Hood: Outlaws & Legends Review — Strong Ideas, Rough Execution
Robin takes his place in a watchtower. John holds the portcullis open. Tooke marks enemies, and Marianne gets into position to assassinate the most dangerous targets. Their goal is to ambush the sheriff and grab the key to the vault.
At least, that's the elevator pitch for Hood: Outlaws & Legends. Unfortunately, that isn't usually how things play out. Like a lot of experimental, squad-based multiplayer games, your mileage with Hood is probably limited to one simple concept: "Can you consistently put together a squad of four people you know and enjoy playing with?"
If not, you're likely to have a rough go of it. If you can put a team together, you might still be in trouble because there are enough problems in Hood to be concerned about its staying power.
Hood: Outlaws & Legends Review — Strong Ideas, Rough Execution
Hood: Outlaws & Legends draws on several inspirations for its central gameplay, but it's ultimately a fairly original beast. You play as a squad of four outlaws, roughly based on the mythology of Robin Hood. Your mission is to infiltrate a fortress, steal a vault key from the sheriff, grab the treasure, and make it back to your extraction point. You then protect your team as you use a machine to get the treasure out, all while enemies come pouring in to stop you.
For the most part, you work as a squad against AI enemies who patrol the castle and guard the vault. However, there's also a squad of player-controlled characters, just like your own, working to accomplish the same goal as you are. The best points of tension in Hood: Outlaws & Legends come from trying to outwit two different types of foes: the predictable (but still dangerous) AI and the unpredictable team of powerful players.
This PvPvE setup leads to some very difficult decision-making. Do you want to work to steal the treasure, or do you want to sit back, let the other player-controlled squad do the work, and swoop in at the end to steal it out from under them? Do you strike as soon as they unlock the vault, or do you wait until they've carted the treasure to the extraction point?
Being unpredictable and catching other players off guard is extremely satisfying, and the best games of Hood make you feel like you're starring in a medieval heist movie.
This same vibe comes through in the game's different character classes, each of which can essentially do anything but are best suited to certain tasks.
Robin is a ranged specialist who does his best work headshotting from afar with his deadly bow and arrows. Marianne is a transplant from Assassin's Creed, sneaking about and dispatching foes quickly and silently. Tooke is a solid support character who can scout and mark enemies, heal his allies, and more than holds his own in a melee battle with his unpredictable attacks. And John is the bruiser, holding open gates to let allies through before unleashing his massive war hammer.
When all of these elements come together, rounds of Hood are an exciting back and forth, as both squads jockey for control and surprise the other team at the most opportune moment to come away from the mission with a huge XP and gold boost. Rewards can be used to unlock additional perks for characters (many of which are must-haves if you're going to compete) and cosmetic items that will help you set your characters apart.
Even your character selection can be a surprise: though there are four classes and four players per squad, you don't have to each choose a different character. You can start a round with four Robins on your side, for example. It's not very wise to do so, but it certainly will give your enemies a little bit extra to think about.
Ultimately, however, all of these positives generally serve to make the lows of Hood: Outlaws & Legends even more frustrating. First off, it's practically essential to have a premade squad. Joining a team of randoms (or even adding in one or two randoms) in a competitive game that requires communication and playing your character the way they're meant to be played is an exercise in frustration.
This also leaves little room for experimentation: trying a new strategy or working to learn a new character, especially as Hood's meta solidifies, will cause further problems.
This also means matchmaking is a big variable too. If you've got a fine-oiled machine going up against randomly paired strangers, you're likely to smash them. If you're learning a new strategy or grinding to unlock perks and go up against players who know what they're doing, you'll likely have a rough time.
Hood runs into another problem of its own making: the final extraction is a complete pain. To win, you set the treasure on a winch and use one or two characters to slowly rotate a handle until you increase a meter. Meanwhile, enemies are alerted to your presence and converge in a bid to stop you. It becomes a slapstick effort of everyone using their abilities all at once, and it loses all the tension that should be involved in the finale of a heist.
The AI doesn't really help, either. Enemy soldiers can do a lot of damage, especially if you bumble into some as one of the squishier characters. Still, they're incredibly easy to fool and not much of a challenge to work around. Right now, it's far too easy to just run into a room and crouch in a corner until enemies start ignoring you again. Hopefully, as updates are introduced, there are improvements to pathing and decision-making.
On top of all these issues, the gameplay just doesn't feel great. Hood looks a bit like Assassin's Creed on the surface, but maneuverability leaves a lot to be desired. You would expect a group of thieves to be extremely mobile, but environments are not built well as a 3D puzzle box. Working your way through building interiors, with their dead ends and stacked furniture blocking your path, takes a lot of the wind out of the game's power fantasy.
Combat is also chunky and frustrating, with easily telegraphed attacks and a punishing stamina system that will leave you unable to do anything other than strafe after just a few attacks.
It's hard to imagine Hood maintains a strong and diverse player count, which it will absolutely need to thrive. It's extremely frustrating because the little bits where it works are amazing, but it's difficult to unearth those little gems.
Hood: Outlaws & Legends Review — The Bottom Line
- Variety in class specialization makes everyone valuable
- Fun concept that feels great when it fires on all cylinders
- Stamina and combat systems are not well implemented
- Enemy AI is extremely underpowered
- Not much incentive to do the work until the end
- Without a premade squad, you probably won't have much fun
A game like Hood: Outlaws & Legends is a rarity: it takes some big swings to try and set itself apart from the pack. Unfortunately, it whiffs on a lot of them. There is a skeleton here that could turn into something really impressive, but it's hard to imagine a world where it attracts enough players to sustain itself long enough to evolve that far.
If it does find some footholds, there are many plans down the line for new maps, new characters, and other upgrades to keep players interested, as Sumo Digital has outlined in the game's Year One roadmap. Hopefully, Hood can find its footing, but I'm a skeptic right now: there are too many problems baked into the core that might keep it from ripening.
[Note: Sumo Digital provided the copy of Hood: Outlaws & Legends used for this review.]