If Blood Bowl passed you by, you are not alone. The first I heard about this series was the opportunity to review this instalment. I do have a friend who is quite the fan though, and from what I pieced together from his drooling over the game and the website blurb, is as follows: Blood Bowl and now Blood Bowl 2 are adaptations of the table top Games Workshop version by the same name. You’ll know Games Workshop as the company behind Warhammer. Paint ’em, play with ’em, lose your teen hours and money to them. Well, Blood Bowl has now been promoted (or demoted, I suppose for some) to the electronic world, which brings with it some good and some not so good features. Essentially the game is American Football crossed with…Cluedo? Well, maybe not Cluedo, but certainly a board game of some kind, with square by square movement and lots of chance. The aim is simple: Players direct a team as they attempt to score touchdowns whilst incapacitating or outrunning the opposing team.
The game comes with a short campaign (I’ve played 2 games and I’m around 14% through it) which gives you a great introduction to the game and it’s elements as you pull a team of underdogs through to victory. The two commentators fully voice your progress through the campaign in a TV sports panel format with many a crossover pop-fantasy reference. It’s as though the NFL met Labyrinth with a copy of the Warhammer catalogue to hand. If you are cynical you may groan at some of these references and, as I did, wonder whether they were so necessarily at the forefront of the game. I’d have understood more so if the intended audience was younger but with the animated blood and heavy use of violence to subdue enemies as a core mechanic (including attacking downed players) the game received a PEGI rating of 16. With such an audience, the appeal of Twitter and Facebook wordplays and references to controversial footballers they probably aren’t aware of in the vast “did you know” lore is probably lost. It’s not to say it’s bad; it shows an incredible level of attention to detail but in the same way that a pushy parent might constantly refer to their child’s amazing tap dancing abilities and never mention that they are 5 years behind on reading ability. Here is what I will notice: Do the only 2 animated characters with speech move their mouths in time with the words they are saying? In Blood Bowl 2 this is a no. Unfortunately the solution to this may well have been possible to achieve if less time had gone into 50 word long fictional ‘did you know?’ paragraphs designed only for a few cheap laughs. That said, this will hopefully wash over most people without effect. You lucky people.
It’s clear where the emphasis in Blood Bowl 2 is in terms of game modes, but some odd choices make it a challenge to engage with. I am talking about multiplayer. It’s nice to see local multiplayer included. I might have a hard time convincing my better half to play but friends visiting might get some fun out of the game that isn’t offered by enough games any more. That said, if the campaign is an introduction to the game, due to it’s complex nature, I wonder whether a second player would be able to persevere through a pretty steep learning curve. Also, I’m not sure whether local multiplayer only allows individual, unconnected games or plugs into the wider competition modes which the game is focused towards. I’d hope the latter but think the former.
The meatiest mode in Blood Bowl 2 is by far the online leagues. You can create a team, there is a modest transfer market and economy aspect for sourcing new and better players, and you can set up leagues to compete in. These leagues can then hold more than one competition and there are different styles of competition available including round robins and knockouts. You can even causally combine these competitions so that winning one gains entry into another. It feels very native, though also as though this game is the smallest fish in a very big pond of competitive multiplayer games. I thought about whether setting up leagues with friends might be the ideal use but then I find it hard to imagine 8 friends all purchasing the game, and playing each other in one on one matches as part of a wider competitive system. It would be quite an intense commitment for what feels like quite a light game. I suppose time will tell with the competitive aspect and I do intend to try and get involved though I have no idea whether the game will hold my attention for long.
Let’s get down to the core elements of the game as it is played. I did try and devise a suitable metaphor that summarised the games feel and I believe Chessboxing offers that. Chessboxing is a combination sport where combatants alternate rounds of boxing with rounds of chess. Boxing is a sport that prides itself on swiftness and tactical application of attacks and defensive guards to knock down or wear down opponents. Chess is a turn by turn application of attacking or defensive manoeuvres in order to protect from and apply checkmate. If Madden was boxing, with it’s fast paced decision making and play, Blood Bowl 2 is it’s Chess equivalent. Every move is carefully devised and a game can be lots and won on a single decision. Where it varies again, is in the random roll of dice which favours none. You may make good decisions, but it can still go wrong if you push your luck. The flipside, of course, is that victory against the odds is all the sweeter! The teams are balanced mainly towards strength or agility with some offering the ability to mow through the opposition over the choice to outrun them. Playing as an agile team can sometimes be a less fulfilling experience after the first 30 times your players are victim to knockdown animations but mastery of the classes likely offers some greater appreciation when you dance the ball past brutish teams to win. The move and action mechanics are easy to grasp meaning strategy is the real mettle of this game. Run tackle and pass are your basic building blocks of success, you just need to decide how much of each is the right amount to apply.
Graphically the game is fairly solid. The lip sync of the commentators is a small annoyance but other than that the game, the teams and the crowds are presented well. The models have a soft fantasy art feel, akin to World of Warcraft or Neverwinter which allows the animations to warp the edges of realism. The graphical emphasis is on slow mo takedowns on the field, a moment of displaying dominance over the other team, though they do get tedious quite quickly. It’s like watching a slow motion scene from the matrix on loop at times. That said, every blow is no doubt a party for one player and so it has the same effect as the double edged Fifa replay: Only enjoyable with your victory. The game is bright and creates a suitable environment within a limited play space. One of the nice features I do like is the variable zoom settings that take the camera out and above the game for a truly top down experience and then swing around then in for an up close and personal action view. All in all, a good looking game.
One thing I cannot fault with the voice acting is the commitment to authenticity. If I was susceptible to the atmosphere that they are attempting to create, I would definitely enjoy it significantly and imagine there are fans that will love this aspect. There are a limited number of lines though, so do expect to hear the same ones pop up often. On the field, hits sound as heavy as they are intended and you do get the sense from movement sounds that this is certainly fully armoured blood sport, rather than just sport. The crowd too has noticeably difference that isn’t as clear in other true to life sports games. The ability to freely navigate the field with the camera would emphasise positional accuracy of sounds more readily, but with the limited viewing angles, it can only be said to currently sound correctly placed.
Where I struggle with the game is in justification of it’s value, as it is currently priced at £39.99, a seemingly a high price point for such an experience. That said, I am sure that there is a market for the game at that price, just that these players may be previously associated with the franchise rather than taking a chance. The inclusion of local co-op may appeal to those who do tend to play around the living room TV and the extensive competition mode builds value in the more it is engaged. Where it might struggle is in justification of cost to the curious rather than the hardcore. If you are curious, I would say see whether other friends also have the game so that you can get more from it.
Replay value is definitely in the competitive multiplayer. If that’s not your focus, then the game may be quite limited for you. The experience is light enough that it may be easy to learn and hard to master meaning you become drawn into the game (and may know this would be the case). For others, the methodical and slow pacing may mean the game doesn’t hold much charm for long. That being the case, it may be a game for another time, when you can justify dipping a toe.
A well-built adaptation of the table top game with extensive competitive multiplayer customisation and experience. If you love Warhammer, this one is for you! If you are curious about the format and like to compete with friends, get them involved!