Continuing our coverage of the Steam Next Fest 2023, we prepped up a preview for Nacon’s Gangs of Sherwood.
Gangs of Sherwood is a co-op hack-and-slash game that takes the characters from the Robin Hood folk tales and reimagines them in a dystopian future.
The game’s demo is currently live, and features both online and offline play, with the possibility of trying out any of the four main characters.
As a hack-and-slash, the game feels much better to play than I expected. Characters have good weight to them, combat moves fast, and enemies are actually aggressive. Gangs of Sherwood doesn’t check every box for me as far as character action games go, but it’s definitely not bad gameplay-wise
I spent most of my time in the demo playing as Maid Marian, because I figured she’d have the most agile playstyle out of all characters. While the game is definitely watered down a little, since characters really only have three combos, each character does have their own little gimmicks.
Maid Marian’s gimmick has her shooting magnetic daggers at enemies and blowing them up with a finisher move afterwards, which does massive damage. Her gameplay loop is actually solid, and the same goes for the game’s other characters.
Every character fits a DPS role, with Friar Tuck being a charge character, Little John being an aggressive brawler who can’t drop his combos for too long, Robin Hood being a fully ranged character, and Maid Marian being sort of a ranged/melee hybrid.
I didn’t really get to play the game with other people, so unfortunately I can’t speak for character synergies. The demo does feature online play, it’s just that I was never matched with anyone.
As far as I can tell from the one mission unlocked for the demo, solo play is tough but definitely not impossible to do. Enemies will attack you relentlessly, but anyone familiar with hack-and-slash games will be able to hold their own just fine.
The game’s levels are framed as stage plays from the perspective of Alan-a-Dale, the wandering ministrel, which has been recontextualized as a jester in the game. The one level we have unlocked has us fighting a mechanized Prioress, as well as a giant mech.
The game’s levels are pretty straightforward to traverse, and they essentially boil down to one combat room after the other. There isn’t a lot of variety or exploration to be found, as the game makes sure to always tell you where to go either by the mysterious contextual white paint near climbable ledges or by using a waypoint marker.
Being fully honest with you all, I’m not familiar with Robin Hood’s myth or stories. I’m sure the game has quite a few deep cuts, but when a boss called Red Roger of Nottingham shows up it doesn’t do much for me, mostly because I have no idea on who that is.
I don’t think the game isn’t enjoyable if you aren’t familiar with Robin Hood, but I don’t know how much of it you are going to actually understand if you aren’t familiar with the myths.
It could just be that being dropped halfway through the game for the demo got me a little more confused than I would be if I had just started the game out regularly, but considering how I’m not even really familiar with the playable characters it might be a slight issue.
The game definitely seems inspired by Fatshark’s Vermintide series, especially considering how much banter there is between the characters, but I found the game’s meta progression pretty lackluster.
There is no gear or any sort of unlock aside from a small talent tree, so I don’t really see what players have to look forward to unlocking in the game. The demo gives us access to our character’s whole moveset, which is so basic that it feels like it should be unlocked from the beginning.
I really hope that the developers don’t expect players to start out the game with a single combo, only unlocking the other measly two afterwards.
Performance-wise, Gangs of Sherwood isn’t quite there yet. The game overall runs fine, but every time a big enemy does an attack with a lot of particles the game stutters for a second, which will immediately disorient you during combat. Even if that enemy is the last one standing in a small arena, the stutter will still happen.
Gangs of Sherwood doesn’t seem like it has any ill intentions, like some trash live service monetization scheme, but at the same time it feels like it requires some effort to be enjoyed. Maybe the game is way more entertaining in co-op and I just didn’t get to experience it, but it feels like things go deeper.
There just isn’t enough depth to the combat or level design to keep players entertained, especially because even the enemies aren’t interesting. The game’s demo throws a duo boss fight at the player and it still manages to feel underwhelming because there really aren’t any mechanics aside from hitting and dodging.
It feels pretty bad to give such a mixed reaction to this game, especially because it doesn’t do anything outwardly wrong, it’s just that it doesn’t do many right things either. If the characters had more complex movesets and the game actually felt worth going through things would be much different.
It could just be that the game’s demo just isn’t a good representation of the final product, but the aspects that irk me definitely seem like they’ll still be present in the game’s final release.
If you really like Robin Hood this game could probably work out for you, as it seems to have a lot of respect for the source material as far as I can tell, but as an RPG hack-and-slash title it sort of falls flat.
Gangs of Sherwood is set to release October 19, 2023, on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Microsoft Windows (through Steam). The game’s demo is currently available as part of the Steam Next Fest 2023.