After the brilliant Torchlight 2 (and all the creative mods it has gotten), I was unsure if we would ever get a third entry in this franchise. I was happy to know that Runic Games would go away from the world of Torchlight and instead create a new IP in the form of Hob, which seemed to be more of an action-adventure game, with similarities harking back to the 2D The Legend of Zelda-titles for example. While we are getting Torchlight 3 with Max Schaefer on board despite Runic Games’ closure, I believe Hob deserves some recognition as the studio’s final game. After all, I do own it now on Steam, GOG and PS4, so I probably should check out what I actually paid for three times over. Fourth when the Switch-version goes on sale.
Go out and see the world
Waking up on what seems like an old altar hidden away inside old ruins, you play as an unnamed creature, being led by a golem to explore the world. However, you end up getting your arm infected by a devious plant and your golem friend saves you by cutting it off and replacing it with his own. Now with one less limb, the golem asks for your aid in order to restore the rest of the world. This is at least from what I can tell, as events play out shortly with the story lingering on visuals, such as pantomimes and environmental changes. This neglection of any form of voiced dialogue, is a fantastic way to give the world of Hob a sense of mystery, and add lore or theories through the exploration itself, be it collectables or non-interactive items. All have a sense of purpose outside of providing visual eye-candy or upgrades to our protagonist, making you question what has happened to this world.
This is probably the strongest aspect of Hob’s story: the atmosphere and nonverbal dialogues. It creates a world you want to explore, which fits the gameplay perfectly, while also being light on plot if you do not wish to go in depth and instead take in just take in the world as you journey through this world. The story can be as simple as saving the world, or provide strong possible theories such as who those stone-soldiers with a blade in the ground are. However, the minor issue here comes from the inconsistent story-telling, as you will be given minor and bigger events at an uneven rate. This small problem does neglect the mystery when you are not spoonfed consistently with possible theories or directions. It does not damage the overall mystery or atmosphere due to how strong these moments are and how much there is to see within this world, but the progression can definitely become uneven because of this.
Story Score: 8/10
A technically flawed masterpiece
Since your goal is to go out and explore this world in order to save it, Hob is taking on the adventure-genre where traversing the area will be the main focus, with combat added in for some good variety. While such mix with two genres can lead to something inconsistent, it is really well handled here, due to the main-concept of the game; your metallic arm, will provide uses in both categories.
Let’s start with the exploration, as it is the biggest part of the game. Throughout the 8-10 hours campaign, you will always be given a destination, but never a direction on how to get there, forcing you to explore the environment in order to find your way. This is really fitting as the environment is believably designed, and makes you look around for small ledges or platforms to jump on, but never breaks the immersion by highlighting them, demanding a keen eye from the player. In fact, you start off the game with only a simple jump as your main source for traversing, but will get upgrades like a grappling-hook or being able to punch through cracked walls. These are definitely context sensitive moments to an extent, but the visual subtlety makes it more focused on the exploration and finding your way through, rather than being skilful in the mechanics.
Helping to keep your brain occupied as well, are puzzles scattered around the world that you will have to overcome in order to proceed. While they can be simple, they are challenging enough to feel fulfilling, but short enough to let you get a move on quickly. You might get stuck due to uncertainty on where to go, but you should always be able to get further if you just take your time to look. This is further supported by neglecting huge amounts of backtracking thanks to a warp-system and shortcuts, so you are always able to look out for other secrets or routes to take.
Exploration in general is rewarding, which can lead to important items to gather in order to make the protagonist stronger. These come in the form of sword-parts to make your own weapon stronger, green orbs from chests or dead creatures to purchase abilities, butterflies that will be used to purchase rare items, as well as stamina and health pieces to upgrade their respective stats. What is a strange design-choice, is how you gain combat-maneuvers, boost to agility, and even different clothes. In order to do so, you must first find schematics for them and then purchase what you desire. It is not necessarily bad as you will still have to figure out what you want to get or save up for in order to compliment your playstyle, which can add some strategy. However, this is an odd way to not fully reward a player for exploration, and keeping them on the hook because what you find, is always useful.
Especially since this is a dangerous world where you will engage in combat, and there is a healthy amount of opponents to consider. Giants with devastating attacks, small beasts that will leap at you, tribal creatures with spears and shields and more, will force you to always be on your guard. You have at disposal your sword, the metallic hand and a handy dodge-roll, which makes for a simple, but engaging setup. This is helped by many small, but important details, with my personal favourite revolving around the dodge-roll actually. Hob lets you cancel an attack in order to do a dodge-roll, giving you an easier way to play defensively should you be overwhelmed by enemies, which I simply love.
The melee-combat is also great with different attacks provided by your sword and the metallic hand respectively. The sword is used for lighter attacks, while the giant hand is for strong attacks, and both come with gainable abilities, such as a rush-stab to get to enemies position quickly, or a ground pound that knocks enemies away from you. There are also other intriguing upgrades, such as creating a shield, which is a nice way to give some creative diversity. You do have to take into consideration the stamina-bar which will prevent you from overusing the stronger attacks or abilities, which is a nice way to make you fight strategically. Because of all the upgrades, the overhead view and rolling out being prioritised over attack-animations, Hob gives plenty of diversity to the combat, without being hard to take in. You can even toggle between locking on an enemy or attack freely.
Should you bite the dust either from a bottomless pit or a creature destroying you, you will be restored back to life by one of the plentiful save-points, making the game forgiving, even if it can be challenging. I could go on with the wonderful attention to details, like how our character reaches out for ledges if he can jump towards it, or will climb back up again if he runs over one, but there are sadly some problems Hob brings along that hinders it from becoming a masterpiece. First of all, it is glitchy. I often found myself falling down from edges, enemies could be trapped within the scenery, and grappling on obstacles could occur from a much further distance than what it normally does. This is also made worse by the stiff controls, with the jumps having no clear altitude, which makes it uncomfortable.
Then we have the uneven progression, as while you are always on the move and have a detailed map at disposal, what you actually do in an area can vary, from a huge puzzle featuring energising platforms, to a short and linear dungeon-crawl. It gives an uneven variety, instead of mixing what Hob has to offer in a more consistent way. Still, these faults do not break or really hinder the game from being engaging, as the combat and exploration is always fun and enthralling. It is rather what will be blemishes on an otherwise perfect adventure, gameplay-wise. The fact that it has not been patched is a shame, but despite the uneven progression and glitches, Hob gives an adventure that will leave you satisfied and happy.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Yeah, this is an organic metal-world alright
This might be harsh, as Hob features an interesting world where it seems like the organic life has taken over the machines, such as how the robots have moss on them or ruins being filled with wines, while the poisonous and purple plants corrupts this world. The collectables are also presented mystically, such as the mentioned statues of warriors, or the dead metallic creatures you can steal their energy-heart from. I will also give that the aquatic worlds and how every part of it seems to have been created through a machinery, adds to the mystery and creativity in this huge world’s design.
However, what saddens me is the lack of diversity this land has to offer. You will see basically forests and green landscapes, and while it is lovely to see them from high view-points, it can feel like this is almost unfinished. I barely remember a desert and the aquatic area, as the green nature was the most common one. A more diverse ecosystem or more creativity within a thematic season, could have gone a long way. No area showcases a clear civilisation or reason to exist either, leaving you to wonder how this world actually worked or even if the concept of it could have.
That being said, the world still brings on a ton of lovely, strong colours. The characters are also interestingly designed, with beasts being disturbingly corrupted creatures or made out of organic limbs, like the tribals with leafs on their head. While their designs are diverse and fitting to this forest-world, I do find that the strong outlines make all characters not blend in well with the world, since it does not have the same form of detail. It is almost questioning what is cell-shaded, and what is not. The worst is probably the lighting, as it is just lacklustre and still constructions. At least, every character’s animation is good and smooth with nice idle-animations, and the animals roaming around gives a sense of life in this world. I also love how our protagonist reacts differently depending on how you died, such as flinging his sword around after being defeated, or how he seems exhausted after a bunch of deaths.
While Hob does run better on PC, there are some uneven framerates on the PS4-version. It does not break the game, but can be unpleasant and happen inconsistently. The soundtrack is rather solid, with nice use of instruments like flutes, cello and drums to provide a medieval fantasy-setup, with a mix of electronics highlighting the machinery. It is a really neat concept, but the tones are indistinct and not highlighted well, making the soundtrack rather forgettable. I suppose the echo-tone was done to add to the lonely atmosphere, but I do wish more was done to make them memorable. Overall, Hob is on the right track, but could use more diversity in its visuals, and strength in its soundtrack.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Hmm, I might be able to jump here
Exploring this world to your heart’s content is always a joy due to how you are rewarded with every step. New costumes, stronger sword, increasing max HP and MP, or maybe gaining more abilities or insight into this world. The wonderful map is also great at showcasing where you have been and where you should look for more secrets. Although you will not be rewarded for getting everything, it is a great example of how it is about the journey and not the end, as the exploration is fantastic and fun in general. Combine this with the fact that you must have a keen eye and use your powers for diverse purposes, you are in for an engaging treasure hunt.
Extra Score: 9/10
While I do believe it could improve itself with maybe a couple more months of development, Hob provides a journey filled with mysteries, engaging combat, fun exploration and a distinct look. It could use more variety visually, and better technical support and progression, would have been welcoming. However, what is here is great. This game will make you lost in its world, and you will be thankful for this. If you have a Nintendo Switch, Hob is a must-buy for the system as it addresses some noticeable shortcomings of the original releases, such as the framerate and some bugs.