Bad North hasn’t ascended from its mortal failings to the gates of Valhalla; it’s a game that has let its shortcomings brew further into a refined mead fit for us mortals.
Genre: Rogue-Lite, Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Plausible Concept
Publisher: Raw Fury
PC Release: 24 July, 2019
Mobile release: 16 Oct, 2019
In case you’re wondering if you’re feeling some Déjà vu, then worry not; this review is a follow-up covering the latest free expansion, the Jotunn Edition. Unlike my previous review, this article will focus on the new additions and the value of the game’s current state. Since my last review started off with a food analogy, think of this one as a complimentary dessert on the house. As a result, you should consider this review an addendum to that review, so if you haven’t read it, then please do in order to get the full context.
Before we go straight ahead, I want to stem the tide of any further confusion as to why I changed my rating on Save or Quit. Originally, I rated the game with a Pause rating, which lists two out of three categories that I would describe for an acceptable game, not a bad game. After receiving feedback from my Stellaris: Distant Stars’ review, I realized that the Pause rating had more of a negative connotation than what the description says. Naturally, I went through my catalog to make sure every game that received a Pause rating got the proper assessment, and, getting to the actual point, this change is why the game now reflects a “Save for Later” score.
Now, if you’re like me and you don’t care about arbitrary scores, the purpose of explaining my correction is to give you some idea how the game has changed. Bad North hasn’t ascended from its mortal failings to the gates of Valhalla; it’s a game that has let its shortcomings brew further into a refined mead fit for us mortals. If you desire a brief, hard respite with very little to lose, then Bad North may be the game just for you.
There is More Honor in Accumulating Little than in Reaching for the Sky
If you can recall from before, Bad North is what I called a lite-rouge-lite real-time-strategy game because the game fell short of the many expectations of those associated genres. These ideas include a certain level of depth of mechanics and/or randomized items, a sense of reward to replay the game after winning or losing, and an engaging way to micromanage your army. Of these areas, the Jotunn Edition focuses on the former and the latter categories rather than changing how the game plays, so I won’t reiterate how the core gameplay works.
To showcase these improvements, we should start at the title-screen: Instead of receiving two random units that were all the same, you can now unlock starting traits and items for your commanders. There is also a new Very Hard difficulty option, so if you found the game too easy then this mode should sate you—I wouldn’t know for certain because the Hard setting still gives me trouble, but not because the game has been made more unfair. On the contrary, many of the new gameplay adjustments have shifted the blame of losing onto the player such as being able to see what enemy types you will encounter, having gold be available to everyone from a shared pool and offering new items and rebalanced abilities. Even if you lose, you can restart the level—relax, masochists, you can disable this setting if you want a more honest playthrough. Together, all these improvements make for a more casual experience without adding more barriers of accessibility for the hardcore audience.
If you have noticed, I neglected to mention any differences to the number of units you can control or to any new classes, and that’s because there aren’t any changes. However, most of these new accessible options makes the risk-taking decision to play sub-optimally feasible, especially when you know for certain that you won’t need a particular type of unit to counter one enemy. This improvement cannot be understated as you can now properly defend an island with two units—perhaps with even one if you are feeling ballsy—which lets you make more tactical decisions when deploying units on the FTL-style map. This change can also affect the game’s visuals as you’ll be able to enjoy more of the sunset and nighttime variations, although these scenarios could have used some gameplay modifiers to make them mechanically interesting.
While all these many improvements are appreciated, none quite address the fundamental problem with Bad North’s lacking sense of engagement or replayability. The Codex entries, the starting traits and items, and the difficulty modes will get you to enjoy this game far longer, but it won’t take long for everything to quickly feel the same. Perhaps that conclusion is the result of my preferences for variety in rogue-lite titles or the fact that I have played this game for fifteen hours, which is certainly a testament of how much the game has to offer. However, considering what Plausible Concept has done to address the game’s shortcomings, I can hardly think of any suggestions without changing the core systems such as the number of units you can control. The only idea that comes to mind is a risk-versus-reward system like the ability to spend one piece of gold to spawn non-commander militia units, and if that unit is lost you lose that piece of gold. Everything else would probably be best saved for a sequel with all the lessons learned from Bad North.
Verdict: Bad To the North; Too Bad, North—the Possibilities are Endless!
All jokes of terrible sequel titles aside, Plausible Concept certainly has the groundwork laid out for themselves to make a second title that expands on their ideas. Larger scaled armies, more class options, bigger terrains and more forms of defense would make Bad North a better tactics game; a wider variety of rewards and risks as well as a richer display of mechanical depth would make this game a better rogue-lite. Anyone who enjoys a game would make these same types of suggestions, but it’s important to recognize that asking for more (when the game gives you plenty) shouldn’t be viewed as criticism; it is perhaps the most praiseworthy compliment to the chefs.