Runic games made a huge splash in the gaming industry when it released the original Torchlight game. This team composed of some ex-blizzard devs seemed to go places Diablo would not, and fans came in droves to experience the game and it’s sequel Torchlight 2. These were both excellent games and the world was expecting a third title in the series, instead the team at Runic surprised us with the announcement of Hob, an adventure game set in a changing dynamic world and featuring no dialogue or exposition. This is a bold step for the team, but after my visit with Runic at PAX East, where I had a chance to try the game out, I can say Hob is another great experience from this talented group of developers.
Hob is set in a dynamic changing world that is influenced by your actions; as mentioned the team is presenting the story as a Wordless Narrative, meaning all lore and story will be communicated by the actions and set pieces as you explore the world. It is a bold choice, especially after the narrative heavy experiences of Torchlight, but one that is executed in a very satisfying way. At various times as you play through Hob the camera will pan out and show vistas, transforming bits of the world or autonomous creatures going about their business. It reminded me of scenes in Starbreeze studio’s brilliant title Brothers where they would pause for a moment and enjoy the vistas. In this age of instant gratification and screen filling explosions, it is a nice change of pace to just experience a game and scene instead of flowing through it without a thought.
In Hob you control a red cloaked creature as they (I asked and there really is no gender for the main character) progress through the mechanical and organic world repairing and adjusting the machinery to reshape the world. As you progress through the world creatures are roaming around, some harmless, others will attack you on site and even the vegetation will try to grab you at times. As you explore you will encounter autonomous creatures who seem designed to fix the mechanical structure of the world even while it falls apart around them; your character hops, manipulates and fixes aspects of the machinery which has physical repercussions on the world above. In the demo I worked towards raising a tower that opened up a path to raise a huge section of the planet to the surface, drastically changing the landscape. I was told that this is the key feature of the game, exploring and discovering what is going wrong with the planet and attempting to adjust the landscape to find out who is attempting to harm the sprites who inhabit it and prevent their extinction.
In order to get to the bottom of everything in Hob your character is equipped with a suite of moves so it can navigate the dangerous world. A mechanical glove arm allows some impressive battle techniques as well what is needed to trigger changes to the world and a life saving grip when climbing or falling from edges. The character can also warp through objects and creatures to not only cover space quickly but also cause damage when in battle. Hob at it’s heart is an adventure game full of platforming and puzzles, but combat plays a role and it is executed in a fun and dynamic way. The game is fully real time and has an open world to explore and discover that is constantly changing as you alter the landscape.
Hob features great gameplay, fluid animation, and truly inventive world building, but the most impressive feature was the striking art style that works so effectively with the universe they have built for this game. Torchlight and it’s sequel were colorful and pleasing to look at, but Hob takes this to another level, it felt like I was playing through a high end animated feature as I explored the bright overland and cobbled together mechanical exteriors. The team at Runic has hit a sweet spot with Hob, and I am looking forward to see what the full game will offer once it is released on PC and PlayStation 4 later this year.