By Simon Moore on September 23, 2015 at 10:25am
With the anger of an Orc, the agility of an Elf and the strength of an Ogre, "Blood Bowl 2" brings the fantastical violence of the ‘Old Worlds’ most deadly sport back to gamers in 2015.
"Blood Bowl 2" finds players thrust into the role of head coach of one of many teams in Games Workshops own brand of sports entertainment, complete with high octane, high violence and a little bit of magic. Its American football at its core but it brings all the dice rolling, skill building and curb stomping fun that fans of the table top game will recognise but it’s not out of reach of the casual player either. If you ever wondered what happens to an elf when he gets blitz by an orc lineman then this is your opportunity, and if you haven’t, you have to ask yourself….why not?
When you find yourself thrust onto the "Blood Bowl" fields it will be a familiar sight that most sports fans, the concept is simple. Your elven players must stop the opposing eleven from scoring. The game itself draws heavily on American football, fans recognizing instantly that you’re out there to protect your end zone, tackle your opponents and score those touchdowns. If you thought American football was a collision sport, "Blood Bowl" is its big, angry and oversized brother, running forward with eyes closed and hoping to run into something softer. Violence is whole heartedly encouraged on the "Blood Bowl" pitches, in fact you’d be doing the fans a disservice if you didn’t at least attempt to send someone home on a stretcher.
Within "Blood Bowl 2" there are, at the very core, three styles of play. Various teams are better suited to certain aspects of these and some excel exceptional well, but no matter who you choose, teams are capable of matching how you want to play. It might just require you’ll to dedicate the time and thought to make it work.
If you like combat and you just want a fight, becoming a ‘brawler’ team will probably be your most favored option. The game is a balance of move and attack, block and defend but the brawlers aren’t interested in moving the ball forward, their concern is with smashing the opponents into the ground. If that happens to mean they can walk the ball into the end zone, well that’s a nice bonus.
The Hail Marys
If you like the idea of high risk, high reward actions then an agile team of ‘dodgers’ is the way to go. The premise is simple, get hold of the ball, get a man into the enemy zone and look for that Hail Mary pass. If you’re feeling ambitious you can take the ball carrier and send him straight through your opponent’s ranks, avoiding the clubbing blows, swinging boots and occasional knives to get into a dangerous position and hope you can stay those extra few squares ahead of the opposition. In the original "Blood Bowl" game it is entirely possible for certain teams to make a one turn touchdown by going for a Hail Mary rush, though it does require a significant amount of setup to achieve and more than enough luck.
The ‘Blitzer’ is the style of play most players will find themselves fitting into when they first pick up the game. During the tutorial phase of the game this is the style of play you’re encouraged to learn and try out. The objective of the ‘Blitzer’ team is to push straight into the opposition, run or pass the ball into a safe position and then surround the carrier with his teammates making it almost impossible to reach him. It’s about, movement, protection and making sure you opponent is on the back foot. It’s the most balanced approach and the one which has the least risk involved.
To help you decide how you want to play you'll have the option of bringing a team of either; Orcs, Humans, High Elves, Dark Elves, Skaven, Lizardman, Dwarves, Chaos and the new Brettonian team. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses and each offers their own style of play for you to tailor. Notably the last incarnation of "Blood Bowl" was the 'Chaos Edition' which featured a whopping 22 teams to choose from, its probably safe to assume that we'll see more teams arrive in the future as the rosters and world expands.
The game is all about balancing risk and reward, it’s about making the right decision and the right time. It’s also about knowing that anything can go wrong at any time, and being able to react and manage those situations. As you progress through seasons, as players get older and as you achieve success on the field you’ll be able to tailor the team you have chosen and the players you’ve bought to fulfil the roles that you need. Player skill is important and you have the ultimate choice in what you give them, each type of player (Linesman, Blitzer, Catcher, Thrower, Runner and Big Guys) has their own stat line and they have a skill tree that they can access when they achieved enough experience, but we’ll get to that bit later on.
The single player campaign in "Blood Bowl 2" has been significantly improved from its predecessor. With it you’ll take to the boots of the new head coach of the out of luck, former "Blood Bowl" champions, the ‘Riekland Reavers’. A team of great renown that has fallen on hard times and whose glory days have been left in decades past. As the coach it’s up to you to lead this team back to the glorified, bloody and bruised heights of the "Blood Bowl" championship. Although early one, the game uses ‘match replays’ and pre-season friendlies to teach the player the basics of the game, which in itself it’s a fun direction to go, it does feel somewhat staged. The AI will end their turn early or simply not act at all which is a stark contrast to what would happen during a proper game. Having to go through 16 turns during a tutorial that’s teaching you how ‘Block or Dodge’ work can feel long winded when the previous tutorial only required you to make a ‘touchdown’ to proceed. That being said, although the tutorial is not something you can skip due to how its integrated into the single player campaign, the fact it is integrated and that’s its developed as you progress is a welcome respite. This game has been given a life and personality.
In the previous edition you created a team and played through a series of tournaments, you wanted before either deciding to move onto another team or have the best skilled players and dominate any opponent of the field. That’s all changed as you’ll be welcomed prior to each match and during each game by the delightful commentary team of Jim and Bob, who have been as much a part of "Blood Bowl" as the death roller (oh yeah, there this thing called a death roller). Jim and Bob act as the players Vampire and Ogre guides to the world of "Blood Bowl", delivering witty comments, violent enthusiasm and historical reference that gives players the chance to be emerged as both coaches and fans of "Blood Bowl". Cabal vision, the channel of choice for "Blood Bowl" fans brings a refreshing perspective to player interaction and choices, no longer are you just at a screen of stats and numbers but rather you taking part in an active and very real sports program.
The game has also seen a substantial overhaul to its graphics engine, Cyanide have clearly put a great deal of effort into making this game feel like a proper sports simulation. Every player, every model has had a great attention to detail applied and although you have a line-up of Orcs, Goblins, Elves and Beastmen it doesn’t feel as though you’re looking at a cartoon. The players, although exaggerated, feel real, they feel human… (You get the idea). The game doesn’t take itself seriously, it knows it’s a fictional and fantastical sports game filled with over the top violence, giant steam rollers with spikes (that’s the death roller by the way) and eight races of fantasy creatures, but that doesn’t mean they have compromised the design and style so it should not leave fans disappointed. Its gritty, it’s dark and it’s certainly the Warhammer world. I’m not afraid to admit that there is a certain satisfaction in watching your star ogre swat a goblin away with a flash of blood and a thud of body on turf, which has lovingly been crafted by Cyanide Studios.
The one perhaps, complaint? No, not a complaint that would imply that it affects the game. The issue I have with the design, animation of the game is what I attribute to the fact the game is played out on a board. In the beginning "Blood Bowl" was played on a square board and this has remained true through all incarnations of the game in the digital world. Your players move and tackle on a giant 15x26 square board, the downside being when you ask them to make a long and diagonal run, the games AI handles the pathing once you’ve chosen the direction, so your player may come in at a full sprint ready to blitz your opponent before making a sudden sliding stop, changing direction one square, then finishing his move. You have the dramatic build-up of the across field charge, and the sudden stop and turn feels anticlimactic. Of course this doesn’t affect the physical gameplay but more the immersion you feel. The animations are smooth however and every races feels unique in how they move and attack on the field of play, though the blocking and combat actions come with a very cinematic slow motion cut scene. Its looks great the first dozen or so times but I’m sure over time the inability to skip this will probably wear on some players.
The gameplay itself, although perhaps daunting to some players who suspect a 1001 rules await them, is surprisingly easy to get hold of. The single player/tutorial portion of the game will guide your through the basics and give you a good understanding of what you’re seeing on screen. Simply interacting with a player will show their movement range, any minuses they’ll receive depending on where you end up standing and if there are ‘go for it rolls’, the map is fill with detail. So what are those details?
In "Blood Bowl" every player has a movement, strength and agility, these are the core stats that we’ll focus on. If you’re next to an opponent that has a higher strength to you you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage, as I mentioned earlier the games about balancing risk and reward. Every confrontation has a number of dice associated that you’ll have access to deal with the guy your standing next to. Outnumber him and you’ll have more dice to choose from, he’s got buddies and outnumbering you? Then the tables might have been turned so much that your opponent gets to choose which dice is used when you roll. The ‘Go for it’ rolls are something which can potentially turn a terrible situation into a game winning one. If you push a player harder and further than he’s capable of moving then you need a make a single roll to determine if he is capable of doing, or in my experience face plants straight into the turf.
You’ll never go into a situation in "Blood Bowl 2" blind, there is a great amount of information that, once you’re accustomed to the game, will help you decide on the winning plays and the lost causes. As your players interact and you direct their choices, you’ll see what the dice options will be available should you continue with your action. The dice will appear above the interaction, white if it’s in your favor, red if it’s in your opponents and it’s up to you to decide if the roll is worth it. The gods of random will take care of the rest, you just need to sit back and hope it’s a good roll, the dice gods can be awfully fickle. If it goes against you then you’re looking at a turnover and your turn ends, so balance those actions with the ones that will give you the most rewards first, before taking unnecessary risks.
So let’s say you’ve survived your first game, you’ve decided that you want to be that guy who makes hail Mary passes and has a team of super agile and hard to get hold of players. This is where the skills trees and player advancement makes the most impact. During the game, for every successful pass, touchdown, knockout and injury inflicted, your players will gain experience. As they gain experience they’ll get the chance to roll on the skill tree. A unique set of options available to them that will turn them into the star player you want them to be, need a beastman who catches the ball ‘most’ of the time? Grow him a third arm with the ‘Mutation Skill’, want a dwarf that can take a pounding and come out the other end smiling, give him ‘Thick Skull’. The trick, and perhaps the most difficult thing in "Blood Bowl" is to have your players experience evenly spread out across the team.
You can’t throw all your eggs into one basket simply because one bad role and that star catcher who has scored you two dozen touchdowns ends up dead. Death is a very real danger in this game and one that if unprepared for can leave you with a massive hole in your team that you’ll struggle to fill, particularly towards the latter stages of a tournament when your competing against bigger and better teams who have their own star, and highly skilled players. If you go in with a team of inexperience rookies don’t expect to be coming out with the victory, although there is a chance that regardless of talent and skill you might end up on the winning end, after all the dice gods are fickle. The better skilled players have a much better chance of leaving your players in the dust.
A hard-hitting return to the world of Warhammer, showcasing its most violent sport and its most jovial game all in one package "Blood Bowl 2" is a title that should have players taking to the field in droves. Whether you’re a fan of the table top game or your just having a curious look it has something for everything and can just as easily be a pickup and play title as it is a career builder. The game comes into its own if you dedicate time to creating and developing a team of players. That doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable to play a few one off games on, the title itself should be a big hit among friends and will certainly come into its own as players take to the fields in its many online leagues and tournaments. Though if previous editions are to go by, Online competition will not be for the weak of heart and you'll need a good grasp of your own game as well as your opponents.With just a few minor issues "Blood Bowl 2" is a title that will be sticking around for a while and like its processor can expect a lot more teams to enter the fray as new races deliver their own brand of "Blood Bowl" entertainment.