From the first moment of the Gangs of Sherwood trailer, you can tell something isn’t right; perhaps this isn’t the Robin Hood you thought you knew. A guard, reporting to the Sheriff of Nottingham, appears to be stealing a couple of gold coins from a beggar’s plate. But instead of picking them up like a regular fella, the coins levitate towards his hovering palm. He’s a magic guard.
That’s not the weirdest thing about Gangs of Sherwood, however. You can’t really tell too much from the short trailer, even though it does show some gameplay, but apparently this Robin Hood game is set in a medieval World War 1 setting. Other than naming two random time periods of English history for some absurd quiz question, I can’t see why anyone would ever mention the two disparate eras in the same sentence. And yet, Gangs of Sherwood is set in a medieval World War 1 setting. To ease my confusion, I’m going to set about working out exactly what that means, and how this co-op action game will inhabit it.
First, I looked to the devs for an explanation. “We really try to create interesting universes that are unique and memorable for the player,” says Andrea Di Stefano, Gangs of Sherwood’s game director, in the Nacon Connect livestream where the game was announced. Well, it certainly is unique. But that’s mostly marketing fluff. However, he also explains that the game “mixes a medieval setting with World War 1 technology.” That’s more interesting.
So it’s Sherwood Forest but with rifles, right? We’ll be storming Nottingham with biplanes, yes? The gameplay trailer doesn’t seem to match up with Di Stefano’s ideas. There’s a glowing longbow, a steampunk power fist, and someone definitely using magic, purple bolts, but I’m not seeing much World War 1. In fact, the only thing that even resembles the early 20th century are a few destroyed pylons visible as the camera pans across semi-medieval battlefields. I’m not certain they are pylons (as the first pylons were built a decade after the war ended), but the twisted metal frames are definitely not medieval. Thanks, Andrea, you’ve been useless.
Now I’m going to search wider media for other uses of this setting. A quick Google told me that The Hundred Years War (which lasted 116 years) could have been a medieval equivalent to a world war, and that medieval castles in Cornwall were repurposed with artillery during the First World War as Britain feared a naval attack from the mainland. But as far as I could tell, no other piece of media has ever been set in a medieval World War 1 setting. They did say it was unique.
If I can’t work out exactly what a medieval World War 1 setting is, and I don’t know how Gangs of Sherwood is going to implement both time periods into its game, I must at least know why. What’s the point? Why does Robin Hood need a gun?
Unfortunately, I’ve racked my brain and I just can’t work out one good reason to create this weird mashup of time periods, and there’s even less reason to stick Robin Hood in it. Is Maid Marian secretly a time traveler? Is the 20th century German Empire a problem for medieval peasants? Is the price of wood increasing so much that Robin can’t afford to make any more arrows and has to invent the bullet?
You’ve already added magic to the formula, isn’t that enough? For the record, I think adding magic is a great addition – most fantasy is set in medieval or pseudo-medieval time periods, and incorporating those elements into the legend of Robin Hood could be great. Prince John is guarded by trolls? Little John is a particularly tall Dwarf? There’s so much to work with, especially with the clever system that means giving more to the poor benefits your party. But what does World War 1 technology add to this?
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Appeal Studios has stumbled upon a goldmine, and will forge a new genre of medieval World War 1 games that competitors will be copying for generations to come. But it doesn’t look likely. At this point, I’d have preferred a 90s-esque side scrolling platformer based on Disney’s classic Robin Hood animation, foxes and all. But that wouldn’t be half as unique.