Gangs of Sherwood is the latest game to use the story of Robin of Locksley. There has been a litany of retellings about the legendary outlaw Robin Hood. Of course, the folklore dates back to the 13th Century, but I’m talking about the more recent iterations. The questionably bad film starring Taron Egerton, the questionably good? film starring Russell Crow; and the downright unapologetic masterpiece starring Kevin Costner, as he refuses to veer away from his American accent, showing who really is the prince of thieves.
However, it’s more than just films we’ve seen in the past couple of decades that have depicted Robin doing the robbing – for good! Spanning a breadth of genres, Robin has been a tactical stealth RPG, interactive fiction and even a PvPvE heist title with Hood: Outlaws and Legends which was, until now, the latest offering. Gangs of Sherwood is here to steal the crown as it takes a stab at the co-op action genre as you are once again liberating England from the rich and oppressive.
Robin of Locksley, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian and Little John are the playable characters as they lead the rebellion against the tyrannical Nottingham family in a reimagined semi-futuristic, semi-steam punk world. Is this a healthy haul of gold or have I been left hoodwinked? Let’s get into it.
Making Them Merry Men
Gangs of Sherwood is a 3D action game, think of a blend between Devil May Cry, Arkham Series and maybe a bit of Warhammer: Vermintide and you get the gist of how this plays. This game is all about the combat. Open areas, surrounded by enemies with telegraphed moves for you to dodge or parry, and even a lettered rank after every encounter – much like DMC that I mentioned. Not every character in the crew is equal, however, as they all have their own strengths.
Each character has a unique style of combat. Robin uses a mixture of ranged bow attacks and meleeing. Marian is similar but with a focus on quick melee on top of a ranged attack. Little John is tank-like with a mechanical fist that you can charge for devastating damage but moves slower. Friar Tuck is more defensive, with the ability to formulate a shield as well as heal party members. Like Little John, Friar Tuck has big damage attacks but a slow pace too. They’re all nicely varied and feel different during combat encounters.
Whilst this is a four-player co-op game, fully playable from start to finish, you can also go through the adventure solo. I’ve had my hand at both, with the majority being solo as the player base has been small during the review period. With that said, it has a very easy drop-in drop-out approach where the host can pick out a mission and wait around home base, do some training or buy new abilities in the meantime.
13th Century Economy
As I played solo the most, I mainly played as Robin. His mixture of attacks, agile movements and ability to crowd control makes for the most balanced and successful character to pick if you’re going solo. Your Merry Men of choice will start off with a basic light and heavy attack that fares well for the first missions. As you progress and earn gold, you’ll unlock the chance to buy new combos and new abilities, which really deliver on feeling like a badass when you’re kitted out.
With that said, I only felt kitted out by the time I was in the last few missions. Newer abilities like a Finisher or Rebel Instinct – which boosts damage and heals – are much deeper in the game than I’d have liked. The campaign is broken up into three acts, with three missions in each of them. It took me about 5-6 hours to finish it through a mixture of solo and co-op gameplay. Thankfully as I was the host I could pick the mission I wanted and proceed, but it did mean my co-op partner missed out on a whole act of missions and saw the ending with me.
The game is clearly designed with the intention for players to replay the missions multiple times, as the in-game economy is very expensive. After one mission you might be lucky to unlock one new ability from a list of dozen and your characters’ funds are all separate, meaning you’ll have to grind out each character to upgrade them. Some of the end-game outfits would even take around 10 missions to beat in order to afford them.
Despite that, the variety in abilities is vast and it will keep you playing through to see what other moves each character has. They don’t completely alter the gameplay, for example, Robin lines up 5 arrows in the field after a combo and you can let them off by another combo. Those 5 arrows can have an altered effect like scatter or surround, stuff like that. It all does damage just maybe different targets or outputs.
This would be a fine grind that I could see myself chipping away at if the levels were more exciting. The level design from front to back is tight corridors with maybe a couple of directions for say, a collectable, that ultimately leads to a big open area for the combat and then repeat. It feels incredibly restrictive compared to titles of a similar genre and it made it unexciting to explore.
Whilst there is a whole gauntlet of abilities you can have after a good few hours of playing, the combat itself feels the same from start to finish. I would pull off the same combos, dodge annoying projectiles and carry on and I didn’t really change up my strategy at all, but I was doing flashier cooler moves closer to the end. There are different difficulties with easy, normal and heroic, which changes the number of enemies and ups their HP, but there’s no real difference. The enemy AI, even for the bosses, is very simple – bringing not much challenge to the fight.
On heroic difficulty, I definitely started feeling the need for co-op partners to take some aggro but more enemies that can dogpile is not what I constitute a good difficulty modifier. You unlock more gold for beating the levels, but it’s not enough to make it worth doing. Couple this with some stiff controls to platform and dart about the battlefield, it starts to feel like a game from a couple of generations ago. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad though as there is a simple yet effective quality to how it plays that could be more engaging with friends.
Not In Nottingham
Robin and the gang are up against the Nottingham family as they’ve become in possession of the Lionheart stone. This stone essentially generates the power for this steam-punk, ultra-industrial depiction of England. The Nottinghams obviously want to conquer the country with its power and it’s up to you to stop them.
This is told through the opening cut scene and the rest of the storytelling is either through dialogue during the missions, which is abrupt and out of place, or a puppet show from the notorious Alan-A-Dale. I love the world Appeal Studio has created. Steam-punk has been done to death but their interpretation is interesting and a really fitting place for a Robin Hood story. However, you can’t connect with any of it properly because there isn’t an opportunity.
The focus is clearly on the gameplay, but a bit more of a peek into this potentially riveting setting would have done wonders. There are a couple of gaming aspects that flesh out the world, like Alan-A-Dale being at checkpoints that you donate gold to which increases your gang power (damage and health), or freeing villagers or doing side objectives for them. They’re all just out of the idea stage though and not really a fully developed aspect of the game it feels.
Hoisting Your Tights
I did enjoy playing Gangs of Sherwood, but it never gave me anything I wished to drop responsibilities to play. The combat is the clear highlight here as every character has a decent-sized pool of moves to learn with new abilities to pull off which does add to the flare of the game; and when the game is mostly that, I can’t fault it too much for lacking in other areas.
This could be the next potential jaunt for you and your friends, but it wouldn’t maybe be a complete ruckus if you took the plunge. The world is distinctive and colourful even if the levels themselves are lacklustre. The characters definitely bring a Fable-like charm which I haven’t experienced in a while, some irreverent, sometimes daft one-liners are amusing. If you don’t know who these people are through previous iterations of the IP, they may as well be strangers.
There are a couple of modes like Boss Rush, Endless Mode and a separate Boss level, but they’re not the main draw for the game as they feel like a necessity to bolster the overall package. This is a respectable outing for Robin and friends, but one that feels slightly unfinished and maybe a little outdated.
Gangs of Sherwood is a fun combat-focused action game that can be enjoyed with your own gang. That is if you don’t mind basic-level design, enemy AI that doesn’t present a challenge and sometimes stiff gameplay that can be frustrating. Robin hasn’t quite stolen from the rich and given the goods to the player, but they won’t be robbed blind either.
Gangs of Sherwood is available 30th November 2023 for PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam.
Developers: Appeal Studio
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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