Runic Games. They Brought us Torchlight and Torchlight 2. Long before that they were the team known as Blizzard North who were the creators of Diablo and now they've brought us a crafty and quite lovely isometric platformer called - Hob. I played it and If you stick with me I'll tell you about my experience with it.
The Game in a Nutshell
So let's just jump right into this. In Hob, the player is placed in the role of a cool little gender and racially non specific character who is tasked with what amounts to fixing the mysterious and unknown world they inhabit. Our little red hooded hero is awakened by a golem that manages to teach us players how to get around without actually saying anything. There is no written narrative to follow and no dialogue to read so every bit of what is seen is up to personal interpretation. Exploration leads to combat and the acquisition of currency, new skills, character upgrades and little bits of understanding that help player figure out what it is they're doing.
The world in Hob is pretty damn creative. All around are green grasses and trees, bluffs and cliff sides and it all feels very peaceful. Idyllic even. But something's not right. Wall surfaces have buttons with symbols on them and ladders lead to sometimes vast underground caverns filled with switches and moving parts that give even more hints as to what this world is.
Blocks can be dragged into place that turn the power back on in an area that's remained dormant for what seems like must have been ages. Puzzles are encountered and solved with pretty minimal difficulty while still feeling satisfying. Once figured out entire new sections of the world are literally raised to your level and prepped for traversal. In point of fact, verticality is used quite a lot in every area you'll see. The aforementioned ladders are pretty common but there are also teleporter platforms that will shuttle you through areas quickly giving you glimpses of puzzles that yet need solving or buttons that you'll be pushing at some point that will open a shortcut. The world itself is a titanic machine powered by ancient looking circuitry, enormous clockworks and great huge engines and pipes. Lots of jumping, climbing, swimming and punching through weakened walls and dropping blindly into holes in the ground that all tie together in the greater world as a whole make Hob a very enjoyable experience.
Travel between areas can be a pretty long distance and full of hazards and backtracking via more platforming containing the risk of a quick death at every turn. So thankfully there are checkpoints fairly often and occasionally you'll see fast travel locations that once found are linked to others you've already been to. They sort of make you feel like a letter in a vacuum tube.Art direction is pretty clearly Runic's typical style with the vibrant colors and sort of chunky, cartoonish models. In the Torchlight games that felt good because that stylistic approach helped to kind of soften the hard edges and serious tone that the previous generations of isometric ARPG's took. I'm of course talking about Diablo, and before you think I didn't enjoy the serious tones in those games I will clarify that I certainly did. It was just a nice change when a good ARPG came out that also had a lighter mood while still feeling pretty badass. In Hob I also happen to really like that stylisation because it helps the world you're existing in feel a little more alien.
And Then There's Combat...
Early on but after the golem teaches us the basics of the game, it will point us players toward a poignant scene that includes the remnants of a sword. After it's pulled from the ground in a very Link-escent fashion the golem hands off a couple more fragments of sword pieces and sends us into a cave that contains a skill upgrade and outfit area along with a forge where our first weapon is made. A shield is also purchasable almost immediately thereafter and soon you'll be slashing bushes and grass making you think something along the lines of "okay guys, I get it now". Swords can be upgraded when more pieces are found and they serve not only as your primary tool for offence but also as keys to open small caves that contain pictographs explaining lore.
Anyway, soon after your sword is made and equipped you'll start finding bad guys to use it on. Combat itself is fun but mostly shallow. Dodge away from the pointy bit and strike when there's an opening, seems to be the major theme. A few enemies take a little extra strategy needing first to be softened up with separate skills but they don't seem to ever be super hard to manage. That said though, this isn't really a game about combat. This is a game about adventure, puzzle solving and exploring while interpreting a story as you go. Combat is just there to add a little excitement and extra challenge.
Also as a side note, it appears that I took exactly zero screenshots from any confrontation I was involved in. So yeah, I don't have any in this article, sorry. If you're interested in seeing some fighting though, head over for a quick look-see at the LP channel on the ol' Youtubes. Lord knows we could use the traffic.
Sound and Music
I have to say I really enjoy the sound that rushing through shoulder high weeds makes. It's a crisp, satisfying light whoosh that's oh so pleasant to the ear. Footsteps have a bit of a "clop" to them like an unshoed horse on pavement. Combat sounds are fairly typical sword swinging noises and thuds while blocking. Jumps and rolls have a nice rustle or gravelly intonation depending on the surface. And the music is so tranquil. Matt Uelmen, the same guy who composed the beautiful music for the first Diablo among other titles including World of Warcraft and of course the Torchlight games does the composition here as well. As is so common these days the soundtrack is also included in the purchase of the game so you can listen to it separately.
Control and Options
Well I've eluded enough to most aspects of the game play but I figure it's worth talking about controls and options as well. Obviously, with this being a 3D platformer there is a high recommendation for the use of a controller. Luckily Hob supports Xbox 360 / One controllers as well as Playstation 4 game pads so chances are you've probably already got something that will work. The transition between controller and mouse & keyboard is seamless and can be done on the fly. You guys probably know from other reviews I've done that I prefer a mouse and keyboard over a controller for pretty much everything. Hob is sort of an exception. Not that the mouse, keyboard combo doesn't work mind you but with the 3D space it just feels better to have that analogue stick to control accuracy a bit better for landing on weird angles and not falling in a deadly bramble bush.
The options screen itself isn't that comprehensive. Switching control modes is easy and there are a few audio options etc but most of your game settings are going to be chosen in the launcher that pops up before Hob starts. Pretty typical there as your choices are in drop-down menus that include the standard presets and custom options for just about everything you need.
Hob has some pretty dang low system requirements and that could have a guy fooled into thinking that this game will be glass smooth all the time. Sadly the system requirements shown below the conclusion here are only the minimum specs. Now most of the time this title ran very well, but occasionally when there was a big pan out from the camera I would see huge frame drops. I'm talking like frame rates in the 40's. Is that a huge issue? Not really. The pacing isn't super fast so even with drops like that it always felt playable. But --There's no reason this game should run like that on modern hardware. I'd certainly like to see an optimisation patch come through.
Yeah this is a short one as far as my reviews are normally concerned but with no written story or character backgrounds and dialogue to follow it's hard to remark in great detail just how this game unfolds. Hob is charming and full of beautifully created vistas and puzzles that lead to equally beautiful payoffs. I couldn't help but smile while I played, it just has that effect on me. So I guess that answers the obligatory question of; Would I recommend Hob...? Yes I certainly would. It's not expensive at just $20 and it's worth about 12 to 15 hours of really enjoyable play time. Not to mention Runic are pretty good developers and I feel like that should be rewarded. There's nothing resembling loot boxes and that kind of utter garbage in any of their games, even if that list is only three titles long to this point. If you're in the mood for a good 3D platformer with some great art and a nice Matt Uelmen soundtrack I highly suggest picking this one up. It's an absolute pleasure to play.
System Requirements for Hob are as Follows:
- OS: Windows 7 SP1 / 8.1 / 10
- Processor: i3 Sandy Bridge Dual Core or Equivalent
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: 2GB of VRAM; NVIDIA GeForce GTX 500 Series / AMD Radeon HD 7000 Series
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 5 GB available space
- Additional Notes: Controller recommended.