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Hob Preview: Going Back Underground

It was time again to see Hob, the newest title from Runic Games, makers of some of, if not the best Diablo inspired titles, Torchlight and Torchlight 2. Hob was a treat to see last year, and this time at PAX East I got to sit down with a much fuller picture of what Runic looks to make with this new title. Suffice to say, it has A Link to the Past vibes in a way that has me very excited.

To set it up, Hob is a top down adventure game, like you would see from Zelda, with the same ideas in place there: solve puzzles, finish dungeons, explore the world. The difference is approach. Hob has platforming, jumping, and other abilities that give its top-down world a lot more depth than something you’d see in other A Link to the Past-inspired games like a Hyper Light Drifter. This game is very much 3D, even if it contains that same charming perspective.

I was told that what I had seen last year, a bit of general exploration both above ground and belowground, was more of a vertical slice. What I got to see this past weekend was right out of the game, and I even got to pull out to the map and see the overworld, which limits the areas you have yet to explore as just mostly fog. What was cool to see here, as Allen pointed out to me (the person giving me the demo), parts of the overworld would be missing from that same map until you explore the underground areas of the world and lift them back into existence.

The world of Hob is mechanical and traditional in the same way the automatons of Dwemer lore are in The Elder Scrolls. Giant and massive gears intricately lay everything together, making every machine interconnected not only with each other, but the world itself. You, your character, has a glove in place of their arm that serves as what appears to be the magic key to all of this. Running around the brief overworld area I saw at the beginning of the demo, the powers of that glove would let me drag around huge mechanisms, punch massive switches with its extreme strength for temporary platforms, and also release enormous locks that could get me closer to my dungeon destination. Everything is intricate in its design, but also in its connection to your character.

Above all else, before I dive too much into what exploring the dungeon was like, the game was genuinely fun. It felt exploratory in the same way you would want a Zelda-like to be, but to reduce it to that is reductive. Hob felt stylish, and had the thick inked lines and color scheme you would want from Runic’s next game. With just a sword in hand, and fist in… well, fist, fighting enemies felt full of some possibilities, and there was potential for a little hack ‘n slash comboing that you don’t see covered in this kind of game always. The platforming was a little odd, driven mostly by my ability to jump what seemed like much farther than it looked, making the jumps I saw feel impossible, but really weren’t at all. The game felt sound, and was even better controlling than what I saw last year.

But delving into the dungeon was the main thrust of the demo. After solving some overworld contraptions, a massive elevator took me down to beneath. Like I said early, the level design here was exemplified by the clear overworld areas I could see down below that had yet to be raised into the world. Traversing around using my once dash ability as now a sort of teleportation technique on special panels, the underground was a massive and sprawling fortress of machines. Some automatons were moving around of their own volition and would spring to help me if something blocked my progress forward to the next switch to press, next panel to activate. It all leaves a ton of questions open for the narrative that’s going on through the background here.

The demo ended with me collecting a special key in the dungeon beneath, raising some segments of platforms up to the above ground. When returning above, the key fit perfectly in a platform that then raised the remaining mystery below to right in front of me, and of course the demo had to end there before venturing forth could be let to me.

But Hob is shaping up to be fantastic. The demo spoke to me quite a bit as a massive fan of A Link to the Past, and it’s slated to come out sometime this year.

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Author: Alex O'Neill View all posts by
Alex is the Editor-in-Chief, overlord, and overall master of Irrational Passions. He loves Zelda, Persona 4 Golden is his favorite game ever, and he is going to write for IGN.com some day.