‘Visual storytelling’ is one of those catchphrases that gets thrown around a lot by game developers seeking to push their product as the best thing since The Last of Us in terms of narrative design (ironic, as that game was as straightforward as they come). Many games nowadays seem to aspire to the likes of Shadow of the Colossus and Journey, titles that presented us with a beautiful world and trusted the player to be smart enough to piece it all together. It was made clear to me in my hands-on with Hob at PAX East that this is the goal of Runic Games, and while I don’t want to declare the title a masterpiece quite yet, as a fan of the above games this one definitely has me excited.
Allen Fong of Runic Games described to me how they were seeking to present to gamers a “broken world”, an interesting bit of wording as I found the environment to not be so much natural as mechanical. Every platform seemed to bend, twist, rise, or fall in some way, and occasional vantage points will cause the camera to zoom out and give you a good view of how interconnected it all is. As I moved about the avatar, an interesting fellow with a hunch and a giant stone hand, puzzles felt intuitive because of how well both the level and art design highlighted the next objective. Of course, I say ‘avatar’ because Allen was a bit hesitant to talk about who or what it is exactly.
But the mystery, a tactic which can sometimes come off as lazy and annoying, works well here due to the wonderful aesthetic at play. A lot of the world is built of stone and metal, but feels dilapidated with areas being overgrown with trees and vegetation. This is not to mention the ominous purple creep that grows about the place from which dangerous tentacles came forth to attack me, as well as a bunch of hostile monsters. Enemy design was spot on, as aspects I thought were purely cosmetic ended up being integral to certain encounters. As I strafed about with shield and sword, I found that in order to deal damage to him, a particular foe’s armor actually had to be stripped off with a tethering ability previously used for platforming. The small blue dots on the greaves were subtle, but it clicked after a long section beforehand in which I had to swing from very large and obvious ones.
If Runic Games set out to create a unique world with Hob, it looks like they succeeded. Time was short and I had to make sure to reach the end, but my first instinct was never to move straight to the obvious platform or scalable wall of bricks. Instead, it was to explore the nooks and crannies and accidentally fall of cliffs trying to test limits and find secrets. They also happened to make a game that plays well, which some might suggest is fairly important as well. The question is will it also tell a good story with that world, and the only answer is that time will tell.
Hob is set to release on PC and Playstation 4. An exact release date is unknown.