Whether you're playing the original Games Workshop tabletop game or the video game adaptation, Blood Bowl has always been a strategy game that adds blood and guts to sport. The gory, edge-of-your-seat action has never been easy to get into for newcomers however, thanks to aspects like the complex rules and length of matches. The Blood Bowl 3 closed beta has shown that the developer has its mind in the right place though, with a number of crucial improvements that should pull in new players and tempt back experienced ones who may have fallen off the wagon.
Bigger and bolder
There's only so much Cyanide Studios, the France-based developers behind Blood Bowl 3, can do to improve upon the previous iteration. Since the entire game is based on the Games Workshop tabletop game, the video game is also bound to those rules and regulations, specifically the Blood Bowl: Second Season Edition, released last year.
So while gameplay enhancements are limited, what Cyanide has focused on instead is improvements to the core Blood Bowl experience; a complete UI overhaul, much improved graphics, and better cinematics that truly make you feel like you're playing an alternate reality Super Bowl where the players can pummel one another until death.
If you're a returning player, the first change you'll notice when booting up the Blood Bowl 3 beta is how the main menu has been completely revamped. You'll be looking at bolder colors, bigger icons, and a navigation bar at the top of the screen to cycle between your created teams to getting out onto the pitch. This change could be because of a renewed focus on the console experience, although it could also reflect a desire to reduce friction and streamline the Blood Bowl experience.
Everything in-game has been redesigned too. Tackle zones for every member of the opposing team are visible on the surface of the pitch; yellow squares indicate one enemy tackle zone, bright red means that square is in two enemy tackle zones, while dark red signifies three or more. You can toggle this off, just like you can icons for the skills each player possesses above their heads, but it's one example of how Blood Bowl 3 is making it easier for new players to understand what's happening.
Every action you take now appears on a radial wheel in the centre of the screen too. This makes it more manageable for those playing on controller, while also giving a clear impression of which actions are available at any one time, with the impossible ones being greyed out. Blocks are presented in the same manner, with the results of the block dice appearing at the top. Some of the color themes could use some adjusting because at times, there is way too much going on at once, but for the most part my apprehensions about the UI changes have been satisfied.
This... is.... Blood Bowl!
Blood Bowl 2 may have been a good representation of the tabletop experience, but it didn't truly feel like a sporting match. The atmosphere was never truly there. With that in mind, Blood Bowl 3 feels much more impressive.
The pre-match cutscenes from the last game have been improved upon now, with panoramic views of the thematic stadium, crowd angsty and raring to go in the background, followed by a view of the two teams facing off against one another. With thumping drums in the background and the low, sweeping camera that splits the two teams, each Blood Bowl match truly feels like a sporting spectacle with tremendous atmosphere rather than a tabletop game transferred to a virtual environment.
You can even taunt your opponent now with four different emotes available; tease, celebration, incitement, and despair. Since your coach character is visible and animated on the side of the pitch, selecting an emote will showcase it in a smaller window for both coaches to see. Push an opponent off the pitch into the crowd and the animation is much more vicious now, as the adoring fans wail into them and blood spurts everywhere. The overall match experience has been improved tenfold, but there's still work to be done...
Or is it bug bowl?
The Blood Bowl 3 full release date has been delayed until February 2022, with an early access version coming to Steam in September this year, and it's clear to see why. The closed beta, as it stands, is in a rough state. There are non-stop bugs, from single player matches against the AI disconnecting due to connectivity issues, to the game somehow permitting me to use all my re-rolls for the same dice. Seriously, I used four re-rolls for the same action until it succeeded.
Clicking on actions sometimes doesn't register, the turn timer doesn't expire when it's meant to or will start counting down before your turn has actually started, animations will bug out and show players in the wrong place on the pitch... the list goes on. Of course, this is what alphas and betas are for; live build playtesting with a dedicated community to identify problems and find solutions, so there should be no doubt these will get fixed prior to launch.
Special shout out needs to go to the AI, which appears to have gotten worse since Blood Bowl 2, if that's even possible. I spent an entire game vs Black Orcs just passing my turn and they didn't manage to score. With that in mind, Nacon has confirmed the AI is not final and is still being worked on, so this is simply a note from the beta which you can register for now (opens in new tab), to play from June 3-13.
Despite these issues, I'm incredibly excited for the finished product of Blood Bowl 3, because there's a lot of potential here. It just needs more time in the oven.