On Friday, January 19th, the “Pokemon with Guns” game, Palworld, was released in Early Access on Steam and Xbox, and, to everyone’s surprise… it’s actually good? Over its first few days on the market, Palworld has been exceeding expectations, selling over 3 million copies, not including Game Pass players, and hitting the top ten highest concurrent players charts on Steam. I’ve put in at least 10 hours over the release weekend and what’s captured me is how much more there is to the game beyond that initial “Pokemon with Guns” vibe it gave off, which is certainly there as well. At its core, Palworld is more “Valheim meets Pokemon” with a hint of a game like Satisfactory. It’s a survival game where your “Pals” are more than battle companions, they’re your industrial-era sweatshop workers, and it’s highly addicting.

A True-to-Form Survival Game

Honestly, from the trailers of Palworld, I thought I got the joke so I had no intentions of giving it a second thought after its release but then the buzz started kicking in. Luckily, for Xbox owners, Palworld is available via Xbox Game Pass so I was able to give the game a chance at no extra cost or concerns so I figured, why not? From the first moments of the Breath of the Wild intro cues (alright it’s pushing it a bit), you realize that Palworld is a survival game, more akin to Valheim and the like, than anything else. Punching trees, crafting, etc. I didn’t really know what to expect but a full survival game wasn’t it. Unlike other games in the genre, however, your crafting progression is limited by player level and a technology tree that you unlock over time. However, where Palworld really exceeds, and it should, is in the integration of the “Monster Catching” mechanics and how it is implemented into the survival/crafting ecosystem.

Throughout the landscape, the Pokemon-like creatures known as Pals, roam free and are available to punch to an inch of their lives and enslave in ball-type devices to help aid you in battle against other Pals or set to work at your home base. A big part of Palworld is automation using your Pals. Each Pal comes with specialties or skills that allow them to perform specific types of tasks such as mining, woodcutting, farming, etc. and, as long as they have a bit of work ethic and some type of working conditions, they’ll automatically perform the tasks within your base to eventually make it fairly self-sufficient. It’s in that way that monster collecting feeds into the survival game and makes it much more digestible. If you want to focus on crafting and base building you can, or if you want to adventure out to seek new Pals and tackle dungeons, you can do that too. Each activity feeds into the other to keep the game fresh and suitable to your needs while always advancing you forward.

Gotta Catch Em All

Much like a good old-fashioned Pokemon game, monster collecting is at the forefront of Palworld’s game design. As mentioned previously, to build your base, collecting all sorts of Pals with different specializations and random traits is key to succeeding. For new players, one of the most important lessons I learned is that experience is dished out fairly quickly when capturing multiples of the same Pal, up to the first 10 of each, incentivizing you to explore and seize the best versions of each Pal. In addition to being personal workhorses, monster battling is just as important. You can keep up to five Pals on you at any given time and call them out onto the field to fight or utilize special skills. Some pals can be used for mounts while others can unlock items, such as a gun, for further combat options. Also among the world, players can tackle large-sized bosses, enter dungeons for mining and treasure, and stumble upon various NPCs to buy from or challenge. In my opinion, and it’s very low of Pokemon these days, catching and fighting in Palworld’s early access is at least more technically sound than Pokemon Scarlet/Violet so, as silly as it sounds, maybe Game Freak could learn a thing or two about making a console-style Pokemon from Palworld since they seem to have forgotten the Gamecube era.

Final Thoughts

Palworld wears its Pokemon “inspiration”, if you can call it that, on its sleeve. In every inch of the game, there’s no doubt the team at Pocket Pair is well aware of what they’re doing to the cute image most of us have for Pokemon. Between the adorable, morbid rag-dolling of the Pals to capture living humans, it’s a mystery how Nintendo and GameFreak didn’t find a means to shut down this clear satire of the age-old franchise. However, it’s exactly that satire of the game that makes it that much more interesting, whether fully intentional or just for the memes (it’s for the memes and that’s okay). Sure, the game is still plenty buggy and has that signature Early Access jank but, at the end of the day, Palworld is surprisingly fun and not even close to the game I assumed it would be. Whether alone or with friends, Palworld is more than meets the eye and it’s taken the world by storm. I only hope it can maintain the momentum as the team works towards a completed release and becomes a long-term entry in the survival genre. For now, however, I’m going to get back in there and put my Pals to work.