On paper, Hood: Outlaws and Legends has a lot going for it. It's a competitive riff on the co-op multiplayer heist game where two teams of four merry men and women simultaneously attempt to unlock a vault and extract a giant chest of gold. Its stealthy race to elude computer-controlled knights and rival players rarely plays out with the grace implied by the concept. More often, the competition for keys, chests, and respawn points devolve into protracted brawls that showcase Hood's clumsy combat, rather than dynamic stealth. Throw in some confusing UI, easily exploitable stealth-kill mechanics, and myriad small design flaws, and Hood's execution fails to deliver the goods it's promised.
Each match in Hood has four phases. First, someone needs to steal the vault key from the invincible (but generally unaware) Sheriff. Second, you find and open the vault. Third, someone carries the chest to one of a few extraction points on the map. Once the chest is locked in, one or two players use a winch to lift the chest while the others defend them. The “other team,” meanwhile, has opportunities to disrupt the mission to try and acquire the key or chest for themselves. With both teams naturally meeting at a few key locations, you have plenty of opportunities to surprise and overtake the objective.
In this idealized version of the game, the match is a coordinated stealth run, where each character uses their unique skills to advance the mission or help their teammates. Each of the four characters theoretically has a role to play: Marianne, the stealthiest fighter, moves quickly and has abilities that let her steal the key or assassinate enemies discreetly. Robin's bow allows him to take out enemies from afar. Little John can lift gates and move the chest quickly. Tooke is a solid backup fighter with a wide-reaching melee attack and a healing ability. Though some of these skills make certain characters well-suited to different tasks, there's no moment where you need a specific character and their skills. This opens the door for players to choose characters based on their playstyles, but also minimizes the importance of class-based play around the heist itself.
Ultimately, the character combat abilities matter more than their other affinities. Though Hood is primarily pitched as a game about heists, things get more chaotic and aggressive when you add another team of players. Rather than picking each other off or a coordinated ambush, most matches devolve into a series of team battles for control of the key, the chest, or the winch. Once the fighting starts, any pretense of a stealth mission falls away. The AI-controlled knights, while powerful enough to overwhelm any one player if they are in large numbers, are still easy enough to avoid that most players will engage each other even if it means getting spotted by them. Even the sheriff, who instantly kills you when he gets in range and can only be temporarily stunned, is slow enough that you can fight around him.
Hood's unwieldy combat mechanics make large battles painful whether you win or lose. Though every character has some capacity for hand-to-hand fighting, Hood's melee attacks feel loose--they're difficult to aim or time well. On the receiving end, most attacks stun slightly, leading to a situation in large battles where a single hit will leave you stun-locked. In theory, you have either a parry or dodge to keep an enemy from hitting you, but it's nearly impossible to keep track of the action in a scrum. These large clumsy battles can turn into minutes-long wars of attrition where players fight, die, respawn, and run right back into the fray until one side wipes the other out, giving themselves enough time to make progress. This is especially true in the winching phase of the match, where one team needs to defend a fixed point.
Hood's unwieldy combat mechanics make large battles painful whether you win or lose
Then there's the assassination issue. Any player can stealth kill an opponent by crouching behind them and hitting a prompt. It doesn't matter if the assassin's already been seen or even if the two have been fighting previously. This frequently leads to situations where one player will engage another openly, only to get assassinated by another opponent waiting in the wings. Getting assassinated mid-fight feels abrupt and inappropriate in the situation and, at times, it feels unavoidable and is therefore extremely aggravating. Similarly, Robin Hood can kill other players with a fully charged headshot. While it isn't always possible to land one, especially while getting attacked, it also leads to frustrating sudden deaths in and out of combat. While this kind of combat seems appropriate for a stealthy combat experience, its unregulated use feels more disruptive than additive; more like an exploit than a well-considered mechanic.
Since a team can get wiped out quickly, matches can turn on a dime. Just because your team got the key and moved it to an extraction point doesn't have any bearing on whether or not you'll beat the other team. All you need to do to win is winch the last of seven progress pips. I've had matches where my team did all of the work, only to have the match stolen at the last moment, and I've also stolen matches at the last second in the same fashion. Still, the only reward for match progress nine times out of 10 is experience. Sometimes a steal feels earned, but sometimes it doesn't. Either way, it doesn't feel like the better team always wins.
Whether you play the objective or you go after the other team, Hood requires a lot of coordination. The best teams attack as a group and find ways to cater to their best players' strengths. Hood features a ping system that allows for some nonverbal communication, but when you're predicting enemy movements or noting something not in direct line of sight, you need to be able to say more. It also helps to relay intel when you get it: For example, when you steal the key, you learn the location of the vault, which isn't on the map. Without chat, it would be impossible to share that information. Hood's in-game party chat is on by default, which seems to prompt matchmaking-assembled groups to chat more than other multiplayer games, but there's no substitute for playing this game with friends.
You can experience the pure heist version of the game without a second set of players, but sadly that PvE experience is relegated to a “practice” mode, which doesn't give you any experience or gold to unlock and earn cosmetics or character perks. Without any opportunity to experience a narrative or make meta-progress, the practice feels slightly wasteful of time, especially since it's also not great practice for the main PvPvE experience.
That said, I don't think it's a problem that Hood sidesteps the lore that so many multiplayer games feel compelled to build. In fact, Hood deftly uses the Robin Hood myth to get around it. There's almost no story in Hood--you can earn text-based snippets of character information, but there's no plot, per se. While that leaves open the question of why there are two rival bands of thieves, the story doesn't really feel missing. All you really need to know is that Robin Hood and his band of thieves--Little John, Father Tuck, and Maid Marian--steal from the rich and give to the poor. Chances are, if you were drawn to this game there's a good chance you've got the gist already.
It is not without its own sense of style, though. Hood does try to put its own slightly darker, edgier spin on the Robin Hood universe. The character designs are more intimidating than the simple green garb. Tooke, Hood's take on Friar Tuck, looks more like a shaman than a monk. (Also, in the lore, he's a reformed church Inquisitor who tortured enemies of the state before going rogue). The more brutal aesthetic touches feel in line with all the killing you do on any given heist, but without any real story to spotlight those characterization changes, they don't really register. It's been a while since I've seen any of the Robin Hood movies so I can't say for sure, but I think the biggest difference between Hood and other Robin Hood adaptations may be that this is the first time I've ever heard Robin Hood say “F**k.”
But without interesting characters or a story the focus falls solely on the gameplay, and Hood's gameplay feels sloppy. It's a heist game that usually devolves into a wild, frustrating melee combat arena. In its best moments, it's a tense, highly cooperative experience, but those moments never last long. I want to believe in the competitive heist Hood tries to pull off and, in theory, a living multiplayer game could evolve into something better over time. (There are already plans to introduce a new game mode, map, and character for all players within the next 12 months). Still, there are too many points of frustration built into the experience to expect that Hood's evolution will be transformative.