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Review by: Richard Leader
Published: February 19, 2003
It’s never too late to milk a license – or for that matter, it’s never too late to milk someone else’s license. While it took Eidos and Red Lemon four long years to release their digital incarnation of the Oscar winning film, “Braveheart,” which fared rather poorly in the PC arena, Data Becker is hoping that their more traditional contribution to the real-time strategy genre, Highland Warriors, will pick up where the other failed. On the official website for the product, the film quote, “They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom,” is rather shamelessly attributed to the historical William Wallace – who graces one of the game’s four campaigns – rather than to a screenwriter.
Highland Warriors borrows liberally from other sources as well. Gameplay is fundamentally the same as the other titles that have preceded it in the genre, most notably, Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, which it seemingly copies in nearly every possible way. From the resources that are collected to the variety of structures that can be constructed, the game is very much a clone, and is immediately recognizable as such, as are most releases these days. What Highland Warriors does accomplish, however, is to add a variety of complications to the basic mold, ostensibly in an attempt to furnish it with further realism, though many have only the most token of effects on the core strategies that can be employed.
The two most notable of these changes are the seasonal variations that happen within the game, although the feature does not seem to be enabled in every scenario and the system of “master craftsmen.” There are four primary ways of gathering food in Highland Warriors: gathering berries, hunting wild game, slaughtering cattle and farming. As the season changes to winter, fields turn barren and provisions will have to be sought elsewhere. This can be somewhat inconvenient as setting a mill to automatically replenish fields and setting the peasants to work is the least labor-intensive method of harvesting food, at least for the player, although most will adapt to the new rule quite easily. Every worker also has his or her own meter that tracks their experience in a certain task. When they reach 100 percent, they become master-apprentices, and the player has the option of paying 15 gold pieces to convert them to a true master. This allows them to be much more efficient at their given role; however, they are no longer able to take on other jobs with any great ability.
This focus on realism and on copious historical footnotes is somewhat obscured by the fact that magic is a potent force within the game. Indeed, the first campaign centers on Clan MacKay who, rather than using siege engines to demolish buildings, has druids and magi that can use mystical dragons and thunderstorms to achieve the same effect. Many units have less esoteric special abilities that also make use of a secondary magic meter, such as the warlord’s ability to lay a trail of pitch and set it alight. Some of these require a certain number of units to engage, however, as five longbowmen are necessary to enable a “wide area attack.”
Each of Highland Warriors‘ four factions also has a number of heroes available, although some of them are only featured in single scenarios. Like those of Warcraft III, these units are loaded with hit points – some up to 6,000 – and have vast supplies of magical energy to power their special abilities, whether they involve the arcane arts or the mundane. These are often abstractions of their historical personalities: King Edward I can “torture” an enemy unit, which functions to reveal its location and that of his allies for a short period of time. The King also has a passive fear aura that is always in effect, demonstrated by a wide circle around him, in which enemies suffer a penalty to their attack rating after they cross into it.
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