Oh, Games Workshop, you IP-nazi, money-grubbing monster, how I love to hate you and hate to love you. I played 40K almost religiously back in the days of my 14-year old youth, but nowadays, I’m stuck with not having money and not wanting to fund your bullshit ways. Still, I can’t escape my desire to play what you put out, like Blood Bowl, one of the few sports games that held my attention longer than 2 minutes. But God damn it GW, you have some terrible luck when it comes to video games, and Blood Bowl 2 just had to keep that legacy going, didn’t it?
Based on the old tabletop board game, Blood Bowl is the Warhammer equivalent of gridiron with a bit more murder. You control a team of your favourite Warhammer race, position your players to block the other team as they try to move through you and fight over the ball for touchdown glory. The rules are deceptively easy to grasp while also relying heavily on RNG, which is part of the fun of it, and those core rules have translated across perfectly into the Blood Bowl video games. The rules aren’t what’s in question though; it’s everything else.
All the rules of Blood Bowl may be intact, but it’s difficult to get into given how everything has been laid out. The UI has been cleaned up for a more modern and easy-to-use appearance, but it’s harder to grasp than the BB1 UI was. Players are distinguished via cards, with their skills represented by icons instead of words. Icons are redundant when you could just write out ‘Dodge’ or ‘Block’ and make it easier at a glance to see who to attack. The system is certainly functional but it’s needlessly cryptic, but it’s when you start getting into the cutscenes that the game slows down.
When you jump into a game, the first thing you’ll be greeted by is a cutscene. Once the coin flips, you’ll be given another cutscene. Kick-off, cutscene. Someone knocked down, cutscene. Touchdown, cutscene. Almost everything that you do has a cutscene to stop the flow, and while it helps with getting you up and close to the players, they feel superfluous to the game and aren’t even that impressive. If you’re not into watching emotionless cheerleaders doing the DX10 circlejerk dance, you’re better off switching them off entirely. Once they’re off, the game flows about as well as BB1, which wasn’t great
BB2 is functional, but it’s still just as clunky as BB1. If you move someone, you’ll have to wait for them to finish moving before you can even contemplate selecting another player. You can guide your players from square to square, but there’s no marked improvement from BB1 in that respect. To make matters worse, tackle zones (the things integral to the game) only appear while a player is selected. There’s no hotkeys or setting to change this, so you have to adopt the ol’ move-wait-click algorithm to get enough information to think ahead. Still, the game does look better than its predecessor, but it’s not exceptional.
As much salt as I give to the cutscenes going off every five seconds, when you’re just looking at the players from above, the game does look good. The giant coloured squares of BB1 have been replaced with more muted colours and sleek indications of player movements. The cleaned up UI makes it a lot easier to see where your player is going, and it helps to highlight the features of the players and the stadiums you play in. It’s still not an exceptional looking game by any means, and some players look like they were recently vomited into existence, but it’s easy enough on the eyes from a distance… Which could also be said about how much this game offers.
From afar, it would seem that this is a fairly robust game with many hours of potential to it. On the one hand, that’s somewhat true, with the ability to play create custom leagues and play online offering weeks of potential bloodshed. There’s also a nice bit of team management to keep you invested, but it’s nothing new. If you wanted challenges, unique games between star teams or anything that isn’t just another regular game of Blood Bowl, you’re outta luck. Still, watching your team grow can be cool, and it’s guaranteed to be better than the campaign.
The main single-player component of BB2 is the campaign, and boy oh boy does it do a terrible job of getting you hyped for some Blood Bowl. Each game starts with a 5-10-minute intro from Jim Johnson and Bob Bifford, but they could be saying everything while you’re playing the game through, oh, I dunno, commentary. Worse still, the campaign just felt like a glorified tutorial where I had to play one race for the purposes of learning the game, and that was it. It didn’t get me on my teams side, nor did it get me excited about the game. So, I just went back to my Skaven team (The Lichy Skankrunners) and enjoyed my time with them instead.
Blood Bowl 2 doesn’t do a whole lot different from its predecessor, which is both good and bad. Lovers of Blood Bowl should be pleased to see the game intact, but the clunky controls, minimal UI and shoddy campaign don’t do much better than Blood Bowl 1. It’s functional, for sure, but it’s barely a step forward for the franchise, and it’s a step back in many ways, but it’s still Blood Bowl. If you’re into it, you’ll enjoy it, but don’t expect anything that you haven’t seen before.