If you’re someone that thinks that American Football needs more Orcs, Elves and other fantasy races fighting over an oddly shaped ball, then Blood Bowl is exactly the type of game for you. It’s NFL in the Warhammer universe, all the players fighting to score touchdowns and potentially kill their opponents. Blood Bowl 3 takes the exact same setting as the previous games, but now uses the most recent rules from the tabletop game that Games Workshop published back in 2020.
Games Workshop are the granddaddies when it comes to tabletop gaming, refining the game mechanics of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 for over forty years. Except both of those have spawned a whole host of spin-offs, one of which was the sports themed Blood Bowl.
While less popular than its other family members, Blood Bowl still has a good number of fans, and the transition to becoming a video game was fairly natural, with the first digital outing appearing on MS-DOS in 1995. Its rules and systems make perfect sense here, helped along by the RNG of dice playing a major factor in the outcomes of games.
In that respect, there’s not all that much to get wrong as we come to the third outing for Cyanide’s modern take on Blood Bowl. The rules are in place, so you’d expect that building a solid game around this would be fairly straightforward, especially with Blood Bowl 1 and 2 having been made by the same studio. That’s not quite the case with Blood Bowl 3.
Firstly, the UI feels incredibly awkward to navigate, and is buggy beyond belief. Menu segments will refuse to load unless you either quit and reload the game, or swap between other menu sections repeatedly. It’s more than a touch infuriating. I was trying to purchase a new team, and bought new team members only for them not to show up when I viewed the roster. I thought I’d done something wrong until I reloaded the game and they appeared.
The actual matches are also riddled with bugs. Up until a patch yesterday, I was basically unable to string two matches together without the game crashing. This seems to have now been resolved, but brutally highlighted that Cyanide has removed the ability to save mid-match, so if you quit or the game crashes, you concede and have to start over. Coupled with other bugs like ball indicators disappearing, players T-posing and more made for a sour experience.
Whatever was holding up AI decision-making pre-patch has also seemingly been improved, but comes at the cost of outcomes and dice rolls sometimes going so fast you don’t have time to see the results.
It’s all really frustrating, since the actual gameplay is very good. There’s all the planning you expect from a tabletop game, placing players in the right position to reduce the risk of potential blocks going bad, or setting up a goal by throwing the ball from player to player while avoiding opposition. There’s an element of risk with all manoeuvres, but that’s the nature of dice games and you have to take the rough with the smooth while mitigating as much of the risk as you can.
Another step back is the lacking customisation for your teams, with a lot of the good stuff being locked behind Warpstone. You can purchase Warpstone from your respective stores which in turn lets you pick up a battle pass or individual customisation options from the store. Eventually, with Season 1 in May, you will be able to earn Warpstone from levelling up.
Considering that I could freely customise my miniatures in Blood Bowl 2, this change feels far too aggressive and cynical for a paid sequel, even if a way to earn currency were fully implemented from launch. Not even mutating your players has a cosmetic effect on them. Imagine my disappointment after slogging through three games to earn enough skill points to add an extra arm on a player and it didn’t show up visually! I was so deflated…
This, of course, goes hand in hand with the decision to make Blood Bowl 3 an always online game. You can play offline, but the two are completely separate, so if you’ve made a ton of progress and one day lose your internet, your separate offline profile has nothing in it. Alternatively, their servers could go down, and in fact this did regularly happen during the last few days. The ability to resume after a disconnection is planned for Season 2… in August.
One of the few positives I can think of is that the graphics are a little better. But that’s about it. Everything has been borrowed from its previous iteration and somehow made worse. Even the voice lines from the commentators are the same! Many of these issues are nothing a few patches can’t sort, and the first update has improved some areas, but I’d rather have the game pushed back than released in its current buggy form, seemingly unfinished state. Baffling when the game was originally expected in early 2021 and has been in beta testing where a lot of these issues were also previously present.
It’s just a step back in so many ways. Blood Bowl 2 released nearly eight years ago and despite some RNG going slightly haywire, it was a fantastic recreation of its tabletop brother, with its system refined in a way only Games Workshop knows how. It absolutely baffles me how Cyanide has managed to fumble Blood Bowl 3, which in essence should have been easy!