It’s been a little under a year since I first found out about Highlands while attending the 2014 Montreal Comiccon. Game aesthetics have always been a focal point in my attraction to video games; if it’s pleasing to the eye, I’ll be drawn to it.
Highlands is no different. I’ve mentioned this before when I covered their kickstarter campaign, but I’ll say it again: their 2D cartoony, fable-esque hand-drawn illustrations are wonderful, and a real treat to behold. The colors are vibrant and lively, adding a (deceptively) cheerful aura to a pretty dreary situation.
And Highlands sets up that situation pretty quickly. Without spoiling too much (you can check out the game on Steam and/or watch my playthrough), you’re from the noble family of House Arislaan, and is part of different lords who hold dominion over the various floating islands collectively called the Highlands. After a bunch enemy-bots, guided uber evil-looking overlord Ivar Demeryon, swarm the villages and murder someone very important, it’s up to you to overthrow the attacks, vanquish the enemies and reclaim your land.
That may sound simple, but it really, truly is not. Gameplay wise, Highlands is actually really deeply layered. It combines turn-based strategic battles (with an added chance factor: a dice roll determines the strength of the attack) and choices, with resource management, as well as RPG elements in which you can equip items to your character, and level them up as well. There is a lot going on, and can seem daunting: but it really isn’t. I only scratched the surface of the complexity of the game in my playthrough, but you can see that it eases you in at a reasonable pace.
Which is great, especially for people like myself who seldom play tbs games. The various tactics and decisions you must make throughout the game -such as what sector to reclaim, when to attack and when to defend, or even where to gather resources- build incrementally as you push forward and you realize, bit by bit that you have to be incredibly attentive and think critically about what you want to do next. At the same time, you need to gain leadership points in order to be able to gather more troops to fight for you. The game truly is strategic.
During my personal playthrough, as well as in the video above, I failed quite a few times but it’s fine. It’s forgiving in that if you die, your “respawn” point is fair, and you can save the game at any time. It also allows you to choose a difficulty you’re comfortable with (which is either normal and hard). I obviously chose normal (I would have chosen easy had I the chance, but alas, I didn’t), but if you’re a seasoned tbs gamer, go for hard.
I unfortunately didn’t get far enough in my twitch stream to be able to find/acquire/craft items (yes, there’s a crafting system in the game!) for my characters but as you can see in the image above, you’ll have choices as to what you want to use. Each character, both the main ones and those you can recruit, have different roles they fulfill, ranging from combatant to academic to mechanic. Cecaelia, the lovely lady above, is it with you from the beginning and is a member of the House Arislaan. Did I mention she’s badass? She’s a combatant and is the hardest hitter in your roster when your start off. Also, she kind of looks like Cersei (in a non-evil, non-deplorable way). I like her a lot. A+, Burrito Studio!
Burrito Studio’s Highlands is really fun, and is a glowing example of the element of addictiveness found in strategy games. It is challenging, yet not frustrating and is a good way for noobs like myself to dip their toes into the world of tbs games. Coupled with the various different gameplay elements, the game is definitely repayable once you’re done. If you like what you see, then you should check out the game over here (and at $16.99, it’s really, really worth it), keep up with the updates on their website and follow them on Twitter to send this Montreal studio some love!