I've always had slight disapproval to the casual genre of games that have been appearing on Facebook. My experience with past games released on Facebook have been fairly grim because of their addiction with free-to-play gameplay. This model often depends on the sale of in-game items that make the experience less difficult or allows for uninterrupted spans of gameplay. In the case of Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter, it trades enjoyment of gameplay for the abuse of Facebook's microtransactions. Read on after the break to discover how much of an impact the free-to-play model has on the actual gameplay experience.
The notion that Dungeon & Dragons has arrived on Facebook is a bit misleading because Heroes of Neverwinter does not contain any d20 dice rolls or miniature models of goblins and elves. Not to say that the game shares themes from the Dungeons & Dragons property, however, the game makes it near impossible to act as a dungeon master on the adventure. The turn-based RPG gameplay is severely limited in its scope primarily for the problems associated with microtransactions.
After adding the application to Facebook, players will be greeted with a character creation menu that allows for customizing the adventurer's race, class, gender, and ability scores. Following character creation is a brief tutorial that walks players through the basics of moving around the map, attacking enemies, disarming traps, and using special attacks. The game hub includes all the necessary resources for adventuring in Neverwinter and its surrounding mountains and forests. There is a trade house for buying food and other consumable items, a tavern with special drinks and place to recruit AI party members, a mercenary depot for buying new armor and weapons, a dungeon workshop for creating custom adventures, and lastly a house for adventurers that display their trophies and achievements.
The actual adventures in Heroes of Neverwinter offer plenty of turn-based RPG battles that usually end with a boss. However, this game does not offer any unique or innovative features to the genre. Simply click somewhere on the map and the awkwardly animated character will waddle over to the spot. Clicking on enemies allow for a selection of different attack modes including melee and range. Since this is a turn-based RPG, characters only have a defined amount of action points before it is the enemy's turn. Adventures can be played on different difficulties including normal, hard, and heroic, which will determine the challenge set by enemies and possible rewards upon completion. Adventures are near impossible without a party of AI members or Facebook friends. Even with a full party, adventures usually end in failure catering to a grind model of gameplay.
The primary problem with adventures are their various starting requirements. Upon clicking on a particular adventure, there is a list of requirements including character level, items from past quests, and energy points. Embarking on adventures require a certain amount of energy points that are gradually restored overtime. The energy bar is set at 20 points with each adventure usually requiring 10 or more to even begin them. This is where microtransactions come into action; it is possible to refill the energy bar by buying portions of the currency "astral diamonds." For an unlimited energy bar, players must buy 250 astral diamonds or which translates into $25. If a character dies in an adventure, they are able to be restored to live for 20 astral diamonds. The lowest amount of astral diamonds that can be bought is 50 for $5. If matters couldn't get any worse, most armor pieces and weapons purchasable in the game hub require astral diamonds.
Every opportunity to shove microtransactions in the face of players is taken advantage of in Heroes of Neverwinter. The presentation quality is nowhere close in comparison to the level of investment required for a complete playthrough. The 2D characters look absolutely out of place in the uninspired 3D environments. Even worse, the game's music and sound effects fall into the category of a possible mute required. The one high point of the presentation is the inclusion of narrated events in adventures that seem to be inspired from the actual Dungeons & Dragons experience.
Heroes of Neverwinter could have been something great when considering the sheer amount of possibilities in which to incorporate RPG gameplay and the social connection ability of Facebook. What is left after the severely limited gameplay issues is a casual RPG where progression is artificially extended simply for the sake of microtransactions.