'Bad North' Xbox One / Windows PC review: An addictive Viking strategy game on Xbox Game Pass

Want a fun time-waster? Are you feeling Viking-ish after the Hellblade II trailer? Want to kill hundreds of Iron Age raiders in a minimalistic strategy roguelite format? Look no further.

Bad North
(Image: © Windows Central)

Ever wondered what would happen if you combined Vikings, roguelike elements, tower defense, and real-time strategy gameplay aspects? Say hi to Bad North!

Bad North is an indie gem available on Xbox Game Pass for both console and PC and has proven itself to be a fun time-waster for me over the holiday period. I discovered the game using Xbox Game Pass's "random game" button and was pleasantly surprised. It's well worth your time and consideration, and if you're interested, see below for some further details.

What you'll love about Bad North

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

| Bad North --- | --- Genre | Real-time strategy, roguelike Players | Single-player only Xbox Game Pass | PC and Xbox console Developer | Raw Fury

Bad North, at its core, is a real-time strategy game, although it is a lot more forgiving than some of the more complex strategy games out there. It gives you plenty of time to make choices and decisions by slowing down time when you select units, while also giving you plenty of early warnings to help you prepare. But make no mistake, this game is not easy.

You play as a group of islanders fleeing an encroaching Viking threat. The Vikings will gradually progress across your map screen, forcing you to stay on the move jumping from island to island, fighting waves of incoming pillagers of multiple types. In that vein, Bad North plays a little bit like a tower defense game, but it's also a fair bit more dynamic.

You'll build up a small militia of various units, and can customize them in multiple ways to counteract the enemy. Shield bearers block arrows, for example, and pikemen can push enemies back. You can move them around on specific tiles to fit the needs of the situation. For instance, if there is a troupe of unarmored swordsmen approaching your island from the north, lining the adjacent cliffs with archers is usually a good strategy. You can then move them to another position after that wave has been dealt with.

Once you have positioned your units, they attack on their own, producing comedic cascades of blood all over the island. When you execute a solid strategy, it's a lot of fun and endlessly addictive. Well, to a point.

What you might love less about the Bad North

Bad North (Image credit: Windows Central)

Bad North (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

A small team built Bad North, and the scope of the game tends to match that fact. There aren't that many unit types you'll encounter or be able to produce, although you can upgrade your squads with new abilities and artifacts which extend the strategic aspects even more. The biggest pitfall of Bad North rapidly becomes its repetitive nature.

The game's islands could have used with a wider variety of types and biomes, and perhaps features. They're all rather small, and the aim of each is to defend the islander's homes from invaders. The more homes you defend, the greater the rewards are, and thus, the more upgrades you can grab between turns. Each unit type only has a few set upgrades, though, so you'll max out the game's sense of progression relatively quickly.

Another annoyance with the game pertains to the AI. Each unit has a set array of behaviors that govern how they respond to different situations, whether they'll stray from their assigned tiles, whether they can move and attack, and so on. Learning these restrictions is key to victory.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

That said, sometimes, it feels like the AI gets confused and doesn't always perform as described. On the one hand, it's fair enough given that the game is all about dynamic AI battles between small squads of units — things may not always pan out as expected. However, since the game has perma-death, it can be frustrating when a critical unit gets wiped out because it got slowed down by an awkward bit of terrain. None of these "issues" are what I'd describe as a deal-breaker, though, especially given that the game is available on Xbox Game Pass.

Should you play Bad North?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Considering Bad North is available as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription across both console and PC, giving it a try is an absolute no-brainer. It's lightweight and easy to run on PC and plays well on Xbox too.

The game's simplistic graphics also lend themselves well to lower-end PCs, which, by the way, also supports the latest Windows APIs, which makes it easier to scale in window mode for epic multi-taskers. It's in that vein I tend to play it since the game is light enough not to demand your full attention.

Bad North isn't going to blow anyone's minds, but it's a fun time-waster for those looking for something within these genres, even if it's a little limited in scope.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!