I find yet another roguelite game (they seem to be the trend so far) in my Steam Library. This time it’s a simple strategy game where you defend your home against Viking invaders. Short and sweet, but there is a little more depth to this game than it first seems.
When you start Bad North, you are met with a song backed by plucking a double bass (or a similar instrument). It evokes the sound of a bowstring being plucked, tying the music to the game’s theme of Viking invasion. Slow, simple, with sharp crescendos, it also creates a sense of danger, like an army slowly marching toward you.
This is what I love about the game’s design. Every piece of art in the game adds to the theme. It’s simplistic, yet beautifully drawn. The music, and the sound effects add to the tone. A clash of a gong to indicate the start of a game. The music that plays when you start a level giving a feeling of quiet island nature, and the horns that sound as an invasion begins.
The game includes weather and lighting systems that change how each island looks. You can be fighting in heavy rain or snow, or during a thunderstorm. Night falls the more islands you play in each turn, and this can even happen as you are defending an island. The presentation of this game is phenomenal.
But a game is more than just imagery and sound. And Bad North’s gameplay is simple, yet strategic. Each turn you pick an island to defend against the incoming Vikings. You deploy your troops, and position them ready to take on the enemies arriving on the boats.
After each turn, the Viking army advances, and you lose the chance to defend one or more islands in future turns. You have to keep pushing forward otherwise they will catch up to your army and you will lose the game.
The basic gameplay involves moving your soldiers around to attack and kill the opposing soldiers before they destroy the houses on the island. If they all get destroyed, the island is lost. Kill all the invaders, and the island is saved. You are then rewarded with gold coins based on how many houses you saved.
On the map you can choose which island to defend next. Each island shows its shape, its elevations and the number of buildings. With the enemies you will encounter being indicated as well, you can start planning your defense before you’ve even loaded into the island.
Later in the game different enemy types will show up. Archers that can kill you from afar, to giant brutes that hurl your soldiers around. With the gold you earn you can upgrade your basic soldiers to defend against these new opponents. Archers can shoot from afar, infantry can defend against arrows with their shields, and pikemen can hold enemies at bay. Each soldier type can also be given an ability that helps you in combat.
As a roguelite, Bad North features permadeath. If a general dies in combat, you lose that unit forever. If you lose all your soldiers, the game is over. As you progress, you will find islands with new generals on them. By saving these islands you can recruit the general and replenish your ranks.
There are also a couple of checkpoint islands. These islands act like saves, allowing you to go back if you feel like you aren’t doing well. There are two of these islands, so you get a bit more of a chance by capturing these islands.
You can also find items that can be equipped on your troops. They will have various effects, ranging from increasing your squad size, to bombs and mines that can blow up enemies.
I played a few campaigns before I finally found my stride. In my 7th campaign I committed. I played for around 4 hours, carefully selecting islands to defend until I got to the final island. At this point most of my troops were fully upgraded, so I sent them in and managed a good defense. I lost one of my generals, but ultimately came out on top.
After this I wasn’t inclined to play it again. I read some reviews and people seemed to agree that it was worth playing once, but “you couldn’t fully upgrade everyone”. But during the campaign I noticed that you could defend multiple islands in a single turn if you split your troops up. I decided to look up some Let’s Plays, and I saw there are still a few more challenges left with this game.
I started another playthrough, only this time I’m going to finish every island in the game. It’s a lot harder to play this way, but the reward is greater. You end up with more units than you need and can defend multiple islands each turn. By the end though, you will end up using just one upgraded team and fighting one island each turn. Resources are strained, and you’ll need to save your upgrades for your most useful units.
This is the flaw in the game. The replay value in roguelites (and roguelikes) is that each run of the game gives you a different experience. While the basic game is the same, the random events and encounters in each run force you to adapt your build, and you improve as you play because you learn more about what could happen, not what will happen.
Bad North, while a fun experience, lacks this randomness that makes each run unique. There is a harder difficulty mode, but each time you play the game you know most of what will happen. You figure out a build that works early on, and just do the same thing each run. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the game, I definitely did. But I’ve done it now. I don’t see any reason to play it again.
Except maybe to get those last two achievements so I can claim I’ve fully completed the game.