It may not be the deepest D&D experience, but Heroes of Neverwinter is still plenty of fun

Pencil-and-paper RPGs are perhaps the original “social game,” so Dungeons & Dragons and Facebook would seem like a natural fit. And happily, that’s about how it works out in the new Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter. It’s not perfect, but as an entry level D&D game on Facebook, it’s actually pretty good.

First off, let’s get a handle on what Heroes of Neverwinter is not. It’s not the third coming of BioWare’s popular Neverwinter Nights role-playing game; it boasts neither BioWare’s involvement nor the depth and complexity of that full-on RPG franchise. Instead, it’s a simplified D&D experience that drops players into the struggling city of Neverwinter as a fledgling adventurer looking to make a mark. Familiarity with the D&D setting is a bonus but far from necessary.

D&D Heroes of Neverwinter

Neverwinter serves as a hub where you can buy supplies like weapons, armor, healing potions, and spells, and also recruit fellow adventurers to back you up in your travels. Once you’re appropriately armed and dangerous, you’ll be able to seek out adventure within the city walls and beyond, slaying monsters, winning gold and treasure and earning fame, glory, and the respect of the people. It looks good, with simple but clear and colorful graphics, and serves up a basic but functional mix of music and sound effects.

Gameplay is simple. Adventuring parties are made up of a maximum of four characters (the player plus three hirelings) chosen from four classes (fighter, wizard, cleric, and rogue) and four races (human, halfling, eladrin, and dragonborn). Quests take place in dungeons and outdoor areas, which are actually a series of interconnected rooms containing a fixed number of monsters to battle, traps to disarm, and, very occasionally, treasure chests to open. These dungeons are typically fairly small, which means you won’t have to blow an entire afternoon on a single trip through.

Exploration options are very limited and the dungeons, apart from the combat, are almost entirely non-interactive. Heroes of Neverwinter is really more of a tactical combat simulator than an RPG. And while the gameplay mechanics are very simple, effective tactics will take a little longer to master. It’s easy enough to bull your way through some of the early dungeons but as things progress, you’ll have to do better if you want to survive.

D&D Heroes of Neverwinter

Computer-generated companions can be hired for individual adventures, but ideally you’ll go spelunking with real Facebook friends, whose characters can be taken out as part of your party once per hour. There’s no actual group play, as their characters function identically to computer-generated flunkies, but if you do well in your quest your friends will benefit too. But things go best when everyone in a party is at roughly the same level and that requires that you and your friends all put more or less the same effort into playing the game. It’s easy for a gap to develop between those who play a lot and those who play less often. And once more than a couple of levels separates characters, especially in the early going, the imbalance renders the lower-ranked characters almost useless.

Heroes of Neverwinter is free to play but progress can be hastened with astral diamonds, purchasable with Facebook credits. These can be used in lieu of the gold earned on adventures to purchase items or hire party members, and must be used to purchase the two most powerful healing items. But Heroes of Neverwinter doesn’t appear to unfairly hobble those who choose to keep their wallets closed. It’s a tougher slog and you might be in trouble if your cleric goes down in the middle of a fight, but the game has found a good balance between rewarding those who want to pay and not unfairly penalizing those who don’t.

It’s not the most complex and rewarding RPG experience you’re likely to have, but since you’re playing it on Facebook you probably already know that. What it is, is a surprisingly fun and accessible little dungeon romp. Gamers with no previous experience will find it easy to pick up and enjoy, while seasoned D&D vets can get a quick fix of turn-based battle while they catch up on email or update their status. Take it from an old-time sword swinger: Heroes of Neverwinter is worth checking out.