Bad North is a rogue-lite strategy game developed by Plausible Concept. It is available on Humble Bundle, Steam, Xbox One including game pass, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices.. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One console.
Note: Bad North is available on the PlayStation 4. However, it does not have the Jotunn Edition patch at the time this review was written.
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Bad North is a minimalistic and simple strategy game with fun and satisfying game mechanics. You control little squads of armed warriors on the run from an ever-approaching Viking tide. Your troops bounce from island to island on an overworld map and fight off hordes of Vikings to safeguard the houses on them.
In turn, each intact house grants you some coin to spend on upgrades. As you play you obtain more commanders, traits, and items. Sometimes these items and traits can be applied to future runs. But if a commander dies, they are gone for good. Furthermore, if you lose all your commanders it’s game over unless you have secured a checkpoint island.
Bad North is simple to learn, it takes only minutes to grasp the concept, yet it’s surprisingly tactical and addictive. It is so enjoyable that its lack of content cuts that much deeper.
Bad North Gameplay
You control one to four platoons of troops in real-time, however the game transitions into slow motion whenever you are giving an order. This gives the game a much more relaxed feeling than other real-time strategy titles. Each island is randomly generated in layout and the amount and types of enemies you will contend with.
Once the battle begins, Vikings will arrive shortly on longboats. The more houses you protect, the more gold you earn for upgrades. If the battle starts to go south, you can order a platoon to retreat using one of the boats the Vikings left behind. If things go really south, you can attempt to retreat and save all of your troops, but you won’t gain any gold from the island.
Controlling your troops is as simple as pointing and clicking. The tactical aspect comes into play with how you use the terrain and the troop types to your advantage. Shielded troops are tough and can block attacks and arrows but they aren’t the most offensive. They are good at running down archers or blocking arrows.
Pikes can’t attack when on the move. They can hold ground exceptionally well by literally bouncing back enemy units and keeping them at bay. They will get slaughtered by arrows or if caught while moving. Archers get eaten alive up close but will wipe out un-shielded troops. In large numbers, they can even shove shielded ones off of the incoming longboats.
The key to victory is combining the rock paper scissors’ nature of your unit types while using the terrain to your advantage. Pikemen in a narrow passageway can hold back hordes, while archers can rain death from high ground. At times you may even want to sacrifice some houses while you hold better positions.
Additionally, you can retreat a platoon into one of the buildings you are defending to replenish its numbers. Despite its simplicity, there is a lot of strategy within moment-to-moment game-play on each island. You have to make the hard choice between healing your troops and risking the buildings or risk losing a commander forever by pushing them too hard.
You can upgrade your troop types and you choose which commanders to upgrade. You can use various combinations, two archers, a shield, and a pike, for example, depending on your strategy and the type of island you are taking on. Each type of troop can learn a skill, pikemen can charge in a straight line, archers can perform a rain of arrows and shields can lunge from a cliff onto enemies below.
The gameplay in Bad North is incredibly fun. The enemy types aren’t limited to your three classes and will throw different combinations at you at once, it’s up to you to give the right orders and figure out how to fend off the attacks. It’s incredibly satisfying when you time something right and send an incoming brute into the water, or to watch your pikemen hold a hillside and fend off a horde of warriors.
The game’s concept is executed nearly perfectly. Bad North captures the feeling of a small-scale strategy game exceptionally well and its mechanics are enjoyable to play with.
The minimalist graphics are incredibly attractive to the eyes and the animations of the little troops are really charming. The game itself is simple to learn but leaves you wanting so much more. It’s a frustrating experience to be enthralled by a game to the point that its lack of content feels like a tease.
The Shallow North
Traversing the overworld map island to island is done in the form of turns. Each commander can only enter battle once per turn and when you end your turn the Viking tide progresses, slowly cutting you off from past islands and pushing you forward. If you have enough commanders, it’s entirely possible to perform multiple battles per turn and reap that extra coin.
You can view the island’s layout and the present enemy types before committing which is a nice extra layer of strategy. Some islands will reward you with an additional commander. They can have traits such as being tougher or faster. Sometimes you will unlock a trait that can be used in a future run from the beginning. Other islands will grant you an item that can be equipped to a commander, granting them the ability to set mines for example. These too can be unlocked for later use in future runs.
The problem with Bad North is there is very little content for the games’ superb mechanics to take advantage of. There are only three classes of troops for you to use, archers, shields, and pikes. Each class has access to only a single skill. Items and traits add a bit more flexibility but there is not a significant amount of them either.
Much of this was actually added in the Jotunn Edition patch. I can’t imagine how bare Bad North was prior to it and I’m very glad I started with the enhanced version. You can beat the game in just a few hours. You can replay it on a higher difficulty setting but you will have seen most of what the game has to offer the first time through.
It’s a shame because the game is fantastic, mechanically speaking, and is very enjoyable to play. It leaves you hungry for more and it nearly feels unfinished with its lack of archetypes or skill variety. This makes it a little difficult to recommend for the full price despite how excellent Bad North plays.
I would love to see a Bad North 2 with an expanded roster of troop types, traits, items, and skills. The core gameplay is incredibly solid, it just needs more bells and whistles to take advantage of it
Pick it up on sale or if you have Game Pass, stop reading now and go play it! If you play games exclusively on the PlayStation 4, definitely wait until that version acquires the Jotunn edition patch.
You might also like another game from Bad North’s publisher Raw Fury, Check out my review of Kingdom: Two Crowns!
- Attractive minimalistic visuals
- Simple but strategic gameplay that takes only minutes to learn
- Smart troop control and slow-motion gives a more relaxed feel
- The rock paper scissors counter mechanic in combination with advantageous terrain is clever and fun.
- The small number of troop classes, skills and items holds the game back.
- Roguelite with very little replay value. Playthroughs are short and you have seen it all after the first one.