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Bad North

Posted by GG Goblin On September - 3 - 2018

It’s all a bit minimalist.

I love strategy games, being in control of a large force of units and invested in what is happening on a large map, while being separate from it all. It’s a power trip, which is something that video games in general offer frequently. Bad North however, from developers Plausible Content, is not that sort of strategy game, being less power trip and more clinging onto the edge of a cliff with your finger nails. At least, that is how things turn out towards the second half of the game, although even in the early game, if the RNG gods frown upon you, it’s going to be a tough slog.

badnorth_01 (Copy)

Bad North is a minimalist, roguelike, real-time strategy game in which the player defends islands from an onslaught of Vikings. The player will move across a map, defending islands as they go. Before long, players will have to choose which island they want to play and defend, potentially losing out on any rewards that would become available from the islands they don’t choose. As each of the islands, and their contents, are procedurally generated, each play through will be different, so learning from mistakes will only happen in the broadest sense.

What the developers have done is remove all of the unnecessary complications to make Bad North the most minimalist game that they can. The island is divided into a grid and the player will move their commander and troops into position to take on the Viking threat in real time. The Vikings arrive by longboat, and their casual approach means that it is fairly easy to work out where they will land, and start preparing for their arrival in plenty of time. As the player moves from island to island, things will get more difficult as Vikings arrive from different directions, and new enemy units are introduced that simply take more work to destroy.

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Much of the depth in Bad North comes from how the player manages their units. Islands have buildings on them, and those pesky Vikings want nothing more than to burn them to the ground. However, each remaining building at the end of a battle will reward the player with gold that can be used to upgrade the units. To begin with, there is the chance to make them specialise, choosing between archers for a handy ranged attack, sword and shield warriors to get up close and personal, or pikemen who can hold back an onslaught effectively if placed in the right position. Units will attack whatever comes in to range by themselves, so it is all about getting them in the right position to start with.

Once units have their specialisation, they can further be improved by spending more gold, making them stronger or more effective. Sometimes players will find items or abilities that can be assigned to the commanders of their units, further improving them. Often, the player will have to choose between an island that has more buildings, and thus potentially more gold, or an island that contains something they can use, or even a new commander to join the players force.

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Either way, choosing where to spend their gold and which units to upgrade will have a lot to do with how far the player will be able to progress. Losing a well upgraded unit or failing to protect enough buildings will start the player on a downward spiral that it will be very difficult to recover from. The random nature of the game can go a long way to make things feel even more unfair, and the difficulty ramps up quite substantially even in the games normal difficulty mode. Once all of the player commanders has been defeated, it is back to the beginning for another set of islands.

While I appreciate the simplicity of the game, and how it would be quite welcoming to players who have never dipped their toes into the complex strategy game market, I can’t help but feel the game needed a bit more depth. Also, the random nature of the game does leave success at least partially in the hands of luck, which can be incredibly frustrating when things don’t work to a players advantage. Starting again from the beginning after a turn of bad luck is no fun at all.

Visually, Bad North is simply lovely to look at. While everything still maintains that minimalist approach that the developers were aiming for, all of the different features are quite distinct and easy to make out. The overall muted colour scheme and water effects make it feel like each island is actually set in a puddle on a cloudy day. Despite the threat of Viking attack, it is all quite calming.

badnorth_37 (Copy)

Bad North is a strategy game that could be almost casual were it not for the punishing difficulty of the later game. The minimalist approach works really well, both with the visuals and the gameplay, although the more veteran strategy players will likely yearn for more, and the random nature of the game can be infuriating. Despite this, Bad North can be a lot of fun to play, and is worth checking out by anyone interested in fighting off the Viking hordes.




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