Hob Review — Adventures in Linearity
Hob presents itself as an open-world action adventure game, but quickly becomes a linear experience with a gorgeous art style and repetitive gameplay.
Runic Games’ Hob begins with an enigmatic mechanical golem opening a mysterious vault. Within is the game’s unnamed protagonist who is proclaimed as the savior. As you exit the vault, the landscape is draped with a purple infection that now plagues the world and its inhabitants. After following the golem for a few minutes, your arm is unexpectedly caught by the rot instantly infecting the protagonist to death. Without hesitation, your mechanical friend cuts the arm off putting a halt to the rapidly spreading disease. You then wake in a room with one of the golem’s over-sized arms attached to your being.
The beginning moments of Hob are expertly portrayed — it is emotional, interesting, and effective. However, those factors commence and end in Hob’s first hour. After that single moment, you are sent out to rid the land of the purple rot. That’s it. There are hardly any outside conflicts hindering you from that goal, save for the world’s enemy inhabitants. By the end, exterminating the goo becomes a thoughtless action. The rot’s threatening nature never ramps up almost making it just an obstacle to cross rather than an actual living entity.
Another facet introduced in the opening minutes of the 8 to 10 hour adventure is the open-world you will explore as you fight off the infectious goo. While Hob does boast a map to “freely” explore, many of the passages are blocked by the rot, only to be accessed once you solve the objective at hand. It creates a sense of linearity. With a lack of secondary objectives to fulfill, you are basically going from point A to point B, solving one of many environmental puzzles, and clearing a path leading to the next obstacle. Seeing the land transform into the next play area is a neat touch, but the gimmick gets stale once you’ve seen it ten or more times.
While linearity dominate the majority of the experience, so does an attractive cartoon art style. Similar to Runic Games’ Torchlight series’, Hob possesses an animated look with excellent character designs: the hooded, stone-armed protagonist; the friendly golem; and even the various enemies patrolling the underground dungeons all have a charming aesthetic. The world itself also exemplifies the same gorgeous art style, but is a bit monotonous since the ruins all possess the same type of architecture. The only facet that changes throughout is the grass color and the amount of water flowing through each region.
The other hurdle affecting your progress are the enemies that occupy the many ruins and dungeons in the game. However, they aren’t much of a nuisance. There were only a handful of times where I had to destroy all the enemies in a specific area to move on to the next objective. Ignoring the combative creatures seemed to be the smarter option, considering some of them can kill you in one fell swoop.
If you do find yourself fighting one of the nondescript enemies, combat is hardly strenuous. Once you learn their attack patterns, defeating them is quite simple. Once you have met a particular enemy, their abilities and power never improve even at latter portions of the game. The combat itself lacks depth as you continuously swing at any given opponent only to dodge once you notice the enemy begins their meager onslaught. Some of your opposition may have acquired armor that has to be destroyed before they endure any damage, but those scenarios are frustrating due to their longevity rather than their difficulty.
Upgrading the protagonist can expedite these mindless portions of Hob, but not much. You’ll be able to increase his attack damage with both his sword and arm, access different costumes with varying stats, increase the speed your arm’s charge attack, and more. Additionally, finding weapon parts around the world will boost the damage of each swing.
To do this, you have to spend specific currency that can be found in pillars in the world or by defeating the various enemies scouring the infested land. The pillars may contain other player enhancements as well, but still have to be paid for to apply the upgrade. I found that garnering more abilities for my character, while useful, ultimately applied minimal improvement to my attacks. If you didn’t purchase any enhancements throughout Hob’s entirety, I am certain you can reach the last cut scene without any trouble.
Unlike the game’s asinine combat, the environmental puzzles found within the various ruins throughout your adventure are satisfying. It is during these moments when the game really shines. Each region is a puzzle to solve that are cleverly designed. While I thought they were a tad too easy, I always found joy in saving the mechanical sprites and expelling the toxic goo. However, as you progress through Hob, the puzzles quickly become repetitive as each region hardly presents a new mechanic.
The one glaring issue with Hob is the atrocious frame rate drops by the title’s end. Hob starts out fairly smoothly with some minor hiccups. It would primarily occur when the camera would switch from its isometric angle to something more stylish. However, by the time the credits roll, it feels like you’re playing in slow motion. The last few hours were hard to play not because of the intense gameplay, but due to feeling ill because of the constant frame drops.
There is something about Hob that I really enjoy. I’m not quite sure if it’s the cartoonish art style, clever puzzles, or an amalgamation of the two, but my overall experience was quite pleasant. However, frequent frame rate drops, mindless combat, and its open-world facade hindered my amusement and often relinquished any feeling of consequence while exploring the game’s dangerously portrayed world. Similarly, the unspoken and symbolic mystery that unfolds begins as an interesting tale, but quickly becomes shallow when there are no other factors to create a meaningful and emotional conflict. Hob boasts a lot of promising ideas at the outset, but ultimately fails to fulfill those promises by the game’s end.