Hob Gameplay Preview: Runic's Sundered World | PAX

By Published March 12, 2017 at 9:16 am
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The march toward completion continues for Hob, the latest offering from Runic games. Hob is also the first title from Runic since founder Travis Baldree left to form Double Damage Games, following the wild success of the Torchlight dungeon crawler. It's hardly surprising, then, that Hob takes a sharp change in direction from the franchise Runic had previously built. Where the prior series had been a Diablo-esque hack’n’slash dungeon crawler, Hob is moves to focus on world exploration and puzzle solving, using both as a means for storytelling. Adventure is the focal point, here, although some dungeon crawling does remain.

Hob drives a point of world-building in a very literal way. The world of Hob is a striking blend of natural wilds and harsh mechanical creations. In the above realms, you'll find wild animals such as the effable “duckdeer” and overgrown (and aggressive) vines and thorns. This is dotted with mechanical creations, and is where our as-yet-and-to-remain untitled hero comes in. The player leads the hero through both the organic overworld and the metallic underworld to restore both to working order. As we manipulate ancient devices above and below ground, machines come online, and piece by piece the bits of natural world below ground are brought up to complete the natural world above. There’s a slow, methodical transition as organic and metal merge.

The demo stage at PAX East displayed all of the stylized sequences. In the background of a vast and voluminous cave, a small patch of woodland is mechanically erupted up and out of the underground, gears turning to do so. Upon returning to the above-ground, we find that piece has connected land above allowing us to progress to a new area.

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The gameplay of Hob is straightforward and brings to mind the games of a prior generation of action-adventure titles. You can jump, sprint, roll, teleport, and slash your way through enemies, but you'll need the hero’s heavy left gauntlet to get through puzzles and help deliver special attacks. We’ve seen in previous updates that the gauntlet has a grappling hook function, allowing an even greater ability to explore the world. From our demo, combat is far between and not so much the focus, but like a good DnD session, it’s sprinkled in to get the blood flowing. The point of the demo at PAX East was on exploration and puzzle solving, serving as a means to expose us to the visuals of the world.

Perhaps what makes Hob so immersive is how little it communicates to the player directly. As has already been well-documented, Hob has no dialog. The main character doesn’t speak, nor does anyone (or thing) speak to them. Further, the game doesn’t have any signs or markers or waypoints or journal entries. Instead, the real drive to continue the game is simple curiosity: the need to see more of the world, to see where paths go, and, when necessary, to make your own. The developers have some tricks to help guide the player and to give some visual foreshadowing -- for instance, the specific flight path of certain birds or the way the camera pans when entering an area. But at no point during the demo did the game bash the player over the head with what they were supposed to be doing. Instead, Hob presents you with an area and leaves you to your own machinations to determine where to go and how to proceed. That’s not to say Hob is open world or nonlinear, but in our meeting, Runic COO Allen Fong noted how interesting it was to see all the different approaches players had to the same area.

Hob doesn’t have a release price or date yet, but Runic said it will release this year. If you’ve got an itch for world-building and exploration, Hob has the ointment. The game will release simultaneously on PS4 and PC.

- Keegan Gallick

Last modified on March 12, 2017 at 9:16 am

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