59 votes, rating 5.4
So, as some of you might know, I'm playing a fair bit of tabletop BloodBowl these days, meaning I've been around on FUMBBL a bit less (there's only so much BB someone can play, unless you're Emphasy, that is). As a part of this, I was lucky enough to play in a tournament in France this year, and a prize for doing well was a copy of BB:LE.
Now, whilst I'm a FUMBBLer at heart and I hated the first Cyanide debacle; I'd also be silly to ignore a freebie. So, last night, I loaded up the game to try and come up with an objective, fair review from the point of view of a FUMBBL diehard. Afterall; if it was genuinely better than FUMBBL, whilst I wouldn't jump ship to play open online games (see numerous threads on dropping, hacks and other such massive fails), it might be worth playing in closed leagues amongst people from this or other sites; it might be worthy of some / most of my valuable free time to the detrement of FUMBBL. The only man who's opinion I don't take into consideration, afterall, is he who refuses to change it. Perhaps BB:LE is the future.
First thing to note from a review point of view is that my instruction manual is in French. That's not a surprise, afterall, it came from France. However, it might mean that things I find tricky aren’t all that tricky if you’ve read the instructions, I am basically winging it. But it installed and loaded up OK in English, no issues there. First thing I did is turn the graphics up to 11. I mean, if you're going to play a pretty version of BB, let's do it properly, eh (worth a note at this point that my computer is _OK_ if not amazing. I come within the recommended spec for the game, but not by miles – so I expect today’s top PC graphics to be within my grasp, but might give up a little in terms of performance)? I want the full whammy.
I went straight into ‘Campaign mode’ and made some Wood Elves (White Isle Redux). Making a team where you name your own players is, frankly, a chomp on your balls. It took me about ten minutes to navigate around, it was a real style over substance type of affair. I don't need a 3D rendering of my players on the bench in the changing room and pretty sub-menus, I need a simple point, click, fill in to get me a Wardancer I can call PeteW (got hit by a rock on kickoff one, hurrah). That got my gander up, it’s needless in it’s complexity. If you're interested in _exactly_ how your players look, you can choose between three to four skin tones or a couple of shapes (in some cases), but frankly, there is nothing there that can make your team fully individual, although there is a customisation bit that I'm yet to play with (one assumes that if you have the skills and PC software, your players can be truly individual and different – although I imagine this would annoy online opponents if you got too wacky). You can choose a team 'motto', a symbol and an armour colour (all finite pre-sets), but again, it's pretty clunky stuff and could probably be cleaner and neater. The campagin mode is more or less a series of mini tournaments leading to the 'Majors' with your team, so far as I can see (again… French). You can also choose one off games or Cups, or a Story mode, which I believe means you coach a series of 'famous' teams. I imagine this means that you lurch from race and team to team as you win games, and there is less emphasis on building a team and more on your coaching career. Didn’t float my boat.
First game for White Isle Redux was some TV130 odd Chaos in a four way league event with some Norse and some ‘Zons. Fine, I thought, seems a reasonable spread. Sidewinder was induced to give the 'Hard' AI a good kicking. Worth noting here is that LE supports about half of the Stars, so your favourite may well not be there to select from. Lord knows why this is, it just feels incomplete and lazy, although it may be a GW thing. Again, selecting my man this was another series of annoying, clunky menus and drop down boxes, and it occurs that a BB n00b would have struggled to work it all out, at least I knew what I was looking for setting the game up, I had that leg up. Perhaps the instructions give a good account of building a BB team and what all of the Inducements do, but my French is as they say, tres crap. I think a Rookie to BB will really struggle to get this right, so I hope that the manual gives some tips on team building, otherwise your 0RR n00b is going to get zero from the experience. Recommending the Long Pass to Wood Elves in the blurb is a start made of fail anyway.
To the pitch. It sort of reminded me of an old favourite of mine, Dungeon Master if you know it, in look and feel. Considering that you'd buy this version for fancy graphics, I have to admit I wasn't blown away at first glance, the cut scene floating the camera in to the Chaos pitch was OK, but the players themselves looked a bit uncomfortable and seemed to float above the pitch on a different layer of graphic as they faced off on halfway. Anyway, I was kicking. My first problem (this probably isn't the game's fault, again, French instructions) was not being able to set up properly / my own way or see the squares (later found the hotkeys and worked out how to do setups by trial and error – setting up for a OTS is going to really be tough methinks), and I only got 90 seconds to do so. Eventually, I panicked and selected some awful preset the game suggested putting Sidewinder front row, centre. Kickoff (to what I assumed was the middle) was a nice little cut scene (interestingly, you only seem to get a cut scene for kicking off, scoring a TD (often just a player running a square or getting chainpushed in slow-mo), killing something (the same blocking animation you've seen 100 times before, just in slow-mo with a white skull) and an SI (ditto, red cross). Where's Throw a Rock? Blitz!? Riot? It seems a bit minimalist considering this is supposed to be sexy, put some effort in above and beyond a pop-up box), the commentary team sparked into life, we were off and running.
As the half wore on, I suddenly realised I was basically playing BattleChess, by any other name. Blocking animations are recycled faster than Coldplay songs, and whilst they're funny / neat the first time around, eventually they got in the way. Just why, exactly, is my Wood Elven Lineman / woman / thing doing a handstand again? 'Jim and Bob' by the end of the game were even recycling commentary. I mean, I have Madden NFL 11 (a powerhouse of a cash soaked video game franchise), and by the end of the first Season, the commentary makes you play on mute (or hunt them down - I DIDN'T CALL A RUN BLITZ, SHUT UP), but after one game? Boy. Every action I performed was a mess of clunky mouse clicks, trying to work out what was a square (and even with the graphics on full) what the difference was between the opposition players or a Line Elf and a Catcher (WDs at least have the mohawk). If I zoomed right in, a CW looked different from a Beastman, but with 4 minutes enforced, to get a tactical view of the thing and hit the time limit, you zoom right out, and then they all blend into one (my second game Vs. Amazons was even worse in this regard, my team blended into theirs with glorious error inducing issues). It tries to help you; select Blitz and the player to hit, and it traces a path out to travel, but invariably, that's the sub optimal path and you have to do it bit by bit yourself anyway. Missclicking is really very easy if you’re getting fed up of the pedestrian pace you’re having to do everything at. Blocking shows you how many dice there are / where the assists lie, and that seems to work OK, but if you want to Blitz with first action a block, or Leap Blitz, you have to go off piste and click a new button, which is just clunky and annoying.
The game finished 3-2 to me and took about two hours as I struggled to make headway and got ever more frustrated. I'm lucky the AI scored when it had the merest sniff of the line in terms of the result. I found one bug and three rules issues in the first game, which I guess is better than the games' reputation, but even so, it's a win for the LRB6 FUMBBL client in terms of rules accuracy, even in beta, the rules seem to be better enforced. This is a professional effort, it can’t be that hard to get paid to get rules right.
A word about the AI I suppose, it's rubbish. That's all you need to know, but I guess a review has to mention it. I don't see that it's any worse than someone better than Cyanide would produce, but even so. CR 130? On hard? It turned over numerous times before I could even work out what it had done.
I played another game (1-0 Vs. 'Zons that all looked exactly alike – I later found a hotkey that helps identify positionals, and boy do you need it) and a half (2-0 up on Norse), and along the way, turned the graphics down and zoomed out as far as possible turning the grid on to get a strategic view. This made the experience a little better; game time came down to an hour as I got used to what I was doing and made the game less about how it looked and more of a game of BB. It's remarkable how few cut scenes / animations / different commentary lines there are in the game, and just like BattleChess in my youth, the novelty of dressing a boardgame up in new clothes wore off very quickly indeed, and I zoomed right out to try and strip it back to it's strategic roots – sort of anti the reason you’d play the game to begin with. The experience improved because of this, it felt more like a strategy game, and less like a video of badly integrated polygons looking at each other with a ball knocking around somewhere to make it BB. I think when teams get to TV 200 or more, following what players have what skills might get a little tricky, with four minute turns enforced and all of the animations, it can take a while to suss out what skill a player has and count squares, etc. The players need to move more swiftly and the interface needs to be more functional for the
slower players out there.
I think that's the major issue with the ‘Classic’ (as opposed to ‘Blitz’ – more of that later) game, if I'm honest, the style over substance feel of the thing. Blood Bowl is, at it's heart, a strategy game. How pretty does a board game need to look, afterall? That's not the point. I play chess online, and I play it on a totally basic 2D board that a C64 could run with no issue. That's as good as it needs to look, any embellishment on top of that is useless; and that's something (after BattleChess) that's been realised. Why dress up perfection?
To those of us that play this game for a strategic, turn-based challenge, BB:LE is a total waste of time whilst FUMBBL exists. I think if you're a kid looking at BB for the first time, or someone coming back to the game after years out, I think it might act as a valuable gateway drug, but there are serious issues there that are just as likely to turn you off as on. I wonder if I were new to the game I would have been so bored of the glitz and glamour animations and cut-scenes after only 2.5 attempts. Sadly, I'm spoilt by playing the very best video games the industry has to offer, and from a purely shallow graphics, production and sound point of view (forgetting BB the strategy game for a second), the game is really average to poor. I've seen better produced and better looking Dreamcast games, and that was what, ten years ago? It's nearly 2011, but you'd never know it from LE. I wonder (from a detached, philosophical point of view) if any 3D gorgeous rendering of Blood Bowl would be worthwhile. Perhaps this is actually the crux of my issue. I'm an old man that plays this game for the love of the strategy and the challenge; perhaps even if this game were the best looking, best presented spectacular I'd ever seen, I'd want to reduce it to the bare bones of what was happening stratgically. I’d want to see the numbers, not the Matrix. Maybe Cyanide were onto a loser with me before they even designed a single player. Perhaps it's my fault? Perhaps, afterall, I'm far from the target audience, and I accept that this is possible; the game has sold OK. However, for those reading these words on this site, I believe I'm in the majority. I mean, I enjoy a good shoot 'em up with the best of them. I ooh and ahh as I dismember an alien footsoldier with a gorgeous, armour piercing shot from my Railgun in glorious HD, 3D, widescreen beauty. But I think that shallow draw is very much genre specific; and it's genre isn't strategy.
I'll admit, I'm yet to play the real time mode (‘Blitz’), which I will out of interest, if done right, it might be fun in a low-brow, action sense, although I worry Cyanide seem to have made it a strategy game too, they may have been better off making it a silly button basher. I'm yet to test it out online, which I will against someone I know (you'd frankly be insane to try and play serious, competitive, open BB with LE - see numerous threads everywhere), but I’ve delved into the online LFG interface, and that seems standard. I accept this review comes from what is basically an extended first impression. But to those threads in the forum asking if BB:LE is the death of FUMBBL, I say this;
Once the site is officially LRB6, I don’t see any reason why a hardened Blood Bowler would play BB:LE. From a point of view of rules accuracy, bugs, online play and all of the mechanical things you'd want from a BB mental exercise experience, the LRB6 client is already better, and it’s still in beta. If anything, my evening just made me pine for a more simple, functional experience all the more. From a point of view of graphics, sound, production and experience, unless you've not played a video game since 1996, you've seen and played better; if you really need 3D polygons making the same block animation 50 times a game in your life, I’d argue you aren’t a strategy fan anyway. BB:LE will not be the death of FUMBBL, if you’ve played both, you’d be mad to believe so. It was just the death of my Wednesday night. And I'll never get that time back.