There’s been a lot of buzz and many questions raised about a new game called Palworld.
Isn’t it just Pokémon with guns? some have asked. Is it copyright infringement? Others have wondered, Is it cruel? Why is it becoming so popular and setting gameplay records?
So, even though the game is still “officially” only in early access, we thought we ought to play it and address those questions along with the straight-forward query of: What exactly is this thing?
The fact is, Palworld seems to pull a lot of its mixed-breed inspirations from a whole bunch of popular titles. (Though its gamemakers have already declared there’s no IP infringement.) Some have suggested that it has DNA of titles such as Ark: Survival Evolved, Minecraft, Fortnite, Pokémon and even a dash of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild running through it’s veins.
And they’re all, in a way, correct.
At its core though, Palworld is more of a base-building, survival/crafting game than anything else. At least, that’s where you throw most of your early gaming energy.
Palworld doesn’t really have much of a story to lean into. There are no quaint villages to visit or critter competitions to participate in. You’re simply plopped down in an open-world locale filled with trees, rocks and wandering “Pal” critters and asked to go fend for yourself. The one surefire story suggestion is that there are “ancient glowing towers” scattered about the land. And they seem important.
So, how do you survive? Well, you can initially pick up sticks and punch trees and rocks in an effort to gather basic resources. And with enough of those resources, you can unlock recipes for a rudimentary workbench; a campfire to keep you warm at night; a basic axe; a basic club. With the club you can go out and kill a Pal for meat and sustenance. (Yep, this game ain’t always so “Poké” friendly.) And with more resources and recipes, you’ll get around to building a Pal Sphere with which to catch a weakened Pal critter.
Those Pals can then hunt with you, they can go out and gather resources for you, they can maintain your camp. With them you can build houses, beds, storage facilities, and more. When you unlock the ability to ride the galloping or flying Pals, they can transport you all across the great big world.
Hey, eventually you can even force your growing team of critters into an industrialized production line of conveyor belts and machines, if you’re so inclined. That will not only keep your camp humming but supply you with all the ammo and other elements you’d ever hope to own, use or sell. (There are also human merchants and black-market traders in the mix.)
Then there’s the battling side of the gaming equation. You may start out by thunking critters with a stick. But your crafted arsenal can grow into swords, bows and arrows, crossbows, shotguns and rifles. You can even pick up certain Pals and use them as a flamethrower against foes, for example, or assign them as guards with automatic weapons.
As you capture bigger, more destructively powerful Pals, you can then fend off other trainers who send their Pal armies to decimate your camp. You explore. You raid dungeons and discover treasure chests. And eventually you spread your influence to those glowing towers scattered about, and there you face off with big bosses in residence.
So, as to the question of what this game is, it’s many things. It’s a survival game, a crafting game, a farming sim, a strategy game, a shooter, an open world adventure and, yes, something of a thinly veiled, Pokémon clone featuring oh-so recognizable critters. It can be played as a single-player or multiplayer co-op game as well.
There is a lot to do in this game. And it can be fun. There’s not much story or narrative to drive you forward, but the game does toss many environmental, resource-management, combat and exploration challenges your way. (Even simply surviving your first frigid night is pretty motivating.)
On top of that, the world map is huge, colorful and alive with variety, which prompts players to keep exploring. And the Pal management is interesting—if you can get past the more negative aspects. More below.
The Pokémon clone feel of this game can be unsettling for some players. Pals do look very Poké-like, right down to their colors, markings, shapes and sizes. And with that Poké-mindset, bashing or slashing them to death and then butchering them for their chunks of meat can be disturbing.
In addition, you can essentially use your captive Pals as slave labor and work them to the point of mental exhaustion. (I should also note that human NPCs can be captured and fall into that category as well.) That imposed stress is played as dark humor, to a certain degree, but it can also be seen as animal abuse.
Some have used the term “Pokémon with guns” as a game descriptor, and that’s applicable. Players can craft muskets and rifles and some larger weaponry that the Pals fire at foes with. Parents looking at the cuteness of the game may overlook its violence. That said, the blasting and butchering isn’t bloody, but accompanied by bright sparks of contact and groans of pain.
There’s also something of a sexual component in the Pal mix. I noted one particular Pal, called a Lovander, with a very full-figured feminine look about it that’s hard to miss. It carries a rather adult description, too: “Seeking a night of love, it’s always chasing someone around. At first it only showed interest in other Pals, but in recent years even humans have become targets of its debauchery.”
You can also breed Pals for interesting new Pal offspring with upgraded skills. (Though there’s no visual breeding shown.) In addition, players can find (or kill specific Pal types to acquire) Pal Souls, the cast-off soul of a dead critter. These can be used to magically upgrade Pal skills.
Mom and dad might think “cute” when they see Palworld’s colorful critters. But AK-47s and butchering cleavers have a way of draining away the sweet and cuddly side of this game.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.