Multiplayer games that focus purely on PvP have never really been my jam, mostly because I am terrible and my K/D ratio would bring shame to my family. However, I do enjoy a tidy PvE experience, like Payday 2 or the story missions in Destiny. Every now and again though, a game comes along that blends both PvP and PvE together in a setting that piques my interest, such as Hunt: Showdown. Last year, Focus Home Interactive and Sumo Newcastle announced Hood: Outlaws & Legends, a multiplayer take on the Robin Hood legend that instantly caught my attention with its gritty world and heist-style gameplay. I was able to sit down and chat with Hood’s director Andrew Willans to find out more about the game ahead of its launch on May 10 (May 7 for those who pre-order).
WellPlayed: It’s been mentioned that Hood is heavily inspired by Robin Hood. How did the concept come about? Why Robin Hood?
Andrew Willans: The original concept for creating a darker, more modern take on the Robin Hood legend was something the Sumo Sheffield concepting team had been working on prior to our studio joining the Sumo family. It had been shelved for whatever reason, but when we saw the concept art we were immediately drawn to it. While the initial idea was more PvE focused we saw an opportunity to bring some fresh perspective to the game by bringing in the PvP elements and making it more session based.
WP: The studio is based in England, which is full of medieval architecture. What sort of research did the team do when designing the maps? Did you scout many areas?
AW: We have a huge variety of castles, keeps and churches right here on our doorstep (Northeast). So yeah, scouting was pretty easy and most people were already familiar with the local architecture so we were quick to identify which elements we wanted to have represented in our game world, and importantly which ones to avoid. We took influence but were never bound by recreating the exact details and floorplans. From a level design perspective we needed to take artistic license to ensure gameplay was considered above all else.
WP: What made you go for a mix of PvP and PvE instead of focusing on the one style?
AW: PvPvE is still a relatively underused genre, so in that respect we wanted to explore designs that weren’t so well-trodden. We also felt that we had something new to offer with our heist narrative. There’s something really compelling about the three-way friction that occurs between opposing players and AI. We do have a PvE-only game mode that uses all the maps and game ingredients, but that’s really there to serve as training for the main event.
WP: Missions in the game are called heists – how does a typical heist play out? Is it as simple as sneaking in and stealing the loot before the other team? Or do we have to face off against a boss and/or exfiltrate?
AW: There are three distinct stages to a heist, each requiring different tactics and teamwork if you want to maximise your stolen loot and bank some XP to invest in your outlaws. In the first phase the objective is to steal the key to the treasure vault. This is being carried by the Sheriff, who is effectively our boss. Engaging him in open combat is almost suicidal, so the best way to get the key is to use stealth to pickpocket him without alerting him and giving away your position, both to him, and the enemy team.
Once you have the key you can unlock the treasure vault and pick up the chest inside. During this second phase you can get an advantage on the enemy team as they will not be shown the location of the vault. The key carrier is the only person who is informed of the vault’s location. So you’ll need to adapt your tactics based on this moment. Do you want to hunt down the player with the key and steal it from them? Try and find the vault using line of sight and intercept the key carrier there? Or do you set up an ambush outside the treasure building and steal the chest at this moment?
The third and final phase is when things really heat up as the team carrying the chest decides where they want to extract it from. There are multiple extraction locations on the map, each containing a winching device that needs to be interacted with in order to lift the chest outside of the playable area and effectively bank the loot for that team. As with all the objective mechanics, ownership can change depending on which team has control over the ingredient (key, chest, winch) so there are ample opportunities to intercept and dominate right up until the last second.
WP: What measures are in place to stop players from waiting for one team to do all the hard work and then being ambushed at the end (like in Hunt: Showdown)? I’m assuming it’s always a tough balancing act of rewarding players who play the game the ‘right way’ and adding that bit of cheeky challenge to the mix?
AW: We have a range of gameplay and progression-related incentives to ensure playing the objectives will reward both you and your team. Each one of the outlaws brings something unique to the heist in their playstyles, weapons, abilities, perks and gear items. So while sitting back and letting the other team do most of the hard work is an option, they will be arriving at the final showdown better prepared and geared up for a fight. They will also have chosen the location to extract from, which can be a huge advantage when a player dies, respawns at their home spawn, and then rushes to join their teammates to battle it out at the extraction zone.
WP: How many heists will be available on launch?
AW: Five with another to be added very soon after launch. Some of the environments are huge in scale, so it will take a while before players explore every nook and cranny looking for the perfect sneaky paths. To ensure variety and prevent predictability between sessions each one of the heists has many factors that change randomly as the maps load – the path of the Sheriff, the AI patrols, capture point locations (to respawn on), even the location of the treasure vault can change between buildings and floors. Players will become familiar with playstyles and outlaws that work better on some maps than others, but heists rarely play out according to plan. Just like all the best heist movies we took influence from when designing each phase.
Become the richest band of merrymen
WP: There are four different characters available, each with its own skillsets. Tell us a bit about them.
AW: The Ranger (Robin) is the medieval equivalent of a sniper, deadly at long range and still pretty lethal at mid in the right hands. He carries flashbangs to distract and blind his enemies, has better tagging abilities for scouting, and his ultimate ability is an explosive tipped arrow. The Hunter (Marianne) is a nimble assassin who is brutally effective at close range with her insta-kill takedowns. She also has a wrist-mounted multi-shot crossbow that can get you out of trouble if you get spotted. Her gear item is a smoke grenade which can be incredibly useful for masking the enemies view on objectives, or to keep you blind to her approach. To add to all this focus on sneaking, her ultimate ability will make her practically invisible for a short period of time. Both these outlaws fall into the ‘ranged class’. Meaning that they can fire projectiles, and defensively they evade incoming damage rather than blocking it.
This is in contrast to our ‘melee class’ outlaws, who can block and parry incoming attacks. The Brawler (John) represents the ultimate melee experience. He’s often referred to as the tank, and while he’s probably our most accessible outlaw, players will still need to consider their attacks to avoid depleting their stamina too quickly and leaving him vulnerable. He wields a hammer and can perform heavy, light and overheat attacks to deal significant damage. Being a hulk of a man he can also walk faster when carrying the chest and lift heavy portcullis doors that block routes during lockdown (part of our felony system). His gear item is an explosive grenade, and his ultimate (called Wrath) effectively puts him on steroids with increased damage and endless stamina for the duration of the ability. Our final outlaw (and my main) is The Mystic (Tooke). This class strikes a balance between brawler and tactician. His flail can be swung like a riot baton for close range encounters, and be cast out at a longer range to target specific enemies and leave them stunned. His ultimate will allow the entire team to see enemy locations through walls, and also heal any allies in range when it is triggered. His gear item is a poison grenade that can choke the state guards and drain the stamina of opposing players. There’s also an interesting perk that turns this gear item into a health grenade, that’s something to aim to unlock pretty quickly as it’s a really useful mod for team play.
WP: Is a team required to have one of each of these characters or can more than one player be a certain character?
AW: We have no limits on multiple classes being used at the same time. It was a design goal we set ourselves early on. I hate it when games block me from using a character or class that I specialise in just because someone beats me to it in a selection race. We invested a huge amount of time balancing the classes to ensure players see the advantages in a diverse team composition, but that success is down to teamwork itself, rather than the tools.
WP: Will players have the option of starting a mission without a full squad?
AW: This is something we are hoping to have for launch. During the later stages of development we got a lot of internal requests for 3v3 squads. It’s something we can see a lot of benefit in as the experience is surprisingly different from the core 4v4 mode. Honestly, it’s simply down to remaining dev time and how much we can squeeze into these last weeks. If it doesn’t happen for launch, it will certainly follow soon after.
WP: What can players spend their riches on? I’m guessing it’s stuff like new weaponry and new threads for your character. But what about perks or skills?
AW: Absolutely! It’s all about looking the part when you’re stealing from the state. We have a range of cosmetics for both outlaw costumes and weapons, and a unique perks progression that is gated by your character level (XP) and the coin in your pocket. We tried to bring in a little Robin Hood lore to our economy system. So after every heist you will be presented with ‘The Scales Of Justice’. All the gold from your game will be shared between two pots, one for the people and one for the pocket. It’s then up to you to further apportion the gold between these pots. If you invest more in the people, then the level of your Hideout will increase, unlocking more items for the shops. If you invest more in your pocket, you have more coin to spend in those shops. We wanted to confront players with the choice of investing in the meta, or the immediate, and this felt like an interesting way to contextualise the fantasy.
WP: Am I right in saying that the game’s microtransactions are only for cosmetic items? Can items available for purchase be unlocked by playing?
AW: Yes. It’s all cosmetic. There is nothing in the game that can provide a gameplay advantage for real money. That’s always been a red line for us, and it’s not something I would ever expect to see in a competitive game. There will be tons of awesome cosmetics in the launch game that can be unlocked by simply playing the game normally, or completing specific challenges, and then spending the coin you earned from your heists.
WP: Tell me about the Hideout I have read about. What is it exactly?
AW: It’s essentially our multiplayer hub. A meeting place for players where you can define your matchmaking criteria, select game modes, view challenges (and criteria), read up on the lore of the world via collectibles, browse the in-game shops for Perks, Weapons and Costumes, or simply pick an outlaw and practise combat on targets and mannequins. Friendly fire is off, so you don’t need to worry about blowing up your teammates while practising your grenade throwing.
WP: Hood has a Deluxe Edition that comes with three different Season Battle Passes that offers players the chance to unlock some timed exclusive items. Can you explain how these will work?
AW: Hopefully most readers should be familiar with the Battle Pass model by now, but essentially the Deluxe Edition comes with three Battle Passes for each of the upcoming seasons. Each season we plan to release free gameplay updates and additions, as well as a huge range of cosmetic items included as part of the Battle Pass which players can unlock by simply playing the game. A selection of the cosmetic items will be unlocked free to anyone playing the game, but most will require the player to have a Battle Pass to access this content.
Being based in England has allowed Sumo Digital to capture some beautiful locations
WP: With the number of multiplayer games on the market it’s getting harder for games to stand out. What do you think is Hood’s main hook that will keep players coming back?
AW: The obvious answer here is heist game + PvPvE, but aside from providing something fresh in terms of a game mode, I think we’re delivering a really fun team game with a more mature realisation. I’ve played hours of Fortnite and Overwatch, and I absolutely love those games, but that visual palette has become a bit too familiar over the past years so I’m craving something with a bit more grit and gore when it comes to combat. Hopefully I’m not alone in wanting to see a head pop when I hit it with a hammer, or maybe I watched too many horror movies in the ’80s .
WP: Hood’s world looks ripe for an intriguing narrative, is there much of a story in Hood?
AW: We dive into the backstories of all our main characters (including the Sheriff) via a series of collectible tapestry fragments. Once you collect a series you can watch them all in sequence, like a narrated comic with specially composed theme music for each story. We also have collectible trinkets which provide more narrative on the history of each map – who lived there, why the state took their land etc. We spent a lot of time fleshing out the world, its history, and the people. There’s lots of environmental storytelling within the maps, and this is something we will continue to expand on post-launch.
WP: Post-launch there will be new maps and characters. How often are you planning on releasing new content?
AW: Absolutely…but for now my lips are sealed on the specifics. We’re already hard at work on the seasonal content, and it’s given us a chance to expand the game in some very interesting directions. In terms of cadence, our roadmap should be published around launch, but typically your can expect around four seasons per year (no pun intended!).
WP: Thanks for your time and best of luck with the game’s release. I look forward to playing Hood on May 10 (perhaps even a little earlier on May 7)
AW: My pleasure. I look forward to seeing you in Sherwood!
Hood: Outlaws & Legends launches on May 10 on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X&S, Xbox One and PC. Players who pre-order will be able to play the game a little early on May 7.