Sunday , May 19 2024

PAX East 2024: ‘Hollow Home’

During the four days of PAX East I get a chance to explore many different types of games, some big, some small and others that just connect in a way I did not expect. In the case of Hollow Home I was struck by the messaging and effective game design and I just wanted to see more.

Hollow Home

This was literally the first appointment I booked when planning my calendar at PAX East. Hollow Home is made by developers Twigames from Ukraine and it is an RPG focused around the invasion of a town (inspired by Mariupol) during the invasion by Russia.

The description hit hard, but I was also intrigued by the mechanics they were incorporating into the game. Choices, branching dialogues, focuses on different types of skills are all wrapped around a harrowing story of a young boy who wakes up to his city under attack while his parents are away on business.

Like every community, the people in Hollow Home are not all friendly and helpful, but you can definitely see a unity in the town even before the attacks. The messaging about war is prevalent, but not heavy-handed. It’s discussed as a reality, and it’s mentioned often that this invasion was a possibility but no one thought it would happen.

I wanted to try the demo for the story and message, but I was also intrigued to see how the systems worked. Would this actually be a good game? Thankfully on both fronts the developers have succeeded.

Hollow Home starts the day before the city is attacked. Life is normal but there is tension in the air as people know Russia is poised to do something. The young hero of the story is Maksym, a normal 14-year-old boy who helps as much as he gets into mischief.

The gameplay has Maksym going around town playing with friends, avoiding bullies, and getting some supplies to help a friend celebrate her grandmother’s birthday. We are introduced to the inventory, quest system and attribute enhancements. There is no combat in the game, instead it takes a very Disco Elysium approach and settles scenarios and conflicts with choice and dialogue.

While it is a narrative RPG, there will be survival skills learned to try and adapt and survive through the conflict. Cooking, crafting, medical and other skills can be learned by interacting with characters and completing quests. There are limited action points each day so choosing what do do will be very important as the story progresses.

Once the invasion starts Maksym is called by his parents and tasked to check on his vulnerable neighbors and prepare with food, cash and water as best he can. As I wandered the town trying to withdraw money, borrow from friends, get food, and help/convince folks to action I was struck by how subtle and terrifying the situation became in an instant.

There is a quote on the Hollow Home game page that sums up the message and intent of the story:

The characters are fictional but the story is real. War – is real.
Our game is a mirror we put for humanity to gaze upon.
War never changes, but people do – if they choose to.

Playing through Hollow Home I was struck by this vividly. While it is a game, it is mirroring actual events, and this makes this title so very important. It’s heavy and important stuff but it’s also well implemented as a game and I truly hope as many people as possible check out Hollow Home once it releases in 2025.

About Michael Prince

A longtime video game fan starting from simple games on the Atari 2600 to newer titles on a bleeding edge PC I play everything I can get my hands on.

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