Hob – An adventure in contextual storytelling
Hob turns the adventure game genre on its head through beautiful visuals and a wordless narrative. It's not quite like anything I've ever played before.
Hob is the recently released game from Runic Games (makers of the Torchlight series) and it was definitely worth the wait. Besides being a visual feast, Hob tells an amazing story about a world put into hibernation mode when a dangerous infestation begins to take hold. At least, that’s what I think the story is. Hob doesn’t have any kind of written or verbal narrative unless you count the animated pictographs sealed throughout the world. Figuring out the world and the nature of the crisis is all part of this awesome little game’s appeal.
If you haven’t heard of Hob, it’s a 3D puzzle/platformer/adventure game that takes place in a damaged world. Players join their character as they’re awoken from what appears to be some kind stasis. Through nothing more than context and the instructional gestures of a friendly construct, they learn that they need to save the world. It’s a game where players literally change the world as they play. Though if you want more of the story, I highly suggest checking out the prelude comic available for free on Runic’s website.
The world of Hob is a character in its own right. The overworld, despite being infected by some kind of aggressive purple blight, is a vibrant landscape comprised of various biomes. Under it, however, is a steampunk dream of gears and pipes that support and power everything above. Unlike some entries in the adventure genre, not everything in Hob needs to be slain on sight. (There may be a Steam achievement for petting friendly wildlife.) It makes the world feel more alive, more real. Like each area of the world tells its own story as it’s explored. It also makes encountering enemies that much more significant.
Combat is one of those things that seems simple at first–swing, dodge, repeat until done. After some time exploring and finding upgrade schematics, things get more interesting. Combo attacks, ground pounds, and enemies with impenetrable armor get thrown into the mix. Through it all, Hob keeps encounters feeling high-stakes instead of plowing through an endless series of mooks. From a design perspective, it’s a huge departure from the Torchlight games and their horde-style onslaughts.
In the vein of modern adventure games, Hob sends players out into the world inadequately equipped to deal with everything they encounter. So taking note of thing that seem inaccessible at first and returning once new powers are acquired is highly encouraged. Personally, I recommend sketching out the world on graph paper and making more detailed notes than the in-game map allows, but I might be overly excited by the game.
The puzzles in Hob remind me of early Zelda games. They’re not overly complex, but they’re not so simple as to become boring. The majority are switch and block puzzles that are intuitive yet rewarding.
As I mentioned in a recent podcast, I highly recommend Hob to anyone that enjoys exploring, solving puzzles, and contextual storytelling. I’m not sure how many people in that third group, but this is definitely going to be their jam. My only real complaints are the fixed camera (which I still understand for visual effect reasons) and that it was over far too soon for me. Thankfully, the game includes a ledge grab mechanic to prevent the camera from causing an inordinate amount of death and frustration. In total, it took about ten hours to complete the story in Hob while obtaining most of the items in the game. Possible contender for Adventure Game of the Year? You’re on notice, Breath of the Wild.
Hob is currently available on PC and PS4.
Dorkadia received a copy of this game for review purposes.