Singularity 6 interview: Palia is the cozy cottagecore sandbox to beat as it begins closed beta


The label “cozy” is in increasing danger of becoming a watered-down label thanks to how much it’s being used in culture these days. Yet if any game deserves to showcase the cozy definition, it’s Palia, a life sim MMO that is so dedicated to a carefree, relaxed environment that it doesn’t even have combat.

As Palia goes into closed beta today (with a soft launch open beta next week), I wanted to get to know more about this intriguing title. Singularity Six Lead Producer Maxwell Zierath sat down with me to explain the core gameplay loop, the unique approach to online gaming, and why cottagecore games might well be all the rage this fall.

To wrap your head around Palia, you’ll find it helps to start from a similar frame of reference. Its closest contemporaries are Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, games that marry farming mechanics, player structures, and interactions with an NPC community. Toss in the aesthetic and multiple skills of Free Realms, the character design of EverQuest Landmark, and the robust housing of WildStar, and you’ll be very close to the mark.

The devs at Singularity 6 were inspired by all sorts of “cozy” games and wanted to take a crack at creating a title that wouldn’t just appeal to others — but be their own dream game as well. In approaching Palia, the studio made the decision to go the polar opposite of most MMOs and eschew combat entirely (although the team didn’t rule out the possibility of some sort of limited fighting for a future patch).

Rather, Palia is all about exploring a hand-crafted game world, getting to know its inhabitants, uncovering the various ongoing mysteries, and carving out a place for oneself in that setting. Humans have suddenly returned to this world after hundreds of years’ absence, and the remaining residents are understandably curious as to why.

As that’s being figured out, players will swap between the game’s eight core skills — everything from cooking to furniture making to insect collecting — as ways to progress toward various goals. The skill systems in Palia are interconnected, with foraging leading to making housing decor, while gardening and fishing provide ingredients for cooking.

Without any real danger to your character (you can’t even drown) and without any high-stakes competition between players, the focus of Palia is streamlined to cooperative, laid-back fun.

It’s also not that big a game, so adjust your expectations now if you thought that this would be World of Warcraft-huge. Palia is planning to ship with just two zones (village center and Bahari Bay) with more to come down the line, and every copy of the world will hold just 25 players at a time to keep those zones from being overcrowded.

With so few players around, the topic of socialization — a key factor in online cooperative games like this — comes into question. It’s here that I sensed Singularity 6 isn’t quite prepared for the online realm, as the studio said that it expected players to coordinate efforts and groups through general chat. Guilds, or “communities,” won’t be in the initial beta build, although the studio expects that feature to arrive a little down the road.

One advantage that Palia has over many contemporary MMOs is providing more than the usual modes of movement. Climbing — on world elements, not player structures — is a great way to gain some verticality, while hopping onto a glider is the most fun way to get down or cross wide spaces quickly.

Establishing your own space in Palia is one of the core features, so it’s no surprise that each player will get a housing plot very early on with which to deck out and utilize. While players will initially start with just a tent (albeit a nice one) on the land, it won’t be too long before cottages, houses, and even mansions take root. It’s up to the player’s preferences as to how large or small a house is built.

While players will able to own multiple housing plots with different permission levels (such as private or communal), all of the houses will be located the same place. I probed about other possible locations in the future and was met with a deflected response. Maybe don’t hold your breath on that?

It is truly impressive how much players can do with these homes, if the pictures from early alpha testing is any indication. The studio worked hard to make the building tools as intuitive as possible so that it won’t be too hard for even the most interior decorating novice to make a good-looking place.

This “marquee” system will boast many hundreds of possible decoration options — and not all of is will be purely cosmetic. There was a cool-looking arcade cabinet in the corner that revealed itself to be a playable game (yes, game-ception!). And players will be encouraged to set up functional kitchens, gardens, and other crafting hubs for their own use or to use with friends.

In fact, Palia greatly encourages grouping up to increase the bonuses and output of various gathering and crafting activities. Instead of a project giving each participant a percentage of the end result, everyone involved benefits from the full output (and said output tends to be better with more hands on deck).

To help pair people up, Singularity 6 is employing a matchmaking system that will hopefully throw like-minded people into the same zone. Between that and a server sync with your friends list, you should be seeing some familiar faces before long.

While Palia is calling next week’s release “open beta,” it is for all intents and purposes a soft launch (preceded by a week of closed beta, which is underway now). The studio is opening up its cash shop (cosmetics only, I was told) and won’t be triggering any additional wipes. Later this year Palia will expand its focus even more with the Switch release over the holiday season — and the accompanying crossplay and cross-progression.

Singularity 6 says it hopes to be adding new content fairly regularly around every two weeks and promises to roll out a multi-year story arc that continues to explore the mystery and revelations of this strange world.

I think as long as players don’t jump into this expected it to be huge, they might find a smaller, more intimate setting waiting with an array of relaxing activities at hand. We have plenty of games to channel our sense of aggression and high-pressure achievements — now, here comes Palia to offer a place to relax, build a community, and explore other ways to engage with an online world.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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