It is my (not so) humble opinion that Runic Games made a better “Diablo” than even Blizzard could muster with their last entry in their own franchise. Making a dungeon crawler seems simple on paper, but it is actually incredibly difficult to keep things varied and interesting enough for players to remain engaged as they explore your dungeons, something both Torchlight games managed to do so in spades. I was curious to see what Runic would be showing at PAX this year, as the only inkling I had was from the e-mail inviting us to stop by their booth and a very vague reveal trailer to match. What we found upon arrival was Hob, an adventure game set in a very unique bio-mechanical world, and a dramatic departure for the studio that brought you Torchlight.
The demo available to us was a fairly early build programmed specifically for the show, but I was immediately surprised by how polished and complete the experience felt. The game puts you in the shoes of a character wearing red robes and a gigantic glove. At its core, Hob is an adventure game in the same style as Zelda, meaning when you pick up the controller, it feels immediately familiar in the way it plays. Familiar or not, there’s still plenty of challenges to be had even in the short time I had with the title.
Hob takes full advantage of its gorgeous vistas, which players might mistake for simple eye candy initially. A big part of the game involves changing its bio-mechanical world in order to solve puzzles. Activating a switch, defeating an enemy or solving a puzzle will frequently change the layout of the world so that you can advance. Like many games of its type, new areas open up as the player finds new abilities. Hob shows you where you want to go, then it is up to the player to figure out the way, navigating puzzles and combat in the process. While the demo shown at PAX featured a relatively restricted area, Hob will feel very much like an open world, and exploration will be emphasized as a means of improving your character and progressing in the game.
Hob has no text. There is no exposition, no dialogue, and a distinct lack of in game instructions. Controls are revealed solely by graphical queues and indications that appear on-screen. The game and its universe do have a story to match, but it’s one that will unfold in a way similar to Journey, that is to say through action and the world at large rather than through dialogue. While most adventure games tend to focus heavily on story, Runic is making an interesting choice by allowing Hob’s story to take a back seat to the game play, and letting the players get as involved as they choose to with it.
I was impressed by how tight and intuitive the game’s controls were. While it is true that the action game formula is somewhat familiar, it still felt like the game required an impressively minuscule amount of time to get used to. Combat itself is a fairly simple affair, but can also be strategic. Dodging, blocking, and using your abilities are all necessary to survive and prove victorious over your enemis, giving Hob’s action segments a much needed sense of strategy. Similar to Zelda, the boss fight shown at the end of the demo is less about hacking away at the opponent and more about figuring how to best to take advantage of one of your newly acquired skills.
Adventure games like Hob are something of a rarity due to the large amount of work and thought that has to go into them. The brief time I was able to spend with the game was more than enough to impress me. Runic has managed to put together a title that is engaging, intuitive, and has great gameplay in both the combat and the exploration segments. Hob is currently confirmed for PC and some consoles though there are still not specifics as to which ones just yet. There is also no release date, but trust me, I will be keeping an eye out for it. Of all the games I saw at the show, Runic’s new adventure feels like the one most worth waiting for.