Blood Bowl 2 Review (PC)
Despite a bunch of tweaks and re-releases on nearly every platform, the original Blood Bowl was a relatively mediocre and niche title, an odd digital port of an old medieval football board game. Yet five years later, we get its sequel -- or at least a sequel in name.
Blood Bowl 2 might as well use the trendy "2.0" nomenclature, as this isn't a true sequel but rather a reboot. Blood Bowl 2 streamlines gameplay, offers accessibility and along the way loses a little bit of its charm.
Gameplay is at once simple and complex, full of strategic decisions that can cost you a game early or lead to stealing a victory at the last minute. I can explain it in a paragraph, but it will take you many sessions to truly grasp what you need to do to be successful.
Basically, you take a team of fantasy athletes, be they orcs, dwarves, men, etc. Each has four ratings that dictate movement, tackling (here, called blocking), throwing/catching and stamina. You attempt to score by moving the ball into the opponent's end zone.
On a turn, you move/act with each of these players. Nearly every action involves some sort of dice roll that determines success. The first time you fail a roll, say, for tackling an opponent or picking up the ball, your turn is over: called a turnover. Your opponent repeats, and the game lasts two halves of eight turns each. Again, there are a ton of intricacies, but that's essentially the game.
Weighing the risk of each outcome and what order to move your players is at the heart of the game. Blood Bowl 2 does a great job of indicating the percentages and helping to make your decisions clearer, albeit no easier.
Play style varies depending on race, so a bruising orc team may simply beat (block) opponents into submission, injuring enough players so that moving the ball is an afterthought. Lighter, more agile teams will avoid contact and have greater success throwing and rushing.
In the end, the core gameplay of Blood Bowl returns in Blood Bowl 2, albeit with a refined interface that makes navigating the odds a bit easier. I still wish every roll of the dice was manually made; most occur offscreen and automatically. A log at the bottom shows outcomes, and it certainly speeds things up by not needing to make every individual roll. Still, an option to play just like the board game -- where you roll dice each time and consult a chart -- would be nice.
Blood Bowl 2 certainly makes its biggest strides in the graphics department. Everything has a shiny modern feel, fitting for something you would play on a new console. In some ways, though, it loses the old-school and fantasy RPG charm of its predecessor. Yes, this version is much cleaner and easier to understand -- a welcome trade-off -- but after many hours of the original, I sort of grew to like its clunky and quirky nature.
One of the neatest additions is the on-field cutscenes that occur on every successful block -- one of the most common events in the game. Most character types have a unique set of animations, all of which slow down at the point of impact to let the teeth, horns and blood fly. Occasionally, a really big character will clip through a smaller one, but the animations as a whole are pleasant/gruesome enough that I do not get bored with them. (You can modify their frequency in the settings menu.)
On the sound front, the dialogue is cute but rapidly repetitive. The two hosts have some good one-liners, it is just too bad they are used so frequently throughout the game.
There are two main modes in this game: Campaign and League play. Each will provide many hours of gameplay, though the campaign may only appeal to brand new players.
Basically, the campaign acts as a giant tutorial. The first three or so games don't even incorporate all of the rules, even the most basic ones like turnovers. There's a story that plays out through commentator dialogue, but it's not captivating and only serves to set up some games with specific goals. For instance, in one game you have to beat an elven team while delivering three injuries. Fail one of those goals, and it's literally "game over" -- you get an end game screen and need to replay the match or forfeit campaign progress. In other words, this is a very linear campaign that will hold little intrigue for veterans of the series.
The real interesting part of the game are leagues, which can be played solo or online. The format is pretty customizable as well, including multi-pool regular seasons and playoff tournaments.
What makes league play interesting is you truly customize a team, unlike the campaign where you receive a relatively pre-made human team. You choose a race, hire players, upgrade stadiums, sign sponsors, etc. Players can be upgraded, and based on more dice rolls, "classed" to be an offensive or defensive specialist. Of course, they can be killed outright on the field, so don't get too attached.
If any of this review makes your eyes glaze over, Blood Bowl 2 probably is not for you. It's a slow (games can take almost an hour) and strategic football variant, which certainly will not appeal to everyone. This may be the most "niche" sports title currently available.
On the other hand, if you are a veteran of the series or think this sounds remotely interesting, Blood Bowl 2 is a worthy upgrade. However, be forewarned that this is definitely a streamlined upgrade. Some of the options from the first game are gone (like visual upgrades and numerous races), and it loses a bit of the pseudo-indie charm of the first title. Another negative: I've seen the AI make some pretty questionable decisions.
But overall, Blood Bowl 2 is a more enjoyable experience that is easier to play. And beyond that, it's a game that simply feels more at home on a modern console or gaming PC.
Score: 7.5 (Good)