Palworld Bursts Onto Steam With an Intense Crafting and Combat Combo

Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

Palworld is the latest title to take gaming by storm, hitting records on Steam’s top seller charts. As entertaining as it is brazen, Palworld is a crafting survival game with big, fun creatures to catch and put to work for your entertainment. Battling alongside your captured monsters, called pals, you can wield a spear, club, or even a shotgun – but the real fun is that you can have a monkey ride on your head who does his best impression of Tony Montana. So, is Palworld worth the price of admission, or is it a rip-off in more ways than one? Let’s find out.

The largest thing to know about Palworld is that anyone who explains it as “Pokemon with guns” is lying to you. Palworld was clearly inspired by a large number of different titles, the first and foremost being crafting survival games like Ark: Survival Evolved. Due to the need to craft all of your gear, weapons, and items, you’ll spend a significant amount of your early game scavenging for food and building materials, at least until you can capture a number of pals and have them help you acquire the items you need to progress.

Palworld isn’t turn-based, and it has a simplistic structure for combat where you maneuver around attacks by either strafing or using the handy dodge button (which is on the ctrl key by default- I rebound that to my mouse for easier access). You can use a club, spear, bow, or even a firearm to subdue threats, whether they are dragons that look like rubber bath toys, or humans who oppose those who capture these (sometimes) peaceful creatures that inhabit Palapagos Island. One of the more fun things about Palworld is that once you capture a pal, you can summon it into battle and it’ll fight alongside you, or in my case, do 90% of the fighting for me while I distract enemy monsters and hide behind rocks.

Your weapons, armor, food, and even medicine all have crafting time associated with them where either you’ll need to actively assign your captured monsters to work for you, or you’ll have to craft them yourself. There’s no Poke-Mart to sell you the legally distinct Pal Spheres you need to catch new monsters and put them to work- you’ll need to gather the materials and make them yourself. Capturing pals in Palworld works very much like you’d expect if you’ve ever played a Pokemon: Lower its health and then chuck a Pal Sphere at it and hope for the best.

Every pal in the game can have up to three attacks at any one time, as well as four passive traits that can improve how they do certain things. These passives can be as beneficial as Lord of Lightning which increases electricity damage, or it can be a negative trait like Slacker which lowers the monster’s work speed. Interestingly, with careful use of the breeding facility you can build, it’s possible to pass beneficial skills to your little abominations which make them significantly stronger in combat or better for base work.

This means that while you’re off exploring and catching new monsters, you can have pals at your base mining stone, chopping wood, or even have them producing eggs and wool. Pals that get upset can slack off and stop working, begin stress eating, or may just feel neglected and get sick, which may require medicine or putting them in the Palbox for a while to recuperate. It’s for this reason that crafting better beds for a better night’s sleep, hot springs, or just cooking food for the pals can be a very helpful idea to keep everything running smoothly while you’re away from your base. This can be especially handy late-game, as you’re going to need hundreds of things forged or crafted at any given point in time, and having pals that just don’t do anything can be pretty frustrating when you need some more Pal Spheres to acquire new student athletes—I mean pals, for your team.

You can assign your pals to work for you at your base, and increasing your base level gives you access to new facilities and even more slots to have pals work for you. Palworld also encourages you to catch basically every monster you see because you can use the extras to increase the ranks of your favorites. Additionally, if you find yourself needing specific materials and you caught a bunch of various pals who aren’t doing anything at the moment, you can craft the Knife of Friendship, which looks conspicuously like a butcher’s knife, and extract materials from your pals in exchange for never seeing them again. So basically, you can murder your pals with the meat cleaver tool for a few item drops, is what I’m actually saying.

On top of that, you can find Pal Souls to upgrade the stats of your favorite pals, Lifmunk statues that are scattered all over the world which let you raise your capture rate with Pal Spheres, and you can also find eggs littering Palapagos Island, which you can hatch with an incubator. Setting up a breeding facility is a great way to find new monsters you may want, as tossing in any two pals can yield a pal you haven’t seen before. Of course, don’t ask me how breeding a deer and an electric bird produces a bipedal dog called Anubis, but this system is either moon logic or was inspired by Shin Megami Tensei’s fusion system where you combine two creatures to get a completely new one.

After a certain point, it became a lot of effort and grinding just to keep up on materials to make assault rifle ammunition, and I noticed my pals were consistently doing much more damage than I was anyway. It was at that point that my firearm just became the distraction gun, and I would get an enemy’s attention, dodge their attacks, and let my pal do the vast majority of the damage against higher leveled targets. If my pal would get the attention of what we were fighting, it was a simple matter to unsummon my pal and toss them back out once the attack had missed.

The soundtrack itself is comprised of some pretty grandiose and interesting backing tracks, but the only issue is that there’s just not much of it. There’s no overworld themes at all, so you’re largely only going to hear music when locked in battle against something or someone. When there is music, however, it’s phenomenal, as the music is precisely what you’d expect from composer Tatsuya Yano. It’s great that Palworld was able to get a composer that’s created music for Atelier Sophie, Nights of Azure 2, and even the anime Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out.

The visuals of Palworld are bright, cheerful, and almost saccharine in its sweetness and simplicity, which is humorously juxtaposed with the fact that your dollar store Lucarios can be butchered for meat. For an Early Access title, Palworld looks great – the environmental design of Palapagos Island punches significantly above its weight class especially compared to more recent monster catching titles. The visuals aren’t jaw dropping, but they’re considerably better than many I’ve seen in Early Access.

Palworld isn’t exactly high art – going into combat side-by-side with Cinderace-but-grass-type is fun, and that’s primarily because the collection-crafting loop is inherently addictive. You need to farm materials to make spheres to catch new pals, and you need multiples of each pal as sacrifices to raise the rank of your favorite of that type of pal, and while you’re out collecting ore to make new spheres, you might as well also grab lifmunk effigies, eggs, quartz, and tons of other materials… and then it’s four hours later, and you’re wondering what you’re doing with your life.

Palworld is overwhelmingly derivative. The way in which it combines varying ideas across genre lines doesn’t give you much that you could say makes it wholly unique. What’s interesting about Palworld are the ways it, oftentimes awkwardly, combines these ideas to form a gameplay experience that is entertaining in spite of the fact that the ideas aren’t exclusive. I’ve played Ark in the past, but the sheer length of time it takes to do anything, including taming many dinosaurs on default server settings, left a lot to be desired. Palworld, conversely, lets you have a team of indentured servants relatively quickly, and you can constantly be rotating new creatures in and out of your primary battle and worker teams.

What does impact the gameplay experience in Palworld, however, is the fact that the AI in this game is absolute rubbish. Pals you assign to tasks at bases, such as having an ice-type pal keep your food cool to stave off decay, can wind up stuck in trees or on top of built structures, unable to find their way down like your neighborhood’s dumbest cat. It’s not uncommon to have to grab a pal multiple times and throw them at the exact same unfinished task repeatedly because they stopped forging the ingots you needed to make the next tier of armor or weapons so that they could eat, but somehow got stuck spinning in place like the base is a 1990s breakdance festival.

There’s a decent number of large, serpent type pals who get their noodle-like selves trapped on top of refrigerators, forges, and anything in between for seemingly no reason. For example, Jormuntide, a large serpent that reminded me of Digimon’s Seadramon, was practically guaranteed to be stuck on top of the silo each time I returned to base, as if it were a dog that jumped on the counter to sneak some food but now is suddenly afraid of heights when it thinks about jumping to ground level. Games like Rune Factory back on the Nintendo DS let you assign tasks to the monsters you tamed, and they at least did those jobs consistently.

The poor AI doesn’t just apply to your monsters back at base, either. Legendary creatures that roam the environment, creatures of the highest level that get their own unique music theme in a game with only 17 music tracks, can be easily beaten and captured early by confusing their pathfinding due to rocks and differences in elevation available in their arena. These max level pals are your rewards for good preparation, solid team building, and mastery of the game’s mechanics and controls- or you can stand on a rock some distance from its spawn point and stare at the majestic ice horse as it runs into a rock wall while your pal lights it on fire.

So, the largest question that needs to be answered about Palworld is: if it’s not unique, is it at least fun? And hell yeah, it’s an absolute ton of fun, especially if you were already open to playing titles like Ark, Valheim, Rust, and similar. Ark is probably the single closest comparison, because you can tame dinosaurs and ride/use them, but everything in Palworld is just much faster when compared to Ark. Catching a powerful monster in Palworld may take a couple minutes in combat and a few Pal Spheres, but taming a T-rex in Ark can take nearly an hour, not even including fighting it. In this way, Palworld lets you rotate new monsters in and out of your team at a constant clip, which makes for a quick and varied gaming experience.

You’ll likely be able to experience all of Palworld’s content in around 30 to 40 hours, especially if you have good friends, and will have caught most if not all of the monsters in that time. However, there are some severe issues with pal AI, especially when your base gets crowded with large creatures who get stuck on one another (and your deity of choice help you if you capture the jumbo-sized alpha pals which are huge, get trapped on everything, and they’re Palworld’s take on shinies). If these issues get fixed, the game will be a ton more enjoyable since you know that you can queue up a bunch of refined ingots and know they’ll be done by the time you return from exploring.

There are tons of things for you and friends to find, like lore entries to give you some of the worldbuilding behind Palworld, but even if you don’t want to dig that deep into it, there’s plenty to do for the price paid. If you’re looking for a new, completely unique experience, Palworld may not give that to you. If you’re looking for a title with a good variety of things to do, explore, and capture, and want to progress at a quick pace, Palworld has your next 30 or so hours covered, for sure.

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