Posted:  Mar 14, 2024
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Highwater was provided by Rogue Games for review. Thank you!

I love atmospheric, post-apocalyptic story games. There's something so cool about seeing the world re-imagined from different horrifying scenarios and experiencing a story about how the world works and what the protagonists will do in it. Highwater is one of these games, taking place in an alternate universe where the entire Earth has flooded, and the planet is doomed. And, while the setting and world are gorgeous, and I love the story being told, the combat and pacing stop me from enjoying the game to the point I had hoped.

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In Highwater, you play as Nikos as you navigate the new watery world and do what you must to have a chance to escape from the dying planet. Along the way, you will pick up friends, fight enemies, and scavenge to hopefully get the chance to survive. The game tells a very compelling tale, and while it started off a bit slow for me, I got into it after an hour. I also enjoyed seeing how the world has developed, in both devastation and humor. There may be destroyed, half-submerged buildings here and there, but you will also encounter a dancing priest who can belly bump people, so it finds a nice balance of lighthearted and dramatic moments.

The game is also gorgeous and has a fantastic soundtrack along with it. Hearing the sound of the dingy engine, the sad melodies coming from the radio station in-game, and the water splashing up against your raft, it all blends together extremely well with the vibrant but gloomy aesthetic. The team did a great job of crafting a world that I wanted to see more of.

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But, while all of this is great, Highwater falls short of executing some of its gameplay mechanics. I enjoy being able to go around the world in your boat; it's somewhat therapeutic, but it doesn't feel like there's any point in veering off the main path you are supposed to take for the story. There are optional islands and fights, and some include cool sights, but the rewards don't feel worthwhile investing your time in, especially with the combat feeling a bit slow, even for turn-based strategy games.

I do like that the combat allows you to interact with and use your environment to strategically get rid of enemies, but it all feels slow and a bit awkward. The game did originally release on mobile phone platforms last year, and during combat, it really feels like one. At least it can be configured to play well on the Steam Deck, with some minor compromises!

Highwater - Steam Deck Performance

While Highwater may have been released on mobile devices before this, it did have a bit of trouble playing on the Steam Deck. On the OLED, some areas would dip below 90 FPS without any discernable reason, and even on 60 FPS, there would be some stuttering when moving the camera around. Changing from 90 to 60 in-game also resulted in some performance issues, which fixed themselves once I rebooted the game. Changing the graphical quality to "Low" did fix this, but it also made the game extremely blurry, and I wouldn't recommend it.

Medium Settings
Low Settings
Low Settings
Medium Settings

So the solution? Well, it's a combination of a couple different elements. First, I would change the graphical quality and reflections to Medium. I didn't actually see any big difference in visual quality with these, other than possibly the sky looking different, and it saved on battery. Second, lowering the framerate to 45. Not only did this save on battery, but it also kept the performance stable and smooth, which 60 and 90 weren't able to do without major compromises.

I did try to put on a TDP limit, and it did work for a bit, but as soon as there were some heavier areas, it would drop significantly. While I could raise the TDP limit, turning it off didn't have any extra drain, so I recommend just keeping it off and saving yourself the trouble.


While you can turn on/off tutorials, subtitles, camera shaking, text size, audio sliders, and change controls, there aren't any other settings that relate directly to accessibility.

The game does have 16:10 resolution support, which is great, and it has controller and cloud save support. There are no HDR options.


Highwater is a game with a great concept with poor execution in the gameplay mechanics. The world and sound work extremely well together to create a gloomy but captivating atmosphere, and the story is interesting, even if it starts off slow. The combat and exploration, however, feel dull, and it sometimes gets to the point of not wanting to continue playing. However, the narrative is interesting, and the way they present themselves is wonderful. It does run well on the Steam Deck, even with some weird quirks, and I would recommend playing it this way over a PC!

Our review is based on the PC version of this game.

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SDHQ's Build Score Breakdown

Highwater is an intriguing game that has a great concept and gorgeous world, but falls short in execution. But, with tweaks, it runs well on the Steam Deck!


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Noah Kupetsky
A lover of gaming since 4, Noah has grown up with a love and passion for the industry. From there, he started to travel a lot and develop a joy for handheld and PC gaming. When the Steam Deck released, it just all clicked.
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