Gangs of Sherwood is a bog standard co-op game with generic abilities and some dull fights. However, the only thing that lifts this action game up from the trenches is its fantastic art style and scenery.
Some interesting designs
Passable coop teamwork
Uninteresting action segments
Some scenery glitches
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Platform reviewed: PS5
Available: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Release date: November 27, 2023
Gangs of Sherwood is a steampunk twist on the tale of Robin Hood that pits Robin and his grimdark Merry Men against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and his army of identical thugs, many of whom seem to go by the name Gerald. As a Robin Hood game, it shakes things up, too: It steals from the time-rich and gives only poor experiences.
Visually speaking, Gangs of Sherwood is a feast; the concept art in the loading screens and the design of every location is a fantastic twist on the classic tale. The steampunk style works brilliantly mashed together with the medieval setting, and wandering around the muddy and mechanic streets of Locksley while being bombarded by artillery is an unforgettable experience. You can navigate these places by yourself or in a group of four, with each player taking over the mantle of Robin of Locksley, Little John, Friar Tuck, or Maid Marion.
Unfortunately, a good-looking game can only go so far. Gangs of Sherwood fails to deliver any thrilling fights or explosive skills that action brawlers like itself usually promise. Despite only having three acts, which last a maximum of five hours, this steampunk fantasy can seem like it goes on for an eternity.
Having to face up against the same group of bad guys, comprised of several goons and one big knight with a shield, over and over again can seem like a medieval version of Ground Hog Day. There’s also no reprieve to be found in the three side missions as the repetition carries on. One quest sees you stand in a large courtyard and shoot a gigantic mechanical bull over and over again as the same bad guys that plagued the main acts aimlessly chase you across the open space as you dodge the bull's incoming attacks.
A walk in the park
My first encounter with Gangs of Sherwood earlier this year in the preview was slightly unimpressive. However, as I only saw a small snippet, there was still a ray of hope that the entire game wouldn’t just revolve around similar fights and enemies, which I had seen in my first hands-on. Unfortunately, these hopes ran up short once I finally got to play the rest of the action game.
Playing Gangs of Sherwood was painfully straightforward; I started on the standard difficulty setting and quickly upgraded to the hardest in an effort to find some joy in the heat of battle. Sadly, the more challenging option failed to paper over some mediocre and repetitive combat and didn’t even make the game feel much more difficult.
There are some interesting environmental kills in Gangs of Sherwood. One of my favorites is dropping a beehive onto an unsuspecting goon’s head.
Gangs of Sherwood doesn’t have to be challenging to be enjoyable, but it does have to be interesting. After the first few fights, I quickly figured out the pattern of every following combat encounter. Not only was the threat easy to assess and counter, but the bigger, seemingly more dangerous opponents were predictable without fault. This predictability sucked any joy or danger out of the action game immediately, and I soon felt like I was simply going through the motions to reach the end of the game.
The matter wasn’t helped by the fact that almost every enemy encounter revolves around the same three fights. With limited enemy classes, every other combat sequence is like deja vu as you continually come up against similar groups of opponents. Once you get to the later stages, Gangs of Sherwood resorts to throwing every enemy at you at once instead of trying to switch up the combat. The most interesting encounter I had was with the main boss in the second Act, in which one enemy heals the main fighter periodically. Still, unfortunately, even that became monotonous as every move was evenly spaced out, which made it simple to predict and quick to defeat.
The easy fights were made worse by Rebel Instinct, which acts as an ultimate ability for every character as it slowly charges as you deal damage, resulting in a powerful final attack. It can be so powerful that I began to feel bad for attacking opponents with a neverending volley of supercharged arrows. eviscerating them in no time at all.
One is a lonely number
My time in Gangs of Sherwood was a dismal experience and claims that co-op would make it more enjoyable is hard to believe. I only played a few parts of co-op, but from what I saw, it wasn’t all that different; it felt like separate characters fighting their own battles in the same area instead of an authentic cooperative experience that would encourage players to gang up on enemies together.
Gangs of Sherwood could be a fun experience with the right group of friends, but that’s not the mark of a great game. Almost everything can be improved with the right people around, and this is especially true in gaming. Oftentimes, subpar games are made better by co-op as you experience less of the game and more of your friend's hilarious antics.
Furthermore, a co-op game that only works in multiplayer and not single-player despite having the option to play alone, isn’t a fantastic sign. If a title promises multiple ways to experience it, whether by yourself or in a group, it should deliver on that and not simply bank on players sticking with co-op.
Gangs of Sherwood is ultimately let down by its lackluster fights and repetitive action. With almost nothing else to do other than practice moves, fight the same enemies, or walk around the beautiful yet empty base of operations, it’s not something I’d recommend if you’re looking for something new to play with friends or by yourself. While the artistic style and locations in this action game are something to be marveled at and are genuinely quite impressive, this alone isn’t enough to save Gangs of Sherwood from mediocrity.
Gangs of Sherwood also unfortunately fails to deliver any meaningful accessibility options. Other than controlling sound levels, you can change the brightness, motion blur, and language. Otherwise, there are no other options to be found. This was unhelpful for me since, while there are subtitles, there is no way of changing the size, meaning that I could barely read them.
How we reviewed
It took me around five hours to finish the main story of Gangs of Sherwood and another two hours to complete the three extra missions. While I encountered no major bugs with the PS5 version, there were a few issues with characters clipping through walls during cutscenes, or occasionally, enemies would just stay still as if they had already given up the fight.
Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.