As I start to play Hood: Outlaws and Legends I’m struck by two questions: how would people from medieval times think about their extensive coverage in video games and how many online-only action PS4 games require a PlayStation Plus subscription and have a price tag attached to it? As I ponder the former, it turns out that there’s only a handful for the latter and even fewer with this theme.
As someone who isn’t particularly a fan of online-only service games, partly as I’ll have nothing to show for it when the plug is pulled on the project, Hood already has less room to win me over. As is the case for service games, however, the development is an iterative process and they are rarely in any significant state of completion like most offline-focused physical games.
Hood: Outlaws and Legends‘ format is PVPVE (Player vs Player vs Environment) with two teams of 4 players aiming to pull off a heist before the other on a computer-controlled map concealing a treasure chest. You need to find the treasure and then extract it in the slowest way known to man, by carrying it to a winch and then lifting it to victory – with a process that requires two people and leaves you as sitting targets. Your team can capture respawn hubs to keep your rivals within reach and prevent their victory.
There is a story attached to this game – or at least there’s one in its description online – but you’ll be none the wiser of it, with your loadout base and a menu for the title’s 2 modes the only information provided to you. After the completion of a map any spoils are divided between your own pockets and ‘the people’ with the game potentially trying to go down a Robin Hood route, but disappointingly this only affects your character upgrades.
With the simplistic structure providing not much of an impression, you’d expect the meat of the game – the characters, customization and gameplay – to deliver, but you’re met with generic action, with each character given a melee, special move and assassination button, but none of it feels more developed than an expendable feature consigned to a DLC release. The 4 characters at your disposal have a standard mix of styles – stealth, brute force and short/long range attacks – but despite this, they are balanced poorly overall with one character who can completely dominate the rest of the field.
Outside of the minimalist features, the visuals are quite nice, with environments dimly lit and players given a God of War off-center close-up camera angle and shaky camera movement. Unfortunately, its implementation with the attacking physics make your attacks feel loose and inaccurate with depth perception particularly difficult, and I was never quite sure when contact and how much damage had been made with my attacks. Perhaps linked to the previous issue is the seemingly varying damage that your moves will have on the same enemies, as was I sometimes able to one-shot kill AI characters with an arrow to the head and then in others only able to achieve half damage despite being a similar distance away.
The mediocre and bland action isn’t aided by the restricted game mode which lacks creativity and more than one way to achieve the same goal resulting in games inevitably breaking out into a moshpit of death when the treasure has been procured by one of the teams.
The computer-controlled enemies , the incumbents of the area, consist of knights, archers and a god-like sherrif (who also has the keys to the vault that contain the treasure) and seem like a perfect inclusion for the Player vs Environment map, but for PvPvE, they seem like a third wheel, eager to butt in the conversation, and are far from welcome. Chances are they were included as 8 players on the map are too few, and without the AI, the players might feel a little short-changed.
Another reason they might have been included is that they are one way/the only way for newcomers to get gain experience as there is no decent matchmaking system. I was regularly matched with teams of an average of level 80+ and rarely stood a chance. Even when I thought I was improving, players would look at my rating and leave the lobby prior to starting a match. This issue is far from unique to Hood, but its effect is magnified when it’s sometimes hard to even find a match of 8 people in the main mode and the other mode’s lobby is always completely empty.
While updates do come quite regularly, placing the fate of the game on yet-to-be-released content when the base game has such an average gameplay loop and no variety is quite the risk on part of the developer. Essentially, Hood has been released in early access and is exploiting the games as a service model, providing 25% of a game and the remaining 75% of the actual game as ‘extra content’ in the future – like you’ve gone to a car wash and are told that the soap won’t be coming for another 8 months. One can only hope then that the 3 seasons of planned content provide the quantity and quality currently lacking and arrive sooner than the already dwindling player base departs.