As one of the last Dungeons & Dragons games released by Atari, long-time publisher of all D&D videogames, perhaps it's a bit odd that Heroes of Neverwinter is on a platform traditionally devoid of heavy RPG-style content - namely, Facebook. As big triple-A publishers slowly come to grips with the new world of social gaming, the possibilities seem more and more interesting than ever before. Facebook sounds like it could be the perfect realm for online D&D adventuring with your friends, after all, and that social element has long been missing from many non-MMO RPGs.
Of course, just because Heroes of Neverwinter is a social game doesn't mean we don't think it's worthy of a full review - it's an official licensed Dungeons & Dragons game, after all. For what it's worth, Heroes of Neverwinter makes a good stab at capturing the fundamentals of D&D combat, and manages to provide an accessible and straightforward D&D experiences that stays true to the roots of the game. However, the relative lack of depth in gameplay, stripped-down options, and some particularly annoying design choices get in the way of what could have been (and still could be) an excellent Facebook RPG experience.
The Social Network
Let's get one thing out of the way first - Heroes of Neverwinter is a freemium social game, and it comes with much of what that implies. It may have some strong core D&D-style gaming in it, but wrapped around it are a series of advertisements, in-game currency options, insta-win potions available for purchase, and so on. If you come into the game expecting to get away without seeing any ads, you will be disappointed. Unlike many freemium games, though, the basic gameplay is unaffected by these options, with most of them boiling down to customizations and "get new content faster" buttons - just be aware that they are most definitely present.
Heroes of Neverwinter takes advantage of its social options decently, but unremarkably. The game allows you to add friends to the game via easy invitations, and you can form a party with them if you wish. There's no simultaneous multiplayer, but being able to create a team with the classes, races and skills you all want is definitely a boon for the game. You can also view each others' trophies and accomplishments, although there's little reason to look at this save for bragging rights. If you don't have friends to play with, you can hire on other players' heroes for a small gold fee (though your own hero doesn't get any of this upon being hired).
Another neat feature, and one which should have been at the forefront of the game, is the ability to create your own dungeons for other players. However, this comes with a pretty big caveat - you must either purchase the option for Astral Diamonds (the in-game "real money" currency) or reach level 10 (the game's cap, as far as I'm aware), which can take months of standard play. This means that the option is likely going to be grossly under-used by most players, which is a real shame. Still, player-made modules do have their downsides - there are no experience rewards for completing them, and the gameplay scenarios possible are extremely limited.
Really, the big issue here is the lack of any sort of multiplayer. As a casual, "fifteen minutes a day" sort of game that's understandable, but even some sort of asynchronous co-op or competitive battling would have been a nice addition. D&D might be a bit fast-paced for play-by-mail, but it would have been nice if the option was there all the same. The game does allow for an Active Spectator feature, which sees you looking on when another player recruits your hero; your reward is a percentage of the gold and experience. However, during my time playing I was never recruited once, and I certainly wasn't about to keep the game running 24/7 just to earn a little extra money.
Heroes of Neverwinter is a game of fairly limited scope. While other D&D-style games have always been a bit cut-down compared to what's possible on the tabletop, Neverwinter reduces things to the very basics of turn-based, grid-based combat. For what it's worth, the fundamentals are very much intact, with feats, flanking, traps and so on all factoring into combat. Tactical positioning is extremely important, when the dungeon layouts allow it, and smart use of choke points, spells and so on can often win an encounter.
The adventures themselves are very simple and quite short, only taking about 10-20 minutes of play to complete, but each one features a mini-narrative told through pop-up text boxes during the course of the adventure. There is no interactive dialogue to speak of, but as a framing device, the writing gets the job done just fine, even if the subject matter is very standard D&D fare - yes, goblins, bandits and undead are still the game's staple enemies. Still, a bit more variety, like some simple puzzles or less linear dungeons, would have gone a long way toward spicing things up.