I don’t know what I expected when I started playing Palworld. My initial impression was that it was Pokemon with guns. Then, it seemed there could be some crafting elements. With early word out from some of the super early-access players, it was apparent there were heavy survival elements in Palworld. At this point, I was pretty confused.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes here, you may ask, “So what IS Palworld?” The long answer is, you know how people seem to incorporate Pokemon into their everyday lives in Pokemon? Palworld fully realizes that idea, sort of. The short answer is “A survival game with monster-catching elements and many familiar gameplay features.”
Just Pal-ing around
I want to make this review in progress abundantly clear that I do not usually play survival games. My survival pedigree would be Minecraft, Terraria, and, most recently, Lego Fortnite. It is probably essential if you want a good idea of where I’ll be coming from with this.
Palworld starts with the most cliche of cliches. You wake up on a beach after designing your character. Then, the game tells you to punch some trees. So far, I didn’t feel like I was getting too far ahead of myself. After the tree punching, you make a crafting bench and acquire tools.
After punching some trees and crafting a club, I roughed up the local fauna for more materials. The animals in the world are called “Pals,” if the lone survivor I met immediately at the start were to have me believe, they are also bloodthirsty and deadly. I was given this news after chasing down some roly-poly sheep Pals and bludgeoning them unconscious with my club. Spooky!
The more materials I gather, the more levels I earn. I earned technology points when I leveled up, allowing me to unlock new tools and crafting options. I found a few Pal spheres and also learned to craft them. Instead of bludgeoning the Pals into oblivion, I could maim them severely and then capture them with a Pal sphere. At this point, they work for me!
Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat, Maybe?
I was asked to build a Palboard when I captured a few Pals. This serves as the central hub at your base. I placed mine against a mountain wall over a cliff and got to work on constructing a shelter. This functioned well, except I had to make everything manually. I was a little disappointed because the trailers and even the game’s tooltips gave me the impression that I could source the work for my Pals. However, I couldn't find them even when assigned to my base. I decided to build up my gear and adventure a bit instead.
I quickly learned that there were some Pals out there that were much harder to deal with. If I got defeated, my character dropped all their gear, and I was forced back to a spawn point, naked as the day I washed up on the shore. Then, it’s a trek back to get my gear and weigh my options. I repeated this process enough times that it was time to bring my loot back to camp.
At this point, I’d been playing for a few hours and allegedly had a handful of dispatched Pals at my camp. I still hadn’t seen them, and I’d just built a plot to grow berries. I figured something was wrong. Right as I was starting to get frustrated, I saw it. Alerts in the mountain that said my Pals were hungry. My Pals were being dropped into the mountain walls and just stuck. That wouldn’t do.
I Had to Remind Myself This Is Early Access
I destroyed my base and moved it to a location offering more clearance. Even now, with about 15 hours and player level 14, I still have to deal with Pals getting stuck, but at least I can pick them up and move them. That’s the thing: outside of some rough glitches and hiccups, Palworld offers a lot.
At this point, I’ve just completed the tutorial for the game. I went around the initial island I started on and found some more quick travel points. Along the way, I learned to use my Pals more efficiently. For example, of the nine Pals I keep on base, I try to have them able to fit roles. Pals all have skills based on their designs. Particular Pals are great at chopping wood, and some do an excellent job mining. A few pals don’t eat a ton but are superb at hauling or building. On top of finding the strongest pals to fill my roster, I was also seeking out the best pals to maintain my base and materials.
Sometimes, where you are at camp, you get attacked by wild Pals or poachers. I’ve seen the wild Pals several times, but the poachers were new. More or less, they are Palworld’s Team Rocket. I was beating them up with my weapons and went to bring out my touch Grass/Dragon-type Pal to clean them up. I accidentally tossed a Pal-sphere, hitting one of the poachers and capturing them. I was dumbfounded for a minute, then ran back to the Palboard to see they were in my box.
Later, my son was playing and did the same thing. He sent me a text triumphantly announcing that he now had a “pet man.” Our editor, Joseph, informed me that was the most Gen-Z way of proclaiming that he had a slave. His rebuttal is that his captured poacher didn’t do much as he lacked decent skills, so if he was a slave, he wasn’t a good one.
Palworld Has a Lot of Potential
I’ve enjoyed my time in Palworld so far. I’ve got a bit of co-op, which I’ll focus on more in-depth with more experience. What little I’ve had access to when the servers aren’t exploding has been fun. I also liked that I could set codes on my valuable storage to keep people out of my good stuff.
Pals all feel familiar in many ways. Some Pals have features seen in Pokemon. Other pals have features from characters in games like Sonic. On top of the fact that Palworld executes its core gameplay well, it hasn’t taken itself too seriously yet. In many ways, the Pals in Palworld seem almost to be poking fun at the general absurdity of Pokemon designs.
There are also beats taken from the latest Legend of Zelda games and even a little Fortnite when it comes to building structures. My son tells me that he also sees a lot of Rust in the game. A lot of the non-Pal gameplay loop reminds me of Lego Fortnite.
I just beat my first central boss, and while nothing seemed to happen after, and there was no story to take in outside of a neat little cutscene before our fight, there didn’t even seem to be a reason for our battle. I just got some experience and a new checkpoint, and that was all.
When Palworld works as intended, it’s an enjoyable experience. I could see this being the “IT” game of 2024 like Lethal Company was in 2023, and Vampire Survivors was in 2022, once we can all reliably play together. It will be a fantastic experience overall.
There is still a lot of Palworld I haven’t seen yet, and as I explore more of the gameplay loop and see if the game can keep up, we’ll prepare for a full review as well. For now, if you have $30 and a PC, Palworld offers a good amount of fun for the investment and has the potential to grow into something even more significant. If you were thinking of playing Game Pass, you may want to wait until you get a more current build that lessens some of the bugs.