Moving away from the Diablo-esque dungeon crawling of Torchlight, Hob marks yet another great hit from Runic Games. Despite the hop to a different genre, this newest entry from the indie developer is surprisingly familiar yet risky too.
There’s a reason why we don’t see many action adventure games like Hob out in the wild. It takes trained minds and deft hands to balance fun mechanics, intriguing level design, and a sense of exploration, retaining that consistency for more than a dozen hours. It also takes that added touch of magic and a certain finesse that Hob manages to embody despite some shortcomings.
With no preamble whatsoever, Runic has you guiding its red-shawled robot around the world. One thing you’ll notice about Hob is the deliberate lack of hand-holding, forcing players to forge their own path and find their own solutions. This isn’t Runic Games posturing or an attempt to make Hob feel “hardcore”. Removing that crutch makes it a much more rewarding experience and one in which discovery feels genuine, not just another item on a list of objectives.
The story has been intentionally pared back too with only a few actual “characters” and zero dialogue between them. You’re only overarching goal is to learn more about this strange world as it slowly shifts and changes around you.
There’s a certain charm and vibrance that carries over from the Torchlight series. What’s more impressive, however, is the duality of nature and technology that permeates just about every scene. Trees, rivers, and cliffs are vivacious yet have a certain mechanical air about them. As you progress from one area to the next, you’ll witness entire landscapes twist and turn as if you are traversing the bowels of some huge clockwork device. It works to great effect, giving puzzles a meaning and weight.
Aside from solving puzzles, you’ll also be fighting enemies and engaging with a decent amount of platforming as well. What works great here is Hob’s simplicity, keeping gameplay fun and varied without feeling too bogged down or complicated. A slightly more fleshed out combat system wouldn’t have gone amiss, but may have drawn too much focus away from Hob’s world-shifting puzzles.
Occasionally the main path will lead you into dungeon-like areas where you’ll acquire new powers. Upon returning to the surface, you’ll find more side routes and objects to interact with, gradually unpacking Hob’s meandering open world.
Backtracking is inevitable as you revisit areas looking for the next big puzzle or upgrades to collect. There were a few times where I lost the thread, unable to work out where I needed to go next. There’s also a point towards the end of Hob where it feels like the game is about to wrap up, only for it to send players on a scavenger hunt with only half a notion of what they’re looking for. When I finally realised what to do there was a sense of reward, though it did little to gloss over the exhaustion of aimlessly wandering for the best part of an hour.
Runic fans waiting on Torchlight III may be feeling sore, but the developer’s decision to take a gamble on something new has certainly paid off. Hob demonstrates just how well this team can create a world and stitch it together with intuitive level design. Although some parts are clearly stronger than others, as a whole Hob is easily one of the best indie games of 2017.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro