I wrote about persistent browser-based games (PBBGs) in my book, The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, but new games like the Dungeons & Dragons-themed Heroes of Neverwinter (HON) and The Sims Social are taking the gameplay experience to a new level of interactivity.
I got access to the beta early thanks to ENWorld, who was kind enough to give out keys to the first 100 posters asking for access in haiku format. Judging from the 50 posts well after the fact, the haiku requirement – much like the legendary requirement of green M&Ms in green rooms – was a means of sussing out who was really paying attention.
Unlike the solo Tiny Adventures experience, the 4th-Editoin themed Heroes of Neverwinter is a collaborative affair. You can choose a character archetype from the core races, including Dragonborn, or create your own. The standard classes are also available: cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard. I created Talien Radisgad as a cleric, because that’s what I do.
You start in a town with access to armor, weapons, equipment, and the opportunity to hire up to three of your fellow players’ characters. HON reinforces the traditional four-player paradigm of one of each of the classes, listing the Armor Class (AC), Hit Points (HP), and motto of each character. I bet this will change – I always select the character with the most HP. Of course, like The Sims Social, playing with another character has only peripheral benefits. PCs don’t die if they die in your game. And in my games, characters die a lot.
I’ve never had so many total party kills (TPK) as I’ve had with HON. I consider that a compliment. HON is challenging, in a good way. You move along a grid, just like 4E. Actions are not divided up into standard, move, and minor, but the rules lurk behind your choices. Talien is lucky to have made it to 2ndlevel, where hiring a party now costs 15 gold and the average adventure gives out 10. Every TPK means a net loss of 25 gold, which is starting to eat away at Talien’s finances.
Healing Word and Cure Light Wounds can both be used in the same round, which makes me think that Healing Word is still a minor action power. Unlike 4E, you can only use it once – at low levels, this matters a lot. Speaking of powers, each room is considered an encounter, which means long-term effects like healing should be used in every room. To do otherwise is to waste potential healing, even if a character could only heal 1 point. Only fighters get Second Wind to heal themselves, which makes HON something of a throwback to the old school style of gaming.
I’ve tried both standard and harder difficulties, and the AI seems smart enough in both cases to kill off characters. Kobolds with ranged weapons run as far away as possible from fighters, they hide behind traps, and they work together to bring down targets. The robo-DM behind HON plays to win.
HON is addicting and not necessarily in a good way. Unlike PBBGs of the past, you can’t really hop in and out of a game. Fortunately, the dungeons aren’t very long and a helpful map shows you how far you have to go – thieves help you unlock additional rooms. This is the new direction PBBGs are moving in, mimicking much of the feel of a massive multi-player online role-playing game without any of the messy interaction that comes with it. You are in essence playing with copies of your friend’s characters.
Despite the inevitable concessions to social gaming and the limitations of the Flash game platform, HON does a surprisingly good job of scratching that D&D itch for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to play in ongoing tabletop campaigns. It’s yet to achieve the promise of a D&D game where you really play with your friends, but it’s light years ahead of Tiny Adventures’ solo quests.
Interested? The beta is now open to all. Follow the Facebook fan page or join the beta now!