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Highborn review (iPhone)

2010/06/02 [iphone] [1] [2] Highborn
Version Reviewed: 1.00

Highborn is a Fantasy strategy/tactical TBS game.  There’s no unit growth/changes between missions which is unusual for a fantasy turn based game.  There are both generic and hero units in this game, with the heroes sporting a unique spell that can be used on the overhead screen.  A number of cooldown limited combat spells can be cast before any encounter, most of which are damage or buffs.  Recruiting during the mission is done by capturing buildings.  If you lose the building you lose the unit, and if you lose the unit but not the building you’ll get a new unit after a few turns.  Monolith structures can be captured for new combat spells, and towers that can be captured for support attacks during combat between units.  Towers tend to be overpowered and trying to fight while being hit by one is a death sentence for generic units and dangerous for heroes as well, so taking control of them is very important.

While there are only 8 campaign missions, each mission is large and unique with its own plot, dialogue and scripted events.  The difficulty of the game is low to intermediate – don’t expect a challenge here if you’re experienced.  You can’t undo movement or attack commands, which might slip up beginners, but you can quicksave if needed.  There’s not a whole lot of strategic variety, just move through the map capturing buildings and slaying whatever enemies show up, then finishing off the mission boss.  The 8 missions manage to stay entertaining, but I’d hope to see some variety in later missions other than point A to B slaughter.  Additional missions will be added with a future patch to the game.

The UI is mostly context sensitive allowing you to tap to move, attack, and capture, although it requires a quick, precise double tap to pull off.  Unfortunately there’s no way to skip movement and combat animations, which makes the game unnecessarily slow.  Units move along the map at a plodding pace for no particular reason.  In addition you have to click off whether you want to use a combat spell in every fight, when it would have been more efficient to have the spell selection during the overhead screen directly before combat instead.  And there’s no reason to split the common ‘wait’ command into what’s called “hold position” and “hold action” in this game.  Maybe they can do something with that “Useless Slider” in the options menu in a future patch, because the game could use a whole lot more speed-up options that are standard in most turn based games.

With those game slowdown issues in mind, it’s fair to say the multiplayer is far slower than it needs to be.  It’s best played one or two turns a day, instead of in a single (very long) sitting.  Towers are overpowered with high damage, infinite support attacks, the nonsensical ability to support itself when being attacked, and frequently respawning mage recruits.  Trying to fight while being hit by tower support is more or less suicide, so if someone grabs a tower they pretty much own the area around it.  There are a couple of maps available but I don’t see the multiplayer being much more than a casual diversion in its current state.

The game has a wry and goofy sense of humor.  Conversations and unit descriptions are full of jokes making fun of RPG culture and history, frequently breaking the fourth wall to do so.  Sometimes it’s corny, sometimes it’s chuckleworthy, but it’s more entertaining than another turgid medieval politics fantasy plot.  The humor provides a good motivation to play even if you find the difficulty too low.

Graphics are well done, especially the map and building tiles which have lots of detail for such a small screen.  The 3d battle cutscenes are good although you’ll probably get tired of looking at them by the end of the campaign.  Sound effects tend to follow the humor of the game with cartoonish sounds and corny trumpet fanfare.

At $5 this is one of the pricier iPhone titles, but it’s worth a purchase if you can overlook the slow pace of the game.  Highborn would make for a good full featured console/PC game if the developers added more content and fixed the UI issues and lack of options.

Strategic Depth: Mid-low.  Spells, recruit, and tower capturing add some depth to the game, but it’s fairly basic overall.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to intermediate.  Not a challenging game but still entertaining.
Overall Score: 7/10.  Good for a $5 game.

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