The ending of the world is a rather scary thought and something that always comes up in everyday life.  While personally, I doubt it’s coming any time soon, the thought of our comfy day lives radically changing into something incompressible is indeed enough to give you the shakes. But it’s something we need to address, and people are. Through films, TV and books, the concept of the ending of days has been done every which way but loose. But it’s coming up more and more into gaming, or be it, more and more relatable. We’ve seen fungal zombie plagues, the Fallout aftermath of nuclear war, and very dramatic versions of alien invasions. But how about the simple thought of a flood? A Flood, mixed in with indie vibes, indie music, turn-based combat and a journey of self-discovery and appreciation of what you have?

Well, here’s Highwater for you.

What is Highwater?

Highwater is a story-rich, indie vibed, adventure set in the aftermath of a great flood, which has destroyed nations, vastly limited resources, and revoked law and order, yet there are those rich and powerful enough to save themselves from all the salt water. Highwater has plenty of whimsy overtones as a sea-trotted adventure game which also infuses isometric turn-based puzzle-combat in between the heartfelt story beats. In this post-apocalyptic world, you play as Nikos, a wanderer of the sea wanting a second chance at life, a second chance of an every day that doesn’t involve searching for the essentials while fighting off crazed Viking-themed pirates.

He is willing to leave his home of Hightower and break into the ultra-fortified city of the rich and well-protected Alphaville, which is rumoured to be planning a mass evacuation of Earth and settling on Mars to make a new home, and life for themselves, leaving everyone else on the flooded Earth to die.

However, to get there Nikos will venture across the sea, gathering close friends and worthy fighters to fend off against rogues and pirates, while helping those in need to gain enough clout and key items to enter the city of Alphaville. This is an incredibly whole-heart indie darling type of story, which while obvious in its themes, and theme, does provide some touching sentimentality, and vastly simple yet enjoyable gameplay.

Enjoy the end of days, with friends

We begin our long journey across the great blue with Nikos waking up on his trusty raft, realising that he needs to vacate the world entirely and be given a second chance at life. Living out in a world where dry ground is scarce, usually dangerous and making a cup of decent coffee could end in death, and I’m sure you can understand why.

Even if it means leaving all those, he dearly loves behind to fend for themselves.

Highwater has a lot of dramatic questions, ideologies, and frank opinions on the world we live in, but usually doesn’t dive deep into those questions or the problematic answers, not until the very end where it wraps everything up with a bow.

There are a lot of meaningful conversations, moments of gravitas and interesting problems which arise, but often enough they aren’t explored or are cut off very abruptly by a hard cutback into the gameplay. I would feel restless at times, at the overlong exchanges hinting at a deeper moral dilemma, only to be placed back into the boat ready to set out, without much of a resolution. Highwater does, however, have a few moments which are lovingly embracive, tug at a heartstring or two, and do present a dilemma. But maybe due to the short length of the game, it couldn’t flesh out many of those morals into grand epics which they should have been.

It doesn’t mean there is no substance or likability here, as Highwater presents a great cast of characters who I grew to love and hate, even to lovingly hate. The quirky charm of the pirate radio playing all the improv indie folklore songs was nice to listen to while afloat in a weirdly beautiful, calm, yet dangerous world. The banter, the backstories, the oddball charms and characteristics felt very genuine, heartfelt and enjoyably honest from my playthrough.

But again, many characters come and go without much conclusion, or a satisfying resolution, and simply wonder off into the unknown. Feeling unimportant in the grand scheme of things. And I can assess that maybe that’s the point, but with such lovable characters it feels a little jilted to just throw them aside without a trace.

Now much of the stories we know, and love are heavily influenced, or structured relevant to those of Celtic, but mainly Greek myths and legends. From Star Wars to John Wick, their ties with mythic tales, and ancient ventures are very strong, with more common threads apparent than others.

One of the most famous stories which has inspired many adventures we love is Odyssey by Homer. Be it Lord of the Rings, Apocalypse Now, or even the 1979 classic, The Warriors. More are subtle than others, and Highwater wears the influence quite high with pride, making plenty of delicate and charming references to the greatest adventure story ever written.

Mixing the Greek myth with vibes straight from a 2007 indie darling film brings Highwater into an immensely charming and memorable status. But if you know the myth, or are even familiar with the storytelling beats, you’ll know where this all pans out. But that doesn’t mean the journey overall is forgettable, as I remember my time-fighting Viking theme pirates or entering a movie museum to steal a Charlie Chaplin film reel to aid a dying man’s last wish on Earth.

The core theme of “The Rich do as they please, while the poor are left in the aftermath” is clear as day, but still an important one executed perfectly well in Highwater. They are both rather fantastical, yet highly relatable as I can see the likes of Elon and other billionaires ejecting off the planet when the massive s*** hits the fan. But the more important message of appreciation, family, and being of value by giving something to the community is an incredibly powerful message, that does elevate Highwater’s story over its shortcomings.

Sailing across the great big blue, for coffee, bants, and turn-based fighting

Now in terms of gameplay, Highwater keeps things straightforward which works both in its favour and disproval. It ties together some interestingly wholesome gameplay elements, with simple yet entertaining combat which all pan out well yet aren’t massively thoughtful or grand.

When botting up the game and seeing the big blue world before you, you might get Zelda: Wind Waker vibes, thinking you’ll be able to venture forth, discover and be free in your expeditions. But this is a strongly knitted narrative adventure, with linear paths and very little room for true exploration. You do navigate around each level by boat, discovering islands, finding new allies, weapons, dangers, and quirky story beats, but much of the path is set out for you, and you can practically see the straight line guiding you.

This isn’t a bad thing, and I do see the intent as the boat driving and discovering is fun, but doesn’t encourage repeat playthroughs, nor did I feel like there was much to true wander and discover. A game like Dredge pushes you to wander off the beaten path and find neat little secrets which truly reward exploration and a free mind. In Highwater, it’s impossible to miss anything and there’s not a grand deal to find anyway. What I did find was of value, but considering the short story length, it might have been nice to see more nods towards the society now gone, and the one which replaced it.

You can take photos at certain points and find a bunch of documentation which does give you a better insight, but again it’s a little lacklustre overall. Maybe if we could go fishing, or even take photos on our own accord, I would feel there was much more to see, do, and find.

While limited, I did enjoy the sailing, the trips to dry land and banter on the boat. While not massively engaging or rewarding, what is here is fine and dandy. Then we get to the combat which is rather hit or miss. As stated, it’s very simple, and I’m fine with that. Simple can be fun so long as their variety and creativity. Highwater’s combat feels like an addition which is needed to add something more to the game but also doesn’t entirely want to be present.

Players will from time to time encounter foes, and thus a turn-based battle will occur. You will have a party roughly between 2 to 4, for most of the game it’s the latter, and have to dish out attacks, defensive manoeuvres and cunning tricks to win the fight. It’s by no means as complex as games such as Final Fantasy, or even the South Park games, but there is variety and creativity, but issues with pacing and consistency. Throughout the game, you will find new allies who will join for a bit, or some will join permanently. Some are great, others are surely not. And I often found the ones who stayed were a little uninspired, or just downright useless unless in certain situations. Some are situated for set pieces only, and I would have liked it if they were able to join for the remainder of the story.

I felt this could have been the big selling point, as you find new allies and could replace people in your party, thus vastly affecting the story and gameplay. Halfway through the campaign, I came across a Pig Man (no Bear … although bears do show up in one battle..) who I liked, and he was super useful. But again, he comes, and goes without much grace, only to be replaced by a character whose skill is somewhat useful in key fights. And there weren’t many of them.

This became an issue for me, along with some battles just feeling like they went on forever adding new enemies constantly, the unbalanced nature to some fights, and just a general lack of inventive set-pieces to spice things up. There are a couple of enjoyable fights, from protecting generators and using steam pipes to push enemies off into electrified water which was cool (although it does go on too long). Or avoiding a fight entirely by answering some movie buff questions, were some of the highlights to me.

You do also find key items like new weapons and buffs which grant stats like extra HP, extra damage and so forth. But there aren’t a lot of them, nor anything to spice up the combat.

If there were more buffs and weapons, a bit more variety in combat, and maybe a chance to pick and choose my party, then I would highly rave the combat. Otherwise, it’s fine, serviceable, and at times fun, but a little lacking and not so replayable.


Highwater brings about plenty of warm feelings, chilled vibes, and an enjoyable sense of wonder as I partook in a classic indie adventure in the making. I will acknowledge that the core gameplay elements, from exploration to turn-based combat, aren’t as fleshed out as I had hoped to be, leaving a sense of disappointment. And even though I do understand these were purposeful design choices, even the smallest of tweaks could have lent towards a much more fulfilling and fun game, with a great story. And above all, it just felt too straight, and narrow, with little room for experimentation, and taking away the best bits too soon (I will miss you Pig Man, and your awesome combat stylings).

But I did have my moments of fun, and glimpses of tender joy as the story unfolded, and even if I feel more could be done with the concept, Highwater is still very good in many ways. I love its presentation, the world-building, a lot of the supporting cast, and some encounters were entertaining. Still worth checking out before the end of the world comes about (which won’t be for some time hopefully).

++ Visually pleasant, and oozes with charming indie feels.
+ A decent story, held up by good supporting characters and banter.
+ Simple, yet enjoyable gameplay.

-- Combat can be tedious or unbalanced.
- Exploration is limited.

A PC key for Highwater was kindly provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.