viral mechanics', encouraging social interaction, but without going so far as to allow players to run dungeons with friends... at least not in the expected manner.
When putting a party together, players have the choice of recruiting the characters of their friends. Not the friends themselves, but their characters. Friends can optionally join in as spectators, chatting and using certain limited abilities (buffs), but ultimately the player who formed the party is in control.
If a friend chooses to join in as a spectator, their characters will receive a token amount of experience from the adventure. If they choose to sit the adventure out—or simply aren't online at the time—their characters will only receive loot.
Thankfully recruiting your friends' characters is free, which is a nice change from the much more expensive option of recruiting mercenaries (stock characters).
Players can also visit the houses of their friends, viewing their achivements and rewards, and leaving gifts for their friends if they are feeling generous. While players do not have the ability to customise their houses, there are numerous visual additions available that reflect a players progress. Players can, of course, share their experiences via wall posts, and other Facebook updates.
HoN also offers leader boards, where players can compete to get the best score in each of the dungeons. Scores are determined based on how much of the dungeon the player 'explores', how well the player does in combat, an what level of difficulty the dungeon is completed on. There are three levels of difficulty: normal, hard, and heroic.
Probably the most interesting feature of Heroes of Neverwinter is the feature one expects from any Neverwinter title: the ability to create your own adventures. Once a player reaches level 10, they gain access to the 'Dungeon Workshop', where they can craft their own adventures from the layout of the dungeon, to the story text and inhabitants.
While most of the features are available as soon as you reach level 10, there are numerous unlockable dungeon items that require the player to gain certain achievements in the main game. It is also anticipated that there will be items that can be bought via micro-transaction.
Another interesting feature—very much in D&D/Rogue tradition—is the 'unidentified'/chance based loot system. When ever a player loots a boss or chest, they are presented with around a dozen options. The player has no idea what the options represent, and must blindly choose one item to accept as their reward. The player can use special items (potions) to reveal the nature of one or more choices, but of course this requires micro-transactions.
If you like designing and sharing D&D-style adventures, this game might appeal to you. If you like Rogue-like games, but want the experience compressed in to 10-minute chunks, this might be the game for you. If you like spamming your Facebook wall with fancy, but ultimately meaningless achievements, oh boy, is this the game for you.
Heroes of Neverwinter is actually a very polished Rogue-like casual D&D adventure, more than capable of delivering an enjoyable experience, and it is tempting to rate it quite highly on these merits. But there is always this unavoidable dark cloud hanging over you as you play: the game is designed to do everything in its power to market itself, to milk money from you, and to be a general viral pain-in-the-arse. You won't even get access to the game unless you "like" the game, give it permission to email you, and allow it to post on your wall.
If you are an adventure RPG fan, or fancy yourself a 'Dungeon Master', check it out. Just keep one hand on your wallet, and an eye on your fragile sense of privacy.