by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Worth a try?
I’m a giant (American) football fan, but, as a Green-Bay-Packers-loving cheesehead, the last month or so have been a real bummer. It was good timing then that I was able to divert my attention by spending some time last week with the recent beta for Blood Bowl 3, even if the experience currently leaves a lot to be desired. For those not in the know, and I’m sure you’ll hear this joke in every single article you read about this series, Blood Bowl is real fantasy football. Originally a tabletop game in which players pitted teams of Warhammer fantasy characters against each other in a sort of football/rugby hybrid competition, developer Cyanide Studio is set to release the game’s third digital version this September.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve played any Blood Bowl, so my first order of action was to remind myself how the game even works. Despite a fairly simple user interface, Blood Bowl really doesn’t play like anything else. The “sports game” stuff is really only a paint job. At its core, Blood Bowl is a deep, strategic turn-based strategy game more likely to appeal to XCOM fans than Madden ones. Being that this is only a beta, it makes sense that there’s no real tutorial or way to learn the game. Luckily, what’s there instead is a linked series of short videos (ranging from 30 seconds to about two minutes) that explain some of the basic concepts of the game, but, even having played Blood Bowl 2 back when it came out, I was pretty lost by what the heck to do even after watching them. While I understood what I wanted to do, the control interface is not terribly intuitive, and it took quite some time before I was even comfortable with what my options were and what was going on in the game. I frequently found myself trying to do something simple like pass the ball, only to have my mouse clicks do something different for reasons that weren’t clear to me.
This is indicative of the game’s big problem right now - even for players that are more familiar with the franchise than I am, the visual interface is absolutely horrible at converting what’s actually going on. Take, for example, the way dice rolls for various interactions like blocking, dodging, or passing work. First, it’s odd that in Blood Bowl 3 the actions play out on screen before the dice roll is displayed. I understand the idea behind making the animations carry more suspense and drama as the player doesn’t know if they’ll be successful, but with no indication of what was going on it was pretty confusing to see a character run, then stop, then have dice roll over their head. Furthermore, and more confusingly, are the options to use various dice-altering abilities or rerolls. Say during the opponent's turn, they decide to block (which is hard enough to understand given that things happen with no visual indicator all across the field, sometimes with strangely long gaps between actions). An option wheel will pop up asking if I’d like to use an ability or reroll, but the game hasn’t told me what the roll result was yet! How am I supposed to know if I want to reroll if, either on screen or in the dice log, that information hasn’t been given to me yet? It’s a huge headache, and it happens every single time, so it’s part of a design decision and not a bug.
Slick Customization and Core Gameplay
When things do click, though, there’s fun to be had in Blood Bowl 3. There are only three clans available in the beta, but each one plays well and has a distinctive playstyle. There’s a chess-like flow to gameplay, forcing players to think multiple turns ahead to set up later plays and outmaneuver the opponent. Adding to the experience is how colorful and lively the players and stadiums are. While I wish there was a way to turn down how often the game goes to a zoomed-in animation, movements look great and the arenas are alive with fans, cheerleaders, coaches, and stadium effects that make the game a joy to look at. The available teambuilding and customization options are also a lot of fun already. A nice touch is that all team/jersey colors are listed as Citadel paint colors, meaning that players that play Blood Bowl (or paint other miniatures games with paints from Games Workshop) can recreate the color schemes that they use in real life. I don’t play any physical Warhammer games myself, but I do use Citadel paints for my other games, and it was fun to see familiar names and shades in-game.
Do take all of the above criticism with a grain of salt. There’s a reason this is a beta, and there’s a reason that the beta comes with a disclaimer that the current state of the game is not representative of what the final product will play like. Given the quality of the previous two games in the series I have high hopes that things will be polished and functioning more properly in September, but the closed Beta did not do much to fan the flames of my hype. There’s definitely potential here, but I’d recommend waiting for some more updates before getting too excited.