The following is a review by Ellery Woods Parker III, who is joining the Complete Xbox Team. Highwater is, available on Xbox Series X|S.

Bottom Line Up Front

You play as Nicos, a character in the near future on a flooded Earth.  Nicos spends their day scraping by outside of Alphaville—where the privileged live (and are planning to escape the dying planet).  Your objective is getting to Alphaville and aboard the rocket—to a supposedly better life.  I was disappointed by most aspects of the game, and if you jumped ahead, you might be wondering why I have recommended the game, albeit on sale.  It’s because the turn-based combat is so dang good!




Note: there is no content warning at the beginning of the game, but there are potential triggers for hanging.

The visuals of the game are going to shine for those that love illustration.  But the world can sometimes feel a bit empty, especially while traversing in the boat.  None-the-less, you are making your way around the world to dry land to complete quests tied to the main mission.  The game is set up in bite-sized chapters creating natural stopping points, which I appreciated.

In your journey you will encounter two types of enemies: Insurgents and Alphavillians.  Encountering either of these groups will trigger the turn-based combat—which is absolutely stellar!

The corrupt government and privileged folks vs the masses is a compelling theme, but the satirical nature of the lore fell short and the narrative was truly sub-par.


Gameplay Mechanics


The main objective is to make your way into Alphaville and board the rocket to Mars.  There are many obstacles to overcome, but you get a little help from some friends.  There are also loose ends to tie up and a few fetch quests to get additional help along the way.  One of the mechanics that seemed out of place was the photo taking.  It felt more like filler than something that added to the gameplay or story.


When on dry land, jogging around feels smooth.  You have camera view control when in combat, but you are locked in a specific view while on land.  This doesn’t hinder the gameplay in anyway, but having a moveable camera on land would have been a plus to check out the surround views.

The boat controls were a super bummer.  They feel sluggish, as if you are starting off in molasses, and I ultimately did not have fun driving it.  A zippy boat you could zoom around in would have been so much more enjoyable, and would have had me making my way off the beaten path to explore more.

Although the idea of the transit map in the world—pre-flood–is cool, it wasn’t functional, but rather a piece of lore.


I could not get enough of the combat.  It was engaging, strategic, and left me wanting more!  You don’t always have the same group of people on your side, which kept things fresh as everyone has different abilities.  You are able to use certain items in the environment to your advantage like cans you can throw or holes in the ground you can push people into.  It was awesome to see the difficulty scale up as you progressed through the game.  And the option to “restart battle” at any time was great as you learned about your group’s abilities in a new arena.



Two accessibility features that I appreciated:

  • Items of interest are highlighted with sparkles
  • During combat, highlighting a block/item tells you what options you have with it


  • Replayability

Unless you are planning to 1k the game, there isn’t much replayability.  That said, there is extra content that unlocks after completing the game.  This was a really cool surprise!

  • Art Style

The illustrations are great.  I only wish there was more biome diversity throughout the game, as it began to feel repetitive.

  • Story

The writing is by far the weakest part of the game.  There seems to be a mismatch between the overall theme of the game and the immaturity of the dialogue.  Between the lore items found in the environment and the atmosphere, no dialogue is even necessary as it didn’t add value to the story.

  • Audio
    • Score/OST:

The theme song is quite good!  Unfortunately, I did not vibe with the rest of the music.

And although Highwater Pirate Radio is a cool concept, I found myself turning down the volume during both the music played and when the radio DJ was talking.

  • Sound Design:

Nothing stood out in the sound design for me in the game, but that doesn’t mean it should be seen as a blemish.  I’d rate the sound design as average.

  • Voice Acting:

The DJ of Highwater Pirate Radio was monotone but overall, the voice acting was generally ok.  The killer here is tied to what they were saying, not how it was delivered.

  • Achievements
    • 20 achievements for the 1k Gamerscore
      • 9/20 were obtained during my playthrough



The game overall had some neat ideas that just didn’t hit.  This was quite the bummer considering how good the combat is.  Highwater sits at $20 for the 11-hour experience, but I’d wait for a sale.

  • 70%
    CX Score - 70%



  • Art Style
  • Extra Content
  • Combat



  • Driving the boat
  • Map
  • Narrative

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