Hob Preview: Shifty Explorer
Kalvin Martinez / Sep 13th, 2016 No Comments
When a developer tries to branch out and do something different it can work out poorly. This is doubly true when the developer has become known for a particular type of game or style. Backlash can be expected from fans who only want the same experience with new variables.
Runic Games made a name for itself with the popular and well regarded strong>Torchlight series. Its newest game, Hob, is a departure from those roots. Instead of a game full of randomized elements, everything in Hob is planned out and handcrafted to deliver a Metroidvania-styled adventure.
Hob tells a wordless story within a constantly shifting world. The player is invited to explore and discover secrets, while defining and adding meaning to the story. The game is comprised of a complex overworld and challenging dungeons presented with a gorgeous cel shaded art style bursting with personality.
Hob wakes up on a strange alien planet without any context of where it is or how it got there. It must explore this bizarre world full of unique wildlife and hostile alien tribal people.
As Hob moves through the alien world it comes into contact with puzzling structures and locked gates. Paying attention to the layout of the environment is vital to opening paths in Hob.
The overworld is full of structures Hob can climb and traverse to reach triggers that open up locked paths. Mastering climbing is important because it will open up new areas, but also help you find and reach secret paths.
Secrets are hidden across the world, waiting for players to use their skills and Hob’s abilities to discover them. Quirky little creatures called sprites wander around the overworld. Make sure to track them down because they will often have a hint to help you out, or may be pointing out a secret.
The Metroidvania aspect of the overworld isn’t solely about opening up new areas as Hob gains new abilities and powers. Players will also be able to manipulate the environment to open up new paths. Engaging with the world is as important to progression as gaining new abilities.
One of the largest ways players will interact with the world is by shifting the environment itself. In one of the more eye catching aspects of the game, Hob can trigger the environment to transform in an instant.
Like a jigsaw or diorama, new portions of the world will pop up opening up new paths allowing Hob to continue on its journey. A cool aspect of these shifts is when the environment pops up; you catch a glimpse of more happening beneath the surface, hinting at the verticality you will explore in the game. Don’t worry, you’ll go deeper within the world over the course of the game.
The overworld isn’t simply about platforming feats or tracking down secrets. Usually harmless alien wildlife roams the land, simply trying to live our their existence. Yet it is fun to bash in their faces with Hob’s gauntlet and watch them explode into a glorious bit of cel shaded gore. Careful, though, because some of the wildlife is extremely dangerous like the alien giraffe kills you in one hit.
There are also enemies in the form of alien tribal people. One particularly nasty tribesperson throws bomb slugs which can quickly whittle down your health if you focus on them. It’s best to try and take out the bomber first. If you’re not going for the kill when squaring off, he’ll smash bomb slugs against your head for heavy damage or grant you instant death with a kamikaze attack.
Within the overworld there are save points spread around. Saving creates a check point, naturally. If you don’t diligently save then you’ll have to start over from an early save point. The save points create an old school difficulty while maintaining a modern sense of fairness.
Dungeons, They’re Tricky
What good would Hob’s dazzling sword skills and fearsome gauntlet strikes be without dungeons to explore? Truthfully, it’d be a wasted opportunity but lucky for us, Hob is full of dungeons to explore.
Much like the overworld, dungeons can shift and change to open up new paths. They are also full of many different paths that will put Hob’s platforming skills to the test.
In the demo dungeon, Hob gains a new ability allowing it to perform a teleport-like speed dash. This skill is necessary to solve later puzzles within the dungeon that involve speeding across teleportation pads. This skill also opens up new paths to explore.
Hob’s main goal within the dungeon is to restart a massive generator. Along the way, Hob finds many closed off paths it needs to open up by shifting the environment and utilizing the new dash skill.
The dungeon really highlights the combat in the game by giving Hob two radically different types of enemies to fight. One of the major nuisances Hob faces in its journey is robotic guardians. These guys are tough. Besting them requires Hob to focus as much on delivering damage as avoiding their powerful strikes.
Evasion is important so using Hob’s dodge roll and new speed dash is vital to surviving these fights. The robot guards are able to spin around to knock Hob back but can also damage each other. If you play your cards right, one robot guardian will knock the other off a ledge. Or, if you’re smart, you can knock one off a ledge with a charged gauntlet strike.
The other enemy you come across is a lightning mage similar to the overworld alien tribal people. The mage teleports between three different electric pylons placed around an area. Upon teleporting it drops powerful electric orbs.
It also summons lightning bugs that can chew you up. A cool trick with these little critters is that Hob can teleport right through them to deal damage.
If you try and beat on the mage with gauntlet attacks, it just keeps teleporting, dropping orbs, and summoning bugs. It quickly becomes obvious brute force won’t get the job done. While they won’t work on the mage, a few charged gauntlet strikes can make quick work of the pylons.
Once the pylons are destroyed, the mage becomes vulnerable to physical attacks and Hob can slice and smash him to bits. Not every battle in Hob will be about overt combat prowess; sometimes using the environment will be necessary to overcome an enemy.
Solving all the puzzles in the dungeon and restarting the generator brings Hob to a new portion of the overworld. Like any good Metroidvania, this sparks players’ imaginations on what new places there are to discover and what new powers await to enhance exploration.
The goal of any demo is to whet your appetite and leave you wanting more. More so than any specific promise of what quality the final game will deliver. A demo has to make you jones for your next fix of the game.
Hob’s demo met and exceeded that expectation. When Hob exited the dungeon and returned to the chaotic overworld and the demo ended, it felt like someone told me a loved one died. I was crushed that I couldn’t continue exploring and finding all the secrets hidden within the game.
If Hob hasn’t been on your radar by now then it definitely should be. 2017 can’t come soon enough.
tags: Hob , preview , ps4 , runic games , torchlight , torchlight II