Mike Salbato
E3 2011: Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter Hands-On Impressions
A detailed look at the upcoming Facebook-based Dungeons & Dragons title.
06.09.11 - 6:31 PM

At E3 yesterday, we had a chance to sit down (figuratively) with Atari's Carlos Schulte, producer of the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter. Not to be confused with Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter, Heroes of Neverwinter is a strategy RPG being prepped for release on Facebook.

Surprisingly, Heroes of Neverwinter is no slouch visually or content-wise. Partially due to collaboration between Atari, developer Liquid Entertainment and Wizards of the Coast, in-game sprites are surprisingly detailed (even close up) with fluid character animations. It's not what you expect to see when you hear the term "Facebook game." Part and parcel of being a Facebook game involves Heroes of Neverwinter's use of both in-game currency (gold) and "premium" currency (diamonds), the latter of which can be purchased with Facebook credits. While the majority of in-game items can be acquired with gold, there will be a selection of high-level items and equipment that can only be purchased with premium currency.

The gameplay is traditional strategy RPG fare, but designed for both seasoned RPG fans and casual gamers alike. For instance, upon starting the game, you can create your character from a selection of races (Human, Eladrin, Halfling or Dragonborn) and choose a class: Fighter, Rogue, Wizard or Cleric. You can then customize your avatar's traits, selecting hair style, facial features, and so on. Finally, you can adjust your starting stats depending on how you want to play. Alternatively, casual players can skip the stat-tweaking and just choose a preset race and class combination and start playing.

As a title designed to be played on Facebook, gameplay and dungeons are tailored for shorter play sessions than your typical console or PC strategy RPG, and Heroes of Neverwinter can easily be played in short 10-15 bursts. In battle, you choose from a wide variety of attacks, spells and special moves to take down your enemies. A Grandia-esque bar is displayed near the bottom of the screen that shows the turn order, so you can plan strategically. If you're in a hurry - or still learning the ropes - you can set your assistant party members to be controlled by AI. In fact, if you want to completely observe, your whole party can be set to auto-play.

No title tied to a social network would be complete without prominent markers tying the game back to the social platform, and there's plenty of those to be found here. Along the top of the game screen are prominent "Like" and "Post to Wall" buttons to spread the word about the game. (As an incentive, an achievement is awarded for clicking all of these.) And of course, you can adventure along with your friends who play the game, and they are displayed in a bar along the bottom of the play area. You can invite your friends' avatars to join your party even if they're not online. If they are online, your friends can actively participate in battle. Players will have their own houses and can visit the homes of friends. Your home décor will update as you play the game and unlock achievements. In the corner of your house is the "Chest of Wonders" - a treasure chest that when opened presents a sort of game of chance, with anything from a handful of gold to epic-caliber equipment.

Finally, while we didn't get a chance to see it in action, reaching level 10 gives you access to a dungeon creator. Your custom dungeons can be shared with friends, who must pay a fee in gold to adventure in your marvelous creation. A portion of this fee goes into your own gold sack, so dungeon creating can actually be a good money-maker.

With 50 core adventures, three levels of difficulty, achievements, a dungeon creator, social aspects and gameplay that should appeal to both Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter aims to promise a deep experience if you want it, or a more casual one if you don't. Whatever your play style, Heroes of Neverwinter is something you might want to keep an eye out for when it launches later this summer.