Palworld - First Impressions

March 1, 2024


Also on:
Xbox One
Xbox Series

Whenever one of my friends tells me to buy a game, I’m immediately skeptical of that game, and not just because I’m a somewhat jaded journalist who still regrets picking up Escape From Tarkov seven years ago. See, since Twitch became more popular than traditional entertainment outlets there’s been an increasing number of “flavour of the month” titles promoted by streamers and content creators that just aren’t very good. Although there’s rarely anything intrinsically wrong with the likes of Lethal Company or Among Us, they’re only really enjoyable for a couple of weeks, and their player bases disappear quicker than an expensive bottle of scotch from a liquor store in the bad part of town. And as a man who believes that the best experiences on the market aren’t one-off indie “darlings”, but instead are the ones with obtrusive mechanics and an anti-war sentiment, I never really understood the appeal of the likes of Valheim or whatever else my mates recommend to me. And after playing Palworld, a game that has nothing intrinsically wrong with it but is already losing players quicker than I lose my keys after work, I can say that I get why people bought it, but I’m honestly not sure whether or not I would’ve if my co-workers didn’t pester me into doing so.

In case you didn’t watch any of the clickbait video essays about the game that were popular a month ago, Palworld is, at its core, an Ark: Survival Evolved ripoff, except with Pokemon instead of dinosaurs. After you boot it up, create a private server and invite your friends to it (or join an online server, or start up a single-player world), the first thing you do is punch a tree and pick up rocks from the ground. Then you build a crafting bench, an axe, a pickaxe, a base, and start capturing the local wildlife so they can help you gather even more wood/stones/other wildlife. You can raid PvE dungeons, take down world bosses, level up to unlock rides for your critters and technologies including firearms, and explore its giant map at your leisure. None of that necessarily makes Palworld a ripoff of Ark, now that I’m thinking about it, as its core gameplay loop is identical to that of almost every Early Access survival title, but that’s neither here nor there, now that I think about it.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Palworld is, for better or worse, little more than a blend of mechanics and elements from more popular games. Its graphics and audio are nearly identical to those of Fortnite, its gameplay is eerily similar to other craft-em-ups, its lore isn’t all that different from Pokemon, and the bulk of its assets could very well have been bought from the Unreal Engine store. The wildlife you capture and enslave are somewhat unique, and the fact that you can force them to work on firearm assembly lines is amusing in the same way that forcing children to work on firearm assembly lines in Rimworld is, but there isn’t anything that sets the game apart from the swaths of others in its genre.

To be clear, although Palworld lacks an identity of its own, it’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. All of its mechanics are well-balanced, it runs well even on dated PCs, and it’s addictive to run around catching all of its not-Pokemon with not-Pokeballs. I’d even go so far as to say that the title is fun, because in addition to fighting other players and wildlife, there’s plenty of gun-toting enemy AI to shoot at, and it’s hard to not smile when you give a monkey-looking creature an assault rifle and have them help you take down your foes. It’s easy to lose track of time gathering resources, improving your home and leveling up, and finally managing to capture a specific pal (that’s the wildlife, not whoever you play the game with) you’ve been looking for is satisfying much in the same way that finally managing to capture a T-Rex in Ark, or a slime in Minecraft, is.

Something something Assassin’s Creed at home

However, going back to the whole “flavour of the month” thing, Palworld’s issue, and the reason that it’s hard to recommend it, is because it just isn’t different enough from the other games in its genre. As an Early Access title, it’s possible that its developers will add mechanics that truly set it apart from its competitors in the future, but it’s equally possible that they’ll keep it in development hell like they have with two of their three other games. Right now, Palworld is the seventh most played game on Steam, and had over 2 million concurrent players when it launched about a month ago. But that number has been steadily dropping as people, and content creators, found another title to latch onto. Does that mean you shouldn’t buy Palworld if you have $30/£24.99 and want to waste a few dozen hours doing the same things you do in every other survival game? No, because in spite of its generic elements, it is in fact fun and far from the worst way to waste some cash. Do I recommend it, though? Also no, because I’m already invested in Minecraft, and think video games should be innovative and not derivative of one another.

Palworld is currently in Early Access. Check back on Jump Dash Roll for our review when it fully releases!

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Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.