Through all the hours spent playing Palworld, Pocketpair’s open-world creature-collecting survival crafting title, I’ve struggled to define the itch it’s scratching. Is it the exploration, cresting over new hills and exploring oceans, happening upon a desert that metaphorically burns during the day and freezes in the night?
Is it the urge to discover new Pals to see what interesting new designs await and how they could benefit my camp? Maybe I’m just eager to farm XP and level up my character to improve the stats and unlock new nodes in the Technology tree while strengthening my current team. It’s hard to say, but it’s also all that and more.
"The narrative isn’t too heavy-handed, encouraging sandbox freedom over excessive hand holding."
One thing is for sure – Palworld is more than just “Pokemon with guns”; a venerable smorgasbord of ideas and mechanics, some instilling a bit of deja vu. Some of it needs more time to cook, and the overarching combat and world design need more work, which is understandable since it’s early access. However, it’s a strong base, elevating Palworld beyond your average survival crafting experience while offering some solid creature collection.
You awaken on an island in an unknown archipelago with various ruins and Pals dotted throughout. Other survivors and factions, from the Rain Syndicate to the Free Pal Alliance, can be encountered, and you slowly learn more about the inhabitants. The narrative isn’t too heavy-handed, encouraging sandbox freedom over excessive hand holding. As you pick up journal entries from a castaway, who also happened to wash up on the island, a dark picture of the effects it causes begins to form.
While it could be considered flavorful lore and little else, it paints the ethics of this absurdist journey of arming Pals and butchering them for food in a different light. Is the archipelago out of place in this world? Or does it simply remind one of their baser instincts? While it would be better if the player was the subject of these moral quandaries, the overall tone is more sombre than the initial trailer would have you believe.
Of course, with survival crafting experiences, the question remains: What do you do? From the outset, you construct a Palbox, which your entire base centers around. Using a crafting table to create some rudimentary weapons and capturing the first Pal, you build up the infrastructure in varying ways. A campfire to keep you and your Pals warm at night; a house for your bed to help recover and pass the time; some plantations to grow food – the list goes on. On top of managing your hunger, Pals also need food and some recreation to stay sane (lest they begin to slack off).
"It’s all well and good at the start, but as your base becomes more crowded, having everything you want in a single location gets tough."
On top of having unique types and abilities, each Pal also possesses traits that can help sustain your base. Cattiva is a good starter for mining, gathering, transporting and handiwork, but you’ll need a fire Pal – like Foxparks – to help cook meals and smelt ore into Ingots. Each activity helps garner XP for leveling up, which allows for improved stats and potential new abilities on Pals. Some Pals also have unique passives, like dealing more damage in battle or slacking off in work, which you must consider when deciding how to use them.
Leveling up lets you improve stats and unlock items to craft in the Technology tree, much like Ark: Survival Evolved. You can save Technology Points to opt for certain items later – like ignoring the spears and opting for bows or skipping the elemental crossbows in favor of guns. Your Pals will do a lot of the heavy lifting and even assist in crafting items, but your assistance can speed up the process (even when you unlock structures that buff different traits).
The game guides you on what to construct and offers rewards like more Pal helpers at the base and the option to create additional bases in different locations. It’s all well and good at the start, but as your base becomes more crowded, having everything you want in a single location gets tough. The overall radius remains stagnant, even as the base level increases, so having it increase, even a bit, would be nice.
Still, there’s also the issue of automated work. As more Pal helpers are assigned multiple traits, some may ignore tasks like cooking and refrigerating meals for farming, transporting items or grazing. The current system of picking up and tossing Pals at a task is very hit or miss, and when the larger Pals come into play, it’s not strange to see them hanging out on top of structures or simply clipping through the world when you toss them.
"The world design facilitates the battling and capturing of Pals. There are roaming bosses, known as Alpha Pals, requiring more than just a single Pal to take down and can be captured to add to your ranks."
The overall automation can be cleaned up, but I’d like to have a proper task manager with priorities for each type of task somewhere down the line. It would save me the trouble of standing at the cooking pot, baking a cake for an eternity while three of my firestarters are casually roaming around (and falling asleep if I try to toss and assign them to the task).
Once you’re comfortable enough, it’s off into the extensive plains, cliffs, deserts and waters of the neighboring wilds. There are multiple islands to choose from, some more difficult to establish a foothold on than others, but thanks to the world settings, you can make the game as challenging or as forgiving as you like. It’s not quite as extensive as Ark, but it’s still comprehensive enough, especially when you want to speed-run much of the ore gathering for the more expensive workbenches and firearms.
The world design facilitates the battling and capturing of Pals. There are roaming bosses, known as Alpha Pals, requiring more than just a single Pal to take down and can be captured to add to your ranks. Camps occupied by enemy factions, which can net you a free Pal after freeing them, also exist. You can also discover chests with gold, materials and Spheres for capturing Pals and items that improve your overall capturing ability.
Settlements also exist with residents who provide more context on the world and their place in it, and Wandering Merchants – who seemingly congregate in these locations more than actually wandering around, based on my time playing. You can attack just about anyone, but also, don’t, if you hope to have any semblance of a working relationship with a community.
"There’s no penalty for seeing what awaits beyond the horizon (beyond environmental conditions that necessitate different armor), and the abundance of fast travel points allows for safe returns."
On top of all this are dungeons, with some fleshed out and offering multiple caves with enemies, treasure and Alpha Pals, and some simply offering an Alpha Pal to fight and potentially capture. They’re on a respawn timer, which makes them ideal for farming (since you can both breed Pals and use multiple copies of the same type to strengthen one). Then there are the Towers, locations where you face off against enemy Pal trainers.
It’s good enough for now, though I would appreciate more emergent events – as seen with wild Pals battling enemy factions – and maybe a few random quests. Having the Towers be more fleshed out and the Dungeons offering some more unique mechanics (if not weapons with random perks), would also be nice.
Still, for those who enjoy exploring, Palworld is massive. When you think the islands surrounding your location are hefty enough, you discover entirely new landmasses, teeming with stronger Pals and materials to collect. There’s no penalty for seeing what awaits beyond the horizon (beyond environmental conditions that necessitate different armor), and the abundance of fast travel points allows for safe returns.
Unfortunately, combat is a bit mixed for me. From the start, a Pal can be deployed to fight while you support it from a distance. However, on top of your Pals sometimes ignoring an immediate threat when sent out, thus putting you in danger, the enemies themselves will rush past them and target you. Couple this with your items dropping on death (which can be changed in the settings, but it’s still worth noting, especially in dungeons when you need to make the run back), and it can be a mad scramble to stay alive. Players shouldn’t feel completely safe during encounters, but the aggro could be adjusted.
"It isn’t to say that the combat is terrible – it’s acceptable for what it’s trying to do, but there are several things to iron out and polish further."
Things do improve as you gain more survivability and additional equipment is unlocked. Pal equipment allows for utilizing different Partner Abilities, whether it’s turning Foxparks into a handheld flamethrower or having Lifmunk set on your head and gun down enemies. Some equipment can also keep a Pal by your side at all times to support your attacks with their own. It’s as helpful during battles as it is hilariously annoying when trying to capture low-health Pals since they keep last-hitting them, and I’m all about it.
Of course, you can also ride some Pals and take direct control of their abilities in battle or traverse the world. You can’t dictate which abilities a Pal uses on their own, removing some of the tactical thinking involved, and the commands only range from focused and haphazard attacks to disengaging from fights. The player’s melee combat could also be better and have more options. Do I want to rush at a wild Pal or human enemy with a baseball bat or pelt them from a safe distance with a crossbow, three-shot bow or handgun? I’m not asking for swords and shields, though it wouldn’t hurt.
It isn’t to say that the combat is terrible – it’s acceptable for what it’s trying to do, but there are several things to iron out and polish further. Even if it can get monotonous, there is fun to be had in unleashing hellfire on a group of enemies and flying away like a dragon-riding bandit in the night.
As for the presentation, the Pals and the world look pretty good. It has an animated feel, which accentuates the Pal designs well, and despite its early access state, the performance is solid. Further optimization, especially when venturing through rain, would be appreciated, though.
"It’s easy to get into, especially with the world settings, but for those who only care about the capturing and battles, it’s tougher to recommend."
Transitioning between different lighting states, as so happens when arriving at the desert-filled island, could also be smoother. Otherwise, it’s a strong aesthetic backed by some good Pal designs, even if it won’t blow you away with its fidelity. Some skirt the line with their resemblance to popular Pokemon, but aren’t blatant rip-offs based on a quick eye test.
While Palworld caused a stir with its first trailer and the ethical implications of arming Pals and putting them to work, the overall vibe of the current product is decidedly different. It can be a chill session where you spend several in-game days at your base, fighting off a raid or two – which have posed little threat thus far – and overseeing different tasks. That hook of improving the base bit by bit, selecting Pals with suitable traits to assist, is addictive, even if it’s not for everyone.
For those wandering into Palworld and expecting to lead multiple creatures armed with submachine guns into battle, it’s not quite as over-the-top, at least from the outset. There is a fun world to explore here with numerous Pals to collect and extensive locations to discover, on top of a Technology tree full of things to unlock. One must enjoy games in the survival crafting genre to get the most out of Palworld. It’s easy to get into, especially with the world settings, but for those who only care about the capturing and battles, it’s tougher to recommend. Even those who enjoy titles in this genre may find certain features, like building structures, to not be as intuitive or seamless.
Regardless, considering this is just the start of early access, Palworld is in a good state. Yes, you’ll encounter bugs, but I didn’t experience any major slowdowns, crashes or game-breaking issues. The jury is still out on multiplayer, which I couldn’t try. Nevertheless, as a solo experience and foundation for what’s to come, Palworld is at least worth checking out.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Good aesthetics with memorable Pal designs. The world is absolutely massive with a hefty amount to explore, and discovering new Pals and areas can be fun. Survival crafting elements are solid, without being too overwhelming. Even the lore is interesting.
Task management with Pals at the base is a bit shoddy. More variety and unique events in the open world would be nice. Enemy aggro and Pal response in combat needs fine-tuning. Some glitches like Pals clipping through the world exist.