For a reviewer, there is nothing more frustrating than something that is equal parts amazing and terrible. All awesome? That’s an easy, glowing recommendation. Absolutely abysmal? Dunk on it to your heart’s content. A middle-of-the-road blah-machine? Give it faint praise and send it packing.
But when you see a game, watch a movie, or read a book that wonderfully excels in parts and completely fails in others, it becomes a nightmare to cover because of these polar extremes. Fortunately, this situation doesn’t happen that often. Unfortunately — at least for yours truly — this is exactly the case with Singularity Six’s Palia.
Let’s start with what I can safely say, which is that Palia wasn’t ready to go live as a soft launch, open beta, or whatever. This is a game that’s clearly fresh out of alpha testing and wasn’t ready for the attention and traffic that a persistent public state — with a cash shop, mind you — would give to it. It’s half-baked and a reminder of the messy phases of the development cycle.
Why did the studio suddenly push it live? We can make educated guesses based on past titles. The drive to pump out a Nintendo Switch launch for the holiday season could’ve prompted the PC release as a needed expansion of the testing pool. Or the studio could’ve run out of money and needed to start generating revenue from players. Or — and I really wonder about this — the studio got too many sycophantic voices in the alpha process and started believing that Palia was ready while criticisms were ignored.
In any case, it wasn’t ready. That’s so apparent that even defenders of the game (and I’ve ready many on Reddit) kind of trail off when lobbing out the usual “it’s only beta” arguments. I can throw a smoke bomb in this game and hit three or four bizarre issues that shouldn’t be there at all. And I’m not talking about bugs and glitches, although Palia has many of these. I’m speaking of typically standard features for any life sim or MMO that are absent or underdeveloped here.
Sitting and laying down? Not in the game. Interacting with all of these house objects and furniture that you’ve been painstakingly setting up? For the most part, you can’t; “look but don’t touch” is the motto here. Local chat and chat bubbles? Completely absent. Lighter shades of skin, different body types, and different ages in the character creator? Lacking. The ability to roll alts or even delete your single toon? Good luck with that because you can’t. I’m also flummoxed that with all of the water around, you can’t swim one lick (the game fades to black if you wade in, plopping you back onto the shore).
These odd unforced errors continue to abound all over the place. The cash shop, which only sells cosmetic outfits, is wildly overpriced and confusingly worded. The 25-player server instances make the worlds feel underpopulated. Guild tools are practically nonexistent. There’s no minimap, the chat font is so tiny, and I swear one of the UI screens won’t close on ESC, forcing me to click the X every time I get trapped in it.
I find it bizarre that while you can mix-and-match your outfits, there are only three clothing slots (hat, top, bottom) and no crafting systems to support making new fashion. Fashion is a huge pursuit in many MMOs, and it could be here as well. But as it stands, it’s as basic as they come.
I think the most egregious mistake is that the studio calls this an “MMO” yet has fashioned a world where it’s hard to communicate with others, you rarely see anyone, and you don’t have much of a need to interact. A much better guild system, an actual economy, roleplaying tools, a guild finder, an improved request system, and more ways to have fun together are absolutely needed before this game earns that MMO label.
And if that were it, I’d say that Palia was a bomb, and you should forget it and move on with your life. But that isn’t it, and I’m not going to say that because there’s the shape of a good game here. A great game, possibly. If the developers get their act together, if the community sticks around, and if some of these problems can be addressed, then the virtues of this title may emerge in full.
I’ve played Palia quite a lot over the past week, and I’m not ready to toss in the towel. It’s to the game’s credit that it is able to hook me in even with all of these flaws. I know we’re driving that “cozy” descriptor into the ground, but Palia is warm fuzzies incarnate. It’s colorful, low stress, intimate, and personal. It’s obviously following the playbook that Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing perfected, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
As someone who loves housing in MMOs, I’m delighted to have my own peaceful plot of land to shape and customize for my very own. Bit by bit, I keep improving things, adding decorations, crafting stations, rooms, and even trees to the mix. The house placement tools are very, very well-done and a cinch to use, allowing practically anyone to set up a good-looking abode on the fly while challenging the true interior decorators among us to fine-tune their creations to perfection.
There always feels like there’s a ton of options at any given time — and that none of them are pointless. It’s all nudging the general progression of your character’s skills, relationships, material accumulation, and housing decoration forward. Those who adore life sim games will find a lot of simple joys here to puttering around in a garden, fulfilling the gift requests of NPCs, or going fishing on a dock alongside some other anglers.
There’s also a good story and a fun cast of characters in Palia. It wasn’t long at all before I started to get to know these personalities that make up this small village, and I’m intrigued at the hints of mysteries that lay about this small land. Seeing all of these NPCs move about during the day makes it feel like a living, breathing micro-community.
So no, I don’t want to give up on Palia. As frustrated as I am about what it’s doing poorly or not doing at all, there’s plenty to keep me entertained in the meanwhile and a whole lot of potential right under its surface.
But I also worry that if the studio doesn’t hustle its butt off and prove that it truly is listening and responding to its community, Palia is going to get buried and forgotten before it has its chance to shine.