Review

The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow Review - I dig it

A standard week in England

Kieron West

Review by Kieron West

Published on Mon Mar 25 2024

The title alone raises several questions. What is a Barrow? Who, or what, is Hob? More importantly, where's my shovel? The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is a game about unravelling mysteries, set in the most terrifying place on Earth: Rural England.

Mild spoilers ahead!

I first played Hob’s Barrow in 2022, soon after its release. Replaying it for NiceGameHints’ very first review was an exciting prospect; other games have come and gone in that time, but remarkably, the story beats and characters of Cloak and Dagger Games’ point-and-click horror mystery were still fresh in my mind - a testament to their quality.

If a story is only as good as its setting, then it doesn't get much better than Bewlay. You'll never feel 100% safe - totally unsettled one minute, utterly charmed the next, with an atmosphere so thick you can practically taste it.

Our protagonist is Thomasina Bateman, portrayed wonderfully by Samantha Béart who went on to voice Karlach in Baldur's Gate 3. Bewlay’s residents keep tight-lipped at first, but the intrepid barrow-digger (an archaeologist specialising in old tombs, basically) has the people skills and inventory space to find out what they're hiding.

Beyond the glory that apparently comes with grave robbing, the trip to Bewlay is an emotional one. Thomasina’s dear old dad once tried to open Hob’s Barrow, and finding out how it led to a decades-long coma is just one more secret that you need to pry out of the locals.

The people you meet are just as wonderful as their village, of course. The care put into their accents and decor might be lost on non-English players, but as someone who grew up in a small English town, I can't overstate how wonderful the attention to detail is. The voice actors all do a tremendous job, with each character providing several lines to really enhance the immersion.

I've seen some players complain about player agency, citing a lack of meaningful choices or multiple endings. To me, Hob's Barrow is a story about closure, and the lengths we would go to get it. Thomasina’s journey is one into the unknown - we all yell at horror movie characters to not open that door, but when my barrow-digger wanted to see that tomb unearthed, I did too - and we both had to face the consequences.

If a game is only as good as its puzzles, then it's worth mentioning that Hob's Barrow didn't provide any major challenges. I spent more time thinking about the eeriness of the moors and appreciating the stellar pixel art than scratching my head in confusion.

That's not necessarily a bad thing; having several easy puzzles back-to-back gives them a satisfying domino effect as you find out how each item can be used, but it's a shame that the game's most interesting puzzles are right at the end.

Some criticism can also be levied at the puzzles’ pacing - the game spreads its early puzzles out nicely over a three-day structure, but the climax has nine puzzles, back-to-back, in very similar-looking rooms. The game ends on a fairly satisfying note, but after such a strong build up, the stumble at the end was a little disappointing.

The puzzles are sensible, though, for lack of a better word. One “a-ha” moment came from combining sticky sap and animal hair to repair a fiddle bow - you're rewarded, not just for exploring, but employing creative-yet-realistic solutions. It's an approach that I truly loved.

Overall, I feel compelled to recommend Hob's Barrow to anyone who will listen; it's often on sale and there's a lot to love for point-and-click veterans and newbies alike. Best of all? You can use our hints to get you through the puzzles without any spoilers ruining your fun

Puzzle Difficulty

Serviceable

Puzzle Satisfaction

“Nice, more story!”

Story

Gripping

Overall

Highly Recommended

About the author
Kieron West
Kieron West

Kieron has written video game guides since 2018. As a game designer and completionist, he understands video games on their deepest levels and loves helping others see everything that games have to offer. He even makes games of his own under the name WestyDesign.

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