I suppose it would be best to start with a disclaimer; if you’re looking for a spiritual successor to Mutant League Football, Blood Bowl 2 is not the game for you. Sadly, you will have to keep on waiting for that one. However, if you are looking for one of the best recreations of a classic table top game (which features similar themes) Blood Bowl II does not disappoint.
Blood Bowl 2 won’t appeal to everyone. For a start, it’s turn-based. Rather than merely taking the idea of Blood Bowl and making a violent sports game out of it, Cyanide have instead recreated the tabletop game down to the dice rolls. Each match is split into two halves of eight turns, and you’re given all the time you want to make your moves (in single player at least). Each turn can take several minutes as you’ll be directing the actions of your entire team, one player at a time. Giving individual commands, ordering them to move up the field, rough up the opposition or pass the ball might initially seem a little daunting, but Cyanide have done a marvellous job of getting novices into the swing of things via the game’s single player campaign which also acts as its tutorial.
In the campaign, you play as the coach of the beleaguered Reitland Raiders, a once-great team that have fallen on hard times. In the manner of your typical feel-good sports movie it’s up to you to turn the team around and bring them back to glory, hiring a better team and upgrading the team’s stadium on the way. If you’ve never played Blood Bowl before, this is definitely the place to start. In fact, i’d hold off on going online until you’ve at least cracked through the first half of the campaign so that you can get a grip of the basics. There is, after all, an awful lot of ground to cover.
For starters, each team/race in the game requires a different style of play. The Humans are your normal all-rounders, Dwarves are the heavy hitters that spend more time beating the shit out of the opposition than trying to score, the Skaven are incredibly quick and sneaky and the Orks fall down somewhere just between Dwarves and Humans, being surprisingly skilled, but still capable of laying a serious beat down. Because of the vast differences in play styles, its important to adapt your tactics for every game or you’re likely to end up with half your team crippled, and the other half completely dead.
On the whole, Blood Bowl II‘s gameplay chugs along at the leisurely pace of a sunday afternoon ball game, and it’s nice that you’re not pressured into making snap judgments for the sake of injecting excitement into it.It is, however, a little puzzling that the AI takes so bloody long deciding what to do. I can understand turns taking a while while playing against another human, who has to take time to think, and make cups of tea and take toilet breaks, but surely it doesn’t take a computer almost two minutes to figure out the best course of action.
The success of your plays are governed by their “chance of success”, which is represented by a percentage displayed before you commit to an action. If you fail to make a play, you’ll fall flat on your face during a run or get taken out by the opposition while trying to dodge past them. The higher your chances are, the more likely you are (obviously) to successfully execute the play, though there is always the chance you’ll mess up. This system rewards smart, conservative play, but the feeling of managing to pull off a play that was almost certainly doomed is incredibly satisfying, creating a nice risk and reward system. Likewise fights between players are governed via dice rolls and their base stats. This helps to add to the unpredictable and wild nature of the game, as well as adding the uncertainty and luck required to win in the tabletop game.
On top of accurately recreating the game itself, Cyanide have done a brilliant job of recreating the ridiculous world of Blood Bowl. In between matches, the load screens have fun facts about the history of the sport to keep you amused while you wait to play.
Professional pundit Jim the Vampire and former star player Bob the Ogre provide commentary for the matches and act as narrators, of a sort, during the campaign mode. The pair bicker and riff off each other in the stereotypical way your average sportscasters do; guiding players through every play, and the politics on, and off, the pitch. Though the style of commentary is more Baseket Ball than Monday night Football. With the script and world of the sport itself somewhat Pratchett-esque and wonderfully written and laugh out loud, funny at times
Though the narrative and commentary remain enjoyable for the duration, just before the midway point of the campaign, (once the basics are out the way) the difficulty skyrockets, going from challenging to punishing. The objectives for success diversify further with each match, and losing sets you back to the beginning of the match . Considering that each match can take around half an hour, losing in the last couple of turns is irritating to say the least.
Once you’re done with the campaign, there’s still plenty of fun to have online by creating your own team to participate in user-created leagues, or playing single matches against friends. Making your team is a simple process and finding a match is a quick and painless process. Soon my band of Skaven, were getting their asses handed to them (sometimes literally) in Blood Bowl 2’s international league. Competition is incredibly tough online and some of the other players are absolutely brilliant, but totally merciless. If you put in the time, effort and really learn the game properly I’m sure it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.
The only major gripe I have with Blood Bowl 2 is that the teams of Lizardmen (my favourite race) and Wood Elves have been fenced off behind DLC (at £5.69 a piece no less) unless you pre-ordered the game. As such in order to get the full experience post launch you’ll have to pay another tenner. Moreover given how the game is balanced and your ability to successfully compete, linked intrinsically to being able to understand the various ins and outs of every team, the players without access to these teams are instantly at a disadvantage.
Sure give us pre-order incentives if you must, but taking away a 1/5th of the game’s teams for no other reason than to seemingly hamstring people that didn’t pre-order is just obnoxious, and a blot on an otherwise exceptional strategy game.
Questionable DLC practices aside, if you’re a fan of the table top game, Blood Bowl 2 is a marvellous recreation of one of Games Workshop’s most amusing creations and a marked improvement on the original (which let’s not pull our punches here, was bloody awful). Like I said at the outset, if you’re expecting Madden with Orcs this is not the game for you. However, if you’re looking for a deep and involving strategy game, with a dark sense of humour and aren’t put off by the thought of playing what amounts to fantasy football (or the onerous DLC) I’d recommend giving it a whirl.