This article is the dramatization of my first impressions of Hob. It is a game that tells a story without dialogue, and frankly, does not need it. The nameless hero is immediately likable, and it was all too easy to try and come up with what ideas were running through their head while they tried to go and fix the world. Here's an attempt to add some inner dialogue, and also explain why this game certainly seems to be a winner. There are some small spoilers in this article, so be warned before reading!
As the ruins were opened up to me, I could see just how beautiful this world once was. Now, it was still beautiful, if just overgrown. As the wall was pulled apart in front of me, I could see into the horizon, to what must have been machines larger than buildings, or grand towers that could look out over this wonderful world. Now, these ruins have become a broken, shattered thing, and one I came here to try and fix.
The way was opened by a golem. A servitor, a machine that could move on its own. It's a miracle that it still worked, so long after this place became covered in grass and rust. Was it waiting for me? That couldn't be possible. Could it? Still, he waited for me on the path, until I followed. It led me to great doors that must have weighed ten times my weight, and opened them with its strong arms. Around us, great courtyards that had turned to grass and moss stretched out in all directions. In the distance, I could see those great structures, the lights long having been turned off. Was it leading me there, on purpose? Or was it just following some ancient programming? I wanted to stay close for protection, and also take it apart to see what made it tick.
This world hints at many treasures, ones I cannot yet get to...not yet, anyway.
I began to wander further from my protector, as I got foolishly bold. The ruins felt so empty, and yet they felt alive. Great plants would swat at me if I got too close. Small animals with flowers for tails darted in and out of tall grass. I found large buttons and indentations meant for the golem's hands, some of which it opened for me so we could move on together, and others, it ignored. I learned so much so quickly, and I found myself hungry to drink it all in. That was where it all went wrong: You see, the Blight was there - a sick, purple mass of corruption that moved and twitched on its own. Great organic spines stick out of the ground where it is amassed, and those spines can easily crush smaller things... if you got too close. I thought I was smart enough to not get too close.
I was petting the tallest animal I had seen yet in the ruins, when I was surprised; small, sharp, tiny tendrils snapping out and piercing through my hand. It started pulling me up, up into that terrible mess that was poison. In my panic, I broke free, but fell to the floor crying out, my body on fire. I could see my hand was bubbling, ballooning out, and for a few terrible moments, I thought of all the wonderous things about this place that I would never learn. Suddenly, the golem, my protector, caught up to where I had run to. I saw a large blade emerge from its hand, and then...blinding pain. Then nothing.
This part of the game was quite obviously the tutorial, and it hooked me immediately. The golem walking in front of your path showed you not so much what to do, but things that your character could become capable of much later in the game. It revealed the world in a way that was linear, but still felt like I was exploring. I wasn't expecting the dramatic moment of losing my arm, even if all the pictures of Hob showed that the main character had a large mechanical fist. It was a moment that, even without backstory or dramatic voice acting, drew me in and made me have an evocative reaction to the game. To say the least, as the title screen appeared soon after, I was ready to really play.
The Gift Of An Arm
I wasn't expecting to wake up, to be honest. I was expecting even less to find myself with a hand that was functional. You could not have not convinced me, in a hundred years, that I would wake to find myself with the hand of a golem. At some point, while death had nearly taken me, the golem had ripped off its own arm. Using technology that I have never seen before, it was able to attach it to the stump of my shoulder. It sealed the wound, and left me able to use it as if it were my own.
I cannot describe the experience of having this... thing as a hand. Sometimes, I forget that it was ever anything else. It is useful, in ways my mortal arm never was. Within minutes, I was able to reach and grab things. Soon enough, I found myself able to drag objects that were far beyond anything I could have imagined to move. This became a lifesaver, as it was obvious that the golem still had plans for me. It wanted me to follow it, deeper, ever deeper into the ruins. The number of new things I experienced in just minutes would take months to write down. One thing that became clear: other golems had once wandered this place, as their 'skeletons', as they were, could be found in corners of tall grass, overgrown. Real skeletons of those that had come before me...I found those too. From both, I salvaged material, and if that makes me a grave robber, so be it - I was not going to fail where they had.
I found myself in amazement as the golem brought me to what apparently was my new home. Had it been saving this place for someone like myself? The large robot handed me chunks of metal, and inside was a forge. I crafted a way to defend myself from what was outside, for I had seen them in the shadows: big mouthed creatures that skulked and hunted. Some had only teeth, while others armed themselves crudely. After a rest, I found my curiosity pushing me back outside. Why was there a place prepared for me here? Why was the golem willing to give up its arm so readily?
I found one of the aforementioned brutes attempting to break through a wall, no doubt attempting to destroy or loot what was shining within. Bracing myself, I fought; perhaps having an arm made of metal and stone gave me courage, but I won. Rushing inside to find what secrets I could before more savages arrived, I found a device far beyond my comprehension. When I attempted to reach inside to find whatever I could, I felt it: my new golem arm, breaking apart, separating. Something new being added, installed, as I heard the wonderous artifact machine work. When I had my hand back - and yes, I already think of it as my hand - it was a little heavier, but I could feel the current within it. The power. I had never experienced anything like it before. As I prepared to move outside, I saw the ancient markings that golems used as buttons, and with some effort and focus, I felt my new arm whirr to life. I was able to press the button as if I were a golem myself. New ways and passages were becoming possible for me to access. Deeper ways into the ruins, and the secrets that lay inside them. I found myself not missing my mortal arm at all.
This part of the game is where you can really see the potential in Hob. The first section was proof that storytelling and mood could be put into this game, and this next section demonstrates the possibility of puzzles and exploration. Between moving about the ledges, opening up new pathways, and finding hidden collectibles (Think pieces of heart from Zelda, but for health and gauntlet energy), I found myself truly just enjoying wandering to fill in the map. Without words or dialogue, I didn't feel as rushed to 'push' the story along. I would get there eventually, but until then, I could enjoy the scenery.
Into the Land of Lightning
Whoever made this place was either a genius, or truly mad.
The land, further west, is scorched and smells the way it does after a thunderstorm. Open currents of electricity spark and run across the ground. Monsters roamed within, wearing thick stone as armor. Corrupted spines quivered and shook. Most of the ways forward were blocked, and much of the machinery seemed to no longer function.
It all made sense through a bit of bad luck: wandering these bizarre ruins made me fall through a hole in the ground. I could see a set of levers across a pit, and after climbing out of where I was, I took a great dare by using my newfound strength in order to break through the floor yet again. I landed next to the levers, and after switching them all on, I climbed out to watch a large cube break apart to show a brightly glowing sphere: a reactor of some kind, turning on the surrounding area’s circuitry. Part of the ruins above me shook, and as I experimented with the controls, I saw them shift and move with great force, opening new ways to me.
I knew now that I could find great wonders underneath the earth, and so I looked for more ways into the depths. As I avoided deadly electricity and savage armored beasts, I found another machine like the one which had improved my inorganic arm. I was rewarded for my bravery with another gift, and one that I never could have imagined before. I powered up my hand as I stood on an odd looking platform, and suddenly I felt myself fly through the air as if I were lightning, bouncing along the ruins. Is this how the makers of this place moved about so quickly? I found myself becoming lost, but again, more ways opened to me. I could reach buttons and controls that had been previously unreachable, and as I found the right combinations, as I moved the right machines and batteries, parts of this place of power shook and shifted. The ground shifted, and some of what had once been underground rose to the surface, while other parts lowered. It was like watching the pieces of a grand puzzle coming together. My touch, my quest for answers was making this place whole again.
I found a great pit in which I could not see the bottom. I realized, in a fit of mad genius, that maybe, maybe because of this miraculous arm, I could be the one that turned the lights back on.
To translate this game into Zelda terminology, this felt like the first ‘dungeon’ of the game. It was so distinctly themed around lightning and power, and the puzzles further introduced them. This section is also where Hob starts to hint at the real greater purpose your character has: making this world come to life. Seeing the lights switch on across all the areas I had previously been was enthralling, and made me want to run back through the starting areas looking for new secrets. I purposefully didn't write out all of the moments in this section which made me say outloud "that is so cool!" because it would have added another page to this article.
Four Hours In, And Already Worth The Price
It’s hard to say how strongly I believe this game is worth your money. The only words I have seen so far were from menus and choosing upgrades, and the only dialogue was a broken down golem pointing the way to my next location. Yet, Hob has sucked me in entirely.
The gorgeously rendered landscapes are a constant treat, as the camera works to give you an amazing sense of depth.
The landscape speaks for itself, as much a character as the avatar you are playing as. The bright green overgrowth gives a sense of beauty and decay, and the mechanical world tempts you to unlock it as you climb around shiny metal structures looking for answers. So many of these vertical bits of landscape shift and move as you press buttons, making the world always feels new. On top of that, the wicked purple and sickly browns of corrupted lands makes you want to avoid that area at all costs, giving a sense of threat that I still haven't discovered the source of. I am so invested in finding out why this corruption exists, and if this story will have me removing it from the world.
The environment feels organic and alive, because of how much you interact with it, and how it can change so drasticly. It has been a long time that I have found something so satisfying; as I turned the power back on, I could see the entire area I had just climbed around on become part of a giant dynamo, and platforms slid together to create something whole. By the time I finished wandering around the land of lightning, it looked wildly different from when I first stepped in. It did not - like so many other adventure games - feel like an area I 'conquered' before moving on to my real goal. Instead, it felt like a place that I had fixed, as part of my quest for answers.
The underground sections of Hob operate as their own seperate puzzles, and solving them rewards you with finding a new area of the map, or offering up a brand new power.
Hob has seduced me into trying to learn all of its secrets. It has sucked me in, making me always want more, crave more, about this mysterious world.
Buy this game; it already is in the running for my favorite game of the year.