Hob: the wonder of exploration

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When we arrived for our appointment with Runic games to see their new game Hob, we weren’t sure what to expect. Before PAX, there was only a brief announcement of the game with a short teaser video, and PAX was the first time a playable demo had been shown. We had the opportunity to play through the demo, and hear about the game from Wonder Russell, Minister of Culture at Runic Games and Marsh Lefler, President of Runic Games.

“This is the first time the public has seen this game,” said Russell. “We just announced Hob a few weeks ago, and we’re already getting a positive response. Our line for the demo is over two hours long!”

Hob is a departure for Runic Games, whose last two games were dungeon crawling RPGs Torchlight and Torchlight 2. Lefler explains,” In Hob, we’ve created a dense open world that reacts to the player’s every step.  The world is broken, and the player character’s actions begin to transform the world, open it up.”

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“The world of Hob is lush and alive, with a mechanical core that begins to transform as the player interacts with it. There are no NPCs or dialogue, the story happens in moments that emerge in actual play, not scripted cutscenes.”

Marsh continued, ” The core idea of Hob is that no matter what you’re doing, whether exploring or running around hitting things, the moment to moment experience has to be fun.The one thing we brought from the Torchlight series is satisfying feeling combat when you’re pounding something into the ground. We’ve also done everything we can to make the controls second nature. ”

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The controls were indeed second nature as I played the demo. Jumping and slashing were exactly were my fingers expected them to be on the gamepad. There was only a seconds long bubble on screen to explain dash roll and the alternate hand energy grapple. Other than that the display was crisp and clean, no distracting HUD. The world of Hob was like a twisted jungle, plants growing over ancient toppled structures. Occasionally there were switches I could pull to open new paths, and as I walked, flowers would bloom behind me.

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Pushing a crumbling block into a slot caused the earth to shake and rotate, as subterranean machinery pushed out a rotating column. I clambered up the column, and now I was walking above the area  I was just exploring. As I rounded a corner, the horizon opened up ahead of me, and I could see crumbling ruins far, far into the distance. I then entered a dark cavern, full of humming machinery. After exploring, solving a few puzzles, I emerged from an underground elevator to another open forested area. Three small mechanical creatures sat in a glade, mourning a fourth fallen friend.

Suddenly, a tall, spindly troll like creature burst from the shadows of the trees, grabbing one of the hapless creatures and biting it’s head off savagely. In almost the same moment, the monster swung its club, mashing a second robot pixie into a smear of red…hydraulic fluid? The final surviving forest sprite escaped in a flash of light, as I jumped down from the ledge to face my foe.

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I circled warily, often rolling as the troll swung his club. After one of his swings, I rushed in and slashed his knees with my sword. The blow glanced off harmlessly as it connected with armor plating on the creature’s legs. Reeling back stunned, I was struck by a retaliatory swipe of the menace’s club and thrown back. I circled wider, cutting grass with my sword as I went. Finally, I found what I was seeking in the grass: a red fruit that replenished my health.

Facing the beast again, I finally remembered what was in my off-sword hand, an energy grapple.  Quickly firing at his legs, I pull off the monster’s armor. After that, circling and dodging his blows, I am soon able to fell the creature towering over me. As he crashed to the ground beside me, I wish I’d been there a little sooner to save the poor little forest robots he’d destroyed.

Moving past the felled corpse, I unlocked a glowing doorway. After passing through a small chamber, another door opened to blinding, purple tinged light. Impossibly jointed tentacled arms filled the doorway, monstrous bulbous eyes regarded me…and the demo ended. I placed the controller down with a mixture of elation, and sadness that it was over.

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Hob is the number one game I’m looking forward to of all the new games I saw at PAX. The perfect blend of Metroid and Zeldalike exploration, mixed with smooth combat, and a lonely, broken world that reminds me of a more colorful Ico or Shadow of Colussus, this game rises above the sum of its influences to greet the player with an exciting new experience.

Hob is still in active development and will be released for most major platforms. If a demo becomes available, I encourage you to check it out and experience the wonder of exploration in this lush world. As always, you can hear my thoughts on Hob and other great games on the Plug and Play podcast.