Reviews// Blood Bowl 2

Posted 24 Sep 2015 17:06 by
A faithful adaptation of a strategy board game is a rare thing to see in todayís computer game market. The turn-based dice-rolling fantasy American football genre is probably one of the most niche genres you could ever come up with. So when Cyanide put together a game based on the Warhammer spin-off Blood Bowl, most people wouldnít have assumed it would have the legs to support two expansion packs over six years and an eventual sequel. But here we are.

Most fans of Blood Bowl would agree that Cyanideís last effort did a really impressive job of adapting the rules of the old strategy board game. As a result of this very little has really changed when it comes to the core gameplay. Instead where Blood Bowl 2 shines is in how much work has been put into refining the graphics and overall presentation of the game.

Not only does everything look prettier now, the interface is much clearer and less cluttered. Everything from the player models and animations to the commentary and even background music has really been ramped up in quality, which will no doubt be the main selling point for fans who enjoyed the mechanics and core gameplay of the first game, despite its often rough exterior.

The upgrades arenít just cosmetic though. The enemy AI has been improved to a significant degree. Not only do the enemy teams play more sensibly in general, they also tend to behave closer to their strengths. Not only do you have to learn to play to your own strengths and weaknesses, youíll also have to adjust your gameplay to stop enemies from playing to theirs. I wasnít an expert in the first game by any means and Iím a bit rusty after a few years, but I was used to enjoying much easier victories back then than I have been so far in Blood Bowl 2. Fortunately, if youíre new to Blood Bowl or just as out of practice as I was, the game does come with some training wheels.

The single-player campaign now does a much better job of easing new players into the mechanics of the game than the first Blood Bowl did. Taking the role of new coach of a struggling human team, youíre pitted against increasingly difficult foes. The earlier matches are played using very simplified versions of the rules and guaranteeing the success of many actions, so itís easier to pick up the basics.

As you continue, more features will be implemented each match and the kid gloves will come off as your passes and blocks will start to fail more often. This will probably be a chore for experienced Blood Bowl gamers to work through, but new players would be well-advised to work through this mode first rather than throwing themselves into the deep end of real competition. Even for the veterans, the tedium of feeling hand-held can be made up for by some of the odds thrown against you, such as obviously corrupt referees or overly aggressive crowds.

The main attraction for Blood Bowl fans however - and where new players will likely end up once the campaign has shown them the ropes - is creating your own team and taking them to the top ranks of competition, either online against other players or against a range of AI-controlled teams.

Your first and most important decision will be the race you choose, the available options including good old humans and regular fantasy staples such as orcs or elves. Each race offers different advantages and disadvantages that force them to play in different ways. The elven teams are agile and excellent at passing and catching the ball, but crumble like biscuits when it comes to the more brutal side of the game. Dwarves, on the other hand, are incredibly hard to put down in a fight but struggle to make fast progress up the pitch and have terrible ball-handling skills.

Returning players from the last game may be disappointed by the much smaller selection of teams available at this point. With its final expansion, the first Blood Bowl ended up including twenty three different teams and offering a massive variety of play styles. Dropping down to eight Ė possibly ten depending on your pre-order deal Ė will feel a little stifling to some.

While there are sure to be waves of DLC reintroducing those teams, Iím not going to try to judge where the game might be in a yearís time. As it stands right now it doesnít feel unreasonable to say that Cyanide couldíve included a few more teams at launch. Hopefully it wonít take long for them to catch up with the first gameís roster and hopefully Cyanide wonít nickel-and-dime its fanbase into oblivion in the process.

To help you get more attached to your team thereís a much greater degree of customisation available than before. You can still choose a uniform colour scheme and a team logo just like in the last game, but now individual players have a lot more face options to help individualise them more. Even if youíre the dry sort who doesnít care what their players look like, the more detailed graphics and diverse options give this a gameplay advantage to as itís always handy to be able to tell your players apart on the field. You even get to choose the location of and name your home stadium, which can be further customised as you advance in rank.

Probably the biggest hurdle for a newcomer to the Blood Bowl franchise to overcome is the gameís brutal learning curve. While it would be childish to say that the computer cheats at everything, itís likely that after a few matches youíll have been witness to some amazing odds-defying plays by the computer teams while even your best laid plans fall apart at every opportunity. With experience it gets easier to judge the risks involved and make your decisions accordingly, but youíll always feel that sense of dread whenever you ask one of your players to do something even as simple as pick up the ball.

Blood Bowl 2 has gone to some lengths to alleviate this by showing you your percentage chance of succeeding in each action before confirming your plan, but no matter how safe you think you are your fate is still ultimately in the hands of the dice. This does make the rare occasion when your desperate attempts to stop an enemy touchdown or score your own actually succeed that much sweeter however. Itís probably that sense of having beaten the odds that makes Blood Bowl so satisfying in the long run.

The main way of increasing your odds is by levelling up your players with skills to make them better suited to certain tasks. Experience is awarded to players when they successfully complete certain actions in matches, whether itís scoring a touchdown, making a pass or successfully maiming or killing an enemy.

Once you level up you get to choose from a variety of skills that can start letting you tweak your playerís role on the team even more. Some skills make a player more reliable in combat, or better catchers, or just faster runners. Some skills give you more advanced options in a match such as being able to leap over the top of a line of defenders to continue a sprint for the touchdown. Once your players start to get a few levels under their belt theyíll noticeably become far more reliable at whatever youíve built them towards and significantly high-level players will become the lynchpins of your team.

Which makes it all the worse if they get murdered in the middle of a match. Such is Blood Bowl. Losing a player to death or having their performance reduced by a persistent injury means youíll need to build up new players to replace them. Over a long time youíll even start to see some of your long-running players retiring from the sport, ensuring that no matter how successful you are, if you want your team to endure youíll have to continue building new talent.

Itís hard to recommend Blood Bowl 2 to just anyone. Not only is it a very niche genre that I imagine has little appeal to the mainstream masses, it demands quite a bit of time and effort before youíre likely to start having any success with it. Itís challenging. It can be incredibly frustrating. But if youíre the patient and strategically-minded sort it can be very satisfying. If you were a fan of the
first game and/or the board game then youíll probably be right at home here. But for anyone else I would definitely only recommend looking into this if youíre an old-school strategy game fan.

Pros:
- Excellent team building.
- Challenging strategic gameplay.
- Glossy presentation.

Cons:
- Low number of team race options.
- Often frustrating.
- Very slow-paced.

SPOnG Score: 7.5/10

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