A fresh first impressions: Checking out Palia for the first time on Switch


Outside of MMORPGs, life sims are probably the most-played genre in my household. I originally bought Stardew Valley for my wife a few years ago as something we could do together that would help her de-stress from her grad school work. Little did I know that it would likely become her most-played game of all time – and one of mine as well. I’m a little afraid to total up her play time, but I know two things for sure: First, I have put over 100 hours in that game, and second, her playtime dwarfs mine by a pretty significant margin. A pretty good value for $15. We have also spent respectable amounts of time in Animal Crossing (though there is less “game” there) and a handful of other, similar games, but Stardew is a tough act to follow.

So when a game that promised to be both a cozy life sim and an MMO was announced, both of us sat up and took notice. Unfortunately for Palia, it launched at a time of year when we were busy with the new Guild Wars 2 expansion, as well as various real-life obligations, and so we sort of forgot to get into the original open beta launch of Palia for PC. It’s funny how quickly something you were excited for a few months ago can fall off of your radar.

But now Palia has launched on Switch, which reminded me of its existence once again. And hey, I typically prefer this kind of experience in a format that I can play while lounging on the couch; I have played a lot more Stardew, for example, on the Switch or my phone than on PC (yes, I have bought it on all three platforms) despite the PC generally being an objectively better experience.

Palia’s character creator is nice, with a good variety of heads (some of which are a little derpy, but no more than you would find in your average MMORPG). There is also a nice selection of hairstyles and clothing, and it’s a nice touch that every hairstyle can have highlights, sometimes with multiple highlight patterns to choose from.

I like that the game tells you up front that you can change your appearance at the mirror in the clothing shop, which takes a lot of the pressure off. It fails to mention, however, that there is a cooldown for doing so. You can change your clothing and hair any time using a wardrobe in your house, but if you want to change your face, voice, or body type, you can do so only once a week. I’m not even sure what the point of this restriction is; it’s not as if there is even an option to pay to finish the cooldown early that I could see.

I haven’t played more than a couple of hours on PC, just to get a feel for the difference, but if you are coming from a half-decent gaming PC to Switch, you will definitely feel the performance downgrade, as MOP’s Andrew noted in his mobile-centric impressions last week. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a pretty game, but there is a lot of noticeable detail pop-in, and the framerate is pretty inconsistent, especially in handheld. Even once the detail pops in, the textures are still pretty low rez and fuzzy.

That said, it’s far from the worst I’ve ever seen in a Switch game. Personally, I find it worth it to play from the comfort of my couch, but your mileage will vary. And of course, increased optimization is always a very real possibility with a game that is always updating. Still, if you plan on playing primarily on the Switch, perhaps it would be best to plan to play only on the Switch, so you don’t make yourself discontent by comparing the two versions of the game.

One of the things I was skeptical about was how this always-online game would hold up in less-than-ideal connectivity situations. I took my Switch to the far end of my house from my wireless router, where games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Rocket League become unplayable due to poor reception and the Switch’s weak wireless chipset. While NPCs and other players noticeably stuttered and teleported around from time to time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could still mine, chop trees, and decorate my house with ease. My character rarely did the frustrating “rubberbanding” that most MMO players have probably run into at some point if they’ve played on spotty wifi.

Hunting proved a little more tricky with lag, but hunting on the Switch is just bad even under ideal circumstances, with animals teleporting around or disappearing altogether with no warning. Worse still, the camera turns almost painfully slow when using the controller, making it nearly impossible to track moving prey. There are some “sensitivity” settings in the menu that will speed that up a bit, but I still wish more Switch games would let you aim with gyro controls. It’s super awkward and hard to get used to, but once you do, it’s the next best thing to a mouse for fine aiming.

Those issues aside, I still managed to hit enough targets to fulfill the quests, perhaps with a few more arrows wasted than necessary. Most encouragingly of all, even when playing under less-than-ideal conditions, I never once got dropped from the server unless I actually put the Switch to sleep.

That said, I did have to step away a few times during my playtime, and I did get disconnected when sleeping the Switch even for only a few seconds (which I believe is a limitation beyond the developer’s control). Frustratingly, I never spawned in on the spot where I logged out, something that I have grown to expect from MMOs, but rather appeared at what seems to be the nearest preset spawn point for the area. For instance, if I logged out in a shop, I would respawn next to the fountain in the center of town, or if I logged out on my land plot, I would always spawn at the entrance, not at the gardening plot I was watering when I got called away. It isn’t a huge deal, but annoying nonetheless.

OK, enough about the performance, what about the game itself? Overall, if you like this kind of lifeskilling cozy game, you will find Palia more than adequate, with plenty of activities to keep you occupied and a nice variety of options to decorate your house and plot. It has a story that is both low-stakes enough to keep the game feeling cozy, but also interesting enough to keep me wanting more. Yes, it still feels like a beta, but I’ve played worse games whose devs marketed them as fully launched.

That said, the game is paradoxically both annoyingly handhold-ey – several hours in I’m still getting what I would consider “tutorial” quests – and also frustratingly vague on certain points.

For example, early on I was given a quest to make a smelter. To get the recipe, I had to talk to a guy named Hodari. I scrubbed all over the map and couldn’t find any NPCs named Hodari or anyone with an exclamation point next to their icon… only to realize (thanks to  Google) that there is a whole second map to the east where he could be found. It would have been nice if the exclamation point could have shown up on the zone border or if the game could have done a better job showing me that there is a whole other zone out there.

But it was midnight in-game time, and Hodari had gone to bed. Guess I’ll just stand creepily in his kitchen and wait for him to wake up?
To add insult to injury, once I found Hodari, I didn’t have enough gold to buy the recipe, and the game isn’t very good about telling you how to make gold. Guess I’ll just do some fishing till I can vendor enough raw fish to cover it? Yes, I’m one of those weirdos who actually likes fishing minigames.

Of course, once I finally got the cash to afford the recipe, it was midnight in-game time, and Hodari had gone to bed. Guess I’ll just stand creepily in his kitchen and wait for him to wake up? I suppose I could have done other things around the game, but I ended up just playing a game on my phone for the 20 or so minutes it took for him to wake up. Surprisingly, he didn’t threaten to call the police for stalking him; he just sold me the smelter recipe, possibly just hoping to get rid of me as quickly as possible. Who knows, maybe I’ll get a restraining order notice in the mail tomorrow.

After a couple of play sessions, I managed to get my house built. I like that houses are modular; you can snap on rooms at various connection points, and rooms can then branch off of those rooms, and so forth. These addons were well outside of my price range at the beginning, but then again, they probably should be; a bigger and better house is one of the primary chase objectives in a game like this.

Furniture placing controls are the kind of thing that can end up being really finicky (I’m looking at you, Elder Scrolls Online), but Palia is one of the better ones, which is good, since decorating your plot is one of the main pillars of Palia’s gameplay. Pulling out a furniture item brings up a grid that shows where items may be placed, which is really handy for making sure your decor stays lined up just so, and pressing L and R rotates a few degrees at a time.

One of my annoyances with the game is that, to open the map, you press the Minus button, but unlike games where pressing the minus button again would close it, Palia mandates that pressing Minus again opens the cash shop. It’s not a big deal, it just feels uncharacteristically scummy, like the devs are hoping that if they can make you open the shop accidentally on a regular basis, they might entice you to spend more money.

I’m not sure what kind of instrument this is, but I know that any bard who plays this must surely be a master of the craft.

Speaking of the cash shop, Singularity Six loaded up my Switch press preview account with a good amount of currency, but I never ended up spending any of it. The cash shop is exclusively populated by outfits and glider skins. It’s not that the cash shop’s clothing options are ugly – far from it – it’s just that outfits you get for free are so varied and nice-looking, that I didn’t feel the need to change. And I never once saw another character wearing my same outfit.

Most of the cash shop selections are pretty realistic-looking, but you can also find outfits that make you look like a spaceman, a bard, or a mushroom. There is even a towel that makes it look like you forgot to get dressed after stepping out of the bath, if that’s what you’re into. Even the more exotic outfits feel pretty stylistically consistent and fitting, so no complaints there.

I was surprised that there are no for-pay furniture packs, and while there are a handful of pets, they’re attached to paid currency packs, not from the cash shop itself. This seems like the kind of game where fancy furniture packs and house customizations would sell like hotcakes. It’s hard to complain that a game isn’t over-monetized, especially when it seems like an increasing number of games are, but I’m a little concerned about the longevity of a free-to-play life sim game that sells only clothes. Once I have the perfect ‘fit, why would I give the game any more money? What’s keeping the lights on?

The game is fully crossplay, so my wife and I tried playing together, one on PC and the other on Switch. We had some trouble friending each other; first I couldn’t find my wife’s character in the search, and then, when she was able to friend me, it told me she was offline until we had both switched maps. But once we were finally grouped up, it worked like a charm. I’ve heard similar woes from our other writers, so I guess it’s not just me.

Fortunately, once we were sorted, we were able to visit each others’ home instances and hunt and gather together across platforms flawlessly. I love that the game incentivizes playing together where it can – for instance, giving drops to everyone who participated in hunting a certain animal, and handing out buffs for fishing together. Just be warned: Chat is a chore on Switch, both text and voice, so be prepared to arrange for other means of communication.

Overall, Palia does an impressive job taking the cozy life sim genre that is so popular these days and making it work as an MMO, albeit on a small scale. There are plenty of incentives for me to play with other people around me, without making them a cumbersome requirement. I love that I can show off my plot of land to my friends, not just by showing them screenshots or streaming it to them but by inviting them to actually walk around in it with me. The Switch, while it is a bit of a visual downgrade, as you would expect for a handheld console version, is a perfectly viable way to play, and should only get better with time. I felt like the onboarding process was a little rough, and I have concerns about the viability of the monetization, but those are minor quibbles compared to what is, overall, a pretty solid game. I can’t wait to see where this game goes in the future!

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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