I’d love to say that this game is amazing. It’s the most literal version of fantasy football I’ve ever seen – basically Rugby with fantasy races like Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, etc. Sadly, what could be an engaging and easy way for a total nerd to enjoy a sport game is held down by clunky controls and a slow pace.
The campaign’s premise is simple; you’re the new manager for a team of humans, the Reikland Reavers, and have to recruit players and work your way to the top. The game doesn’t need a lengthy story because it’s all about the gameplay. There are other modes that let you pick any race team and use them too. The playable races are the Humans, Orcs, Dwarfs, Skaven, High Elves, Dark Elves, Chaos, and Bretonnian from the Warhammer series. As you play more matches your team will learn skills, level up and generally get better. That said, Blood Bowl II is based on a tabletop game of the same name so naturally, there’s a lot of dice rolling that really kills any semblance of flow and pacing.
Matches last 16 turns, with 8 either side of half-time, and each player can move their players once per turn. During the match though, random events can happen that really catch the player off guard. Let’s say you score a try; suddenly there might be a crowd stampede on the pitch that damages both teams so that when play resumes, half your team might be knocked out, making them take longer to get up and move. Gameplay is all tile-based, meaning you select by tiles and move according to that character’s movement stat. You can also risk it and try to move further than that, but your success is all down to a dice roll.
The first match you play in the campaign is basically set so you can win and learn how to play, but immediately after you’re dropped in at the deep end against an equally strong team with a penchant for knocking down your players. It’s not easy to learn how to play either, there’s a very wordy and unintuitive tutorial that drags on until it’s just too much. Personally I think that’s a little unfair, but it’s a good introduction to how brutally unfair this game actually is. Or maybe I have bad luck?
This game has been my personal nightmare for the last week because I’ve been stuck between being utterly disappointed and really pushing myself to enjoy the game. I know I’m likely to get hate for this (despite y’know reviews being MY OPINION) but the video game version of Blood Bowl should’ve done away with the tiles and the turn based elements but kept the levelling up and the skills. As much as that would offend the die-hards, the turn-based gameplay is far too slow paced. The reason this game is so niche is specifically because it is so slow paced. I’m sure the developers know that too and are making this game specifically for the die hards too – I’m not saying they should accommodate the more casual players. It retains the slow gameplay of the tabletop game for the sake of staying true to the original for the die hard players and I can absolutely respect that. I’m sure if I had the time to sit down with a group of friends and play the original tabletop game I’d then enjoy this game more.
I do really like the way the camera works in-game though. You’re able to zoom in and out from an isometric view to a bird’s eye view to really help plan out your moves and tactics as you play. I also like the attention to detail with each race and the amount of variants in faces and facial animations. Even the crowd look good when you can see them, which is something a lot of sport games have trouble with. I use the word good purposefully though – Blood Bowl II could easily have been just a port from last gen consoles, despite only being on Xbox One and PS4. I think this was done as an art style choice which I don’t dislike, but then you see some of the disappointing effects such as when a character gets punched in the face and blood spews everywhere. Audio-wise, there’s nothing much here to shout about either. The two commentators and their banter is nice and occasionally funny, adding colour to an otherwise empty experience. For the most part there’s ambience, and what music is there feels dull and uninspired.
Despite my gripes with the game, online play and free play modes give Blood Bowl II a ton of replayability. Being able to select and customize your team feels great, and there’s tons of options. Once you pick your race you’ll have to hire members for your team that you can name and customize before taking them on board. There’s a handful of classes each character can play too, including Throwers, Catchers, Linemen, Blitzers and a massive Ogre fella who is basically a living, fighting wall. You can also pick a sponsor from the list of fictional warhammer universe and a team stadium. It really lets you add a personal touch to your team and makes winning with them feel like the ultimate victory. I hope you like seeing them get their face mashed in by orcs though.
Blood Bowl II is an interesting experience and I’m glad I got the chance to play it, but overall the game is just too slow-paced and the controls feel a little too clunky. The most enjoyable moment while playing it was just the feeling of having your team’s blitzer sucker punch an opponent, but despite that I was bummed out by the lack of speed and flow.