I always assumed Friar Tuck was a man of peace in the Robin Hood legend, but here I am, mouth agape, watching him slaughter knights of the realm by the dozen. Tooke, as the Mystic class is known in Hood: Outlaws & Legends, brandishes a flail as his weapon of choice, and this particular player hasn't stopped swinging it since the match started.
His aggression has alerted the entire castle (including the enemy team) to our presence, and repeatedly undermines any efforts by our band of merry men to stay under the radar. The result of his handiwork is that we're now completely surrounded by enemy guards, including the Sheriff, while our opposition is already making their way off with the treasure. And to think he's meant to be the healer of the group.
I tell this story from one of the many matches I played of Hood: Outlaws & Legends over the weekend because it exemplifies an unavoidable flaw in Sumo Digital's dark take on the tales of Robin Hood. It's a PvPvE experience that sounds brilliant on paper, in which two teams of thieves attempt to steal treasure from the state (and each other) in a heist-infused twist on multiplayer. But like many of the more unconventional online experiments that have come and gone over the last decade, it's a pitch that tends to crumble a little under the weight of human agency.
This isn't to say that Hood: Outlaws & Legends isn't worth picking up, particularly during this relatively barren season of major game releases. On the contrary, there's a lot of fun to be had, provided you go in with the right mindset. While Sumo Digital's marketing has given the impression of a patient and tactical, stealth-focused co-op experience, the reality is something that's more akin to playing Capture the Flag within a relatively shallow multiplayer sandbox.
Picking between one of four classes, your team will attempt to infiltrate a medieval stronghold, and extract a chest full of gold. The heist is a multi-step process; you must slip past the patrols of AI guards, steal the Vault Key from a stronghold's Sheriff (the only invincible character in the game, and one who can kill players in a single blow), locate the vault itself, escort the chest to the exfiltration point, and winch it to safety. The twist is that you're not the only band of thieves looking to steal from the rich; another team is also eyeing up the chest, and you'll have to fight them off throughout the match if you want to secure its gold for your pockets.
Pulling off synergised plays with a team of friends in Hood can feel exhilarating, whether you're combining your different class abilities in battle, or simply improvising reactive strategies against the enemy team. You can also use Hood's sandbox environments to your advantage against the enemy team. Struggling to prevent the opposition's chest extraction? Get the sheriff involved. The stomping, swearing behemoth crushes any player who gets near him with a single killing blow, and while he can be downed for a limited time, his unrelenting presence throws a real spanner into even the best laid plans.
Similarly, players can capture respawn points dotted around the map, limiting the other team's ability to recover from death by getting back quickly into the action. Communication with your fellow thieves is crucial in executing any of these tactics, of course, so it's worth playing with friends if you can convince them past Hood's reasonable $25/£20 price tag.
That is a big "if", however. For many, forming a squad of four friends willing to role-play as the perfect composition of classes isn't easy, and the only alternative is matchmaking into sessions with strangers. That's not always a recipe for a good time, however, especially if those strangers are not up for communicating over voice chat, or more interested in doing their own thing, rather than playing as a team. When that happens, Hood's co-operative and stealth mechanics are often left to the wayside, and matches can descend into a bloodbath of players simply button mashing each other to death while the game's sandbox systems struggle to react appropriately.
Hood's combat mechanics can be frustratingly clunky, too. Classes are only given a limited moveset to draw from, narrowing the opportunities for skill-based spars. Whereas other melee medieval games like For Honor ensure that players can best their way through even an outnumbered encounter, so long as they possess a fluent command of their nuanced mechanics, Hood's basic button mashing renders your character fairly useless as soon as more than one enemy player joins the fight. Players can upgrade their classes with new passive traits back at camp, but weapon variations remain firmly cosmetic, and a fully maxed character will have exactly the same two or three abilities as their level one counterpart.
The perfect crime
Those roughshod controls might be more forgivable if Hood's matches didn't often feel so uneven in the way it handles the distinction between victory and defeat. Even if your team pulls off the perfect heist, right up to doing the majority of the chest extraction, the game will still give the win to the opposition if one of their players happens to be the person at the winch when the loot is secured.
It doesn't help that this can happen quite often, too, as a concerted, last-minute assault on an extracting team is fairly viable, especially when the assault comes from a squad working closely together. Given that you still get experience points and gold for actions performed throughout the match, rather than just the final results, this sense of imbalance isn't a total dealbreaker, but I can imagine the kind of unfair losses that arise from Hood's one-dimensional win states will leave a bitter taste in the mouth for those who like to invest themselves in the competition.
Taking these rough edges into consideration, Hood: Outlaws & Legends feels like the kind of fun, messy multiplayer mode that would have been tacked on to a better stealth game from ten years ago, and I mean that in the best way possible. There's jank, unevenness, and player-made havoc aplenty, but if you're willing to go with the bumps, rather than let them completely spoil your fun, Hood's heist hijinks are more than enough to bring some much needed merriment to your evenings this Spring. Just make sure to recruit some real-life allies along the way.