Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Heroes of Neverwinter (Beta!)

I've been playing this DnD Facebook game for some time now, and I'm quite impressed with what it represents, even if I am not overly impressed with the game itself.

Straight up - it is a Facebook game, so we shouldn't expect much from it.  After all - it is free...if you don't count all the items they want to sell you via "Astral Diamonds" which (as you can probably guess) cost Facebook credits, which in turn cost real money.  The graphics are pretty simple, the story lines are not terribly involved, and the only real choices are what mission to do next.  Each adventure is linear, with the occasional  "bonus room" (bring a rogue to unlock the door!) thrown in to give the illusion of choice.  You can replay missions, and try them on three difficulty settings, but you will find yourself returning to certain lower level missions many times over, as certain levels require certain items to attempt.  Even if you fail, the item is typically removed from your inventory, and thus you will have to redo an earlier level.

The worst of these is the "Heroes Commendation", which you need a backpack full to complete every mission, but you can only find in a few levels.  Here, having other friends helps, as they can 'gift' them to you, but you will need a lot of friends, and to be quick, to get enough!

So - why has this game taken so much of my time?  Once you have finished the levels, there is very little replay value, and even changing characters doesn't offer a lot of difference.  You need a cleric to heal, a wizard to do mass damage, and a rogue to unlock all those locks, and to get past those traps.  (A fighter is good, but I found doubling up on the cleric was more useful.)  Replaying with different characters gives you a little customisation (choice between two options at most levels only), but your party make-up will generally look the same, and thus the play-through will be very similar.  It's usually not even an option to turn the AI on for these replays (either team mates or everyone), as the AI is universally poor!  They charge throguh traps instead of going around, even if they have the ability to disable them; they never focus fire; they use area attacks on single targets (even when with positioning, it could hit multiple ones); they waste healing on mere scratches; and they automatically assume a higher power is better...all the time, in every situation. 

No, what has caught my attention with this game (apart from a desire to encourage the makers to continue with what they are doing) is two-fold.  First, it's 4e, on the computer.  There was a lot of talk about how 4e couldn't be represented properly in a computer game, and whilst I admit that this is not a 100% copy of the ruleset, it is a pretty good job (especially considering that pricetag!).  Clearly, for a proper, marketable game, you'd want to have feats, many more powers, and other core rules (healing surges, OAs, double moving, and the proper implementation of effects) implemented.  But given what they have so far, none of this should be very difficult.  Even such things as forced movement and triggered actions wouldn't need much more work.  There could even be an option for AI-guided actions for them, to speed up combat.  (At the moment, the few powers that push do so automatically, but it wouldn't be hard to offer the option of moving an effected enemy.)  All this gives hope for an eventual, larger, 4e game to arise.  Hopefully, long enough before 5e...

Secondly, like most Facebook games - it's dangerously addictive.  Even when I reached level 10 (the maximum you can get to) with my first character, there was still more to do.  I could play through those adventures I had completed again, and gain three stars in each.  I could work at completing all the various awards offered.  My almost obsessive need to complete things has kept me coming back time and time again, which must say that, despite the apparent grievances I have above, the game still has a lot right! I've stuck with it long enough to slowly earn enough diamonds (through awards - I'm not buying credits!) to unlock a further three character slots, and I am still struggling to complete everything with that first character.  I don't think I will be that diligent with my other four, but Rivet, my halfling rogue, will continue on to grab every one of those stars!

Ultimately, the game is fun for what it is - a free, flash-based game, that requires little thought or time...well, time at any one point.  I look forward to seeing just what will change by the time they get out of beta, and where they go with it next.  What will it inspire?  What interpretation of 4e DnD will we be offered as a result of what was learnt through designing this game?

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