Many traditional sports games release a new edition every year, with mixed results on whether or not they feel different enough to justify themselves beyond a roster update. So I’m surprised at Blood Bowl 3, the latest digital adaptation of Games Workshop’s ultraviolent board game parody of American football set in a wacky alternate version of the Warhammer Fantasy universe. It presents shockingly little reason for its own existence compared to the previous version, which came out almost eight years ago. I like the intense and hilarious premise and mechanics of Blood Bowl on their own, but what we have here is basically Blood Bowl 2, again, but worse.
If you’ve never played Blood Bowl before, you might be able to coast for a while just on the absurd novelty of the concept. Elves, dwarves, orcs, and minotaurs line up on a grid iron and try to bash, pass, and juke their way to a touchdown, with often brutal results. Because this is Warhammer, players can be seriously injured and even killed depending on how the virtual dice fall, which has the potential to create bitter and satisfying rivalries in long-running leagues.
Moment to moment, the turn-based mechanics are fun, tactical, and exciting. A lot of my pre-existing criticisms of Blood Bowl as a video game still stand, in that I think using six-sided dice for everything can feel a bit too random, and that works better when you’re leaning over a table and having some beers with friends than it does in a video game against the AI. Sometimes the outcome of a play comes down too much to luck and too little to player skill.
But all of that could have been said about 2015’s Blood Bowl 2. In fact, I did say it. And I’d highly recommend its Legendary Edition, which you can get on Steam, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One with all the DLC for the same price or less than this lackluster sequel. Across the board, Blood Bowl 3 feels like a much less polished game. It just isn’t as bombastic or eye-catching, whether you’re on the field looking at the overlays or in the menus. Even things like icons that present you choices during certain plays, like using a reroll or an apothecary to avoid an injury, are smaller and harder to read.
It also kind of looks worse overall. Obviously the higher graphics settings have increased fidelity and make use of more modern rendering techniques, but when I look at Blood Bowl 2 and 3 side-by-side, I just prefer the former. The colors were more saturated and in-your-face, the whole match was more readable. And I could be wrong, but it seems like the player models and animations have hardly changed at all.
The caster duo of Bob the ogre and Jim the vampire are back in Blood Bowl 3, but are mostly heard and not seen. We don’t really get to watch them bantering at the desk that much anymore. A lot of their lines are recycled from the last game, and most of the new ones are specific to certain matches or competitions. I got sick of them quickly because whenever one of those scenarios came up they’d repeat over and over. Matches end largely without fanfare or analysis, booting you back to the menu unceremoniously even if you just defeated a major antagonist.
Everything just feels kind of, for lack of a more accurate term, half-assed, including some pretty big oversights. Often the score shown in the end of game summary will not reflect the score of the actual match. Most of the names of AI teams, or randomly-generated players aren’t even capitalized correctly! It might seem like a smaller nitpick, but I’d expect more attention to detail out of a fan game or a mod. Come on, am I wrong?
Flag on the Play
Not everything in Blood Bowl 3 is a step backward. At least compared to the launch day version of Blood Bowl 2, there’s more diversity in the teams and player types. But even then, there’s a lot of recycling going on. The Chaos Chosen have five player types now, instead of three. But two of them, the ogre and troll, are just copy-pasted from other teams.
There’s also the Chaos Renegades, a new team type that is entirely made up of Chaos-worshiping variations of players from other teams. But they don’t even get any Chaos-themed starting abilities, and the new Black Orcs team, much like Blood Bowl 2’s Chaos roster, only has three player types. This is somewhat made up for by the huge variety of interesting skills you can eventually use to customize players as they gain experience, but I don’t see myself playing Blood Bowl 3 long enough to explore the full potential of that system.
You can still create your own leagues and competitions with custom rules, up to 128 teams, and playoffs like in the previous game, which is neat. However, progress can’t be carried over between your offline and online profiles.
There are six single-player mini campaigns with some kind of shallow premise about a battle of the sponsors, and the first two are pretty good, actually! As for the others, I couldn’t get them to unlock even after winning the championship in the previous ones multiple times, which took a few hours, and hovering over or clicking them doesn’t give any indication of how they’re unlocked. Maybe they’re coming at some point after launch? Maybe it’s a bug? Blood Bowl 3 doesn’t seem interested in telling me.
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Author: Tom Marks