Hood Outlaws & Legends can be a fun game. Can be is the operative phrase here, as the “fun factor” is heavily dependent on a number of variables, most important being simply who you are playing with. A fantastic concept on paper, Hood stumbles a bit with its execution. Couple this with a subpar PC port and Hood feels just a little half baked in the end.
At its core, Hood is a PvEvP heist game seeing two teams of four, each team made up of a mixture of Legends’ four classes, attempt to steal the treasure and get away with it before the State - and the other team - can stop them. Players can choose between one of four distinct classes to play, from the mace-wielding supporting Mystic to the iconic sharpshoot Robin himself, the Ranger. As a friend of mine put it so well, Hood is a “medieval Payday.”
However, it’s in this formula that we find one of Hoods’ most fatal flaws: its PvEvP structure. The concept really works well on paper, and indeed when I was watching the marketing leading up to Hood, I thought it was a cool concept to have players not only battle each other, but NPCs protecting the treasure itself. However, it stumbles as it becomes more frustration than anything else, especially if you’re not in the right team.
Right now, matchmaking is unbalanced. There is no cap on the types of characters your team can be. This means you can have four stealthy Mariannes, or a mix of Tookes and Johns to combat the enemies. However, each character is distinct and fulfills a major role for your group. Tooke can highlight enemies with his ultimate ability, making them easy prey for your team, while John can lift closed portcullises, allowing for a quick escape if one is needed.
The problem is there is nothing forcing team balance, and this really can frustrate when you have a well coordinated team on the other end, and a team made up of three Robins and one John, since you were the only one willing to play someone else. Coordination is key, especially in a game like Hood where stealth plays such an important role. Yet more often than not the quiet approach is ruined because of an impatient player, lumbering through a town setting off every alarm alerting the State - and the other team - to your presence.
People simply do not play the way the developers intended, something I’ve said, as well as my playgroup the last few days we’ve been spending in Hoods’ reimaging of the Robin tale. It’s something so fundamentally core to Hood: the PvP experience, yet it’s also one of its biggest liabilities. I found myself having fun on those games where my teammates coordinated on comms and actually had a semi-balanced squad at our disposal. But you can’t make someone coordinate with you, and right now there aren’t any penalties for players who wilfully choose to disrupt that team balance for the sake of “playing their character.”
The actual moment to moment gameplay can be exhilarating. Sneaking around as Marianne is one of my favorite things to do - which is saying something since I generally hate stealth in other games. Getting an assassination on an enemy playe is always satisfying, or learning how the arrow drops with Robin while defending your team from afar was a fun moment for me. However, the gameplay is far from perfect.
Movement itself feels both fluid and constrained. Moving around each of the intricately and well designed maps feels great, until you reach an obstacle you need to vault over. Vaulting is contextual, meaning that unless you hit the interaction button at the exact time. This can break up your flow, and its the same with climbing ladders or ropes - you need to interact with them instead of simply moving towards them and your character automatically scaling them.
I do love how varied each level does feel. There are only five of them, but they vary in size and shape, giving you plenty of ways to ambush your enemy team or set up to defend an extraction location. Along the way there will be three control points to capture, which secure respawn points. These are huge as denying your opponents close respawn during the waning moments of a match can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Hood’s combat is where I feel the gameplay struggles most, though, melee especially. Melee, on mouse and keyboard which is where I spent most of my review time (more on this in a minute), feels floaty and inaccurate. John’s mighty swings seem to just hit anyone indiscriminately, meaning while a skillful John will devastate, so will someone simply button mashing in an area.
Tooke is probably the most frustrating, as it’s incredibly difficult to gauge the pathing of his flail, or even the distance for that matter. To its credit, Hood does have a training area in your upgradeable hideout, but even then it doesn’t seem to give you much data other than you hit something.
Stamina is also a major gripe of mine during combat. Everything costs too much bloody stamina. Two swings with Tooke’s mace and you’re left exposed, or if you block one of John’s mighty swings, you’re left just as vulnerable had you simply let it hit you. Dodging, which only Marianne and Robin can do (at the expense of blocking), feels inaccurate as well, as I’ve been hit when I was well far away after a dodge.
However, at its core, when you’re in the heat of the moment, it can be incredibly fun. Getting a perfect dodge only to be able to counter attack and take out an enemy never gets old. Popping John’s ultimate, which gives him unlimited stamina to destroy an entire enemy team can feel incredibly rewarding.
You win the match by extracting the chest to safety. The thing is, it doesn’t matter who started the extraction process or even progressed it the most. What matters is that your team was the one that progressed it that last little bit to safety. This could mean that your enemy could do all the legwork, progress the extraction most of the way, only to lose in the waning seconds thanks to a well-coordinated attack. In theory, one team could simply sit on their hands, letting their opponents do all the work, only to wipe them out on the last little bit and win the match. It can be both incredibly demoralizing, or ludicrously exciting depending on what side of the fence you’re on that particular round.
The State, what Hood calls its NPCs, is more annoying than it is challenging as well. Sneaking up and taking out early game guards is easy enough, but more often than not I’ve been just completely annoyed the State is even there. Other than forcing stealth (unless you have a teammate that just doesn’t care), they don’t really provide a challenge. They can be used as a gameplay tactic, say luring the unkillable Sherrif towards the enemy extraction point and letting him do my dirty work is a viable tactic to win a match. But other than those moments where you can use them to your advantage, they do feel less of a threat, more of a nuisance. Still, I hold hope that one of the gameplay modes the team is working on is either a Stateless heist, or even a match mode where it’s just PvE.
All of this, however, is muddled by a poor PC port. Hood: Outlaws & Legends feels like a console game simply placed on PC. The menus on mouse and keyboard feel like they were built with a controller in mind - and building a game meant to be played on gamepad isn’t bad, but you still need to ensure that the PC port itself is competent.
The default mouse and keyboard controls are incredibly weird at first. You’ll block with spacebar, vault with E, use “Y” by default as “push to talk” on the ingame comms - it’s incredibly awkward. And if you were a left-handed player, support for arrow keys controlling movement wasn’t enabled until after launch.
The graphics options, as scant as they are, leave a lot to be desired. There are no advanced versions of many of the settings, and you’ll need to switch to Fullscreen mode as Hood defaults to Windowed Fullscreen. However, the most baffling part of the PC port is the 62 frames-per-second cap.
Hood is an attractive looking game - it’s not bad by any standard. But it’s also not cutting edge. There is a lot of headroom on my PC to play this (i7-10700K, RTX 3080, 32GB RAM), however I’m simply not able to get higher than the arbitrary 62 fps. Hoods’ dev team have addressed this, and are looking into what it will take to uncap those frames, but it’s baffling that a game built on Unreal Engine 4, an incredibly scaleable engine, would need a cap in the first place. For 2021, the PC port itself is definitely subpar, and hopefully the team at Sumo gets it up to where it should be soon.
Hood also features a hub called your hideout. This is where progression in Legends takes place. You’ll upgrade your hideout by taking part (or all) of your winnings from a match and spending it on the people There are no real visual changes that your hideout was upgraded, other than a number on the left hand side of your screen going up, but by upgrading it you’ll unlock higher tiers of cosmetics you can buy with your in-game winnings. Hood, to its credit, doesn’t include any microtransactions, so everything you unlock is done through gameplay.
Independent from the hideout are player and character ranks. Your player rank is your overall rank which is displayed to other players in a match. Character rank allows you to unlock perks which can augment your gameplay, or weapon and outfit cosmetics to stand out from the crowd.
The progression feels a little uneven. I don’t know why my hideout needs to be upgraded, other than to simply unlock more tiers of unlockables. If that is the case, why not just tie it to my player rank? Why do I need to spend my earned gold in game to upgrade something that visually doesn’t change? I don’t have any sense that my hideout got better other than being able to then spend more gold on a costume.
There are things I love as well, such as the entire sound design. The sound effects are satisfying, and the foul-mouthed Sheriff makes me chuckle every time I hear him swear. I really appreciate how the music provides not only tension but gameplay cues. If your enemy is winching the chest away, the music will rise up in volume and increase tempo, adding that feeling that you need to stop them.
The level design, the architecture of the buildings around me, and the different strategies you can employ when approaching a match make each round feel different, even if they all boil down to a struggle around a winch in the end. And the price is perfect for this game. $30 for something that provides a lot of fun (though for me, that fun is incredibly variable dependent) and will see new modes, characters and more added throughout the year feels like a bargain. It has cross-play between PC and consoles, meaning you needn’t worry where your friends play, just jump in and heist.
It may seem, after reading all of this, that I don’t like Hood: Outlaws & Legends. I actually really do. When I can get some friends together and play on a team that coordinates and plays with a balanced loadout, Hood is incredibly fun, win or lose. However, that fun, coupled with the bad port and the uneven feeling progression make Hood feel like a big if for me as to whether it will stay installed on my PC in a few weeks. I’m enjoying my time in Hood when I can get in the right environment. It’s fun to take down a whole team in a string of headshots with Robin, or assassinations as Marianne. But that fun is incredibly dependent on whether I’m playing with my friends or not.
At its very core, Hood: Outlaws & Legends is a good game, it just requires good people around you to make it so.
Full disclosure: copy of game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.