A quiet island in Bad North

Bad North Review

Bad North is a minimalistic real-time tactics game with rogue-like elements developed by Plausible Concept and published by Raw Fury. It takes a very simple premise and works it into an enjoyable few hours of gameplay. You have to defend a multitude of different islands from Viking invaders with only a small band of soldiers.

A quiet island in Bad North
The calm before the storm.

The gameplay comes from using your three types of units, swordsmen, pikemen and archers, to defend against a number of enemies as they arrive on boats. The unit types work similarly to a rock, paper, scissors scenario where the swordsmen can shield themselves from ranged units, the pikemen can hold off the bigger units and the archers can pick off the quick, high damage units.

The overworld has a map of all of the islands you can visit and a path that branches out at certain points. Some islands will unlock new party members, others unlock items they can equip. All of the islands provide gold of varying degrees, often giving more for more difficult levels.

Gold can be used to pick a weapon type for each party member as well as upgrading them. They can also be used to unlock and upgrade special abilities as well as upgrading some items.

The Bad North

The overworld has a branching path where you island hop from one place to another whilst being chased by the Viking horde. The Vikings soon destroy your own island and have you on the run. You have to work your way around saving as many villagers and militiamen as you can while under constant harassment from the scourge.

The Bad North Overworld.
The Bad North Overworld

The world map works in a similar way to the map in FTL: Faster Than Light wherein you have to make your way from one end to the other whilst the approaching enemies lockoff previous areas. A key difference is rather than having a permanent position on the map you can jump on any island at any time as long as you can reach it and it hasn’t already been lost. You can also defend multiple islands per turn if you have enough units to manage it.

Defending Your Land

The gameplay revolves around a simple concept. Defend the island from waves of enemies. This is done by moving your units, up to 4 of them per level, across a grid-based island. All the unit’s attacks are done automatically and they will even leave their grid space and move into others to a certain degree if they are pursuing an enemy. The only other input from the player involves using abilities unique to each class or any items they may have equipped.

Each island is randomized, some may have one central building atop a hill with only one pathway up that can be easily held by a single pikemen unit while archers rain down arrows from above. Other maps may be a flat open terrain with enemies coming from all sides which will require a team that’s mobile and can split into two and work just as effectively to hold multiple fronts.

The Vikings invade the island.
A valiant defense

Whilst the map plays a huge part in choosing your team composition, an even more important aspect is the enemies that you will face. You are told which types of enemies you will encounter (assuming you have faced them before) but they will not tell you how many. Some battles you will find yourself fighting ranged units from all sides so you best have brought plenty of sword and shield units. Other times you might be fighting a bunch of fast, high damage units that will decimate any units that get close in which case you will need archers to pick them off on the boats as they arrive.

Choosing a wrong team composition can be life or death for your units. Perma-death is a looming threat at all times and any units you lose will be gone for good along with all of their upgrades and items. If your unit can make it to one of the boats in time they can flee on one of the enemies ships but they wont be able to be used again for that turn. Luckily the game provides a safety net with checkpoints as you go which you can reload at any point but they are few and far between so significant progress can be lost.

Once More Unto The Breach

Unfortunately, the one place that falls flat is the replayability factor. With a rogue-like game with randomized elements you expect to get a large variety of different scenarios but that isn’t really the case with Bad North. There is certainly enough island variety to keep it from feeling stale and the mixes of enemies don’t repeat themselves too often but that is about it. Items seem to be the same with each run-through, with the only difference tending to be which order you find them in.

Victory over the Vikings!

This is not a deal-breaker by any means. You can still get a solid few hours of great gameplay out of a single play-through and you will most likely need a few attempts to get the hang of it. There are also harder difficulties for players who want a challenge. Some more variety with items and enemy types could extend the replayability exponentially but the developers have been good with releasing free content so far so they may add to that yet.

The Greatness of Minimalism

The most stand out part of the experience has to be the art style. The minimalistic style is a lovely compliment to the simple yet deep gameplay that houses it. There are enough little details throughout such as the slightly different units that match their image to the way in which the units react to each other that really sell the whole experience. Hopping back away from an enemy weapon or holding their shield up high to protect themselves from a rain of arrows really gives the little guys some character.

Pikemen defense
The Pikemen hold the line

Even the simple things such as the way the pikemen ready their pikes by laying them down in the direction the enemy will be approaching from and retracting them back ready for a thrust just as they come into range, or the way the arrows fly through the air really make this a beautiful experience and show the craftsmanship behind it. Real care has gone into the making of this game.

As you battle the enemy you will notice the island becoming red. There is a lot of blood left on the island by the end but it is never gory or obscene. It works more as a showing of where you defeated the most enemies and can be seen even after you have completed an island and gone back to the world map allowing you to see the grizzly trail you have fought along the way.

The Good North

Overall this is a real gem of an indie game and one that any strategy gamer should give a try. The game has plenty of room for improvement but for a team of three guys, it is a remarkable feat. Everything from the audio to the art to the gameplay is so perfectly simple yet compelling and deceptively complex. The Bad North is far from Bad. It’s excellent.