I tried Palworld because my bestie told me to. Lately, her life has been a tenuous balance of work (forensic accountant) and Palworld. She made cuts in “unimportant” areas like “eating” and “sleep” to better accommodate those priority areas. I followed her in, mindful of the ability to refund any game on Steam within specified limits. I’ve been burned by shoddy early access games before.
Well, it got me. The adorable creatures and charming open world got me too. When I’m not playing this absurd game, I’m barraging my girlfriend with memes about it. After two days of play, I bought her a copy, and we started a multiplayer game together. We’ve been consumed. It’s too late to save us from ourselves.
Pokémon with guns?
Gamers have rallied around the success of the indie early access game Palworld. At time of writing, it just cleared 8 million sales in its first week of sales on the Steam platform alone. Dubbed Pokémon with guns, Palworld is an open world survival game in which players explore, survive, and thrive in a colorful landscape of magical creatures.
The premise of Palworld is that your character washes up on an exotic island chain full of strange critters. In every way, it’s a more forgiving version of open world survival games like Rust or Ark: Survival Evolved. The goal is to cover your priorities: defense, food…even shelter if you’re feeling ambitious. The crossover with monster-taming games arrives with the ability to defeat and tame the strange creatures wandering around. My favorite starter is Lamball, a comical spheroid sheep who transports firewood by tucking it between its horns.
Despite its flawed, in-development state, Palworld has devoured gaming media and brought child-like glee into our home. First, it took over my best friend’s relationship. Now, my girlfriend and I can’t put it down.
The tiny round sheep has opposable thumbs
Picture this: My girlfriend Lucy and I have washed up ashore in a strange world. Somewhere in the distance, she sees a creature that she now knows as Lamball lose a fight. Its round body tumbles down a hill before bouncing off a tree and coming to a stop next to a comically large chicken. I fell in love with those weirdos the first time I saw them, and Luce wasn’t far behind.
When we began our adventure, I gave her pointers from my extensive gaming knowledge. Survival essentials like how to harvest wood and stone, and The Pointy End: A Primer on the Effective Use of Spears. I explained to her that in order to subdue the eponymous pals, she’d have to defeat them in combat. In the early game, this occurs at the business end of a large stick or a shoddy bow-and-arrow. Once the pal is weakened (by violence), the player tosses a trademark-friendly sphere at them to begin capturing it. If the whole thing is a success, the pal is magically tamed and added to the player’s collection. Hooray!
Pals can be summoned as fighting companions or set to work at home. Cattiva, a bipedal pink cat, is a good starting miner. Univolt is an electrified unicorn that can electrify the base or be ridden across the world. For some reason, the developers saw fit to bless Lamball with manual dexterity fit to assemble a crossbow. Lamball was Lucy’s first catch.
From there, the game gives little guidance except to go out and do the things. Some people lean into the story of humankind by building settlements and taming wildlife. Others treat the game as a homemaking and ranch simulator where the sheep provide candy floss. Others still play by blighting the Palpagos Islands and introducing the pals to their trophy collection. Multiplayer invites friends and loved ones to collab on massive bases or long treks in search of new pals.
Ultimately, it’s a game where you and like three of your closest friends create fun. That’s great, because I only have like two friends and a partner. Lucy and I have explored the enormous world on our winged mounts. We’ve built beach houses and ranches together (I handle foundations, she decorates). My current project is a castle perched on a great cliff while she lives as a nomad in the southern forests. Sometimes we meet to trade rare resources or tame something big. It’s glorious. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but it’ll probably be ridiculous. Most likely, I’ll botch another taming attempt that leaves me yelling at the white mammoth that has my scent.
The Palworld destination is upward
The game is a hodge-podge mix of genres and inspirations. In my 40 hours, I’ve seen world design and boss battle insights from Elden Ring. The creature-taming is straight from Pokémon and Siralim. The survival and base-building is inspired by the saturation of open world survival games starting with Minecraft back in 2011. One Steam reviewer described Palworld as feeling like “every early access game combined.”
That’s both its greatest strength and primary shortcoming.
Palworld splashed into early access with the hype of a triple-A title. Millions play daily, but the game is in its infancy. In between the cherished wonder of finding new wildlife, we’ve faced hourly game crashes. I painstakingly moved the storage of one base to another because there’s no system for that. Some of the weapons don’t have the correct art. The English translation is wonky, and the whole game still feels cobbled together. Don’t even ask about meaningful story content.
Still, our relationship wouldn’t give it up for anything. Our best friend joined our server recently and has been fumbling her way through her first house. Being trampled by colorful wildlife has brought us all closer. And if any of what I just described interests you, then Palworld is worth watching. It’s incredibly janky and still in development, so the only place it can go is up.