The war against the viking hoard has never been so adorable.
NOTE: Bad North is coming to Switch, however it was being demoed on PC hardware.
Plausible Concept was showing off their upcoming strategy game, Bad North, at The MIX LA 2018 alongside this week's E3 events. The game asks the player to command small squads of soldiers to protect an island from viking invaders.
The fight to defend an island's villages works somewhat like the phases of a tower defense game. Periodically, viking longboats will approach the island, often from different direction. The optimal outcome is to move a squad or two to meet the enemy at the beach, as an unimpeded landing will result in the raiders making a bee line for the nearest village, and burning it to the ground.
Protecting towns are important, because each town contributes money at the conclusion of a battle. These coins can be traded to upgrade squads or to change their classes. The demo had the base soldiers, archers, spear men, and swordsmen. It wasn't clear during the demo how each class impacted how best to use them. Obviously, archers gained range and the ability to attack safely from the top of cliffs. Swordsmen seemed particularly effective at taking out enemy groups, but there is likely some nuance that I wasn't getting from the demo session.
It was also important to protect your forces; losing a squad's commander wiped them out. As long as a commander lived, he could recruit new solders from the villages. Once he was gone all the money spent upgrading them is lost. Because this is a war being fought over a series of islands, and not just a single home island, the game even presents the opportunity to beat a hasty retreat to a previous island.
It took me a few failures to figure out how the game plays. Your forces move across a grid, that's cast over the island. Geographic barriers, like cliffs, will deny free movement and create barriers to stop enemies. Shoulder buttons select a unit, and from there you can order them to move to a spot on the grid or or use a skill. On encountering the enemy, they'll fight until one side is either eliminated or flees. I wish my forces were a little more active in pursuing enemies; often they would let a viking raider or two slip by, despite having the upper hand.
Bad North has a minimalist but evocative style. Seeing longboats break the fog around an island is a great, and sometimes scary, image. The need to reorient forces to meet the impending invasions gains an extra tension due to the sudden emergence of enemies. The character designs and world look more than a bit like a cartoonist's take on Medieval art, like an animated modern Bayeux Tapestry. A great choice for a game about repelling the viking invasions.
The camera control could stand to be a bit better. The camera is looking down over the island, isometrically. Triggers allow zooming in and out, and the right stick allows panning around. Sometimes it's just hard to see everything at once. Things are occasionally out of view, and finding a comfortable viewing angle a challenge. Having camera controls that are easy to use is important, since moving the camera to watch for incoming ships is a constant.
There's an interesting depth in spite of Bad North's overall simplification of the strategy genre. The character progression and perma-death of units add an extra layer to the game that makes losing the battle not the worst outcome - a rarity in the strategy field. Bad North is a game worth keeping an eye on, when it comes to Switch this summer.