Having never played the first game, in fact having never even heard of it (weird I know), I had no idea what to expect with this turn-based sports simulation game. I was a little hesitant, I just wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it based on my experience in my very first match, but the game quickly grew on me, and despited the glitchiness of the campaign mode, there’s still a lot to like. Bloodbowl 2 (BB2) throws together the characters of the ever popular Warhammer table-top game and American Football (NFL). The game’s mechanics are really quite simple: set up your team, take a move, roll a die to achieve move, end turn. A roll of the D6 can result in knocking the enemy down, pushing them back or knocking yourself down; the success of the action depending on the exact roll and the stats of the enemy. There is a lot of chance in BB2 but make no mistake, this is as pure a strategy game as you are ever likely to see, as simple as it may appear on the surface. Each move is given a percentage that decides success and these percentages are determined by a whole raft of things, such as how many supporting players are nearby, the skills the player has, the number of opposition in the tackle and how much the inbuilt algorithm wants you to lose for lulz.
I started my experience with the campaign owing to the fact there was no tutorial. As I progressed passed each opponent, different aspects of the game became available to me. At first, all of my passes were automatic, there were no knockouts or injuries and there was no turn timer. As each of these became available I was forced to think more about my actions than just doing them, knowing they would come to pass. It appeared to me that there was a lot of assumed knowledge. The further I progressed into the campaign the more I realised it was less a campaign and more a tutorial (would’ve been nice to know). Each match is preceded by and concluded with a cut scene of the two hosts Bob and Jim, a “red wine” (read: blood) drinking vampire and a slow, retired Ogre. The dialogue is pretty funny and the two work really well together but the lip-syncing could be better. They also speak faaaaar too slowly and the subtitles are ridiculously small (what are these?!?! Subtitles for ants?!?). The subtitles need to be at least…3 times bigger so you can actually read them from the couch without squinting.
Being turn-based, it’s a little painful waiting for your opponent to make their move. In any normal game, each team has a turn timer of four minutes. During the opposition’s turn I often forgot that I was playing because something more interesting grabbed my attention, like watching Jimmy watch the bullant crawl across the table. Often the opponent would end their turn and I would only realise it was my turn when my own turn timer had reached 1 minute. I would still manage to finish up my turn with thirty seconds to spare because the timer stops when any action is taking place, so four minutes is plenty. As I mentioned, my attention could quite easily be whisked away by something else because the opposition would take sooooo damn long to take a turn. Don’t be surprised if a full two minutes goes by without them having moved even one player. I have had issues finishing the campaign because in one particular level, the opposition glitches out by doing nothing while the timer runs. After it runs out it just sits there and the turn doesn’t pass over to me; cue rage quit. This is a glaring issue, and it happened on no less than four occasions.
Also, during the later campaign levels, the opposition tended to have ridiculous amounts of luck in every roll. Not only would they dodge three separate players, they would “go for it” (when a player’s movement allowance is exhausted they can “go for it,” having to roll for each space further they run) and pick up the ball every time. In half the campaign time, against different teams with different races, I managed to counter an attack only once…ONCE! There is a perk where you can re-roll (at great expense) and not once did I ever get a different result from a re-roll…ever. If that wasn’t enough to make you rage quit then feast your earholes on this madness. 95% of the time the AI re-rolls it ends with you on the turf. Needless to say between the glitched timer and unfair odds skewed heavily against you, I won’t be going back to the campaign.
There are two other game modes available to players which are basically the same thing, play in a league, online or offline. I commenced my journey offline to get a feel for how it all worked. You are given a choice of team which you can then pimp out as you wish. Each team has an abundance of strengths and weaknesses that are far too complex to detail here. There are a number of different leagues you can choose to enter into and I went for the world tournament. You start out in the Bronze League and make your way up the leagues, as long as you finish 1st or 2nd in your respective league and gain promotion. The issues I experienced in this mode were far less prevalent than in the campaign, but opposition turns still take a long time to get going. A really great aspect of gameplay is the player levelling system. Each player has an SPP or Star Player Point system that relies on that player doing special things, like scoring a touchdown or injuring an opposition player, to level up. Quite simply, if a player never does anything special they just won’t level up. With each new level a character can take a roll of the dice to determine what skill or characteristic upgrade they can have. The more skills a player has the closer they are to being a star player, which is a huge advantage on the field! Players can also be injured and suffer long term or permanent impairment. At the extreme end of the scale a player can be killed and is taken from your team forever.
The graphics are nothing to write home about but they’re a brightly coloured faithful reimagination of the tabletop and board game which inspire it. The closer you zoom in the more detail you’re able to get on players and surrounds but a major issue I had with the zoom was you can’t rotate it. You have the ability to zoom in and out from behind you’re players but there’s no way to look at the front of your players unless you turn them around. When you’ve got an ogre standing in the way it can be hard to realise there’s an opposition in front of him waiting to destroy you. Why 360 degree camera rotation wasn’t included I’ll never know. There is a distinct lack of sound when playing a game; it could probably have included a badass soundtrack with hardcore smash em up music (whatever that means).
Overall, BloodBowl 2 is a successful adaptation of the board game but probably sticks too closely the mechanics of said board game. There’s a number of issues such as the extremely slow pace of the game, the small writing and the unrealistic dice rolls that need to be ironed out before true enjoyment can be realised. I will say, I got frustrated by the seemingly unfair rolls of the die but it just made me focus more on my tactics and not rely on a roll to win a game. With a bit of polish and the desire to do so, Bloodbowl 2 could be quite an excellent game but unfortunately it just falls short of being a real quality experience.