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Bad North is the chillest RTS I’ve ever played

If you find strategy games too overwhelming, there’s an alternative

Raw Fury
Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

I avoid real-time strategy games as a rule. I find them stressful and overwhelming, as they require that I keep track of about 16 things at once. Bad North feels like it was designed for me.

Bad North is an RTS wherein you must defend small islands against ravaging hordes of vikings, but the sheer focus of the game makes it way more digestible than many games of the genre.

For one thing, you’re really only commanding four units at a time. These units are specialized, sure, but they’re dead simple to understand. You’ve got archers for ranged attacks, pikemen for defense and infantry as mobile melee force. At a glance it’s easy to see where units should be placed as the marauders sail in via their long boats.

Even with just four units, things can still get hectic, with multiple boats landing at the same time. Thankfully, Bad North tosses in a quasi-turn-based element, where when you’re ordering units around, time slows to a crawl, letting you think about your next move. It’s during this slowdown time that you can decide if you want to pull one of the units back to be reinforced or to activate a special ability.

There’s very little in the way of clutter. Almost everything you need to know is presented in the game world. Unit strength is represented by individual units in that squad and when there are no more units, well, that’s the end of that squad. All of the units, including enemies, are represented with tiny but effective artwork, offering just enough information about their power level and abilities, so you can see at a glance when archers or heavy knights are making their way toward you.

Pull back further and you’re treated to charming isles that look hand-painted, ripped from the wall of a twee bed and breakfast — which makes the contrasting violence even more bizarre and entertaining.

Admittedly the minimalist nature of Bad North does yield a problem of depth. The structure of the game doesn’t allow for a ton of variety in terms of the way battles play out. Special items will spice things up somewhat but by and large you may start to feel things repeating themselves after a few hours.

But given how few “relaxing” RTS games there are, Bad North is a lovely respite from build queues and actions-per-minute.

Bad North is out on Switch now for $14.99. It’s coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at the end of the month, and to PC later this year.

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