Around my birthday last month, I was given a copy of a newly released game called Hob, which is a puzzle-platformer with hack and slash elements. Made by Runic Games, the same indie studio responsible for the successful Torchlight action-role playing game series, it features many gorgeous locales, elegant art direction, a plethora of upgrades and choices for your character’s weapons and abilities, and a diverse cast of enemies, all in an open-world exploration package sure to give you hours of enjoyment.
It combines elements from games like the Legend of Zelda, with its platforming, adventure, combat, and collectible elements, and Journey with its voiceless narrator, the story of the game being unraveled by the player as they explore the world. Hob shares a similar high-fantasy theme with an emphasis on machinery, conveyed primarily through its world building. It plays between motifs of mechanical and artificial constructions clashing with ones of a more organic and mystical nature. Though it’s an open-world experience, the world of Hob is only a fraction as expansive as most AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed; this is actually a point in the game’s favour however as it allows for more detail to be realized, and the world feels more alive as a result (which is ideal, given the environment and exploration are the main story vehicles of the game). It didn’t feel overdone or lacking as a result, though by the end I did find myself wanting more.
Spoiler alert, there is a small possibility of a sequel being planned from one of the endings of the game, but I don’t know that it necessarily needs one. The game stands on its own very well, and if a sequel (or at least a spiritual successor) is released I hope it either fleshes out more of the story we already have (ie. the events before the first game) or takes the same game play and story elements but uses them in a different context (different setting, different characters, different weapons and character abilities etc) but bear in mind this is simply speculation at this point. The ending is left ambiguous, and while I will say there are multiple endings, I can’t in good conscience categorize them as either good or bad as some have taken to doing: both endings are different in their own right, based primarily on the final choice you make, but both have good and bad aspects to them, leaving the overall tone very grey.
One of the main problems so far with the game is the controls can be a bit finicky at times. Your character will tend to lock himself onto any surface he can scale when jumping, however there are points when this system suffers a hiccup. It happens more often on irregular, more rounded surfaces than flat ones; this problem occurred a lot more frequently when I was exploring the forest area, especially when scaling the trees. These little hiccups tend to be deadly from a sufficient height, and often rather aggravating as a result. Runic Games has been pretty good with patching the game thus far however, and I expect perhaps this game mechanic will be fine tuned in the future.
On the subject of upgrades, it is possible to change the cloak your character wears, and the different cloaks have different effects to the character’s stats (eg. scaling up energy, but reducing health). These cloaks however are earned through discovering them in the world. In my whole play through I never utilized the alternative cloaks as I felt there was no real benefit of doing so; the trade off wasn’t really worth it to equip them. The first two you discover reduce your health but boost other stats, which at the start of the game is not really in your best interest, especially when you have enemies that can kill you in two hits even at that point. Were they simply a cosmetic item, I may have actually utilized them much more.
Hob is an incredibly enjoyable game if you like environmental puzzle-solving and don’t mind having to figure things out for yourself; the game doesn’t hold your hand all the way through beyond pointing you in the direction you need to go. If you’re going to pick this game up and want to minimize the combat aspect while enjoying the environments and puzzles, I suggest starting off on the lower difficulty setting and working your way up. The difficulty curve of the game is pretty staggering and believe me, you will want to return to the workshop to upgrade your abilities often! I highly recommend playing with a controller, as the movement and control mapping feels a lot more comfortable than with the keyboard in the case of this game. Overall a gorgeous and refreshing addition to the action and puzzle-platforming niche that I really hope to see more of in the future.