Fun and Chaos in Palworld
Nothing about what Palworld attempts to do seems like it should work in the slightest. A thinly veiled Pokémon clone where you and your collectible monsters shoot people in the face with literal guns? A base building survival game where you use your kidnapped creatures as laborers, and are then forced to cook and eat those unpaid employees when times get tough? An open-world co-op adventure where you and your friends thwack helpless sheep over the head with a baseball bat to harvest their wool? Defying the odds, this wholly irreverent, gun-toting take on the creature collection genre has proven unrelentingly fun for the 15 hours I’ve binged so far. Its survival mechanics are intuitive and deep, its action-packed combat is silly and satisfying, and exploring the world in search of new Pals to kick the snot out of hasn’t come close to getting old – all of which is even more impressive considering this is just its Early Access release. I am baffled to report, dear reader, that Palworld is very good.
Despite the clear, eyebrow-raising inspiration it takes from a certain creature collecting powerhouse, Palworld more closely resembles a formulaic survival game like Grounded, with a roster of lovable monsters to capture as a clever twist on that formula. You find yourself inexplicably dropped into the wilderness of a strange land filled with oversized, dangerous beasts called Pals. From there you’ll need to build a base, hilariously force the local fauna into your servitude, and upgrade your gear to wage war against the rotten members of the Syndicate who try to murder you with assault weapons every chance they get. You won’t find yourself hanging out in idyllic towns or challenging gym leaders to friendly contests – this isn’t that kind of adventure (unless it has a very stark change of tone later on). Instead, your goal is to survive the harsh land and face off against evil and/or psychotic Pal trainers who raze villages, attack your base, and command foreboding towers and dungeons filled with goons who shoot to kill.
Tonally, that’s an utterly unhinged combination. One moment I was taking in pastoral views as I explored for new Pals, gliding, climbing, crafting, and cooking like this was an off-brand Tears of the Kingdom. The next moment I was firing guns at armed thugs and considering the possibility of butchering a Pal who had been mentally broken by the poor working conditions of my sweatshop so I could consume his meat to avoid starvation. Rather than not addressing the questionable aspects of the creature collecting genre, Palworld amusingly leans into them and lets you do absurd things like pick up your fiery fox Pal and use it as a flamethrower to burn your enemies to a crisp, or equip your monkey Pal with a machine gun (which sure beats using tail whip). Once you get over how incredibly weird that all feels, it’s a complete blast.
Catching Pals out in the open world has been a ton of fun so far, though it’s definitely a bit weird to hack a small penguin unconscious with an ax, or even more alarmingly, take out a gun and riddle your target with lead before stuffing it into a capture sphere. It feels extremely wrong at first, to be sure, but I found myself disturbingly used to the ritual after a few hours – I mean, is doing the dirty work myself really all that different from battling them with another captured creature instead?
The Pals themselves, on the other hand, aren’t quite as original as the process of catching them, as I’d mostly describe the ones I’ve seen as “almost copyright infringement.” Seriously, there’s a mouselike lightning Pal, a sassy two-legged cat Pal, a dinosaur with a flower on its head, and many more that reminded me an awful lot of some collectible monsters from the days of my youth. That said, uninspired as they are, most have pretty neat designs and a lot of personality, which makes each one a ton of fun to hunt and do battle against.
Though capturing, leveling up, and fighting alongside Pals is a major and awesome part of the adventure, you’ll likely spend much more time hanging out at your bases, where you’ll craft useful items and facilities, cook meals, and arm yourself for war in the epic battles ahead. Just like most other survival games, you’ll need to keep a steady stream of crafting materials flowing in, like wood, stone, and food, and the key to automating that process so you don’t spend endless hours mind-numbingly chopping down trees and swatting rocks with a pickaxe is by making clever use of the Pals themselves. For example, farming could soak up lots of your time as you plant seeds, water your plots, and then harvest the crops, but once you’ve captured some Pals and put them to work at your base, you can have a plant Pal spit seeds out of its mouth, then have a water Pal blast them with water, before another Pal comes along to harvest the crop and move it to your storage container.
This Pal-based cooperation is not only ridiculously adorable to watch, but gives you even more reasons to catch every creature you find. You might not have much use for the fox-like Pal Foxparks in battle, but if you keep one at your base, whenever you fire up the grill to cook or use the furnace to smelt some ingots, your charming fire friend will come running to shoot fire at the appliance and make the task go by faster. Even the weakest creatures give you a whole new reason to catch not just one of them, but a whole bunch to be put to work at whatever it is they do well.
I’ve only barely scratched the surface of a world map that seems quite large, but so far running around and looking for hidden chests, battling dangerous boss Pals, raiding dungeons stuffed with loot, and chatting with a handful of NPCs and vendors scattered throughout the wilderness has been consistently entertaining. In one area I was ambushed by some wolflike Pals and a giant boss who was way beyond my level absolutely destroyed me, while in another I fought a camp of evil Pal trainers who had raided the area and put Pals in cages, and in another yet I found a shady blackmarket trader who was selling rare, probably illicitly obtained Pals. I recently unlocked the ability to ride some of my airborne Pals, too, which has opened up a lot of exploration options, but there’s still quite a lot left to do and see. Time will tell just how much depth there is, but after taking down a few bosses and with a few dozen Pals unlocked in my Paldeck, I’m absolutely champing at the bit to see more.