Review: Bad North16 Oct 2018 0
Review: Bad North
Released 16 Oct 2018
Bad North is a unique take on a challenging real-time strategy game, simply by virtue of its simplicity. Giving a nod to games like Into the Breach and Kingdom: New Lands, as oppressive difficulty ramps up slowly over time, the actual game-play behind positioning your units, issuing commands, and using special abilities remains relatively stable. While the initial set of islands comes off as a relaxing take on zone defense, later missions can quickly devolve into chaos at a moment’s notice. They bill themselves as a 'micro-strategy' game, but this is secretly a roguelike that will satiate both RTS newcomers and grizzled virtuosos.
The core concept is to travel from one island to the next, defending homes from exponentially increasing waves of invaders. Combat revolves primarily around a rock, paper, scissors strategy of having the right types of units facing off against each other, though limited use items and commander skills can add in an extra layer of agency to the player.
Additionally, you can order units to lodge in a home, slowly regenerating their health (and thus being unusable) until they’re at a full unit size again, or outright seize an enemy boat and make a run for it. Honestly, there’s not much more to it than that, and that’s Bad North’s greatest strength. There’s no baggage or dead weight here, just a simple concept that allows for mastery over time.
Defending homes successfully will net you gold, along with potentially new items or commanders, depending on where you choose to travel. Much like in FTL: Faster Than Light, players will be restricted on how many islands they can visit before a wave of destruction takes over a portion of the map. The dotted line below shows that Bery is about to be swallowed up on the next round, though luckily in this case I’ve already completed the island.
Soon enough I had to make some choices between pursuing islands with bigger homes (and thus larger gold outputs upon successfully defending them), or smaller outposts that yielded unknown items or a commander. Depending on how successful you are, it is entirely possible to completely max out a character’s commander ability, unit experience, and item power. Near the end of my first few runs, after fully upgrading two commanders, I would look for islands that seemed easily defensible instead, focusing merely on surviving and progressing forward.
Unfortunately, there comes a time where one or two small mistakes can cascade into a total party kill. My loyal infantry vanguard, Allena, who had been with me for most of my voyage, was unable to fall back to the safety of an elevated ridge. As a result, I lost a crucial aspect of the weapon triangle, and her unique sledgehammer item. Soon enough, on my next excursion I came across too many enemies that were specialized to overwhelm archers and pikemen. My journey to a glorious afterlife was complete, and all faded to black.
Normally in real-time strategy games I can sometimes get frustrated at not knowing exactly what I should have done to prevent hitting a fail state. In Bad North your mistakes are immediately evident, which allows for a faster learning curve and less confusion. I know exactly why Allena died, what I could have done to prevent it, and the importance of having a backup plan for each type of commander. I was able to carry the catastrophic loss forward as a lesson in later playthroughs.
If there’s one criticism I have of Bad North, it’s that the first few islands just feel incredibly slow once you’ve got your footing. An optional fast forward button to increase the pace at which enemies arrive would be beneficial in allowing players to quickly retread their steps back up to where things get interesting again. Past that, this is an engaging game that doesn’t bog you down with an overwhelming learning curve, or tooltips within tooltips.
Position your units, use an ability or item here and there, and watch the carnage unfold in real-time! I can certainly see myself giving Hard Mode a run for my money, and I may even pick up a copy on the Switch to enjoy this on the go or during lunch at work. The gameplay suits itself well to both small bursts of play and extended campaign sessions once you’re past the early game. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time with this straightforward little title, and I’m excited to see what designs developer Plausible Concept can cook up next.