by GEOFFREY CARLISLE JR.
From “Pokémon with guns” to conversations about veganism, “Palworld” has heard it all, but does the early access game come too close to replicating the ideas and designs of its predecessors, and is it actually enjoyable to play a game that is still undergoing development?
“Palworld” is an inspired game, as it derives a lot of its content from what previous games have done well in the open-world, survival craft game genre; a genre founded and defined by games like “Rust” and “Valheim.” Additionally, in a 2021 interview by The Gamer, CEO of Pocketpair Takuro Mizobe said that “Palworld” is based on the game “Ark: Survival Evolved,” which is another game within the same genre.
The core gameplay loop revolves around catching the tamable, fluffy “Pals” in Poké-Ball-esque palspheres, enlisting them to work at your base and bringing them out in the field with you. Pals are modes of transport, construction assistants and friends in battle, but past that they’re limited—or reduced to a meal for additional XP to get to the next level. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about running around with a ripoff Pikachu-Totoro hybrid following you wherever you go.
From struggling to cook over a campfire to cheffin’ it up in a pot, the player receives technology points in the game, which allows them to upgrade their storage and unlock new weapons that equip them to capture higher-level Pals.
The game has garnered a large following from the community since its Jan. 19 release, and it recently reached 19 million total downloads and sales, according to Arts Technica. “Palworld” also holds the second place spot for highest peak concurrent players at 2.1 million on Steam.
But popularity doesn’t come without a price, as “Palworld” has faced many accusations because of players being allowed to slaughter and eat the Pals. According to Insider Gaming, PETA Vice President of Programmes Elias Allen said that players wanted an alternative vegan version of the game in which the Pals are not harmed. However, players are capable of following a vegan diet in the game already, as the choice to consume their pals is optional—though eating them gives you more XP.
“Palworld” has also been in the crosshairs of Pokémon fans who claim that many of the character models for Pals have been stolen straight from their favorite Game Freak games.
Despite criticism based on the games’ similarities, I thought, ‘the game must be doing something right to obtain its massive success.’ But after starting the game, it doesn’t seem so. The issues within the game may be due to its incomplete nature, as gamers are playing early access, but the bugs are hard to miss—and even harder to watch.
The game’s open-world map is massive, featuring 15 regions and Pals of different abilities. However, the towns and bandit camps on the map leave much to be desired, even for an early-access game.
The small towns are occupied by three to five NPCs—non-player characters—like guards, merchants and villagers. Seemingly thrown into the environments without any consideration of their dialogue, their conversations feel empty and barren with no life to them, and the story and dialogue are abysmal.
Unfortunately, the interaction with bandit camps is even worse. To me, the camps seem to be the most incomplete element of the game. They are full of human enemies that are often extremely weak, which does not scale well with the player’s level and progression. The rewards you can earn are also extremely limited, as the player’s reward consists of what the bandits dropped and whatever Pals you catch after freeing them from their imprisonment in the camp.
Furthermore, for those who look for practical and believable animations in a game, this may not be the game for you. While the game is aesthetically pleasing, the sense of reality—or even just a knowledge of physics and how mass functions—seems to be an optional feature of this game, which is entertaining, but not when it detriments your gameplay.
But the glitches, faults and other permeating issues in the game are hopefully not long-lived, for the feedback on these early access games gives developers useful and relevant information to create a more polished finished product.
The game has its flaws but it’s addictive; there is something about it that I haven’t been able to put my finger on that keeps me coming back.
Overall, the game takes a kitchen sink approach where it throws together a bunch of elements from similar games and puts it on a plate; the game is a full meal, but an unfinished one. “Palworld” lacks character and a sense of identity, for there is no lore, no story and the visual style between Pals themselves is sometimes inconsistent within the game. Finally, what little world-building there is feels like an afterthought or a bunch of puzzle pieces that are next to each other but not connected.
All things considered, I would give “Palworld” a rating of 7.5/10.
The “Palworld” game preview is available through Xbox Game Pass on Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and it is available for early access on Steam. According to Radio Times, the game is not expected to leave early access until January 2025 or later.