I recently received a beta code invite from my favorite all-things-retro website, The Retroist, for the Facebook Dungeons & Dragons game, Heroes of Neverwinter. Full disclosure: I’ve never gamed on Facebook. Never. Actually, I hardly visit my own Facebook page, as Twitter and Google+ get all my free social media time. I can now state that I’ve spent more time on Facebook in the past few days than I’ve spent for the past few years. But was the time well spent?
To being, Heroes of Neverwinter is NOT a deep RPG with strategic elements; the game is a strategy game with very shallow RPG elements. Sure you can choose your character class, head off on quests to receive treasure and experience points. But that is merely window dressing for the strategic game hidden within. Every encounter is pretty much the same: you enter a room, everyone goes nuts and immediately attacks, and nothing is spoken until all enemies are dead. It really doesn’t matter if they’re goblins, kobolds, undead or humans. It’s straight hack-and-slash, but rather than a mouse-destroying clickfest like Diablo, it’s more akin to the classic Gold Box series, where you can go for a beer with some buddies in mid-combat, knowing that the combatants won’t make another move until you return. But I digress.
Gameplay is fairly simple. You start out by choosing your character class: Cleric, Fighter, Thief, and Wizard. Next is what race and gender: Dragonborn, Eladrin, Halfling or Human. You can choose pregenerated characters or create your own. Regardless, you there is some latitude for adjusting your character’s appearance, giving you three choices of skin tone and facial features. After that, you check your desired name against the game’s database, and if no one else is using it, your first level adventures are about to begin!
You begin your adventuring days on the docks of Neverwinter, and can visit several buildings. It’s always a good idea to check up on your house (imaginatively titled, “My House”), as you receive a bonus item once per day, as well as the occasional gift from a fellow adventurer. If you need armor (including shields) or weapons, head to the Mercenary Arms Depot. Have a hankering for magic potions and other magical items? Then head on over to the Tarmalune Trade House to see what’s in stock. The Beached Leviathan is run by Harrag the Barkeep, who is a source of food, thieves tools, and some liquids. Since all adventurers spend their days in a tavern, Jerith the Recruiter, the man who can set you up with the rest of your party members, can be found there, too. Once you’ve gathered your party you can check out the Adventure Board in center of the screen.
Once begun, the quests all take place in small maps, usually four to six locations to explore before finding the object of your quest. The difficulty of encounters in each room increases until maxing out in the final room. Thus far in my third-level mage’s fledgling adventuring career he (or is it she?) has faced kobolds, goblins, thieves, undead, and, oddly, a white dragon. (That last one was a bit of a shock, considering my party consisted of nothing but second level characters!) Some thinking needs to go into each encounter, as the computer takes advantage of every spell and ability your opponents possess, while capitalizing on every weakness you display. Strategy is key here, as foolishly barging into combat without giving thought to the particulars will send your characters back to Neverwinter, empty-handed.
Once all the creatures have been cleaned out, it’s time to look for treasure…which brings me to one of the problems I have with the game mechanic. I am not guy brimming with the luck of the Irish (understandable, as I’m not Irish), and because of my ability to lose almost all games of pure chance, I despise “spin the wheel” type rewards for all my hard work. I want to know exactly what I’m getting, and I don’t want to see that – if only I was lucky – I could have had a MUCH better reward. I’m more likely to pull the minimum 10 gold, only to see an expensive magic item could have been my prize. It doesn’t make me want to keep playing; it makes me want to put my fist through my monitor, and email the developers with exactly what I think, just before I click on the “remove app” link. Maybe it’s just me.
My other problem with this game is that it is too obviously made to turn a profit. It tries to hit your wallet at every opportunity, offering life extensions, special weapons and armor, magic items, etc. Like a Terminatrix hooker, it is relentless in its attempts to rid you any spare cash you might have in your credit cards (Hasta la vista, baby…by the way, I take PayPal, too). Look, I’m the last person to disparage anyone from using the Internet to make a few bucks, but I need a little more space between attempts. I suppose this is the new wave of gaming, where games come incomplete, items must be purchased separately, you can always have another life for just a few dollars more. Just what I needed, a true-to-life arcade experience in my own home. But I digress…again.
The game tends to bog down my laptop’s resources, slowing down considerably when one of the party is injured to the point where their icon starts to flash red. It becomes a struggle to finish more than a few quests before the laptop begins to heat up dramatically. This is odd, considering the game’s graphics aren’t any great shakes. It’s an AMD Turion Dual-Core RM-70 running at 2 GHz with 3 GB memory, but sometimes the game plays like I’m back in the Gold Box series playing on my old 286 with an impressive 640K RAM. I suppose the more things change, the more they stay the same. (I’m sure the response to this is twofold: “get a real computer” and “hey, it’s beta, we’ll fix the turn-your-PC-into-a-thermonuclear-weapon bug in the next build“.)
If you’re looking for a deep roleplaying experience, Heroes of Neverwinter is not your game. This game is designed for the person who wants to do a little casual dungeon-delving using the D&D ruleset, without the time commitments a campaign requires. In this, Heroes of Neverwinter is less an adaptation of the pen&paper D&D world, and more like playing an Endless Quest book. And for some, that’s enough.