On paper, Palia seems like it wouldn’t interest me. It is a lighthearted jaunt through a bright, cartoonish environment that involves building relationships with villagers and progressing through many tiers of gathering and crafting. But for some reason, I get a warm, cozy feeling when I click the “login” button, even though I have yet to figure out the larger point of the game.
I’m not exactly sure what compelled me to download the open beta of Palia. It certainly isn’t the sort of game that has piqued my interest in the past. Perhaps it was time for a casual alternative to the PvP-focused titles I’ve frequented over the past few years. Maybe I wanted to learn something new. But most likely, it was because Justin posted a link in the MassivelyOP work chat begging for help in obtaining the referral rewards. Anything for a work colleague!
Most of the concepts in Palia are borrowed from previous games. We see farming and interactions with NPC villagers as in Stardew Valley. We have XP gain boosts from eating food and crafting stations as in Eco. Insect collecting and fishing show hints of Animal Crossing‘s influence. Its graphics remind me of Fortnite. Exploration and resource gathering like every MMO that’s ever launched is also included. I’ve seen other reviewers disparage Palia for a lack of originality, but I’d argue that while Palia may not have the best implementation of any of the above features, it does a great job of tying them all together into a larger cohesive experience.
Oh, and there’s no combat.
Progression in Palia comes in several forms. Each skill (fishing, cooking, gardening, mining, hunting, bug catching, foraging, and furniture making) progresses on its own as your character engages in each activity. As the individual activities reach certain levels, more advanced activities are unlocked. For example, blueprints for crafting a better pickaxe can only be purchased upon reaching a certain level of mining expertise. Relationship levels with the villagers increase through frequent interaction and providing them with desired gifts.
Along with the individual levels, characters accumulate a resource called renown for completing various tasks and quests, leveling skills, and enhancing villager relationships. Renown can be used to purchase land plots and housing additions. As far as I can tell, building and furnishing a house is the endgame for Palia, but maybe it isn’t. We’ll get back to that!
It’s not too difficult to make a quick buck in Palia. Each privately instanced homestead includes a chest that players can dump stuff in to be sold for gold. Gold is used to purchase crafting blueprints and to repair tools. It was while dinking around with this mechanic that I began to wonder what exactly Palia was trying to be. One of the early quests encourages players to utilize a “request/gift” system where certain items could be publicly requested to be donated by other players.
“Ah,” I thought to myself. “Here’s where the multiplayer aspect of this MMO comes in!”
But alas, I was somewhat disappointed. Because I needed eight leather pieces and did not yet have the skill to make leather, I went ahead and gave it a try. Strangely, I couldn’t request a stack of eight leathers, just one piece of leather at a time. And because players are limited to four requests in 24 hours, I could ask for only half of the leather I needed. As it turned out, it was quicker for me to level up my character to the point that I could supply my own leather than to wait 24 hours to request additional supplies.
What a strange way to limit player interaction! With a gift/barter system, it would be possible for Palia to create an economy (similar to Eco’s) where players could specialize in a trade and rely on one another for materials or crafted items to complete tasks or furnish their plots. Instead, what Palia does is encourage all players to rank up every skill to become entirely self-sufficient, rendering the multiplayer aspect of the game mostly cosmetic. Sure, there are other people running around in the world, but I’ve found no compelling reason to interact with any of them. The game mechanics simply don’t encourage it.
At this point, I started to pull back and ask myself what Palia was trying to be. Is it just a single-player sandbox at heart? What am I working towards? There is a quest line that could be considered the main story – something about discovering why you materialized out of nothing into the world of Palia – but it never really hooked me.
And the lack of combat precludes any expected sort of endgame raiding option. Don’t get me wrong; the absence of yet another never-ending post-game speed-run grind does not upset me at all. On the contrary, it’s nice to see an MMO eschew the crutch of combat in favor of trying something new.
But I still struggle trying to discover what that new thing is, exactly. Perhaps it’s the complete mastery of all skills and the ability to craft all things be best friends with all villagers and have the biggest house on the block. If that’s the goal, I could see MMO players blitzing through all of those milestones and asking for more content in merely a few week’s time. Unlike adding story content through which new threads can easily be spun up, adding onto robust crafting and housing systems can be quite a challenge. Even roleplay in Palia would be difficult because of the lack of voice chat and other interactive systems.
Palia is a great concept, and the foundation may be enough for Singularity 6 to work with in continuing to build out a cute, robust, family-friendly title. A simple auction house or barter system would go a long way to encourage player interaction. Certainly, the gathering and crafting are in a good place. But without some kind of interactive economy or a boost to the cooperative systems, what makes it massive or multiplayer? Is Palia truly an MMO, or is it a single-player game that just happens to be hosted online?