Blood Bowl 2 comes to Xbox One as part of Games Workshop's continual use of their fringe franchises away from the tabletop. Blood Bowl was a popular tabletop Gridiron and Warhammer violence-laden mashup first introduced in 1987, seeing numerous re-releases since, the most radical of which occurred in 1994. With Games Workshop now concentrating on its core franchises within its brick and mortar stores, there's a push to use the now defunct games differently in the hope they can find success as video games. This title's predecessor was not without its problems although this sequel takes some steps to rectify them.
First up, the game looks greatly improved visually. Whilst it may not be as impressive as a FIFA or Madden game, it still looks great, with the stadiums packed with Orcs, humans and Elves all cheering on their favourite team. A dynamic camera really helps to bring the game to life and little touches like charismatic managers on the touchline further exemplify this. The first game had an extremely hard to use interface that's been greatly improved this time around. The controller feels natural and whilst some of the text is still a little small, it's all still very usable. The cursor is slightly loose-feeling and if the view was any further out and the game wasn't turn-based, it could be a bigger problem but instead it's a minor niggle.
Blood Bowl is extremely effective in rolling out a tutorial in a natural way, which fits within the fiction of the Blood Bowl league and its history via the form of a Match of The Day-esque show known as Cabal Vision HD. The two presenters add a lot of humour to proceedings, as well as tactical insight that feels useful and in universe. This forms the basis of the game's main campaign mode as you work through the trials and tribulations of raising a fallen giant from obscurity to the top of the Blood Bowl ladder. Fans of the table top game will be all too familiar with the Reikland Reavers and their illustrious history and the chance to add to that story will certainly appeal. The facts provided by the show's presenters are also supplemented by reams of text during loading screens that really help to demonstrate the deep lore beneath the sport.
Many of the recognizable races are present; Humans, Bretonnians, Skaven, Chaos, Dark Elves, Orcs, High Elves, and Dwarves all make an appearance. Unfortunately, not all of them are born equal, with some teams not having access to the bigger classes such as Ogres. It's a slight misstep that the whole campaign feels like a glorified tutorial with the AI never really ramping up to anything close to a challenge. A touchdown could be imminent for the player and the AI will still be trying to set up its own offensive moves. Whilst a newcomer will come out of this with a pretty good understanding of the rules, there is certainly a sense that many of the tactical practices you have learnt will be largely useless against a human opponent that has more experience.
Games Workshop magazine White Dwarf used to publish sample match reports and tactics providing insight into the "right way" to play the game. This, coupled with visiting your local Games Workshop and watching veterans battle it out in tournaments, would provide better preparation than the digital game's campaign mode. A slew of websites now fill the gap but it's still a lot to expect players to become students overnight in order to just fully enjoy the online game modes. It's also all too obvious that any long term commitment with the game will be online, especially with the aforementioned AI issues. Perhaps being more accepting in taking that approach may just be a necessity to fully experience the game, but for a player simply trying to get their money's worth out the title it may be more off putting than it needs to be. Some form of automated setting for blocking may have helped out here, as it could have done some of the heavy lifting along with helping avoid the tedium of constantly blocking and attacking the opposing team.
Taking a cue from its tabletop cousin, a core part of the game is League play. This mode allows for your team to be upgraded over time, while player injuries and deaths carry through from match to match. It's offered in both single player and multiplayer mode here but the AI again becomes an issue in this mode, providing a very uneven experience throughout. Online is not without its faults either. By dividing up the player base between each of the different leagues and cups (some hidden behind an in-game currency paywall) it can be hard to find a game. There's no way to partake in multiple competitions without setting up additional teams and this can stifle progression in getting the perfect squad together. A transfer system exists with an online transfer market, which largely feels like a failed economy with no players listed that will genuinely improve your team.
Now comes the most controversial part of the game- the RNG. From Destiny's loot drop rates to Fallout's VATS system, random number generation has often been a controversial element in videogames. Blood Bowl is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to how well it implements its own random elements.
The game is very upfront when it comes to some of its dice rolls. For example, when blocking and knocking down members of the opposition, the game's unique six-sided dice are displayed to show the outcome, whether it's a player getting knocked back a space, being stunned, or the dreaded "attacker is knocked out" outcome. Where problems occur are with of the game's other randomly generated events. To dodge out of the way of a blocker for example, you're given a percentage chance of success (usually ranging from anywhere from 10% to 67% depending on the modifiers in play) but it doesn't feel as satisfying or exciting that the dice rolls are hidden. It can lead to extreme moments of frustration when your sprinting player trips over nothing because your failed dice roll meant that the 87% chance of you completing the move wasn't quite enough. Kickoffs also have the same problem. You're simply warned to not aim your kick too close to the pitch boundaries. What isn't properly communicated is that a dice roll is taking place to determine the accuracy of the kick.
Another problem are the random events, the most frustrating of which are pitch invasions. These happen at random with no warning, but are far too prevalent. Out of your eleven players on the field, it's not too uncommon for five to be knocked out, with your best laid plans not only disrupted but outright demolished with no way of reacting other than waiting it out till they roll over and can be revived. The only solace is that when playing the AI, that it isn't quite as punishing in taking advantage as it could be.
Where this arguably becomes game-breaking is that a failed dice roll results in a turnover. One failed dice roll means play switches over to the opposing team. This does lend an extra layer of strategy as you're forced to complete your player actions in order of risk, leaving the dodge heavy/long pass moves till later in the turn. But there's an overriding feeling that this decision can result in sixteen turns going by pretty quickly with neither side having any sort of scoring opportunity. With the option to view highlights of recent online matches via Cabal Vision HD, the problem is highlighted/ Clicking through the results will show endless 0-0 draws with the odd smattering of 1-0 and 2-1 results. Whilst it means that the game is authentic, it comes at the expense of user experience. An option to be able to alter rule sets per league may have alleviated this particular problem.
Whilst Blood Bowl 2's strict adherence to the franchise's rules may dissuade some from even trying this out, those that do take the plunge and stick with it will find that despite its faults, it can be a deeply rewarding and enriching experience. The AI isn't really up to snuff though, so expect to ride a long learning curve to be able to become competitive online - if you can find a game.