Highland Warriors is a semi-non-fictional stab at the RTS genre, in as much that we see Robert the Bruce but also a smattering of wizard action. Originally released in 2003 by Soft Enterprises, it has recently been re-packaged for purchase via Steam.
2003 is a time that many of us may look back on fondly, albeit through rose-tinted spectacles. Whilst we were lauding the graphical capabilities of the new wave of video games, the RTS genre still enjoyed something of a free pass as it was traditionally much less important than in first-person shooters or RPGs.
PC games were enjoying a rather quiet period generally, becoming the niche interest of the ‘home computer enthusiast’ while all the cool kids were out selling the benefits of the PS2 and GameCube which at this time were leading the pack in terms of graphical excellence and mainstream appeal. It’s perhaps poetic that 2003 was also the year that the first Call of Duty game was released, responsible in no small part for PC gaming’s renaissance (World of Warcraft would come and kick the doors wide open the very next year).
So in a quiet market and a niche genre like RTS, Highland Warriors was released to moderately positive responses. It had made the important jump to true 3D (again this came late to the RTS genre) but in doing so traded the potential of what may have been achieved with pre-rendered sprites for rather murky terrain and cardboard-box troop units that failed to keep up with the standards set by its peers.
Time has only made Highland Warriors failings all the more apparent and the Steam re-release provides a carbon-copy of the original issues.
Even from the point of installation, there are obstacles to overcome. Trying to set up basic graphical options takes a certain amount of trial and error even for the reasonably savvy. I was asked a number of bizarrely obtuse technical questions and having tried various configurations could find none that stopped the game from muting itself past the title screen.
The menu interface can be very hit and miss and I often found I had to click above or around the options I was actually trying to select.
With all this behind me there’s not a great deal actually wrong with the way the game plays out. You engage with all the usual staples; troop recruitment and training, building your functional units in the town to increase your available options. It’s all there but all just so passable and unimpressive that you’re left with a rather bleak sense of missed opportunity.
It’s admittedly difficult to separate the issues of the original from those of the re-release, also to fully appreciate that the game is now 13 years old. At the time, this rather bland example of what RTS can do may have been able to stand on graphic alone but that was a long time ago and to watch the box-headed soldiers skid their way across the murky landscape translates as a lack of attention to detail.
If truth be told, some things deserve to be remembered, treasured and brought back out into the sun to be revered. Others like Highland Warriors should be respectfully left in the past to be fondly remembered or quietly forgotten.