First Impressions: Palia is missing the depth MMO life-skillers are hoping for


“Life-sims” are another of those game genres that I like in theory, but less so in practice. Most have graphical styles I find off-putting, and they usually offer little to appeal to my interest in narrative. With its ongoing story, meaningful character relationships, and beautiful Landmark-esque graphics, I had hopes that Palia might finally be the life sim for me.

Having played the closed beta/soft launch, though, I don’t think this is the game I’ve been looking for. The graphics are beautiful, and the world’s wholesome vibe is charming, but my overall impression of Palia has been one of missing features and anemic content.

The first thing I noticed is that none of the NPC dialogue is voiced thus far. NPCs have some generic greeting clips when you click on them, but everything else is just scrolling text.

That’s pretty disappointing for any modern game, but considering that the NPC relationships are the one of the game’s key selling features (and the part that most appealed to me personally), it’s especially disappointing. It’s pretty hard to get invested in video game characters when they’re just text on a screen.

The characters don’t appear to be particularly well-written, either. Maybe more depth is revealed as you get to know them, but at first blush they all seem to be pretty shallow, generic archetypes. Here’s the punk girl rebelling against her parents; here’s the brooding loner undoubtedly hiding a heart of gold behind his scowl.

It’s not the worst writing I’ve seen in an MMO by a long-shot, but without voice actors to give the characters life, the text isn’t strong enough to stand on its own.

Another headline feature for Palia is its housing, and its another part of the game that feels undercooked.¬†For one thing, there’s only one housing plot in the game, with no other options. It’s instanced, and it has no view of the surrounding countryside. I would think having a wealth of home options in scenic locations would be a priority for this sort of game.

Most of the furniture is non-interactive, too. You can’t sit in chairs or sleep in beds. Again, this would be a trivial concern in most games, but for a game like Palia it feels like a more significant oversight.¬†Compare this to New World where housing is a side feature that often feels neglected, and yet it has dozens of homes in a variety of locales, and nearly every piece of furniture you could want to be interactive is.

The final pillar of the game is the gathering and life skills, and once again, I am underwhelmed. It pretty much plays like crafting and gathering in any other MMO you could care to name, which isn’t terrible, but in those games these things are secondary features. If you’re going to make it the core activity of your game, wouldn’t you put a bit more effort in?

To be clear, I’m not expecting anything overly complex, and certainly nothing challenging, but you’d think a modern team could have come up with some more interesting than holding down the left mouse button for the many, many hours it will take you to gather the resources necessary to pursue your in-game goals. Chill doesn’t have to mean mindless.

I remember the farming activity added in World of Warcraft‘s Mists of Pandaria expansion. It had all sorts of fun little challenges and mini-games associated with maintaining your plants. None of it was hard or stressful, but it made things a lot more engaging than just left-clicking to pick flowers. Even Fortnite has those little weak spots you can aim for on gathering nodes.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the game’s monetization, but that’s one area where I’d say players have been a bit overly harsh. The massive ~$70 price tags that have been bandied about are actually for bundles of three variations of the same outfit. Buying just one of those variations within the bundle is much cheaper, and since the differences between variants are minor, there’s really no need to get all three.

Granted, even the singular outfits are still on the pricey side, with most in the ~$25 dollar range, and of course all of the cash shop currency bundles are awkwardly portioned, so you’ll always be left with some currency left over after buying an outfit (but never enough for a second outfit). So while the monetization isn’t as bad as people have been saying, it’s not great, either.

On the plus side, the collection of outfit pieces unlocked for free is pretty significant. I don’t really see a lot of need to buy further costumes, which is good for players but bad for the developers’ hopes of making money off the game.

There’s also smaller issues, like the fact you can’t zoom the game camera in and out, and a number of crashes, server outages, and other tech hiccups that would be more acceptable if this were a real beta and not a fully monetized soft launch with no wipes on deck.

Reading all my complaints, you might think I really hate Palia, but that’s not true. There are games that are actively unpleasant to play, and this isn’t one of them. At worst, it’s a bit bland, but you can do far worse.

But the most frustrating games are never the irredeemably bad ones. It’s the ones that come within reach of being something genuinely special and bungle the execution, and it feels like that’s where Palia has landed.

I think a lot of the problem here might be about setting expectations. If this were a single-player/co-op game that we were meant to play for 20-30 hours and then put away, I think the current state of Palia would be entirely acceptable, if perhaps still not to my personal taste.

But the developers at Singularity 6 announced this game as an MMO, albeit a smaller one, and that comes with an expectation of a certain level of depth and scale that Palia just isn’t delivering, regardless of the number of players in each instance. The gameplay isn’t interesting enough to hold my attention for hundreds of hours, nor is there enough content to fill that time.

There’s only two zones, for Pete’s sake. And they’re small zones. You can cross the entire game world in five minutes — literally, I timed it.

At times I’ve found myself wondering if this is all just a personal taste issue and I’m just never going to enjoy this kind of life sim, but my experience in other games where these kinds of activities have been side features would seem to counter that. I’ve spent many hours on the life skills and house-decorating of New World, and I had a great time maintaining my farm in Pandaria back in the day.

In a lot of older BioWare games, I found the combat a chore and only suffered through it so I could spend more time getting to know my companions. A game that cuts out the combat to focus on interpersonal relationships should work for me – if the characters are compelling enough.

So all of the things that Palia is offering are things I have enjoyed in other titles, and a game that focuses on those things should work for me with good enough execution, but unfortunately I just don’t think Palia is that game.

This being an MMO, there’s always a chance things could improve, and I’ll definitely keep an eye on the game to see if they do because I think there is great potential here. But I’m skeptical Palia will attract enough people to get the kind of funds needed for such an overhaul.

Now, if only we could convince BioWare to do a life-sim game…

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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