I’ve had Hob installed on my PC for months, since last year in fact, and it’s a game I’ve been putting off constantly. It’s been on my list and every time I see the icon on the desktop I think “oh yeah, it’s that game!” but it wasn’t until last night that I decided to have a go at it, perhaps because I couldn’t find more excuses.
Now I wonder why I didn’t do so sooner.
Hob has a simple beginning, just your character stepping into a meadow, meeting a friendly robot and following it, with carefree animals around him. It’s tranquil, and you have complete freedom to explore to the extent of your abilities and because of this I found myself completely relaxed, just enjoying the colourful world in front of me and the experience of jumping and climbing around.
Then disaster strikes and the true game begins, with a short cutscene depicting the robot carrying our injured protagonist.
When Hob resumes, we have new skills and even a brand-new sword, meaning that the relaxation, the zen-like state I had slipped into while playing should’ve disappeared because of the promise of impending violence.
But it didn’t, in fact I haven’t had such as relaxing gaming experience since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles X. It’s the sheer joy of exploration, of finding new things, of discovering the unknown even if there’s some danger around the corner. It didn’t matter how many monsters snarled, growled, pounced or lunged at me, I couldn’t stop smiling. Every pitfall, every failure and respawn I met with laughter and endless humour.
In playing Hob I’ve rediscovered the sheer joy of gaming and the love I have for the adventure genre, especially this genius mix of exploration, puzzling, platforming and combat that we call action-adventure. For the past few weeks I’ve been playing some older games, mostly action oriented, and on the adventure, front only point & click titles, so I’ve been missing that subtle balance I so enjoy.
My exploration led me up and down the world, across chasms, sliding down and climbing stairs, using my trusty and not really sharp-looking sword to clear away bushes and enemies alike as they stood between my little protagonist and the new mystery to uncover.
I crossed from a calm meadow to a barren place where technology and thunderstorms blanket the land. I restored power to pylons, delved deep into underground facilities to restore power and open new paths, including a way back to the gentle meadows. I’ve opened paths to swamps and dense forests, and been to the highest vantage points, to survey the kingdom, below, chuckling at how the Lion King quote, “everything the light touches is our kingdom, Simba” comes to mind.
I’ve been down into ancient ruins, up artificial mountains, confronted the ever-expanding corruptive forces that first injured the protagonist and fought the natives and wild creatures. I’ve also found enhancements in plants, discarded broken down robots and even crumbling parts of ancient blades.
As I’m writing this, I’ve gone down through giant pipes and found complex structures, some bronze, some chrome, others metal and often stone. And through levers, buttons, and boxes dragged, dropped, pushed and pulled, I’ve made new lands spring forth from the bowels of the world or drag others down.
And much like Xenoblade Chronicles X and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I’ve found viewpoints, places in the world meant to be taken in and enjoyed in silence, those places where you have to drop the gamepad or push yourself away from the keyboard, to fully grasp the beauty the developers crafted, the mix of colour, scale, shapes, depth and lighting that bring out a single but powerful expression, “wow!” The Xenoblade series has these in spades, constant reminders that no matter where you are, there is beauty around you if you take care to look for it. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild re-emphasised this, by giving you new sights in a familiar world, one that for the most part has fallen into ruin, with over a century of decay and spreading corruption. Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is broken, a shell of its former self, a place retaken by nature but even so, it’s breathtaking.
Hob does this as well, its world hidden away, dormant at best and in shambles at worst, but with many such points, some of them even cleverly marked, meant for you to step away for a moment, pause in your adventure and just enjoy the sights. Not many would do this, ask you to take a moment to enjoy paradise, but I applaud Runic Games for doing so, because I definitely did!
There’s wonder in every corner, mystery behind every door, truths to find and gentle creatures to pet and hug and I’m enjoying every little moment of it, and I don’t think this feeling is going away any time soon, and should it accompany me all the way towards the end of the experience, then Hob will earn its place among my dearest video games.