Hood: Outlaws and Legends Review
Stealing in the Name
Creating an enjoyable and challenging cooperative game can be tough, and the same can be said about competitive games. You have to worry about balance, longevity, variety, and many other factors. It's even more challenging to try and combine these elements, in the so-called PvPvE scenario, where two players or teams compete not only against one another, but also the AI or the environment. Recent games such as Hunt: Showdown have made this formula work, with careful planning, and the newly released title Hood: Outlaws and Legends hopes to follow in similar footsteps. This third person, stealth-action title from Sumo Digital, and publisher Focus Home Interactive, offers a unique setting and some engaging gameplay, though it runs into a few problems when executing on its ideas.
Hood takes players to an unspecified medieval period, where a group of characters are tasked with stealing the treasure from a variety of locations, as AI guards known as The State patrol the grounds. For whatever reason, there is another group of players trying to do the same, and so the two compete to grab and extract the treasure chest. There's not much background or story here, no cutscenes, and not even an introduction. You can read some background info on each of the four heroes, but that's about it. It's certainly not expected to be offered deep lore in a multiplayer focused title such as this, but it makes little sense why two of the same teams are stealing - and for who?
Before jumping into the game's main, and only, multiplayer mode, fans can get familiar with the mechanics by playing the tutorial, and then return to the Training mode at any time. In Training mode, you only have to worry about the enemy AI, with no opposing player team, so you're free to practice your stealth approaches, learn the maps, and get more experience with each character.
Heist is Hood's main mode, where two teams of 4 players compete to steal the treasure. Each match has the same structure – both teams have their own spawn location, and from there they must locate the Sheriff, who is a hulking character that carries around a key. You must sneak up behind him and grab the key to the vault; once you have the key, it tells you in which structure (church, castle etc.) and floor the vault is located. You head over there, open the door, and grab the chest. The character carrying the chest can only slowly walk, though you can put it down and enter combat if needed. Your objective is then to bring the chest to one of the extraction points, where you have to crank the winch through a number of notches in order to extract the treasure and win the game. This process remains the same with every match, although the location of the Sheriff and the vault is randomized, giving some replay value. Sadly, the rest of enemy spawns remain the same. Due to the randomization, some matches can get heavily stacked against you if both the Sheriff and the vault appear much closer to the spawn of the opponent team.
As mentioned, at the start of each round, both teams make their way deeper into the map, trying to locate the Sheriff and grab his key. During these early stages, and for most of the match, the game encourages stealth so that the AI guards do not raise an alarm. You can assassinate them instantly and quietly from behind, and they will react if they see or hear you running around. However, as you might expect, creating an impressive stealth system with solid AI is not something that a multiplayer-focused, lower priced game is able to do effectively. The guards have rough behavior issues, whether becoming alerted with no line of sight or losing you in the grass just a few feet away during a chase. They are ripe for abuse, just by throwing a distracting rock, and are fairly easy to kill in small numbers. When your team does get spotted and an alarm is raised, it does have negative repercussions - the gates get closed, enemies come rushing at you, and your location is shown to the enemy team – but some teams choose to just rush objectives anyway.
The Sheriff is easily pickpocketed by running behind him, whether he's alerted or not, and doing so reveals the location of the vault to your team. If someone from the opposing team has line of sight, they will see the highlighted player who has the key, and can try to enter into direct combat to take it for themselves, or try to find the vault (without a clue as to where it can be) and just wait. Once you open the vault, you will try to carry the chest to one of the extraction points. The maps have multiple static extraction points, as well as three or more control points that you can take over, that then become an available spawn point for your team. Controlling these spawn points becomes extremely crucial depending on the map, and where the chest is being extracted, as otherwise you're faced with a long trek back to the action.
The chest can change hands multiple times, as it's marked for the opposing team if someone has eyes on it, who will give chase to intercept and try to carry it to another extraction point. The opposing team will of course try to stop you, and they can take over the winching for themselves. There are seven notches that you must winch through, each one serving as a checkpoint and awards gold to whoever reaches that stage. The team who winches past the final notch wins the round. This phase tends to be the most chaotic, as the game becomes a full brawl rather than anything stealthy. Many new AI enemies also spawn in the form of tough knights, which can wreak havoc on your extraction plans. Things get particularly dicey for both teams if the Sheriff – an extremely tough enemy that will instantly kill you if you get close, but is slow moving – decides to show up at the extraction point.
The setup of Hood matches does lend itself well to some excitement, and has many tactical options to consider. However, the game suffers because for each phase - stealing key, getting chest to extraction, and winning the match - your only rewards are small gold and experience bonuses. So it's entirely possible that the opposition can just sit back and let you do the hard parts, and then swoop in to deny you the winching and do it for themselves. The winching of the chest is when the most gold gets awarded, with each notch of progress. Further, it's only the team that winches past the final notch that gets to "win" the entire match, which can often feel hollow. There's just not enough incentive or stakes for both teams to be heavily involved during all phases of the match.
The two opposing teams of 4 will encounter each other plenty of times during a round, which can last as long as 30 minutes – with the majority of the time usually spent fighting over getting the chest to extraction, and winching it. Players can pick from one of four characters, each featuring their own weapon, throwable, special ability, and function. The throwable are single-use items which can be refilled from special chests scattered across the map (and characters who have ranged ammo can also get refills from similar chests). The special abilities are powerful skills that take a while to recharge, and are active for a short window of time. Last but not least, special functions allow characters to be useful to their teammates through unique actions.
The characters are diverse and fill some traditional roles. John is a melee brawler, who has a large health and stamina pool, and carries a hammer. His throwable is a grenade, and his special ability increases his health and attack power dramatically. He is also able to lift the heavy gates that are closed during alerts, so that his team can pass through. The ranger is named Robin, and his bow can deliver instant headshot kills if he takes the time to power up his shot with a longer draw. His throwable item is a flash that blinds anyone in the area, and his special ability is an arrow that creates a big explosion at the point of impact. His team-focused ability is being able to deploy ropes from specific points of the castle walls, creating a climbing opportunity for the team. While able to strike in melee and dodge, the ranger's limited damage and health pool aren't the best for such scenarios.
The hunter character is named Marianne, and she plays like a quick thief archetype. She can offer both decent ranged and melee damage with her wrist-mounted three-shot crossbow and quick-melee strikes. Her throwable item creates a smoke screen, while her special ability lets her temporarily go nearly invisible. In her team function, she can also deploy ropes like the ranger, and also open doors silently – unlike other heroes who make noise and thus possibly alert the AI. Lastly, the mystic Took acts as a support class, with a flail weapon that has medium melee range. His throwable item is a cloud of poison that drains the stamina of anyone caught inside, and his special ability heals himself and everyone nearby as well as marks all enemies, which can win encounters when deployed at the right time. He can also silently open doors for new paths, and the enemies that he marks for the team remain tagged longer.
Each of these four characters can also equip one perk in three categories. Most of the perks are quite typical, such as increasing your damage and stamina, and some might have drawbacks or give you more to consider, such as increasing the damage but reducing the effective range. Each character earns experience separately, so it will take a decently large number of hours with each hero before you get access to all possible perks. Further, as mentioned earlier, if you choose to play passively or choose to pick your battles carefully and for the sake of teamwork, despite your team winning by claiming the final winch notch you can end up with abysmal amounts of gold and experience, that makes the whole ordeal feel like it was a wasted 30 minutes.
Your perks and abilities all come to a head when it's time to face the other team. When fights between players break out, Hood plays like a rather awkward third-person action game, with limited character interactions, and where timing is everything. In melee, using the heavy swings of the brawler or the far reaching strikes of the mystic, you want to stagger and damage your opponent. The melee options are limited to a light and heavy strike, as well as the ability to block/parry, and a more powerful strike if you sprint-attack. Most encounters see players get into the action and start swinging wildly, hoping to take down their opponent first. But you only have enough stamina for a few attacks, after which time it’s a standoff as the two players kite each other waiting to be able to attack again. In the meantime, the ranged characters will try to pick you off from distance or have their own battles with their counterparts. The combat in Hood isn't particularly involving, though of course it does require some thought.
The most action is seen at the extraction phase, where some balancing issues come to the forefront. There is no limit on how many characters can be on a team – so you could be facing a team of three brawlers or three rangers, which becomes quite frustrating. You cannot see how the opposition team stacks up until you encounter them in the match, and there is no switching of characters during the match, so there is no room for planning or adjustment if your team composition is simply not working. There is also a pretty broken mechanic which lets you instantly assassinate any character when crouching behind them, which leads to players simply running around a combat area, spamming the button on others who are in direct combat with someone else.
Teamwork is quite important to success. The game features built in voice chat, which is required so you can coordinate attacks, timing, where you plan to bring the chest, and even just to tell your team where the vault is after you grab the key. You can tag enemies that you see for your team, for a limited time, which helps strategize. There is no text chat, which does limit you somewhat, but it's probably done so that the optional cross-platform multiplayer works between PC and consoles. If players drop out of a match in progress, the game can often find a replacement. While the flexibility and increased player pool are welcome, the execution has seen some issues during the launch weeks. Matchmaking very often takes over 5 minutes to fill a lobby, for reasons unknown. If you just keep playing from match to match, without returning to the hub, it seems to work better at least for a time. It's a pretty crucial problem that needs to be fixed before it's assumed that the community is simply too small to support the game. There are also improvements needed elsewhere – you can't currently vote kick players, who can be AFK. Another bug keeps you in the same voice chat lobby, even after you complete and leave a match, which can be awkward.
The gold earned from matches is used to purchase perks, and also level-up your hideout. Doing so unlocks new skins for characters and their weapons to equip, but otherwise have no effect on gameplay. At the end of each match, you can tip the scale of how much gold you want to go to camp (level it up) vs the purse (to purchase upgrades and skins). After you have the perks you want, gold becomes pretty meaningless unless you really want visual customizations. The game certainly doesn't have much to strive for in the long term, but at least that means players won't be at a huge gameplay disadvantage even if they play against high ranked opponents.
For being a lower-priced title, Hood offers some pretty good atmosphere. The medieval setting is nicely realized and the environments can be pretty impressive, with towering walls, castles, and churches looking imposing against the dark of the night or late evening. You will be passing through these multi-storey structures, for an even bigger sense of immersion. Some of the details and rooms do start to look familiar between the maps, but at least the overall map layout is diverse and open to many match outcomes.
The animations, and attention to detail, on the characters are less impressive. The heroes don't really blink or open their mouths when they have the occasional call-out lines. When you are eliminated, you they just ragdoll with their same featureless expressions and open eyes. The game goes a bit overboard with the exploding heads and blood splatter, almost as if it's trying to evoke a more action-packed experience than its stealth origins suggest. The audio design is also in need of work, particularly in the spacial department – while players move near-silently, the AI guards are clunking around in their heavy armor; but you can hear the guards the same, regardless of if they are a floor above or below you, leading to some confusion. The game is comfortable to play with both keyboard/mouse and a controller on PC, and its performance is solid.
Hood: Outlaws and Legends offers an interesting and fairly unique multiplayer concept, that can produce some exciting moments. However, the game's only mode does begin to grow stale after a few dozen hours, and the randomization elements don't go far enough to keep things fresh. The characters fulfill typical gameplay roles, and while strategy is important and it can be very satisfying to coordinate with your team, you’re still limited by not knowing ahead of time who you're facing, and not being able to switch during the match. The stealth mechanics are very shallow and can be safely ignored, even though the game has some incentives to stay quiet. In combat, Hood is a fairly clunky experience, with a few balancing issues that need addressing. It's a nice looking game with a surprisingly good sense of atmosphere, even if some of the finer details are lacking. Thanks to its lower price point though, and with hope that more patches and content are on the horizon, fans of multiplayer competition looking for something unique should keep an eye on this title.