Highwater Review – High tides and chill tunes

Reviewed March 15, 2024 on Xbox Series X|S


Xbox One, PS4, PC, iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S


March 14, 2024


Rogue Games


Demagog Studios

Set in a world ravaged by climate change, Highwater is a fun little turn-based strategy adventure about escaping an ecological catastrophe and moving on to a better place. Despite its somewhat gloomy premise, it’s a surprisingly enchanting little adventure, with a pleasant soundtrack and decently engaging strategy mechanics, and is certainly worth checking out for those seeking a less intense and more story-focused strategy experience.

In Highwater, it is the near future and the Great Climate Catastrophe has rendered the region of Hightower (and much of the rest of Earth) mostly underwater. Familiar terrain has turned into an archipelago dotted with street signs and speedboats as the last vestiges of humanity struggle for the remaining resources. The only exception is Alphaville, a fortified sanctuary for the rich and powerful where it is rumoured a rocketship is in development, designed to ferry its denizens to a sanctuary on Mars. You play as Nikos, a young scavenger who plans to break into Alphaville along with his friends in order to escape Earth once and for all.

It’s a charming, if somewhat melancholic tale, with story beats on each island as Nikos assembles his crew and gathers resources. Said narrative is interspersed with the Highwater Pirate Radio DJ delivering exposition as you voyage to your next destination on Nikos’ boat. I’m usually not a fan of open worlds which mostly just exist to present a commute between each level. In Highwater, however, I found the long boat journeys between islands as you listen to pleasant music or interviews with the denizens of Hightower quite relaxing, and that it did a good job of breaking up the combat sections. That said, I do wish that the optional islands you can land on during these commutes had more content. Manoeuvring your boat off the beaten path towards a spit of land in the distance that you can land on can often feel like a waste of time. This is because all you’re getting out of it is often a magazine entry for your collection or an optional combat sequence with no reward or substantial story content.

In general, Highwater’s turn-based strategy combat sections were quite engaging, presenting fun little puzzles to solve despite a lack of complexity compared to a lot of other strategy games out there. What makes it work is a lack of randomness or other external variables; for instance, you cannot choose your party members and there are no RPG mechanics, such as experience points or levels, to keep track of. The outcomes of actions you take are reliable; if the target is in range of an attack, that attack will always land and will always do a fixed amount of damage depending on the attack and the attacker’s position relative to the enemy. There’s no permadeath either, making risky experiments with environmental traps or leaving cover to reach a faraway foe worth it without concern for long-term consequences.

“I always felt very clever when I was using all of the tools to my advantage to emerge victorious.”

After having recently played Classified: France ’44 and been occasionally messed around by the game’s RNG mechanics, a strategy game that presents its combat scenarios as simple logic puzzles to solve as opposed to battles decided by who has the better numbers felt quite refreshing. There is a strong emphasis on using the environment to your advantage, such as pulling enemies into pits with Nikos’ fishing rod or knocking over bookcases or pillars to deal substantial damage to multiple foes at once. I always felt very clever when I was using all of the tools to my advantage to emerge victorious.

Highwater loses some of its complexity in later stages, with a noticeable decrease in environmental hazards and pits in later levels for the player to exploit. It wasn’t a total dealbreaker, as the game still throws in occasional guest star party members to inject a bit of variety. However, it devolved most of the later fights into simple skirmishes to reduce the enemy health bars to zero rather than find fun workarounds to take out enemies with objects around you. While the narrative itself ramps up in tension during the final steps of the Alphaville infiltration, the levels themselves feel less interesting and clever, and could have stood to implement some of the traps and complex level designs found in the game’s earlier arenas.

For a game where you spend as much of it wandering around or piloting a boat down a big canal as you do, I am glad that Highwater is consistently pleasant in the visuals and audio department. The game has a colourful, super-deformed look to its characters that I found quite appealing. There is no voice acting for regular dialogue, only for anything played over Highwater Pirate Radio, and your mileage will probably vary regarding on if the game’s collection of original songs are to your taste or not. I for one mostly enjoyed them and appreciated how they added to the game’s contemplative and wistful tone.




  • Charming and melancholic atmosphere and soundtrack
  • Beautiful vibrant visuals
  • Environmental puzzles and lack of random mechanics made combat very engaging


  • Optional areas often feel unrewarding
  • Later combat sections lack the fun environmental puzzles of the earlier sections

Highwater is a fun little strategy game about the end of the world, and the struggle of a small group of people trying to survive. The strategy gameplay has some rather creative ideas, albeit ones arguably not exploited to their fullest. Some of the game’s elements, primarily the long, largely uneventful boat trips between combat encounters, may be polarising to those seeking a more densely-packed and fast-paced experience. However, if you can get on its level, sit back and enjoy the music and engaging narrative, you’ll likely have a good time with Highwater.