Getting into the Strategy genre can be a daunting task to those not already initiated. The incredible simplicity of Highlands’ approach to strategy will reel the player into the mindset of most mobile titles, and then an hour flies by and you realize things are a bit deeper than you imagined.
Visually, Highlands is akin to some of the most impressive fairy tales of old and is quite stunning. The colors pop and it’s as if a beautifully drawn book has come to life. The environments themselves are the strength here, with even the most subtle details being impressive.
The lack of voice work and character development limits the immersion greatly. You’re thrown right into a conflict and hit with the death of a major character… well… major on paper, I guess. The events transpire so quickly that there’s no weight to them and, with the way things are happening (all of Highlands being invaded), it wasn’t needed to move the narrative forward. It served to introduce a major villain also, but most won’t remember his name soon after. Though well designed, it would have also been nice to have the character portraits animated even the slightest amount.
Over time, your fighters gain more intense abilities as a means to diversify the rock-paper-scissors nature of the gameplay. Mostly, those particular abilities are macro versions of the base skills that can be grouped together at the special charge of unique tokens. Thus, you can more efficiently use your grid spaces in fewer turns. In large scale, intense skirmishes like this may come in handy but most times you can get by with each character handling individual roles.
Holes in the strategy game play are the ultimate hindrance to the Highlands experience. Not every game need be challenging to enjoy, but with very limited consequence there’s not much thought needed to be put into the strategy elements.
The Withdraw capability can be easily exploited early when you get caught slipping, basically resetting the conflict with no penalty. Then you can send reinforcements once they’ve freed up from their conflict and take over. You also get a pretty overpowered snapshot of the enemy’s intentions whenever your move around during your turn. On occasion, you’ll see the opposing force move into certain areas because of what you do with your own pieces. Then, you can just reverse the move and plan accordingly. The true risk falls into place when you decide to divide your units up to cover more ground, hoping that the rolls are in your favor during combat.
This game play format may struggle to keep everyone glued to a computer screen, but can thrive in the mobile arena. The pacing of the game seems more geared toward occasional pastime in the long run instead of something a gamer would plop down in their gaming chair to engage in. This is not a knock on the game itself, just a statement of where it may be better suited. In the end, Highlands is a beautifully realized SRPG that is solid at its core.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Highlands for the PC provided by Burrito Studios.