Review

Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition Review (PC)

Last year's Blood Bowl was a rare treat on the PC (and console), matching the full charm of its tabletop inspiration with colourful and gory form and an infusion of dark humour. Sure the singleplayer AI wasn't fantastic, but the multiplayer shone; earning a devoted online following and a decent critical reception. This Legendary Edition bundles all the content from the original game with an expanded roster of 20 teams, a couple of new stadiums, a tacked-on story mode, but not a whole lot else of notable substance. As a newcomer it's undoubtedly worth a look, but as a full-price upgrade for those with the original, you might want to consider your options before handing over the cash.
 

The art style remains untouched
For those new to the franchise, Blood Bowl is a fantasy game based on American Football but populated with all the various races you'd expect to find in Warhammer releases. The action occurs on a board-game grid with two sets of players moving and performing entirely on dice rolls - whether that's throwing a pass to a waiting receiver, or simply skipping around a tackle to try and reach the open field. Individual players and positions are weighted with stats that determine the odds of rolling a successful number, but fail in any of your actions and you'll incur a turnover, risking possession and death as your opponent takes to the field in an attempt to reclaim the ball and destroy your assembled ranks. It's brutal, bloody and gore-soaked, but struck through with charm, humour and a good sense of the property on which it's based.

And it's also incredibly tactical and a lot of fun. Matches against AI or human opposition can be drawn-out affairs with a distinct ebb and flow that can be broken at any moment by a random on-pitch or off-pitch event, lending the game a nice balance of intelligence and chance. Those first few matches come at a price though, as the learning curve is incredibly steep. As a new player, the first mode you'll encounter in this Legendary Edition is a reworked tutorial that skims over the basics of setting formations and ordering your charges around the field, but to be frank, it's terrible. The interface is buggy and commentary lags behind the action for the most part, so the best way of getting into the game proper is to load up a quick match or campaign against the AI, scout around YouTube and Google for instructions and tactics.

After you have the basics down though, the reasons as to why Blood Bowl's popularity has endured come sharply into focus. The well-honed rules and freedom of tactical expression create a wealth of opportunities for unique plays and events, and the nuances and gameplay machinations provide ample opportunity to learn and experiment for hours. Whilst the Legendary Edition offers up a Blitz mode in which rules can be tweaked (and also a real-time version for you mentalists out there), the classic rule set in the new campaign mode will likely be where newcomers find the most gentle learning curve. Although it fails to ignite the senses throughout a series of themed challenges bundled around a loose story, it does do a fairly good job at teaching the frailties and strengths of each of the playable races. There was an opportunity here to design something grander and more in-depth, but the implementation of themed goals and challenges is entertaining enough for newcomers whilst providing a refresher for lapsed veterans.
 
Those horns look like they're going to hurt...
There are problems though, and familiar ones at that. The singleplayer AI - purportedly improved in this edition - is still either constantly obsessed with its own defensive or protective line, or else it's throwing players downfield in a kamikaze fashion to attempt a risky pass or interception. It's rarely surprising or ingenious, and there is no real sense of identity fostered in each of the 20 teams as a result. Sure, some of the weaker opponents will occasionally attempt to play to their strengths out of necessity (or at least it seems that way), but if you're looking for any sense of unique tacticians based on the most prominent attributes of your opponents, online is the only way to play.

Despite some flaky matchmaking and an apparent ability for less scrupulous players to 'predict' incoming dice rolls, online play in Blood Bowl is still a whole lot of fun. Custom leagues exist for those of you that want to dodge the minefield of random play, with a thriving community dedicated to providing decent opposition and eradicating the sort of rage-quitting and general idiocy that unfortunately rears its head during regular play with strangers. Indeed the only disappointment here is that the Legendary Edition isn't compatible with the original, although both sets of players can see each other in-lobby. Community-saver or cynical ploy to get people to upgrade? That's your decision to make.

Also it's worth noting that due to the hugely expanded roster the Legendary Edition remains very much open to questions of imbalance, but in part that's simply a design choice. Choosing a smaller team such as the Halflings will never give you a fair crack at winning, but including the weaker races will placate a large section of the audience that wants an authentic experience and a distinct challenge for veterans. Yes it's disappointing to see a bewildering lack of instruction to new players on how to avoid the more obvious mismatches, but you get the feeling that developer Cyanide rarely took their eyes off developing a title that served the old guard first and foremost - the type of people that will be only too happy to have a large range of playable races and head into every game fully prepared for the likely challenge of encountering each.
 
Cheerleaders. Nuff said

But then you have to imagine that those people already have Blood Bowl, and outside of the roster update it's difficult to see what they'll gain from purchasing the Legendary Edition. The new arenas look pretty enough, but bringing the total to nine is hardly earth-shattering, whilst the singleplayer AI hasn't been overhauled to provide a different singleplayer experience. Is £20-25 too much to ask for the additional races then? Quite possibly, given the legacy of free content on the PC. On the flipside, those of you yet to delve into the Blood Bowl universe will find a game with hours of entertainment to uncover, provided you manage to scale the steep learning curve and avoid the pitfalls of mismatching. Online however, Blood Bowl is a rare treat - and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

Top Game Moment: Lobbing a desperate ball over the top to a willing runner.

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