For: Facebook app
Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Publisher: Atari
When? Late 2011

What’s it all about? Neverwinter Nights and Facebook. You wouldn’t expect the mixture to work; a dollop of hardcore game, with a drizzle of table-top RPG, folded into one of the most popular destinations for casual gaming. Somehow though, it does, and although it’s early days, Atari could well be pioneering a new way of getting the biggest gaming franchise out to the masses.

Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter is currently in Beta, and it’s offering fans of the series, and of the D&D tabletop RPG, a chance to quest with their friends in the familiar Neverwinter universe. The game isn’t as complex as either of its progenitors, which means newcomers too can walk into Neverwinter without feeling overwhelmed.

The game is based on the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and lets you build yourself a character with a few simple choices. Once you’ve done that, you’re walked through a tutorial section that introduces the basics of the game, like combat, movement, potions and magic. It’s slightly reminiscent of the Final Fantasy Tactics series, albeit with a much more westernised fantasy tinge to proceedings.

It’s after the tutorial where things get interesting, from there you can build your own adventuring party. You invite up to four of your friends to go questing with you, picking up loot and killing goblins, orcs and all manner of other fantastical creatures as you progress through the levels, gaining skills and equipment as you do.

The system is going to be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s ever played an RPG, be it tabletop or videogame. It’s not as meaty an experience as you’d find in a more hardcore setting, but that’s sort of the point. Atari is trying to create a base market for its product on the world’s most famous social network. Other games have tried this before, Dragon Age 2, for example, had a companion game on Facebook, but Neverwinter and D&D thrive on their communal aspects, and what better place to find a new community than Facebook?

You can also build your own adventures once you’ve reached level ten, and invite your friends in to experience those. Heroes of Neverwinter is a gateway drug, if you like, an introduction to the world of Neverwinter and D&D, and all of the things you can expect to find there. It’s also something for the already addicted to do in their lunch hours, a chance to get some gaming in where before no gaming was possible.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Heroes of Neverwinter performs once it goes live. If it does well, you can expect other game producers to start looking into the Facebook market, to see if they can get a slice of the huge casual gaming community that plays there.

Worth the wait? This sort of intelligent diversification of a brand is likely to become more commonplace in the near future, as publishers look to make money out of the exploding casual market. Whether or not that’s a good thing for core gamers remains to be seen, but Heroes of Neverwinter seems set to prove an interesting diversion for RPG gamers and newcomers alike.