Blood Bowl 2
, developed by Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive, is a turn-based strategy game in a blood-brawl sports skin. It pokes its fair share of fun at the NFL, but is otherwise a solid strategy game. Each game consists of two halves of eight turns each. Both teams get a chance to act every turn, and you are able to select a move for each and every player on your team before passing control to the opponent. The goal is simple: either get the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, or pummel the opposing team into submission.
Welcome to the thunderdome!
Players take control of teams straight out of high-fantasy, such as humans, dwarfs, elves, orcs, Chaos, Bretonnia, and the Skaven (rats). Each of these species has its own strengths and weaknesses, which all become part of the strategy. Your team is further divided into specific rolls, such as thrower, receiver, blitzer, and lineman. These individual players have a set of stats, including strength, agility, armor value, and movement allowance. One must keep these stats in mind when planning moves around the pitch, as they affect how well a player can dish out punishment, handle opponent attacks, and how far they can move across the pitch in one turn. You can also teach new skills to the players on your team over time, as well as buy and sell players with other people on the transfer market, both of which are necessary to build a strong team.
You can jump straight into the online modes after creating a team if you're experienced, or cut your teeth on the campaign. I chose the latter. The campaign is quite forgiving for a novice, which should help newcomers learn the basics of the game's strategy. The first match is a basic tutorial match, after which your entire team is fired, leading you to create a new team within an allowance of funds and pick a stadium to call home. After that first match, though, the game still breaks you in gently, with the following few matches being quite easy to dominate, even for an inexperienced player. The difficulty ramps up from there, though.
One-eyed Willy's treasure never looked so good.
As you line up on the pitch at the start of a match, you must weigh the pros and cons of each player on your team. Each time you attack an opposing player, either by being positioned within one square of them at the start of a turn, or by using blitz with an eligible player, there is a dice roll to determine the outcome. The results can be either pushing the opponent back, knocking them down, a 'draw' where both players come out unscathed, or even having your own player knocked down. If you surround an opponent with multiple players, they have nowhere to go when knocked down and will instead be knocked out or killed, effectively removing them from the game. If you knock a player out of bounds, they are removed from the game as well.
All of this leads to a relatively deep game of cat and mouse. Do you rush all of your defenders forward, attempt to sack the ball carrier, and take the ball while risking a flanking move that gets the ball behind your line? Or do you hang back, attempting to cover the field, and wait for the opponent to make a mistake when attempting to get past your defense?
The movement is intuitive and easy to grasp, showing you exactly which squares on the field of battle your chosen player will pass through in his route and any conflicts along the way. Want to skim past that opposing lineman? You’ll have to survive a 67% chance-to-win dice roll, player. Want to try and stretch your run past your player’s movement allowance of seven so you can dash into the end zone nine squares away? That will be two dice rolls; better hope you win both. Your strategy will be greatly influenced by the makeup of your team and that of your opponents', as the strengths and weaknesses of each type of player greatly influence the different possible outcomes present on each roll of the dice. This is where the game shines best, in the strategic interplay between two teams that can potentially have vastly different makeups and play styles, and the resulting chaos that often ensues.
They're killing me again. Why do I keep letting them surround me?
Unfortunately, just getting to said gameplay can be tedious. Load times are surprisingly long. I don’t think I’ve ever played a sports OR strategy title where I spent so much time staring at loading screens between matches, or in Blood Bowl 2
’s case, ‘Cabal Vision' screens. Call me impatient, but I got to the point where I would just get up and go to my kitchen for a drink or a snack each time that cursed screen came up. Such lengthy loading times are almost forgivable in games where it feels warranted, but the graphics in Blood Bowl 2
aren’t exactly a tour de force of current-gen hardware. It just feels like it was poorly optimized for these systems. The graphics are solid overall, but feel much more like a budget digital-only release than a full retail one. The characters look like reasonable portrayals of their fantasy inspirations, despite the audacity of an elf lord wearing shoulder pads and cleats, but graphical errors are all-too-frequent. I noticed multiple instances of serious clipping problems, incorrect shadows on players, and a lifeless audience made of only a handful of repeating models all clapping in unison, completely disconnected with what was happening on the pitch.
Another major problem was the game’s audio. I wasn’t expecting ESPN half-time report levels of commentating, but the matter-of-fact way the announcers all-too-frequently said, “Let’s see what happens next,” after two players slam into each other like mac trucks left me scratching my head. The meaty squish when two players collide, or when one is eaten, is solid enough, but gets repetitive after hearing it for the umpteenth time. More variety here would have done wonders. From the dull, monotonous stadium crowd roar, to the lack of a soundtrack, to the aforementioned heartless and disconnected commentating, the audio just felt really lacking. This was almost worse than the graphical missteps. Maybe it’s a case of intent, that the designers were aiming for that so-bad-it’s-good style much like some cult classics, but it was lost on me.
You had better get used to this screen.
The multiplayer is solid and should give the game legs. There really isn’t anything different than the campaign mode here other than the likeliness that you’ll run into some truly devious opponents. I found the online matches to be extremely lop-sided, and not in my favor. This is due in large part to my inexperience, but also stems from not having spent enough time with the game to sign better players and generally optimize my team. I received a fair whooping when I ventured forth into the online leagues. Interestingly, you can actually spectate the online matches live via CabalTV from within the game. So if you’re a fan of the game and would like to learn some strategies or see what types of teams other players are building this functionality might serve you quite well. Your other option is to play local multiplayer. With the game being turn-based and no playbooks to screen-watch, the experience isn’t hampered at all here. After much cajoling I managed to talk my wife into playing a single match with me and it felt much like playing against those first few campaign matches.
At least there's an achievement for them.
You’ll have to plan your attack if you want to earn most of the game’s 30 achievements. There are a few ‘gimme’ ones, such finishing the campaign’s tutorial game
, creating your first squad after that match is over, and winning a match without allowing a touchdown, which is almost impossible not to earn in the first few matches. However, many of the game’s achievements require specific scenarios such as knocking three opposing players off the pitch
in one game, or suffering no injuries
in a game while playing as elves. That last one has yet to be earned by anyone here on TA, so it might be a tough one. There are a couple of time-spent achievements as well, such as reaching the maximum coaching level, fully upgrading your stadium, and having a fan factor of ten. It's not the most inventive of achievement lists, but it's nothing too daunting and should be well-within most player's reach.
SummaryBlood Bowl 2
is an interesting experience in what a turn-based strategy/sports hybrid can be. For fans of the first iteration on the 360, the second should be right up your alley. The asking price is a bit steep for what is offered here, and the rougher parts of the game such as the graphical glitches, lackluster audio, and long/frequent loading times take too much away from the experience to warrant a buy at the day-one price.
- Deep strategic options
- Bloody violence, who doesn't love that?
- Interesting premise.
- Fully customizable leagues.
- Frequent graphical glitches.
- Long loading times.
- Lackluster audio.
The reviewer spent five hours in the main campaign as well as two hours in local and online multiplayer, earning 7 of the game’s 30 achievements. A copy of the game was provided for this review courtesy of the publisher.