- Developer: Cyanide
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Release Date: 22nd September 2015
“You’ll Never Walk Again!” While not subtle, this simple play on words is what helped hook me on the early versions of Games Workshops’, quite literal, Fantasy Football. It was an amusing throw away joke included in the games rule book that not only served to add some background to the world the game was set in but also to hammer home two of the games core concepts; ultra violence was the order of the day, but with tongues firmly planted in cheeks. This was a game that was going to promote Gouged Eyes and ripped spleens but all for comedic purposes. For the uninitiated, Blood Bowl is a turn based take on American Football set in a fantasy world and played by such figures as Orcs, Elves, Ogres, and Dwarves. 2 players play 2 halves in an attempt to out score and out maim each others teams. Blood Bowl 2 sees Cyanide Studios taking a second bite at adapting the long running board game after their initial attempt in 2009. So the initial thought is what do you add to improve a video game adaptation of a 28 year old board game?
THE ELF, THE ELF, THE ELF IS ON FIRE
Although Blood Bowl was a faithful transfer of the board game there were several criticisms to be levelled against it. Outside of league campaigns and a very basic online mode the game was extremely bereft of options. A lack of any kind of story mode meant that all the game consisted of was creating a team from several preset races and entering them into every increasingly difficult cups and leagues. The creation side began and ended with naming the team and players and selecting a badge to identify them which was a severe let down given that the source material that encourages creativity. As the game progressed it was availed for your players to impove their skill set but little else was put in place to keep the interest of the average game player. Blood Bowl 2 has addressed the former issue with a campaign mode that not only adds some depth to the proceedings but also serves as a lengthy tutorial for new players. Long time players should not be deterred by this though as a lore heavy background story is told as you progress that is both amusing and entertaining. While a very forgiving affair at first it quickly teaches newcomers what the rest of us already know; in Blood Bowl anything that can go wrong will go wrong but is part of the games charm. Random events are thrown in to add variety and there are even several occurrences I can honestly say I only ever expected to be hearing about in the intentionally clichéd commentators fond retellings of infamous moments in the games history.
ORCS, ORCS WHEREVER THEY MAY BE…
The game truly realises its full potential once you dive into the online mode. As discussed earlier, Blood Bowls online feature was as painfully basic as is imaginable and laughably inept considering offerings elsewhere. The longevity of the game for both old and new players lies here-in because Cyanide have structured it in a way that will keep you invested in the development and future of your teams much more than the single player mode will. As with the SP mode the players in your teams will age, pick up niggling injuries, and improve their skillset if able to do so. This means players values increase and decrease with each campaign until they either retire through old age or complications from blunt force trauma. The initial consequence of this is you won’t be able to rely on your star players to carry you indefinitely so you’d always need to be keeping a keen eye towards creating the next generation of marquee players to carry on the teams legacy. Obviously you can do this by playing rookies to help their ratings but another option is to make use of the online transfer market. During a season transfer windows will open giving you the opportunity to buy and sell players to and from other users. The chance to purchase a quick fix to an area of your team or bolster your bank balance with a crafty sale is certainly a plus for the tactically or financially sound amongst us.
The online leagues themselves cater for all types of players accommodating everything from noobs to hardcore gamers. Unless they really want to, new gamers will not be forced to go in against the more rabid and committed players and will find leagues available that exist solely for the enjoyment of the game. On the flip side the competitive gamers will easily find leagues heaving with the like minded and will drool at the fact that Cyanide are even setting up world wide tournaments with sizeable cash prizes. This is further evidence of the studios commitment to a long term plan and is a move that is causing much chatter.
GORY, GORY MANGLED HALFLING
Next up in the much improved section is the graphics. While not a giant leap in overall quality, especially given that this now a next gen sequel, it is more in the animation of the characters were the improvement lies, the starkest example being when a character successfully “blocks” an opponent.
Instead of the activity being seen at distance the camera switches to a close up of the action showing the unfortunate recipient being struck with absolutely breath taking force. It gives a better sense of satisfaction and encourages hitting as often as is allowed. Each race has several different animations tailored to their physiolgy which goes a long way to add a sense of identity. Its a nice little extra but far from perfect as quite horrendous clipping during the animations can take the edge off them on occasions. Away from the games themselves their is a much deeper creative element when first putting a team together. One of my main gripes about the original was the lack of personalisation in this area. All players of a certain type appeared to have been subject to a rather lacklustre cloning process and the choice of uniforms were a rather flat red or blue (which was selected for you depending on whether you were playing home or away). Realising that most games offer multiple choices relating to your characters appearance players are now greeted with an array of both race specific and generic wardrobes to pick from and in game currency that can be obtained by playing in solo or online tournaments make it possible to purchase further outfits. Add to this the options to alter the appearance of your players by selecting from a series of pre-set heads and upgrade and add sponsors to your stadium and it really helps you to make your team YOUR team and make them either as mean or ridiculous as allowable (personally, I can never resist giving my thrower an eye patch toting head to help explain away any calamitous dice rolls.)
So while there’s marked improvements is it better in all areas? In short, no. As happy as I am with the fixes the game does feel that a few things have been taken out to compensate. The number of teams available in the release, not including Release Day DLC (but why would you include that?) is the same number as it’s predecessor, albeit with a slight variation of the races. Blood Bowls DLC team the Dark Elves are now fully active in Blood Bowl 2, the Wood Elves and Lizardmen have been relegated to pre-order bonuses/DLC, and the fan favourite Goblin team have completely disappeared (sacrificed figuratively and in this game possibly quite literally). While Cyanide have added 2 new teams with the High Elves and Bretonnians fan reaction to some of the poor choices in this department has caused the developers to hit the damage control button with the promise of 4 new teams being made available free to existing customers. Sadly, the fact that these new teams will only be made available through Steam will do little to make their console owning customers feel any appreciation. A better variety of teams should also have been considered as their isn’t as much of a distinction between them as is possible. The game features 3 Elf teams and 2 Human teams (who do admittedly differ from a tactical stand point) but it still feels that the options are the “average in all areas”, the “heavy hitters”, or the agile teams whose players move quicker than snot off a whip.
On top of the loss of one race is the loss of one of the games true guilty pleasures with the lack of secret weapons with the Dwarf Death Roller currently being the only inclusion. Although mostly, but not exclusively, tied to the absent Goblins it is an omission that is a little more head scratching. Rather than offering an unfair advantage to players they were more likely to thoroughly bastardise your best laid plans in amusing fashion. For a game that relies on Sods Law the random factor of hallucinogen fuelled Goblins on Pogo Sticks or clumsy footed Dwarves running around with chainsaws have stood the test of time with the board game and would have added yet another gear to the fun factor and an air of schadenfreude for players.
A more minor complaint is in the sound department. While the match time hits are satisfyingly bone crunching the commentators still only feel connected to the proceedings by proxy. Yes, this is another area that has been improved in respects that you are less likely to get frustrated by hearing the same limited quips repeated ad nauseum, it does still feel like they are more commentating in a game rather than on the game. They do come out a few decent interactions in fairness and don’t swamp the uninformed with too many insider gags that not all would appreciate.
Overall Blood Bowl 2 is a significant improvement on its predecessor making great strides in the much needed areas of gameplay, creativity, and replayability. It is infinitely more accessible to new fans while giving long term players most of the elements they would have expected to find. It still doesn’t quite feel like the finished article and many will question if more could have been in areas such as the number of races available and the incredibly noticeable clipping during the block animations. The online mode will certainly help to keep the game breathing, meaning future releases to the franchise could be likely. A step in the right direction but also a team still being rebuilt.