The storytelling and world building of Journey and the combat and exploration of the Legend of Zelda seems like a match made in gaming heaven. Well the developer Runic Games is looking to make these dreams come true with the ambitious Hob. The game is a third person action game with an emphasis on combat, puzzle solving, and rewarding exploration. I got my hands on the game at Pax East this year and it is shaping up to be a visually striking and fun experience.
The most noticeable aspect of Hob is its beautiful art style. The main character is reminiscent of a steam punk twist of the travelers from Journey armed with a sword in his right hand and a shield-like glove in his left. He whimsically hops through the green mechanical world inhabited by creatures resembling two-limbed deer. The whimsy is heavily contrasted by bubbling dark purple goo corrupting the once lively environment. Long stingers emerge from the filth. In combat slain enemies explode into a tiny rain of blood. It’s cute and natural, which is contrasted by the mechanical world that is slowly falling apart as Hob reconstructs it as he explores. Cogs and gears are littered throughout but at times come together to lead the way. It’s all complemented with a lightly cel shaded aesthetic. The distinct art style caused Hob to be one of the most eye-catching games on Pax East’s show floor.
Hob controls like a platform-heavy version of the 3D Legend of Zelda games. Combat can be engaged by locking-on to targets. Victory in battle is achieved by reading targets and attacking when they are most vulnerable, typically after they attack. While baiting out those attacks, the player is able to block with Hob’s metal glove. Attacking is fast-paced and landing attacks feels satisfying, as well as easy to pick up and enjoy instantly.
The spice of the game’s combat is the abilities Hob unlocks. In the demo available at Pax, I unlocked a grappling hook that could be used to disarm enemies. At one point I faced against a tall emaciated boss creature armed with a giant club. Using the grappling hook, I stripped him of his armor. It makes encounters feel like small puzzles, but once I exploited his weakness all that was left to do was mash the attack button. The encounter was easier than I hoped, but it was an early one so there is time for the difficulty curve to raise later in the game.
The grappling hook works as an exploration tool as well as a weapon. Certain blue glowing orbs allow Hob to grapple forward to travel. This mechanic ties into light platforming challenges and exploration. Taking alternate paths rewards the player with permanent stat increases to the character and snippets of story.
The story telling is completely environmental, and some hidden areas cause the camera to pan away to showcase an interaction within the world. A few sections of the demo showed off the corpses of mechanical giants that once ruled the land Hob lives in and hints at the cause for their destruction. These bits of story illustrate the scale of the world and feels as though it was once lived in. There is not a direct narrative in Hob, but instead there are pieces of a story that are rewarded to explorers.
In between exploration and combat, there are a handful of puzzles to solve. These short segments were the least inspired parts of the game thus far. They are mostly composed of pushing boxes around into holes in the wall like a key and typical timed button pressing. The puzzles were simple, but hopefully they increase in challenge as the game progresses. However, when the puzzles are solved, the world begins to build itself again and attributes to Hob’s fantastic massive of scale.
Hob is quite a departure from Runic Game’s dungeon crawling Torchlight series. They are delving into environmental storytelling on a scale that they have never tackled before. While the current build they have is early, Hob shows promise. It plays well and looks beautiful with a distinct art style that few games have pulled off. While a release date has yet to be announced, keep an eye out for Hob on PC and PS4.