Highfleet is a bombastic RTS with flying battleships and serious FTL vibes

Microprose has revealed the upcoming combat-strategy game Highfleet: Deus in Nobis, a game built around duels between thousand-tonne flying ships and a mishmash of elements that are hard to pigeonhole. There's the explosive, fast-paced and brutal ship-to-ship combat set above some sort of post-apocalyptic desert; there's a world to explore, with various factions and potential bases for your fleet; there's a modular battleship-building system; I could go on but you get the point.

The rather bombastic reveal trailer is above and the accompanying release says the game consists of "careful exploration, clever resource management, cautious diplomacy and building a fleet capable of ruling the skies unchallenged." It also has a grimy military aesthetic I admire, with great detailing on the ships and backgrounds.

Constructing the fleet style you wish to take into a given campaign is a major element, with the strategic decisions from then on affecting what resources and bases the player has access to. "This game is definitely not 4X," explains developer Kostantin Koshutin. "[Highfleet] is a simulator of a military operation of a squadron of warships, which is sent deep into enemy territory. This is partly a journey to a mysterious country with unexpected discoveries and adventures. And partly a carefully calibrated military campaign, with the search for resources, bases and allies.

"The leaders of the rebellious Gerat are ready to help you in this war as long as you act in accordance with their ideology. Keeping this colorful community together is not easy and the player will have to make choices. This choice will sometimes lead to unexpected consequences."

Gerat is Highfleet's world, a rebellious kingdom you've been sent to quell by any means necessary, and where your campaign depends on both winning the intense 2D engagements and making the right strategic decisions: yes, there's a bit of an FTL vibe, and you won't be surprised to learn an enemy fleet pursues in your wake. That game's starting ships changed how you approached each run, but the way that Highfleet's ships are assembled is more modular: the in-game ship editor is granular and looks extremely flexible.

"The player makes key decisions on the composition of his fleet before the start of the campaign," says Koshutin. "Subsequently he plays his cards more than upgrades them. If he is defeated, he will think over the causes, and next time he will change something in the initial squadron. Perhaps he will create a completely new ship for his tasks or improve one of the existing ones, so that it acquires the necessary potential.

"Maybe he wants to create an expeditionary ship, a kind of small flagship for traveling deep into the enemy's territory far from his main forces. Or he'll bet on a supercarrier. Since each ship is assembled from small modules, the possibilities here are quite wide."

Highfleet map screen.

(Image credit: Microprose)

I asked about the concept and inspirations behind Highfleet, mentioning Missile Command. "I find the action-packed combat sessions are ideally complemented by unhurried and thoughtful strategic gameplay," writes Koshutin. "There was something similar in Mount & Blade and Starsector. It's just that I've always wanted more strategic choices in games like this.

"I haven't heard of Missile Command before but yes, there is a certain kinship. I think they are related by the specter of the Cold War and the nuclear holocaust. I am sure that the topic of nuclear weapons is still not sufficiently discussed in computer games."

The game design and graphics are by Koshutin, with programmer Maxim Kiselev on the technical side: the former was an IGF finalist with Hammerfight around a decade ago, since which "I was just doing other human life things and I was slowly thinking about the prototype, which gradually turned into Highfleet."

I'm a bit of a sucker for a strategy game where the tagline makes me think of John Lennon in absurdist fashion: "Imagine: a thousand-ton jet cruiser." I also enjoy this style of realtime strategy that mixes short, fulfilling play sessions with an overall arc where you're getting better each run. It's the undeniable appeal of failing, failing again, and failing better. Highfleet is scheduled for release in Q2 2021 and, if you want a visual sense of how it will play out, the fancy official site is packed with gifs showing the game in action.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."