Whenever an intellectual property is interpreted into a new media format, it can generate both hopeful anticipation and nervous dread from its fan-base. Movies become video games, video games become movies, and novels and comic series are transformed into both video games and films. And each time, fans of the original material must wait to see if their favorite novel/comic/movie/videogame has been faithfully interpreted, or has been embarrassingly misrepresented.
As a tabletop game, Dungeons & Dragons has had a remarkable share of good and bad transformations into videogames, movies, novels and comic books over the years, and the list of new media formats keeps growing and growing. This year, the release of the Neverwinter Campaign Settingsupplement at GenCon 2011 carried with it a wide range of new media formats, including a new board game, several novels, and a new series of D&D Encounters events at local gaming stores. The campaign setting’s release also hailed the first D&D game app for Facebook, which was produced by Atari and entitled Heroes of Neverwinter. And the gaming app has just completed its “open beta” - and it is now available to the Facebook online social community.
But is this transformation of D&D into a Facebook app destined to be considered a good or bad interpretation?
Heroes of Neverwinter
- Developer: Ed Del Castillo (Liquid Entertainment)
- Publisher: Atari
- Release Date: October 2011
- Media: PC Game App (Facebook account required)
- Retail Price: Free to play (Premium perks cost extra)
D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter is a game application designed for use with the Facebook online social network. It allows players to experience Dungeons & Dragons in parts of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, and to share their experience with their Facebook friends. The games contains 50 dungeons to explore with characters from Level 1 to Level 10, and offers four different races (Human, Eladrin, Halfling, and Dragonborn) and four different classes (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard) to choose from. The game includes monsters, magic items, and a wide range of adventure settings, from underground dungeons to forested lands.
D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter seems to have fairly low hardware specs, although I never found a listing for it online, but is capable of running on any machine that can handle running Facebook. I did find that it ran faster on my Windows 7 desktop machine than my laptop which runs Vista, but both computers had no trouble giving a decent performance for the application to run.
Graphics, Sounds, and Interface
The graphics in D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter are pretty darned good, offering full-color maps for the play environment and fairly detailed depictions of the monsters and the characters. The view is not unlike what a player would have if they were sitting at a gaming table in front of a grid map, looking down at the miniatures of monsters and characters, with some terrain bits thrown in to make it look nifty. The monster and character miniatures have some fun animation, such as falling to the ground or swinging their weapons, and players will note that their favorite hero changes appearance as they get new types of weapons and armor. Spells and powers also have unique appearances, based upon the type of elemental effect being generated.
The interface is an intuitive point-and-click style, with a choice between a command wheel which forms around the target, or a series of buttons along the bottom of the screen. It’s not fancy, but it is simple to understand to almost anyone who has played a video game, and easy to pick up for new players to get into the action quickly. Battle damage and conditional effects appear as floating text above the character or monster for a couple seconds, giving the player a chance to take note of situations as they change during a fight.
The music and sound effects are also pretty darned good, with monsters making their own unique sounds, and characters shouting out “battle yelps” and “arghs” as appropriate for the action. Spells have unique sounds to them, as does opening chests, traps being set off or disarmed, and even the setting (forest or underground) has background noises. The sounds and music are simple but fun, and help to increase immersion in the fantasy game setting.
When the press release for Heroes of Neverwinter was sent out in October, it included this quote from Atari:
“Heroes of Neverwinter delivers a high level of depth, polish and authenticity that will fundamentally change the way players think of RPG gaming on social platforms” said Jim Wilson, President and CEO of Atari, Inc. “Existing fans of the D&D franchise will find the translation compelling in all areas of the gameplay experience, while more casual gamers will find the adaptation accessible and intuitive.”While the first statement might be true for gamers, depending on what sorts of apps they played prior to finding Heroes of Neverwinter, the second statement is open to much debate. But it is important to note how freely Mr. Wilson uses the words “translation” and “adaptation” in the same sentence, giving a free warning that Heroes of Neverwinter is not quite as much D&D 4E as existing fans might like it to be.
It should be noted that while there are some “good points” to this gaming app, they are regretfully far fewer than the “bad points” and misinterpretations of D&D 4E. On the good side, the developers used material from the Neverwinter Campaign Setting to decent effect, and created their adventures from many aspects of supplement, such as the Neverdeath cemetery, the Ashmodai, and the rebel Sons of Alagondar to name a few – complete with flavor text and descriptions to create a storyline. They chose to use four iconic fantasy gaming character classes and at least three iconic races (Dragonborn are not quite iconic to either D&D nor fantasy gaming quite yet), and allow the player to create any race class combination, even customizing their character’s appearance and statistics. The app even includes a Dungeon Maker special application when a hero reaches 10th level, allowing the player to create custom dungeons for other players to access, using a toolset not unlike what was used to make the adventures in Heroes of Neverwinter by the developers.
There are even some cool social networking actions that players can do with their Facebook friends who also play D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter, such as sending minor magical gifts and consumables, gold, and occasionally one of the “premium” currencies – an astral diamond. Players can also use their friends’ characters, generating an NPC version to take along in their four man party on their quests. Their friends are alerted to when a simulacrum of their hero is being used, and can enter a spectator mode to watch the play, offer advice, and the occasional boon or healing.
Yet all of this is a pale moon-cast shadow of what D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter could have been had the developers simply used D&D rules-as-written, and not been so concerned with ways to try and extort real currency from the players for in-game premiums at every turn.
Like D&D Daggerdale released earlier this year, Atari developers seem obsessed with wanting to change 4E’s form and function at every turn, rather than just transforming the existing tabletop RPG into a computer game. It’s ironic that one of the major complaints by D&D players of older edition is the “video game” feel which some people feel the current edition has, with defined and packaged powers and maneuvers built into each class. Yet despite this, Atari developers seem incapable of translating these pre-packaged powers into their games, choosing instead to make sweeping alterations, guided by no clear logic that I personally can fathom.
Using a turn-based combat and a tabletop view with a grid map, the developers of D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter were well on their way to create a much updated version of the “Gold Box” engine that successfully powered a dozen AD&D computer game titles in the bygone days. The spells and powers of each class are specifically detailed, and ready to be programmed into the game engine in order to create an authentic D&D 4E experience -a game which has already been playtested and revised for over two years now by WotC and its fans. Building an authentic-feeling adventure should have been a snap with rules for encounter design and monster archetypes specifically designed to work versus the characters’ powers and spells.
But for some reason, all that was thrown by the wayside, as the developers of D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter decided to re-invent the D&D wheel, and create their own interpretation of what 4E is all about.
The misinterpretations start right at the beginning with the racial powers at character creation, and they carry all the way through to class powers, monster design, and even to the very rules of D&D 4E combat itself! Whatever it was that the Atari CEO thought existing fans would find “compelling” about the game app is beyond reckoning, apparently failing to realize that fans tend to find faithfulness and authenticity to the original work to be big factors in making a game they want to play.
- All races are staged down version of themselves, lacking some racial features and skill bonuses (there are no skills).
- Humans are the most poorly interpreted, having their stat bonus changed to be +2 to CON and WIS rather than +2 to any score, no bonus feats (there are none of those either), no bonus at-will power (there is only one at-will per class).
Classes & Powers
- Daily Powers Gone - Characters gain one at-will and one encounter power to begin. There are no daily or utility powers in the game, and instead they have been transformed into encounter powers instead.
- Explosive Acid Arrow - The area of effect, damage output, and combat conditions have also been changed on many powers, giving them much larger areas in most cases. Acid Arrow is the first and most obvious re-invention encountered by Wizards, covering a 4x4 area with damage and ongoing acid damage – it’s acid fireball now! But strangely, Magic Missile has reverted to the old version and can once again miss.
- Minimal Healing - Other powers have been substantial reduced, such as the healing effects of all Clerical spells. The base heal spell does a pathetic 3-6 points of healing, and Cure Light Wounds does 4-10 points of healing.
- Fighters & Rogues not wanted - Fighters get no marking abilities, and Rogues no longer get sneak attack or stealth abilities. In essence, the most important features of these classes have been removed, making them sub-par strikers.
- Character Advancement – The character advancement table has been revised to allow 1st level characters to hit second after 500 xp. But they can’t hit 3rd until they amass 2500 xp.
- No Opportunity attacks – You can just scoot around the map, unblocked by threat zones.
- Combat Advantage – Changed to happen when any two enemies are adjacent to their target – flanking is not an important consideration.
- No Healing Surges – Characters cannot heal themselves after a combat, except with left over healing spells or magic items.
- No Second Wind – only the Fighter gets a second wind, while other character must rely on healing spells and items.
- No Death Saves – If a character drops to 0 hit points, they are immediately dead unless an Elixir of Life is administered. Elixirs of Life are only available using Astral Diamonds which cost real money. By the way, if the random monster targeter aims most of the incoming attacks in a round at the player’s character, they will most likely die. If that character dies, the adventure cannot be completed by the rest of the party – start over!
Monsters & Encounters
- Encounter Imbalance – Encounters are not made more difficult by increasing the number of monsters, but by increasing their level – substantially! A first level dungeon, on Heroic difficulty, presented my party with a Level 9 Flaming Skeleton – bit over the top really - and I got a whole 10 gold as a reward at the end of the fight!
- Super-Minions – at higher difficulty levels of play (Hard/Heroic), minions not only increase in level, but are given more hit points – 9 and 17 respectively. Minions do about 3x expected damage for their level (up to 10 hit points), and usually from ranged attacks.
- Experience Points – XPs are not accurately tallied for the monsters faced. Typically, the player loses 100 or more experience points per adventure.
- Evil Treasures – The treasure system conforms neither to the DMG treasure parcels, not to the random rolls from the Rules Compendium. The new system is a set of cards which one can flip using potions of luck – which cost Astral Diamonds of course – and you get to keep only the last card flipped. So if you get 25 gold pieces, it’s possible to flip the next card and get 10 gold. After you are stuck with your card, they turn over all the cards, showing you what you might have chosen if only you had been lucky. It’s awesome how the programmers made one of fun parts of D&D into one of the most frustrating and angering.
- Bonus Mega-Stacking – Bonuses from magic items stack unlimitedly, instead of using the bonus stacking rules that D&D has. Getting multiple items with the same bonus type – like healing or initiative – allows for game breaking characters. My friend has a cleric that is +30 to all healing he does, meaning that he cures around three times MORE than if the developers had just left in second wind and healing surges. Oh, and his Wizard always goes first in a combat, due to a +17 initiative bonus.
- Gold-grubbing Hirelings – If you don’t have friends playing Heroes of Neverwinter, so that you don’t have a pool of hirelings you can use for free, you have to hire three heroes to make the team of four. The cost is equal to [(Level – 1)*5] gold per hireling, so by 5th Level, it costs 60 gold (20gp per team mate) just to enter a dungeon for an adventure! I guess there is sort of an incentive to make your friends play and advance their characters, or else you’ll find yourself without enough money to do anything in the game.
- Energy Bar – There is a cost to enter the dungeon called Energy, ranging from 5 -20 points. You have a 20 point bar that slowly refills over time, keeping you from playing as often as you want. Of course, you can temporarily refill the bar by spending Astral Diamonds (real money) or by spending a lot of Astral Diamonds to remove the bar on your account forever – about $25.00 in fact.
There are actually about a dozen more misinterpretations and other issues with this game that make it even less remotely resemble D&D 4E, but time and space prevent me from continuing on beating what is clearly a dead horse.
Overall Score: 1.50 out of 5.0 (It’s free. It has decent graphics and uses some Neverwinter setting fluff in the adventure design.)
It’s so very disappointing to see how badly D&D 4E was mangled to create the Heroes of Neverwinter Facebook App. This app could have been a wonderful introduction to 4E had it bothered to maintain some accuracy in its interpretation of the game. Given the size of the Facebook audience, D&D gamers could have said to their non-gamer friends, “Hey, check this out... this is the game I play every Friday night. Check out this app, and see if you like it and maybe we can get you into our gaming group.” But instead, we have an app that is nothing like D&D 4E, and if anyone does play it, then picks up the actual tabletop game, they will likely be simply confused and even frustrated to try and puzzle through rules they never knew existed. About the only good thing about this game is that it is free, and kills time if you’re completely bored with life, but it’s a joke to serious 4E gamers, who will find very little “compelling” them to spend their time playing it.
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!