My first encounter with Hob was at PAX West 2015 and I was enchanted from that first moment. The artwork and how every ability in game seemed to be used in both mundane and creative ways was really intriguing. If I hadn’t been convinced by my hour with the game the constant full line at the booth would have also convinced me this was a game worth keeping an eye on. People not only had fun watching other people play but were enthralled when they got to play and often came back multiple times. Two years later Hob has been released and though the game has clearly changed from what Runic planned back in 2015, it’s still enchanting and fun. This is our Hob review.
One of the first things I noticed about Hob is though there is a tutorial in the beginning it is barebones. For the most part I was left to figure out not only the story but also everything I could do in it. Likewise, the UI is also sparse which really helped to let me enjoy the scenery and creatures I found without the distraction of a UI constantly being on screen. There is a setting to have the health bar and energy bar display all the time, not just in combat, but for the most part it’s not needed. Anytime I wasn’t at full health or energy the bars would be displayed even if I wasn’t in combat. Both choices, to have a minimal UI and to have a very basic tutorial, worked together to let me focus on the actual game and really experience everything.
Initially I was following a seemingly benevolent robot who was indicating to me when it needed me to do something or if I needed to go somewhere. Within the first few minutes of playing I discovered this beautiful world had some sort of malevolent infection which was growing and actively trying to take over everything. This infection is the main protagonist of Hob and the goal is to clear everywhere of it and it’s first introduction really made me feel the threat of this stuff.
Once the tutorial was cleared the world map opened, though I could only see a small area at first. In addition to what was shown on the map there were sprawling underground areas. At first, I was frustrated these areas aren’t on the map but it wasn’t a huge barrier. The world map is of limited usefulness which helps to reinforce the need to look around my surrounds to figure out what to do instead of constantly looking at the map. If the map had been super detailed it would have made figuring everything out simple. The role of the map in Hob really to serve as a general guide give relative directionality more than specific guidance.
Another aspect of the world map I didn’t notice at first was the various collectables only show on the map if I had cleared that area of the map but hadn’t collected them. At one point, I was revisiting an area looking for something else when I realized I hadn’t gotten a heart I thought I had. Once I picked it up the heart icon disappeared from the map. Doing it this way makes sense because there are a lot of things to collect in Hob and the useless if everything was always marked. However, there are also other things to find which aren’t shown on the map at all.
New skills for my mechanical arm and increased fighting ability were bought in the forge area, which was sort of like a home base. The currency for these were green balls of light which I picked up after defeating enemies or could be released from special rock formations. I did a lot of extra exploration, due to an overabundance of curiosity, and as I result I didn’t have much of an issue with having enough skill points. Of course, I couldn’t buy everything right away and had to often choose which skills I wanted the most but I nearly always could buy 2 – 3 skills whenever I returned to the forge.
Combat wasn’t challenging once I learned the various animations and attack patterns to watch out for. There was a shield skill which could be unlocked and did work well, but I tended to dodge attacks more than use the shield just as a matter of personal preference. One of my favorite tactics was to kite enemies close to each other and right before they did big attacks I would dodge out of the way. The result of which would be they’d deal a bunch of damage to each other. Creative use of environmental hazards also helped on some particularly difficult fights. Hob comes with an easy, medium, hard, and very hard mode so anyone should be able to find a difficulty they’d be happy with.
As I ran around I noticed these metal tube-like structures popping up when I went by. These were checkpoints and served as where I would respawn after dying. Only one checkpoint could be active at a time and all I had to do was walk near one to activate it, even if I was backtracking through an area. Luckily Hob saves every time a collectable is collected, an important thing is unlocked, or any upgrades are made. This helps to minimize the impact of dying and reduces the amount of repetition needed to progress.
In most games, not being able to freely turn the camera is a huge annoyance and it was occasionally annoying here too but for the most part it’s an integral part of the game. Controlling where I could see would have changed how I went about figuring out various puzzles and some of the tricky jumps would have been much easier if I could have moved the view to how I wanted it. There were also a few spots where the camera would rotate in the middle of navigating an area and not taking that rotation into account meant I was a puddle on the ground.
One of the main tasks of Hob was reactivating the machinery. Most of the puzzles involved getting to some lever or pulling on a switch to make something activate and often the activation would drastically affect the landscape. Various areas would raise up while others would lower and sometimes things would even move closer or further away. It was not unusual for the way forward to be off in a random direction which seemed to have nothing at all to do with the immediate task at hand. Despite there being very often only one way to move forward this complex interlocking of systems helped to make everything feel as if it wasn’t linear. It also helped to reinforce the idea all exploration was worthwhile and in the long run helps Hob to not feel repetitive. Even retracing my steps in previous areas was often interesting because things had changed just enough for it to feel different while I could still recognize the areas I had previously been in.
Hob is a testament to what can be achieved with incredible amounts of attention to detail. There’s animations for everything. If I got just a bit too close to a vine but not close enough for it to whack me I could see it twitching in anticipation. I even saw enemies celebrating after the successfully killed me. The sweeping vistas I encountered not only showed my where I needed to go but also showed the clear details of how everything I was doing was changing the landscape. The sound design was likewise attentive and beautifully done. The music changed and shifted with the landscape and would often give clues to what was ahead. Sound effects were also tied in with the music beautifully and often seamlessly. Even details as small as the different sounds footfalls made depending on what surface I was walking on were attended to.
These fantastic details might have been a contributing factor to my one real grievance with Hob; there’s significant fps and sound stuttering from time to time. On the upside neither of these things made the game unplayable or even killed me at all (all my deaths were completely my fault) but it occurred enough to detract from the overall experience. If things go the way they normally do in game development I’ve sure there will be patches and updates quickly to fix these issues. It’s just unfortunately currently an issue which perhaps stands out so starkly because everything else is done so well.
Overall Hob is a fantastic game and just be on a play list for anyone who enjoys puzzle platformers and wouldn’t mind some light RPG elements thrown in. The story is told organically and beautifully through gameplay and has some of the best sound design I’ve seen in a game.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.