Gangs of Sherwood – PS5 Review

Robin Hood’s had plenty of adaptations over the years but I’ve never found the fiction to be especially broad or interesting. It’s prime for a game plot with such simple things as a tyrant needing to be overthrown. Gangs of Sherwood is the latest take on Howard Pyle’s prince of thieves. Appeal Studios are at the controls and this does seem to be a project aimed at pivoting away from adaptations of popular quiz and game shows. As it stands, Gangs of Sherwood is not what I’d consider a step in the right direction.

There is a story to Gangs of Sherwood but it doesn’t venture too deep. King Richard of Nottingham is continuing to be a tyrant to the townsfolk but he’s also acquired the Lionheart. This is a stone that seemingly will increase his grip on the region with its magical properties. It’s up to our quartet of heroes to stop him across three, very short acts. Whilst cutscenes do arrive to provide a premise to each mission, it doesn’t tend to charge into anything beyond a reason to fight. It’s straightforward but at the cost of depth. It’s decently acted but, if you’re playing solo, your compatriots are relegated to portraits next to spoken dialogue.

The best way to describe Gangs of Sherwood is a squad-based shooter/brawler. Action takes place from the third person perspective with the four main characters making up your band of merry people. Robin is largely a ranged fighter with his bow acting more like a rapid firearm than a precise projectile. As such, I found spamming his light attacks would be more than enough to deal with any encounter. There is a combo counter that does, in theory, encourage variety but I largely kept things basic.

If truth be told, Robin might be the outlier of the group. The remaining trio of Maid Marian, Friar Tuck and Little John serve the same brawler itch. They fight more up close and personal but it also highlights one of combat’s largest issues. The lock-on is very poor. In fights were enemies are in high quantity, it can be very, very difficult to maintain a target. If you’re dishing arrows out as Robin, it’s not too big a deal. I can treat those encounters like a shooting gallery but, when concerned with melee, it can be more of a slog.

There’s just not been that much of an effort to make the individuals of the gang feel specialised. There are occasions where extra loot and areas can be traversed with one of the gang’s special abilities. Robin can slink through caps, Little John and Friar Tuck can charge their way through wooden barriers. Even that doesn’t feel especially necessary. Levels are linear with no opportunities for the group to split up.  Platforming interludes do take place but any moments where the dash is required can feel very iffy.  Your jump has a consistent range and so does the dash.  Judging distances can be tricky but at least the penalty for failure is a slight hit to your health.

The combat in Gangs of Sherwood is, at least on normal difficulty, absolutely trivial. Whilst enemies do try to drown you out in numbers, your power curve will always outdo theirs. Incoming attacks are easily telegraphed with a radius around you informing players of what is heading in their direction. Even so, taking hits doesn’t seem that troublesome. Fights do lock you into arenas and, whilst the enemy variety is there, it’s not strong enough to make situations that are tense or strategic.

At best, there’s a flag-bearing hype-man buffing nearby comrades. Or a tesla coil giving them temporary invulnerability. Some enemies are brutish and shielded but enough arrows will slay anything. As long as I maintained distance, I felt near bulletproof. It’s made even more lenient by how checkpoints operate. Each level will have three or four. They each offer an opportunity to part with some gold to gain stat increases and an extra health bar. These feel incredibly hard to miss so I would frequently roll into a final boss at max level.

And I’m still not done. Should you fall, gold can be used to revive where you left off. As long as you have a pocketful, there’s second, third or more chances to complete the mission. Outside of missions, there are other treadmills. Characters have persistent ranks that increase as missions are completed. There comes a point, roughly at the half-way stage where you can unlock a super state. This rebellious state triggers health regain on hits and, as such, results in a window of invulnerability.

Solo, it’s a complete power fantasy but the abilities are so benign I can’t really enjoy it. There quickly becomes no threat to Gangs of Sherwood’s combat. No need for variety or a change in tactics. I would get through encounters with ease just by popping shots off whilst dodging past the incoming attacks. It does get somewhat hollow and the encounters can begin to feel ordinary. Your level of favour with the townsfolk carries between characters, meaning there’s no real incentive to switch.

Gangs of Sherwood is a very short game. In under 4 hours I saw credits and, in that time, I still sensed the game was a little lacking in ideas. There’s a smattering of bosses, although they largely resort to the same archetypes. Some repeat with only a couple feeling like genuinely unique. Whilst it can be presented well, it all feels very shallow and under delivers.

In fact, presentation is the one thing I do like about Gangs of Sherwood. Each mission begins with a puppet show explaining the setup. It’s intricately animated and acted out pretty well. Voice acting is decent across the board and I can’t have much to complain about the visuals. From the forests to the trenches of war, it has a consistent and solid visual style. Like the combat, it does start to loose variety. In the heat of battle, the sparks and red warnings can mesh together to make something a little chaotic.

When I sit down and digest just what Gangs of Sherwood is, I’m left feeling empty. Whilst it does look decent, the combat quickly reduces play into a trivial affair with little or no impact. It is so short and yet runs out of ideas so readily. I couldn’t get much joy out of online groups but many hands would reduce this game even further. The lovely presentational touches can do little to elevate an experience that feels not that developed.

Gangs of Sherwood
4 Overall
+ The puppet shows are nicely animated and present the missions well.
+ Looks decent visually.
+ Well voice acted.
- Incredibly short.
- Repetitive, riskless combat.
- Enemy variety is very lacking.
- The playable characters don't feel that different from one another.
Gangs of Sherwood is a hollow effort that, despite the decent visuals, struggles to raise a compliment out of me. For a game so short, it runs out of variety quickly. The lock-on might be a struggle but combat is so without risk it barely matters. Perhaps a robust cast of characters could've saved it but even they overlap in abilities and movesets. I've played worse but those worse games have arguably had a lot more to say.

About Mike

Mike gets all the racing games because he understands that stuff even though he doesn't drive.

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