Bad North pulls the remarkable trick of snatching ideas from many different genres and concocting them into something unique, rather than derivative, in the process. As a real-time tactics rogue-like, it brings in classic elements from each of these genres, along with bite-sized fixes of action that feel purpose-built for mobile gaming, plus the kind of head-down, keep-going momentum that we would expect more from an endless runner. It does all this with a simple, effective art style to boot.
The sum total, however, while impressive, isn’t flawless. The styling of the game is gorgeous and oddly brutal despite its simplicity, but that can also make discerning unit types and details in topography challenging in a split second. The difficulty level is tough as nails on Hard, which is the game’s default setting. It’s only a little less punishing on Normal. But on both of these points, it could be argued that it’s all there to force improvisation. If you’re someone who is quick to throw your gamepad across a room in frustration, this might be one to avoid. Even more so on a Switch, as we doubt that gorgeous screen could take the punishment.
But it really is very compelling and keeps drawing us back in. When you do figure out what enemies are in play, the tactical rock, paper, scissors of which unit will be most effective in any scenario – not to mention from what position – keeps things interesting. As you progress through the islands, never able to turn back, tougher and tougher adversaries emerge to face you down on more complex and open islands with more villages to defend. We quickly realised that conquering every island was neither possible nor the point. It’s about picking a path that gets you to the other side and collecting gold to pay for upgrades to your units, all while collecting special items and new commanders along the way. Keep enough of them alive and level them up and you just might be able to escalate your campaign to more islands per turn, but that’s going to be very hard.
Having had our eye on this game for some time, we had worried that Bad North would end up being too simplistic or one dimensional, and while the later claim might still be made, the former cannot. It’s such a well-balanced and inviting execution of the form that even when you lose all of your commanders for the fifth time and have to start again, you’ll do so gladly. Its razor sharp focus and subtle mechanics combine to lift it above its base parts. Bad North is a deviously smart tactical challenge that plays nicely on home consoles, but may be even better on the move.
Every island is completely different and picking your path through the fog of war is important, if only because conquering the right islands can unlock special items and new units to add to your command.
above: Arriving on an island, you will need to immediately assess how open it is to assault. Where are the tricky points to defend? Are there helpful choke points? Are there good vantage points for archers?
total war: warhammer