As game premises go, it’s really hard to beat Hood: Outlaws & Legends. A Robin Hood fantasy heist game where you and a crew of outlaws steal from the heavily guarded fortresses of the rich and give it to the poor? Sign me and all my friends the heck up! But where this breathtaking world of assassins and knights delivers some awesome moments, sadly, it seems designed to reward bullheaded brute-force attacks over cunning stealth and doesn’t have nearly enough content to sustain the interest of the greedy swindlers it aims to please.
The main idea is that you and three fellow burglars work to steal loot from the grossly incompetent powers-that-be in a three-stage process: first you steal a key to a vault, then break into said vault, and finally make off with the goods. Given that the AI-controlled defenders are a bunch of dunces, it should be easy… except that a rival gang of four occupies the same map and will do everything in their power to throw wrenches in your plans so that they can nab the loot first. So Hood is all about stealth and cooperation… and when that inevitably fails, frantically murdering NPCs and rival players alike until one team makes off with the treasure.[ignvideo url=”https://www.ign.com/videos/hood-outlaws-and-legends-the-final-preview”]
Each of the four characters on a team has a distinct role and set of abilities that can prove invaluable under the right circumstances (though you can use any team composition you like). Robin the Ranger, for example, is an archer class who can silently kill enemies from afar and open up new paths on the map via rope arrows that others can climb. On the opposite end of the spectrum is John the Brawler, a melee tank who can use his beefy lumberjack arms to open gates for his allies and is able to carry the treasure chest faster than any other class.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Balance%20feels%20a%20little%20iffy%20depending%20on%20what%20phase%20of%20a%20match%20you%E2%80%99re%20in.”]Each character also has their own consumables, like blinding flashbangs or deadly gas grenades, as well as special abilities that can be used once every few minutes. Stealth-focused Marianne the Hunter has the ability to go invisible for a few seconds, while support-focused Tooke the Mystic can heal his allies and mark nearby enemies. Each class feels distinct and unique, although the balance feels a little iffy depending on what phase of a match you’re in. Marianne, for example, while undoubtedly the best stealth class, isn’t very competitive, especially in the dominant final act of each heist where open combat becomes unavoidable.
And therein lies one of the main issues with Hood: stealth isn’t rewarding enough and embracing open battle isn’t punished enough. Inevitably, this means that as soon as the enemy teams meet one another, subterfuge gives way to an all-out street brawl. No matter how long you hold out, though, almost every match I’ve played has ended in a drawn-out extraction sequence where opposing teams fight for control of a winch they must crank to make off with the loot. This phase can drag on for more than 10 minutes of stalemated combat where the teams are recklessly killing each other while slow and stupid NPCs meander around, slashing at anyone who gets close. Compare that to stealing the key and breaking into the vault, which can take only a few minutes and can be feasibly accomplished while in stealth – it’s a bit lopsided.[poilib element=”poll” parameters=”id=649f9aeb-836f-494f-ad2b-2d0944b3ca4a”]
Don’t get me wrong: wild, reckless combat can be a lot of fun, but it also shatters part of the Robin Hood fantasy by trivializing stealth. In one instance, my friends and I decided to throw caution to the wind and run with a full group of John the Brawler heavy tanks. We didn’t even aspire to stealth and openly attacked every enemy in sight, and yet we were able to steal the key, break into the vault, and make off with the treasure before the opposing team even knew what hit them. When it came to the combat-heavy escape phase, our John Squad™ (John Connery, Kim John-Un, John Claude Van Damme, and John of the Dead) easily overwhelmed our naively balanced opponents for the fatal sin of playing as intended. That just felt wrong![poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=If%20the%20other%20team%20decides%20to%20go%20full%20Leeroy%20Jenkins%20they%E2%80%99ll%20almost%20always%20drag%20your%20team%20into%20battle.”]Even worse than stealth not being rewarding if you choose not to do it, is that you often don’t have a choice in the matter. If the team you’re playing against decides to go full Leeroy Jenkins they’ll almost always drag your team into battle as well: the area goes into lockdown and closes all gates in the area, and guards multiply and begin running all over the map attacking anything they happen to run into. In fact, my team even deployed the incredibly trollish strategy of intentionally getting caught and leading our pursuers right to the enemy team, entangling them in a prolonged battle that was likely to keep them busy for some time. Choosing to forsake stealth is one thing, but when the enemy team makes that decision for you (either by accident or intentionally) it feels really, really awful. [widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=hood-outlaws-legends-review-screenshots&captions=true”]
Another frustrating aspect of the way Hood rewards its players (or rather, how it doesn’t), is that the winning team is declared when one side successfully extracts the chest, which oftentimes feels arbitrary. For example, one team can steal the key, crack open the vault, bring the chest to the extraction point and winch is 90% of the way up, only for the opposing team to kill them and finish the final 10% and be declared the winner. It’s actually a completely valid strategy to let the opposing team do all the work and simply snake out the treasure from under their noses – and the potential for that kind of upset certainly adds to the tension – but not when combat is balanced the way it is right now. This is especially painful when your team goes out of their way to be ultimate students of the shadow and executes the heist with skill and precision, only to lose to a bunch of big dumb Johns.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=It’s%20especially%20painful%20to%20execute%20a%20heist%20with%20skill%20and%20precision%2C%20only%20to%20lose%20to%20a%20bunch%20of%20big%20dumb%20Johns.”]Beyond the obvious sandbox imbalances, entering open combat also highlights the fact that most of the time enemy NPCs are wholly unintimidating. Run-of-the-mill guards are easily dispatched and merely serve to slow you down a bit, and the more threatening enemies like Sheriffs and Wardens that kill in one hit and cannot be killed themselves are so slow and dumb that you can quite literally dance circles around them. Perhaps if enemies were more deadly, became more formidable once alarms were set off, or if player respawns were longer (or even finite) then stealth and caution would be virtues worth pursuing. Instead Hood rewards recklessness and punishes those who try to play correctly, and it’s extremely disappointing for those of us who appreciate stealth and the fantasy of a well-executed heist.
What makes the combat-dominant meta all the more frustrating is that stealth in Hood is actually really well done and very satisfying. Sneaking around and working together to take out a trio of guards all at the same time makes me feel like a complete badass, and stealing the key right out from under the guards’ noses with a well-placed smoke bomb is enormously fulfilling. The assassination animations and accompanying sound effects are a stealth-lover’s ASMR, which made me want to avoid the more rewarding direct assault style that Hood encourages even to my own detriment.[ignvideo url=”https://www.ign.com/videos/hood-outlaws-and-legends-john-the-brawler-exclusive-trailer”]
Of course, my team and I had a good amount of fun in the process of discovering these balance issues, so they’re not something that would turn me away from a game on their own. Each of the five maps are unique and beautifully designed, from a vast and, murky swamp to a bleak, claustrophobic graveyard. Learning the areas and tracking down the randomly generated key and vault locations at the beginning of each match is a thrill, especially as your eyes dart back and forth in search of the rival gang you know can’t be far off. Marking enemies, coordinating a plan of attack over game chat, and working together as a unit is an absolute blast. And when all Hell breaks loose when your team is caught by guards or ambushed by rival players, the slow methodical pace gives way to utter carnage as you scramble to smash a hammer over someone’s head before they can put an arrow through you.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Marking%20enemies%2C%20coordinating%20a%20plan%20of%20attack%20over%20game%20chat%2C%20and%20working%20together%20as%20a%20unit%20is%20an%20absolute%20blast.”]The biggest issue with Hood, though, is that after a couple hours you’ll have familiarized yourself with the small pool of maps and playable characters. Once you’ve done that, there just isn’t much else to do aside from repeating the same heists over and over again. There’s no campaign or story mode whatsoever – in fact, the only taste of story you get comes in the form of collectibles you’re awarded by winning matches and silently killing NPCs that let you read about the world’s backstory.
The only thing you can do besides the standard 4v4 Heist mode is play Training mode, which simply removes the team of enemy players so your team can hone your skills. Training is not only even more repetitive given the lack of PvP variable, but also unrewarding as you’re not given much XP or gold for playing it. A year-one content roadmap has already been revealed, which includes a new game mode and a new character, but without an infusion of new maps I’m not convinced that will solve the problem.[ignvideo url=”https://www.ign.com/videos/hood-outlaws-legends-launch-trailer”]
One thing I really appreciate is that Hood turns game chat on by default, even for those who are already in party chat, meaning matchmade teams can hear and communicate with their randomly assigned teammates very easily. This wild west kind of game chat hasn’t been seen much since the early days of Halo and is something that’s always bothered me about multiplayer games that seemingly expect you to come with your own crew or suffer defeat at the hands of those with more friends than you. Even better, you can hear the enemy team talk when in proximity to them or before the match begins, which can lead to some entertaining interactions and trash talk. Of course, if you’re shy or bothered by overly chatty people you can turn this off, but I’d encourage you to be social!
When you’re not staging heists or fighting off guards, you’ll spend time in the hideout, a social space where you can unlock cosmetic items like weapon skins and new costumes, read lore entries, and unlock and change perks on your characters that alter the way they play. Perks are unlocked by leveling up each character and are minor adjustments like changing Tooke the Mystic’s gas grenade into a healing grenade or giving Robin the Ranger more deadly arrows. They aren’t massive gamechangers for the most part, but add a little variety to a sandbox that badly needs it. Upgrading the hideout, on the other hand, is done by collecting gold and merely gives you access to new costume and weapon skins. Bizarrely, the hideout does not evolve over time when upgraded like you might think, which is pretty disappointing.