I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of strategy titles, though it’s mostly due to the fact that I don’t have the strategic knowhow or patience to conquer my foes. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the RTS genre, but I tend to steer clear of it.
Bad North appealed to me though, with its simplistic take on the genre and its charming visual style seeming like the perfect recipe for success. After spending a LOT of hours with the game, I can confirm that it is a heck of a lot of fun and I think that both RTS fans and newbies to the genre will have a good time playing it.
Bad North’s set up is simple: you work across a series of simplistic islands, all whilst forming an army, improving it, and then defending each island from a Viking threat that becomes more and more dangerous the further you progress through the game. Once you vanquish them you move on to the next procedurally generated island and repeat the cycle again, with different strategies required based upon the enemies you’re facing, where they’re coming from and the design of the island itself. It’s a simple premise, but it makes for an incredibly addictive experience where the words ‘one more go’ will constantly echo through your head for hours on end.
Controlling your ever-growing army is easy enough, with each island essentially built out of tiles in which you can place your units. You can flick between each unit with a quick press of the shoulder button, whilst moving them just requires you to click on a tile. Simple, right? If they’re placed in an area they’ll automatically defend it from any enemies that approach it, so all you really have to think about is the direction enemies are coming from and how many there are. You’ll have different types of units available too, each of which have different pros and cons: Archers are great from range but are useless in close-ranged combat, Pikemen are great at defending a specific spot but won’t move whilst attacking to chase down rampaging enemies, whilst Infantry have shields to protect from arrows but just average attacking skills.
Using each unit properly and placing them in the right place is essential to victory. Take Archers for example: you’ll want to put them in a position where they’ve got the perfect viewpoint of incoming enemy boats, but are far enough away so that they won’t get slaughtered by a close-range attack. The Pikemen on the other hand are the perfect unit to have ready for enemies who just arrive at the coast, but their lack of defences means that if an enemy boat has Archers on it they can get wiped out quickly. You’ve got to stay on top of things, observe the threat that the enemy brings, and be ready to quickly shuffle your defences and change up your strategy to counter it. It might sound overwhelming, but it really isn’t – it’s just a whole lot of fun that never stops being satisfying, especially when you pull off some masterstroke move that wipes out the enemy forces and keeps all of yours alive.
As you progress through the game and defend more islands, you’ll earn gold for each building that survives. This gold can then be spent on upgrades for your units, with each one able to develop into one of the aforementioned roles and then upgraded upon. This becomes vital as you work your way through the game, with a big focus on making sure you’ve got the right balance of units for each island you try to protect – you can take four units into each battle with your others placed in reserve in the meantime, so as long as you’ve got a good selection you can specifically choose units that you think would be more effective for the landscape you’re working across. You recruit new units by completing specific islands, whilst there are also items you can equip that’ll give units a variety of different bonuses.
Of course, whilst you can earn new units you can also expect to lose a few during some of the trickier encounters with your enemies. When in combat you’ll slowly see a unit’s soldiers dwindle away, and when the last one is killed that unit is gone forever – there’s no coming back in Bad North, with a permadeath feature in place for any slain units. As long as there’s a surviving member in a unit though, you’re able to recover them by having them retreat to a building during battle. This is actually pretty handy, because after a short time has passed you’re able to put them right back into the action too. There’s also the option to completely retreat from an island if you think the odds are against you and you’re not going to survive – sure, you’ll look like a coward, but sometimes it’s worth it just to ensure that one of your high-levelled units actually makes it to the next battle…
In all there’s a lot to think about in Bad North, especially with the different island shapes and designs and your enemies’ focus on destroying buildings as opposed to just wiping out your army. You always need to have your defences ready, all whilst ensuring that you don’t leave your units exposed or have their weaknesses exploited – believe me, things can go wrong fast and when they do it’s often difficult to recover. It makes for a really fun experience though, and one that I simply couldn’t stop playing. I found myself completing island after island after island as I put together my neat little army, and even when I found them completely wiped out and I had to start again I was happy to re-visit the adventure with my new found knowledge of what’s ahead of me. Bad North is just so simple, fun and addictive, even for a non-strategy fan like myself.
On the flip-side, strategy fans might find that Bad North is a little too simple. Things don’t change up that much between each island and the visuals themselves aren’t too varied either, even if they do happen to be really sharp and pretty in design. RTS veterans might just find that there’s not enough meat to Bad North’s bones to really hook them in, with the bulk of what the game offers experienced within the first hour alone – there’s no learning to build armies, finding of resources, or plotting of massive battles, but rather just a series of short skirmishes which are over as fast as they began. That might be enough for a particular audience (myself included), but some gamers might find themselves feeling a little underwhelmed with the somewhat repetitive and overly simple setup.
I had a heck of a lot of fun playing Bad North and still find myself hooked now. It’s just so simple in its design, yet it effectively portrays strategic battles in a quick and accessible way that makes it easy to lose hours on end battling Vikings – the fact it’s a blast to play helps too, though.
I’m not sure how much fun RTS veterans will get out of the game with it not having a whole lot of depth overall, but those who enjoy a quick-paced experience that really forces you to think will definitely have a good time with Bad North. It takes the intense strategic action of an RTS and streamlines it into a fun experience that just about anybody will be able enjoy.
Developer: Plausible Concept
Publisher: Raw Fury
Format(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC