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For: iPhone   Also on: Facebook and social, iPad

A knight's tale

Product: Highborn | Developer: Jet Set Games | Publisher: Jet Set Games | Format: iPhone | Genre: Multiplayer, Strategy | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe | App version: 1.0
Highborn iPhone, thumbnail 1
The path to knighthood was a long and difficult one. Years of training, rigorous physical development, navigating court politics - promotion beyond squire was a big deal.

High fantasy turn-based strategy game Highborn aspires to such rank, yet its rough edges keep it from being anything more than a tactical epic in training. A lack of basic features and restrictive multiplayer tarnish shiny presentation and tongue-in-cheek style.

It's not for want of a grand setting. The game puts you in the armour of Archie, a knight in the order Highborn endeavouring to smite the evils that roam the land. Joined by wizards, pike-men, militiamen, and other forces, you march across fields and forests to hunt down Highborn's enemies.

Chivalrous style

There's plenty of comedy along the way, with unseemly gorgons flirting with Archie, devilish cooks forcing their concoctions on disgusted captives, and all manner of larger-than-life characters. Humour is by far the game's greatest strength and it shines brighter than Archie's armour in combat. In fact, the comic relief is all that motivates you through battles.

The single-player campaign runs through nine scenarios, each played out in turn-based fashion. You move and instruct all of your units to act during a single turn, rather than units taking individual turns. Accompanying Archie (or another hero depending on the scenario) are a few supporting units, though additional forces must be drafted from towns, forts, and towers on the map.

Without the ability to commission units with money, forces are culled by seizing structures. A tower, for example, nets you a dark wizard: annexe a town and you gain a couple militiamen. Should these units fall in battle, there's a brief recharge time after which they reappear next to their building of origin.

It's a highly creative mechanic and one that makes Highborn unique in the genre.

The once and future battle

Battles themselves, however, fail to offer the same inventive spirit: on the contrary, a number of missing features often makes combat a laborious affair.

Automated battles break away from the map screen whenever you order an attack on an enemy or vice-versa. Unit strength, current health, terrain effects, and supporting structures such as a defensive tower factor into the amount of damage dealt.

You can also cast enchantments acquired from captured monoliths that boost your attack power, raise defence, enfeeble your opponent, or hit them with an offensive spell like lightning.

While the foundations of the battle system are solid, there's a surprising lack of basic features. For instance, you're unable to toggle battle animations off, and so every fight breaks from the map to show you the action. Furthermore, you can't speed through the animation to save time.

Enchantments can only be applied when attacking and never on the defensive. This results in a huge advantage to attackers and makes Highborn a game of offence, with little in the way of tactical defence possible.

Facebook disconnect

On the main map, you're not given the option of reversing a movement command. It's fair to make any attack order final, but movement ought to be reversible. This can lead to some annoying situations in which a unit is accidentally positioned incorrectly and dies as a result of not being eligible for repositioning.

All of these issues appear in multiplayer, too, which is played exclusively via Facebook Connect. Offering online battles is great, but restricting play to friends attached to your Facebook profile is unfortunate. A general server with the ability to play other Highborn owners would be much more effective. Better still, provide a local alternative - either Bluetooth and/or local wi-fi.

Highborn is a decent strategy game, but its missing features and general lack of polish demonstrate an inability to cater fully to the needs of the player.

The omission of simple features has a marked impact on overall playability, and until these issues are addressed it will remain a squire ever hopeful to become the genre's knight in shining armour.
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 2 June 2010
Highborn is a well-intended, though unpolished tactics game that needs to incorporate a number of basic features in order to improve playability
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