Wednesday 28 September 2016

Blood Bowl 2 review - Definite touchdown but field goal slips wide

Published 24/09/2015 | 18:21

Blood Bowl 2 - You do not want to meet an angry dwarf on the pitch
Blood Bowl 2 - You do not want to meet an angry dwarf on the pitch

Blood Bowl 2 answers the age-old question: What would happen if orcs and dwarves played American Football?

8/10; PC/Xbox One/Playstation 4

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Set in the Warhammer universe, Blood Bowl is a turn-based strategy game that shares a lot of similarities with American football. On the surface, the goal is simple: get the oval ball to the other end of the pitch. But, just like its real world counterpart, Blood Bowl soon turns in to a deeply complex affair.

Blood Bowl 2 - Ogres are key enforcers for human teams
Blood Bowl 2 - Ogres are key enforcers for human teams

Thankfully, players are eased in to the complexities through the game’s surprisingly charming campaign mode. The Reikland Reavers were once a great human team, but now have about as much street cred as Liverpool FC. You happen to be the lucky new manager and you're going to need to pull off a classic Coach Bombay miracle to win the cup. Ducks fly together... Reavers seem to just bleed profusely. 

The predictable path to glory is spiced up with a genuinely interesting narrative, drip-fed by the ogre and vampire commentator team. Not only do the plot twists explain and mask the tutorial-style progression, they have in-game implications. A match-up against a team of high elves seems oddly challenging, until someone filling their half-time bath with blood results in berserker aggression that sees the elves forget the ball and focus on causing pain. Pro-Tip: sneak a quick lad around the flanks.

Blood Bowl takes American Football’s full contact spirit to another level. Deaths are not unheard of and are, funnily enough, a permanent way to lose a player from your team. Every time you run past an opposing player, there’s a chance they may tackle you. When you “block” you roll dice to determine the outcome and it’s usually a bloody one for at least one of the players involved.

Incapacitating every player on the opposing team is a valid strategy and some teams are blatantly out for blood rather than ball possession.

Based on the board game of the same name, Blood Bowl 2 carries most of the rules in to the digital realm. Playing a standard match, every single move requires careful thought, because even something as straightforward as picking up a ball is affected by the roll of the dice.

Each player has movement points and each team can use all those points in their turn. It’s a well known system, seen everywhere from chess to X-Com. The twist in Blood Bowl is the “turnover.” If one of your moves fails, your turn is over. This danger forces you to prioritise your moves, performing the less risky options first. With everything based on chance, the turnover system can often seem too harsh, but it ultimately cuts down on unnecessary ridiculous gambles.

As it’s Warhammer, the world is filled with various races, each with different characteristics. Playing against a long-passing elf team requires a completely different strategy than the steam-rolling Chaos players. This adds yet another element to consider, but the choice of race will often sign-post your opponent’s strategy. A manager who tries a passing game with the armour-clad Bretonnians, for example, is severely handicapping herself.

There is scope to change styles by changing the player types within a team. Each race has a different selection of player-types, with most having some range of quick fragile players and slow strong characters. There are also specialist characters, such as those that excel at throwing the ball. A human team that relies heavily on multiple massive ogres will be well placed for a heavy hitting affair, but will be lost if any skill is required.

Unfortunately not all of the races have the same range of choice. The Bretonnians only have three player types, compared with the six at the disposal of the orcs. While it’s no great surprise that the more popular Warhammer races have the greater choice, it’s still a shame that a niche race such as the Bretons doesn’t have more flexibility.

While Blood Bowl 2 is rich in strategy, it’s mediocre in the visual stakes. Everything looks OK, but it’s only just OK. Characters all look cool, but it would be hard to go wrong with the Warhammer world to draw upon. The whole game has a very last-gen feel to it. While nobody was expecting EA Sports levels of shine and polish, dead-eyed cheer leaders and repetitive fans feel like a relic from the past.

The saving visual grace is the slow-motion fight animations. Even though each character type would benefit from more variety, the animation is brutal enough and short enough to feel satisfying each time.

The multiplayer mode is where this game really scores a touchdown. While the AI will usually play to strengths and work the probability, human players are the ones that are unpredictable enough to give Blood Bowl 2 a long life, especially if you manage to get a custom league going.

One criticism of the first Blood Bowl was the clunky UI, but games here run smoothly with most actions only a double click away and minimal time between action.

Despite the dated graphics, Blood Bowl 2 manages to offer a constantly engaging game. The strategy is deep enough to be repeatedly rewarding and even the single player, normally a somewhat lonely affair in sports games, pulls you along with evolving gameplay and just enough narrative intrigue. Blood Bowl 2 may be a strategy game dressed up in sports gear, but it is incredibly fun to play.

Blood Bowl 2 is available now on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC

 

(Version reviewed: PC. Review copy supplied by publisher.)

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