In any given puzzle platformer, the first thing I do is explore. Games in this category are not about any particularly heinous challenge, instead they focus on making something wondrous and full for you to live in. On this exploration driven front, Hob is an absolute success. There’s a succulent vibrancy that Runic Games blossoms unexpectedly from a bud of stone machinations and aggressive wildlife. Every place is so rich and colorful. The blend of unbridled flora against pale slate and massive gearworks creates this beautiful mesh of automation and nature. And the world is large, loaded with little pockets of secrets hidden throughout. There’s plenty here to see and experience.
Yet, I can’t offer a hearty recommendation for Hob. Despite wielding a solid aesthetic and a world that unfolds like a paper fortune teller, the game underneath is a hodgepodge of underwhelming mechanics and all too familiar pieces.
Here’s how I would describe this game to my friends: Hob is a modern take on Myst. It’s narrative construction and delivery, as well as the foundation of its gameplay, are eerily similar to Hyper Light Drifter, but also shallow by comparison. The character design and overall feel of the world merges the brutality and soul of Hollow Knight with the whimsy of Journey, but leaves them aqueous instead of making terra firma. The original elements of Hob are completely overshadowed by the legacy it pulls from, and ultimately fails to impress on its own terms.
Funnily that description is notably problematic. I mean, it’s harsh, but also honest, so what exactly makes it a problem?
The answer is bias. I’ve been playing video games for 25 years; you pick up a few things over time, including bias, unfortunately. The problem comes from having a description of Hob that’s based only on other games relatively within its genre, leading me to judge it against countless others instead of through its own merit. But, I do have a good reason for that.
All the games I just compared Hob with, are examples of games within this exploration genre that each bring something noticeably new or distinct to the genre. Hob, by comparison, does little especially noteworthy; the first paragraph covers the bulk of my praise. I enjoyed traveling through Hob, taking in its awesome visual design and basking in its evolving wilds. But, I didn’t enjoy playing Hob. I wasn’t fond of the completely uninspired combat nor the massive upgrade system for said combat, especially since it served almost no narrative purpose. The completely unalterable camera stifled the platforming elements, and occasionally made exploration a frustration rather than an enjoyment. Runic Games tries to deliver a story entirely through gestures and visuals, but forgets that a certain degree of clarity is also required. It also doesn’t help that their story has been proliferated ad nauseum, even within games I mentioned earlier. Their turn of events doesn’t offer anything particularly memorable or strike with any impact. To repeat where I stand: “The original elements of Hob are completely overshadowed by the legacy it pulls from, and ultimately fails to impress on its own terms.”
Hob isn’t terrible, but there are much better titles to occupy its mold. If you want a nearly identical narrative experience with working gameplay, striking visuals and a story that stands out, go play Hyper Light Drifter. If you’re more interested in raw exploration, it’s not too late to jump into Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you don’t want the gameplay to impede the story, both Journey and Abzu offer a huge breadth of travel with spiritual meaning instead of pointless combat. The saddest part is that most of those games are actually cheaper than Hob as well.