If you’ve not come across Blood Bowl before, it’s essentially Lord of the Rings meets the NFL: a fantasy RPG meets American football. In its simplest terms, it’s a sport where a team of ogres snap the limbs off the opposition elves until the turf runs red with blood. Different races have different tactics for getting the ball into the endzone, whether that’s extreme violence, fast runners and accurate passers, or sneaky gits with various underhand tactics such as defensive backs armed with chainsaws. For a fuller introduction to the series, check out our review of the original Blood Bowl here.
This offering is the new Legendary Edition for the PC, and it keeps the same basic engine, with a choice of classic Blood Bowl turn-based rules (as seen in the board game), or the rather tepid real-time version of the game. While there are a couple of major changes to the formula, this latest incarnation mainly involves a considerable amount of tinkering and welcome smoothing of mechanics. The most noticeable addition is the inclusion of a new story mode, which is an alternate single player career where you step into the spiked boots of a freelance coach.
Starting out as an assistant coach, you’re hired by different teams to perform a stint of several matches, tasked with achieving certain goals and getting noticed enough to be hired by the big Blood Bowl franchises. The trouble is, many of the objectives rather make a mockery of the actual matches. For example, you might have to complete three passes to show the head coach you can direct a passing offence.
That all sounds well and good, but in this scenario we found ourselves letting our opponent score, as it was the quickest way of getting the ball back to swiftly lob a couple of pointless passes about in our backfield. With the result of the match not mattering – unless winning is one of your objectives – it all feels rather artificial. Rather than earning us a couple of big green ticks and another coaching gig, having thrown and lost the game our actions really ought to have ended with the head coach chasing us down the sideline clutching a tub of Fiery Jack and a wickedly sharp stick.
So the main campaign mode, where you manage a single team and build it up through a series of competitions, is still the main attraction. The core of this remains the same, but with various introductions, such as the ability to hire assistant coaches (as well as the usual cheerleaders and so on). There are new inducements, too, such as enlisting a wizard who can help your team with a well placed lightning bolt, or star players who can boost your strength for one game.
The most obvious difference, however, is the various leagues are now populated with teams from 20 races instead of the original 8. These include the likes of the Amazons, Norse, Necromancers, Nurgle, Halflings, Ogres, and even Vampires. Many of these teams come with refreshing nuances on the tactical front. The vamps are a powerful bunch of athletes, but must fill their team out with thralls, which they need to feed on when randomly affected by blood lust. An experienced coach with suitable foresight and planning can marshal the neck-biters very effectively, but they’re a real challenge for the novice, as failure to feed can result in some nasty penalties.
Speaking of challenge, when a match loads up (loading times are rather sluggish, incidentally), Blood Bowl veterans will notice the AI has been fine-tuned somewhat. Now the computer plays more to a race’s strengths, and seems to move and pass the ball around more ably. Couple that with extra resources which have been doled out to the AI coaches, and you’ve got more of a proper game of Blood Bowl on your hands in single player mode. Granted, the AI is certainly not perfect, and still capable of making some daft decisions, but the tactical improvements are very welcome nonetheless.
Various minor tweaks have also been applied to the rules, and little bugs fixed, which all goes to smooth over the on field experience further. The presentation is still rather scrappy, and the match commentary definitely gets repetitive after a short while, but overall the Legendary Edition comes with a good deal of added depth and polish. The multiplayer has been given attention, too, with a refreshed lobby design and a thriving player community featuring a host of leagues.