A real blood sport.
The Madden franchise has dominated the football market for many years now, but that hasn't stopped the occasional rogue developer from experimenting with the idea of an unlicensed football game that dares to do something different from the norm; Blood Bowl was one of these games. Blood Bowl initially started as a board game from way back in 1987. The idea was simple, but effective: why not create a football game where players could be goblins, dwarves, orcs, elves, and trolls? Furthermore, why not have it be a Turned-based Strategy game with a greater emphasis on violence and gore than traditional football?
It was a wild idea back in those days, but the game had enough fanfare to warrant the game's expansion into the video game market. Many years later, in 2009, the game development studio Cyanide created and released the video game adaptation of Blood Bowl. The game received decent scores, but some argued that it didn't live up to its full potential. Now six years later, Cyanide and Focus Home Interactive have come together to release the sequel to Blood Bowl. Does Blood Bowl 2 manage to improve over the original? Can a Turn-based football game with monsters be enough to bring both football fans and RPG fans together? Let's find out, shall we?
A whole New World
The major difference between Blood Bowl and Blood Bowl 2 -- other than the giant leap into modern day graphics and game engines -- is the universe that it establishes for itself. While the original game had dipped its toes into the traditional fantasy RPG elements, Blood Bowl 2 now dives head first into the deep end with entire backstories, characters, and even fan interactions that all come together to create a well-crafted Blood Bowl universe. Pretty much anything you'd see in a traditional football game makes its way into Blood Bowl 2, albeit with some slight modifications to emphasize the brutality of the world.
You want rowdy fans? There's plenty of them, but boy are they going to beat the tar out of your players if they leave the football field. You want official referees? You got it, but don't think they won't run into the field in the middle of the game and uppercut your favorite player just for the hell of it. And let's not forget the return of the hilarious commentary duo Jim Johnson and Bob Bifford. This vampire and ogre combo will make the occasional quip about the team in regular gameplay, but their stars really shine in Blood Bowl 2's campaign mode.
Starting from the Bottom
In the campaign mode you'll get Cabalvision, a nifty device where, thanks to the mystical powers of a crystal orb, you'll get to meet Jim and Bob face to face before and after each game. Throughout the campaign you'll be playing as the human team the Reikland Reavers. They were once considered one of the best teams in Blood Bowl, but over the years they have gone down the proverbial gutter. Now, with the player as the new head coach, the Reavers are looking to make their way back on top and become Blood Bowl championships again. The whole campaign has a very tongue-in-cheek vibe, especially when Bob and Jim talk about social media (or in this case "anti-social media") that parody Twitter and Facebook the same way that modern sport shows do. No expenses have been spared in making players feel like they've been sucked into an alternate dimension that just so happens to play football.
A Roll of the Dice
Now of course it's great that Blood Bowl 2 looks and sounds like a real football game, but the actual gameplay -- the real meat and potatoes of the game -- is what make it stand out from any other football game on the market. If you're going into this game expecting a Madden NFL Football experience, you're going to be very confused by the first play of the game. This is a Turn-based game, meaning you choose each player on your team and have them either move around the field or attack a member of the enemy team one at a time. You can't just run for the ball, pick it up and throw it to a teammate for a touchdown. You now have to take a turn to get to the ball and pick it up and then wait until your next turn to either throw the ball or run and avoid the other team.
Not too bad, right? Except you still have to take into consideration the dice roll effect and how it may or may not mess up your play. Yes, this is a football game controlled by the roll of dice, and throughout the game you will praise and curse the dice roll. Every time you want to pick up the ball, there's a roll to determine whether you manage to pick it up or it slips from your fingertips and stumbles across the field like a bouncy ball. If you want to throw a pass, there's a dice roll to determine the success of both the throw and the catch. There's even a dice roll if you try to run beyond your player's movement limits. Mess that up and your player will trip over his own feet and potentially be knocked out.
No Penalties, Only Pain
Speaking of getting knocked out, expect to see a lot of that throughout the game. Part of the goal of Blood Bowl 2 is to also knock out as many opposing players as possible. This is accomplished by going up to an enemy and (you guessed it) engaging in a dice roll. Depending on your player's abilities (more on that in a moment) you may have one, two or three dice to roll each time. The more dice you have, the better your chance of getting to knock the enemy on his butt. Sometimes you'll simply push him back and other times you might end up getting knocked down yourself. Consider that to be the "critical miss" of Blood Bowl.
With each knock out the camera takes a moment to cut to the two players and you can way with either glee or agony as either the enemy player or your player gets a beating. Eventually the animations start to repeat themselves and you'll want to skip them as quickly as possible, but there's just something satisfying about watching an Orc pummel a Dwarf over and over again.
Trades and Upgrades
What would a game with RPG elements be without upgrades and unlockable skills? Sure enough, Blood Bowl 2 has that in spades. The more you play, the more touchdowns you earn, and the more beatings you give, the more coins you'll earn that you can spend on buying more players and getting players skills such as dice re-roll and attack blocks. Later in the game you'll be able to buy your own arena which you can upgrade and customize to your liking. It gave the game a more personal feel which is always a nice touch for any game to have. By the time I was bringing the Reavers to the championship game, I felt like I had created my own super team that the fans adored.
Multiplayer Melees and Simple Dismays
Now, of course, Blood Bowl 2 would not be complete without online multiplayer, and with the customization of players, jerseys and arenas, you're bound to see something different each time you play someone. Online works well, though the loading times were a bit long for my tastes, but with future patches Cyanide should be able to alleviate the load time woes in the months to come. If you don't have anyone to play with, the computer's AI is improved enough so you'll still have a challenging time, but it's not quite the same as facing another human player.
The only gripes I had with this game were small ones such as the animations being repetitive, the online component being slow at times and an occasional glitch or two that momentarily take you out of the game. One particular example of this was when the fans in the audience started levitating out of their seats. But I simply passed it off by telling myself that a wizard had cast a floating spell on them. Don't you hate when that happens?
Otherwise, Blood Bowl 2 is a successful sequel that improves upon the original in pretty much every way possible. It expands the lore, expands the "loot" of coins and unlockables and it expands my desire to keep playing the game long after this review has been completed. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to squash some more dwarfs with my Orc.
This game was reviewed with the PC version of the game via a Steam copy provided by the publisher.
Images courtesy of Focus Home Interactive.