Highborn in Review – The ultimate fight with an Arch-lich named Floyd

Hello there, folks! I’m finally back from my long deserved vacation in the wonderful Italian town of Rimini. I know, you missed me :) Anyhow, I won’t bore you with descriptions of the wonderful time I had. Instead, allow me to tell you about a game that has kept me entertained during the long flights there and back as well as in some lengthy train trips. I’m talking, of course, about a recently released TBS by the name of Highborn.

Highborn is a classic turn-based strategy, true to the heritage of Advance Wars and some recent iPhone hits like Rogue Planet (TMA Review). When Archie the Highborn finds his girlfriend missing, he has no choice but to follow the only real clue: footprints left by the perpetrators. And guess what – they led him to a ghastly plan by the Arch-Lich, Floyd. Time to do some plan ruining!

There isn’t much mission variety – you always end up in a specific building, usually at the opposite end of the map, decimating any enemy in the area. A nice touch, rarely seen in games of the genre on the iDevice is the fact there is no way to construct units, shifting the focus to tactics rather than a simple “tank rush”. You may get new units when capturing some buildings, but they are few and far between.

There are no RPG element to the game – neither the units nor the heroes have any inventory or advance in ranks. The single concession towards the dreaded three words are the spells, available from heroes and capturable monoliths on the map. They come in map and battle verities with monoliths providing only the latter and range between simple direct damage to various defense modifiers and a few special effects.

The battles fall true to the classic predecessors, though enter a few twists of their own. While no direct control is available over how they proceed, you can use one of your spells beforehand to get an extra edge. The damage is dealt sequentially with the attacking party having first strike. A bit of additional help are some of building, scattered across the map, namely – keeps, castles and wizard towers. When in range they provide additional cover fire before the hand-to-hand damage is dealt.

Despite there being two sides in Highborn – Decay and the aforementioned Highborn, quite a lot of units are shared between the two. Individual types vary in mobility, damage type, magical and physical defences and range. They also seem to vary in attack power, but as no information is provided in the unit description about it, it’s more of a gut feeling. Knowing the relative strengths and weaknesses is important and is often the key to victory. And careful use of terrain, especially the ability to hide in forests is none less important as well.

The graphics and design of Highborn are both its strength and weakness. The overall map and units are wonderfully drawn in a cartoony style and the dialogues and descriptions are simply genius. They are sure to provide you amusement and a rare case of must read. Unfortunately the performance is in no way sufficient to enjoy the game, at least on the iPhone 3G. The overall map movements are frustratingly laggy, with the battle animations even worse. At the same time it’s obvious that it’s a case of poor optimization as I’ve seen my Jesus phone handle much more complex graphics without a hiccup.

Highborn throws in the pot excellent game design and storywriting, with detailed and lovingly drawn graphics to come out with a cooked meal worthy of the best chef in the world – a top-notch turn-based tactical strategy game. The only real issue is the poor performance on older iDevices and some minor frustrations, like no attack power indication or Facebook-only multiplayer. In all other respects this is definitely a must-have for both casual and die-hard adepts of iDevice gaming.

With this I declare Highborn officially touched!

App Summary
Title: Highborn Developer: Jet Set Games, Inc.
Reviewed Ver: 1.0.2 Min OS Req: 3.0
Price: $2.99 App Size: 61.8 MB
  • Genuinely hilarious
  • Balanced with a deep tactical base
  • Excellently drawn map and unit graphics
  • An Arch-Lich named Floyd
  • Unjustifiably poor performance on older iDevices
  • No indication of attack power in unit description
  • No unit leveling up
  • Multiplayer only through Facebook


Care to read more TBS/Strategy game reviews?

A project manager in a major telecommunications supplier, an iPhone junkie and lately - a TMA editor. Love long walks on the beach and my wife, who is the most beautiful girl on the face of this planet. You can also follow me on twitter for all things iPhone and project management (and some personal stuff as well): http://twitter.com/ChiffaNe

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