First Impressions: Palworld copied all the right homework to graduate as its own enjoyable game


You know how the back of a box of Hamburger Helper or other boxed dinner mixes encourage you to toss in extra ingredients to “make it your own”? That’s a lot like what Palworld has done in my view: taken the base dinner mix that it created in Craftopia – itself a game that cribs from other titles’ gameplay and aesthetic beats – and stirs it all together to call itself a crafted meal. A meal that, in my opinion, is pretty tasty, even if you know it’s not what one would call high-quality food.

Before I begin, I’ll go ahead and address the Phanpy in the room: The inspiration in terms of this game’s titular Pal designs is pretty damned obvious, but I also don’t really care. This is coming from someone who never really was hooked by the Pokemon games in general and very frequently likes the titles that break the typical JRPG mold such as Snap and Pokken Tournament. That is to say, if you’re looking for someone to rage righteously about those similarities, this ain’t your article.

I also will point out that my time in-game was done solo and in the easy difficulty setting. Half of this is because I love myself enough to not want to get kicked in the teeth by a survival sandbox as usual, and the other half is because the game’s multiplayer is still pretty dodgy from player and staff accounts. Once things feel slightly less wobbly, I’ll definitely give it a spin. As a result, this impressions piece is going to focus on the overall base experience I’ve had so far through 15 levels and a few days of play.

Right from the very start, I was almost immediately reminded of Pocketpair’s other survivalbox in terms of the starting few moments, which saw me wake up in a cave, climb some stairs into an open world, and follow some on-screen objectives. This ends up being the right amount of hand-holding in my view; a list of things to complete but not hard instructions on how precisely to do it because the on-screen button prompts are enough.

This feeling of similarity carried through in the overall survival gameplay as well, as Palworld manages to hit this personal sweet spot between typical survival requirements that don’t completely get in the way. Food is an important thing to manage but never feels overbearing, shelter and protection from the elements are easy to achieve from a very early point, and materials are abundant enough without being so omnipresent that they discourage exploration and discovery.

Where Palworld really shines is in the Pals themselves, at least in terms of a gameplay mechanics standpoint. These various critters are the star of the game’s show, as they add a little extra flavor to combat and are the driving engine of the base management portion of the experience. Once again, these added layers are piled on without feeling too overbearing, as I had to make multiple little decisions regarding which pal should stay at home versus come with me into combat.

Powering much of this decision making is not just the expected elemental types but also Pal temperament and traits – Pokemon fans likely know the latter as natures – that have appreciable effects in the keeping things humming. Certain crafting stations will only work if a Pal is capable of a skill like kindling or handiwork, and some creatures have traits that make them eat less food, work slowly, or just run from fights when the base is raided.

It’s in this management system that Palworld shows some of its gleeful cartoon cruelty. I generally tried to balance with good nature and encouragement, such as making sure their beds are in shelter or keeping the food bin absolutely stocked to overflowing, but then the game also requires you to pick up a Pal and literally throw it at a crafting station in order to assign it a primary task.

Of course there are the other bits of company town-style awfulness like a condensor that effectively lets you blend Pals of a same type together to enhance the strength of a chosen creature, or the meat clever item that lets you kill a Pal in your party to get its resources. And of course there are the other “edgy” portions that I’ve experienced as well, like my chimp-like Tanzee whipping out an AK-47 and spraying wildly when I tell him to.

It all reads like extremely dark on paper, but I have mentally approached these Pals like characters in The Sims: They’re all kind of stupid and bumbling, and making them a bit uncomfortable now and again is amusing. And yes, these Pals are very stupid – this game’s pathfinding is City of Heroes Mastermind levels of awful at times, but can be somewhat mitigated with careful (read: extremely obvious) placement of necessary facilities.

While the Pals are the big feature to the game, personal progression still has the right hooks as well, with levels that unlock tech points to spend on learning recipes, advanced tech points earned from killing bosses or completing tower fights that unlock extra items, and personal stats that can be improved each level up. Additionally, entering combat alongside a summoned Pal is absolutely the right call, as often my critter friends augmented fights instead of leading them.

On the subject of combat, you’re probably not going to be too blown away here, especially if you’ve played Craftopia, but it’s still a good time, especially in the tower bosses, which require some careful management of Pal summoning that accounts for elemental weaknesses and rotating co-fighters in order for health to regen. That’s about as deep as the strategy has gone for the first tower fight, anyway; the actual boss itself was basically an HP sponge that had to be burned down before time ran out.

This being an early access game, I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the bugs that spring up from time to time. There was the instance where all of my base workers refused to eat despite having lots of food in the food basket (a reset to title screen solved this problem) or times when tossing a Pal at a work station didn’t work despite being the right element and profession.

There’s also some weird damage calculations, hitbox strangeness, food spoilage simply resetting when sorting inventory, the ranch overproducing (seriously I am drowning in wool), and additional pal AI dumbassery that happens quite a bit. I can’t begin to tell you how many times Pals would run to me to help craft an item at a table, then dash off to do something else like go pick up an egg.

Regardless, I’m having more than enough entertainment to look over these wrinkles as I sink into the multitude of little tasks and micro-goals that make up Palworld’s moment-to-moment experience, until I look up from my screen, blinking in disbelief at how many hours have slid by. It’s no homemade beef stroganoff with vegetables, but it’s still a good bowl of similarly flavored Hamburger Helper with canned veggies stirred in.

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?
Previous articleStar Citizen discusses alpha 3.23 EVA updates, lines up multiple events and a new free trial for February
Next articleDestiny 2 director Joe Blackburn vacates his position for ‘a new adventure outside the walls of Bungie’

No posts to display

Subscribe to:
oldest most liked
Inline Feedback
View all comments