Writer and designer Andrew G. Schneider presents Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood for review. Nocked! aims to immerse the player in a text-driven narrative where choices shape the destiny of their own personal Robin Hood and the surrounding lands.
Nocked! wastes no time putting the player through the paces as they shape their Robin Hood. The Sheriff of Nottingham raids their home, as described in precise blocks of text, and the player’s Robin begins to take form with each reaction selected from a list of commands. As the player advances Robin’s story, their world begins to come into focus through simple graphical representations and an unobtrusive musical score. If Robin succeeds, and what that success will look like, is determined by how the player responds to the shifting political landscape of Sherwood Forrest and the surrounding lands over the course of a year. Dissatisfied with how Robin’s story ends? Explore another path through the million plus words that form Nocked!‘s text gameplay.
So long as inequality exists in the world, Robin Hood will remain a tantalizing figure for artists. They rob from the rich to give to the poor, which creates an automatic system of power and conflict to draw from. But how Robin addresses that inequality has proven to be mercurial in practice. Robin has been a comic trickster, libertarian rogue, swashbuckling hero, debated historical presence, and more. With Nocked! Robin takes on the role of administrative leader, and sometimes activist, where the role of managing Robin’s band of Merry Men is more interesting than the raids.
It’s not what I expected out of a game based on the arrow-shooting outlaw, but it engrossed me enough when I was making those big decisions. As Robin grows in power I needed to determine where my Merry Men would settle, what kind of relationships I would pursue, and who would get the resources needed to grow the nascent rebellion. Schneider’s writing shines best describing the results of my choices through the landscape. The greatest pleasure of Nocked! was wandering my home base and reading the descriptions of what work was going on, how labor shaped the forest, and where people were finding their pleasures. The graphical work of artist Amanda Spaid and designer Stephanie Martinez accompanies the descriptions beautifully by never overpowering the text and showing changes gradually.
However, the writing falters in two key areas – personality and the odd insistence of mystical forces. I did my best to make my Robin an anarchist peasant-loving woman of the masses. But no matter my choices, Robin was always reactive instead of proactive, and since Nocked! presents Robin more as a wronged noble (no matter how anarchic I tried to be) it played like I was always heading toward the status quo instead of making the land my own. Except for the intriguing epilogue where Schneider wisely realizes the power of resistance must find root in new structures, Robin and her followers rarely held on to memories or grudges for more than a season.
The mystical elements are unwelcome and awkward. Even setting aside that Robin Hood is a figure rooted more in folk heroism and class struggle than mysticism, the writing takes conflicted approaches to how dragons, spirits, and the like integrate into Robin’s overall struggle. There are options to make Robin a pragmatist who eschews the supernatural yet they come alongside confrontations with literal ghosts. These aren’t moments that can be simply hand-waved away as the fairy court is a faction that must be dealt with as Robin builds their power.
This ties into the more traditional RPG elements Nocked! would have been better off without. Only one works well with the text of Nocked! when Robin needs to balance infiltration with diplomacy at a masquerade ball. This is tracked with a stealth meter that gave me a guess about how much of a risk I could take sneaking around the guests. The rest are baffling in their mechanics, like a battle system where the fight for the forest centered around offensive and defensive numbers that seemed arbitrary. My offensive power went from 5 to -2 to 10 to -14, which had an at-best tangential relationship to the descriptions of the battle I read. By the end I almost entirely ignored the RPG numbers and focused on the descriptions instead.
Nocked! falters as a RPG experience and mildly succeeds as a text adventure. If there were an option to even turn off the numeric notifications and just track my progress with the text it would have been more engrossing. The numbers and systems only serve to detract from the good environmental writing, evocative illustration, and subtly integrated musical score. Further trust in the storytelling of Nocked!, not the addition of traditional RPG elements found in other games, might have made for a stronger experience.
Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood
Nocked! True Tales of Robin Hood is a text adventure best played in short bursts of progress. This will give the player enough time to witness changes as a result of their actions and get drawn into their evolving realm. Longer play reveals its weaknesses with poorly designed RPG elements and awkwardly incorporated mystical detours. Lovers of text adventure games should give Nocked! a look, but RPG fans should find their action elsewhere.
- Great environmental descriptions that reflect the player's investment in Robin's development.
- Illustrations and music are evocative instead of overwhelming, adding texture to the text instead of detracting from it.
- Awkwardly implemented mystical elements detract from the environmental storytelling with choices at-odds with the largely grounded narrative.
- With one exception, the RPG systems are an unnecessary addition that clutters the experience instead of enhancing it.
Prognosis is Fair