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Hob (PC Review)

I’ve been seeing the Runic Games team presenting Hob at trade shows like Penny Arcade Expo for some time now, so to finally have it in my Steam library feels somewhat unreal. But I finally got to play through Runic’s latest endeavor, Hob, this week and had some pretty strong opinions about it.

In Hob, you play as….a…hob? A thing named Hob? One of the first issues with Hob is the story is told through in-game, in-engine cutscenes, all in a nonsensical fairy language. You’re forced to parse out what is happening in Hob’s beautiful game world through context clues and environmental storytelling only. And what I’ve been able to piece together is that your world full of magical golems and gorgeous rolling hillscapes is being corrupted by some dark poisonous power. Without going into too much detail into Hob’s story, as lacking as it is, you’re sent on a quest to defeat these corrupted entities across the world and restore order. I think.

The problem with doing a story told in such a manner is that it is easy to completely miss the mark, and I feel that Hob doesn’t exactly “stick the landing” in giving me a reason to care about the world that Hob lives in. In the eight hours it took for me to complete Hob, I never really once felt invested into what was going on around me, why I was cleaning this corruption, what was behind it in the first place. There’s a point in the “narrative” where you discover the source of the dark plague towards the end of the game and it’s supposed to be this big reveal, but seeing as it would have been physically impossible for you to know where it was all coming from…I mean…I want to tell you more here because it’s so ludicrous, if I had just been able to…well, I can’t say more here without revealing a major “spoiler” (if you can call it that), but it was a little frustrating.

Hob plays like an homage to isometric Legend of Zelda, complete with using your sword to hack at trees and brush to uncover health globes, with the environmental puzzle solving of a God of War. There were sections where you’re pushing a battery block around where I wanted to hold down a button to charge a non-existant kick to push the block further and farther (directly out of God of War). The problem is the fighting, even at the “very hard” difficulty, is fairly simplistic. I was unable to attain any of the sword or cloak upgrades, but I certainly didn’t need them because, and here comes the worst part, there are no boss fights in the game. Not a one. There are larger enemies that take more than a few whacks, but even at the very end of the game, when it would make sense to at least have some kind of final showdown, it ends weakly with a head-scratching cutscene and rolls credits.

Hob is gorgeous. The environments and clockwork world are some of the most breathtaking I’ve seen in a game for some time. When Hob (and I’m going to call the main character Hob because I’m guessing that’s what his name is) pulls a lever or pushes a button, at regular intervals, the camera would zoom out and start this chain of events of watching structures whirr and click together on a massive scale. It was literally like watching the entire world be rebuilt directly in front of you as giant tectonic plates shift and rise from the ground below you. Impressive every time it happened, and when the game is already beautiful…

An issue with the beauty, however, Hob isn’t exactly stable. The game was flickering madly with screen tearing and texture pop-in at regular intervals. I think it was more my machine and graphics setting as I had everything set to “very high” my first few days, but even when I took it down to simply “high”, there was regular flickering. Whether running through the world or in the middle of the final cutscene, I was regularly sending bug reports to Runic via email at the end of my night run. Over the eight hours, it took to beat the game, the game crashed at least six times. The value of live streaming a game you’re reviewing is that I can simply point at a clip and say: “Here.” Game crashing…again:

hob, runic, games, review, torchlight, wonder, russell, action, RPG

Hob is an amazing little journey; the actual gameplay is enjoyable and when I was running from place to place, solving puzzles and slaying murk beasts, I was enjoying myself. I just wish I knew the WHY of the whole thing. I appreciate they were trying to go with the silent protagonist and environmental storytelling, but as they didn’t do a great job with it, I confusedly watched the final cutscene like, “Well, I guess that…all happened?” Between the technical issues and the unfortunate lack of story, the gameplay itself having no real payoff or boss characters to fight dampens Hob’s potential greatness.

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