Palworld mixes monster catching, guns, and survival, and it mostly works

Knockoff pocket monsters meets open-world survival.

Palworld early access impressions

There are a few games that seem to crop up at random trailer-filled showcases, promising something that looks so strange it’s nigh-unbelievable. Sometimes, the trailers turn out a little too good to be true. Palworld, somehow, is not one of those.

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Pocketpair’s Palworld is about living on an island with a variety of mysterious, fantastical creatures called Pals. What you do from there is your choice; train them, use them to fight the evil poaching syndicate, or build an exploitative industry around them. Even sell or eat them, it’s really your call.

To call this “Pokémon with guns” is fairly accurate, sure. Palworld wears its inspirations on its sleeves. It’s also a bit more, and a bit stranger, than that concept would imply. So we here at Destructoid tasked two of our bravest adventurers, Eric and Zoey, with venturing deep into the Early Access build of Palworld to learn more. They are different people now than they were before, but they also know a fair amount about Palworld. Here are their takeaways.

Zoey Handley: More like a hostile acquaintance

Palworld is not my pal. I don’t mean to say that I think the game is of poor quality or I didn’t enjoy it. What I have played, I’ve certainly enjoyed. Palworld is less Pokémon with guns and more Ark: Survival Evolved with Pokémon. It’s a survival crafting game, and it succeeds in the way it manages to make hours disappear.

But it’s not my pal because it won’t let me play it. Every hour or so, Palworld hard crashes my computer. Straight up. Everything stops, I see a black screen, and I have to turn my PC back on.

I hate flashing my credentials, but I worked in I.T. for nine years. Troubleshooting a video game is a lot easier than remotely fixing a lawyer’s proprietary software. But Palworld didn’t give me a lot to go on. It doesn’t blue screen my PC. It just shuts it down entirely. There’s no minidump log, and the Windows event viewer doesn’t give a stop error. It just says, “The system has rebooted without cleanly shutting down first.” I have very little data to figure out what’s going wrong. It’s like Palworld broke into my apartment and held down the power button on my PC until it did a hard shutdown.

Palworld with a spear
Screenshot by Destructoid

It’s like clockwork. Everything works fine, and then it’s all over. Palworld at least saves often, so each time I re-entered the game, I didn’t have to repeat too much. I considered just playing through the crashes like I did when Fallout: New Vegas was new, but I’m concerned that too many hardware crashes would run the risk of corrupting portions of my hard drive.

I’m, therefore, hesitant to play any more of Palworld until there’s a patch for the game or a driver update for my GPU. That’s a shame because I started up the game just to check on something, and I really wanted to start playing. And then, on the main splash screen I noticed the message “Palworld is in Early Access. You may encounter bugs or crashes.”

That I certainly did.

I did enjoy the nearly three hours I played. As far as survival crafting games, it feels a bit simple. There is a nice twist of assigning captured Pals to your base to both hold the fort and take care of some of the chores.

Yep, it sure seems promising. I just wish I could play it.

Eric Van Allen: Oops, I built a factory

At some point, midway through crafting an Assault Rifle upgrade for my Grass-Type Pal Tanzee, I had to pause and reflect on what I had done. I was about to put a military rifle in the hands of a somewhat-sentient animal, a seemingly innocent and adorable creature, hoping it spraying bullets in a general direction would be the ace-in-the-hole I needed against a particularly tough boss trainer.

I considered it, decided it was cool, and went back to work.

Screenshot by Destructoid

That’s been my takeaway from Palworld so far: a game full of surprises. Granted, I had only followed it through novelty up to this point. It was the game that would show up at an SGF or Game Awards or similar stream, and I’d remark it was the “Pokémon with guns game,” and move on.

Yet part of me wanted to see if this would be a Days Before-esque disaster waiting to happen. Kudos to Pocketpair, this absolutely isn’t. In fact, it’s maybe one of the year’s early surprises.

While Palworld has you catching monsters, it’s not just about training and battling like its Game Freak-developed inspiration. And to be clear, I don’t think it’s a reach; everything about Palworld has a legally-distinct approximation vibe, down to the clever names, elemental typing, and even visual designs.

So after an hour or so of running around, catching monsters and seeing the open world expand, I figured that was the draw. There’s not really a funnier moment in gaming, in recent memory, than realizing that to catch my first Pal, I’d have to beat them up with my own fists to weaken and capture it. A novel appeal, one that’d make for some funny videos on socials.

But it was once I started building out my base back home that I saw the real draw. Or maybe, at least, the draw for me.

Screenshot by Destructoid

While every Pal can be taken into combat and used as a sidekick, alongside your own create-a-character’s martial capabilities, they can also be put to work back at your base. And as I dove deeper into the Work Suitability specialties that dictated each Pals’ talents, and how those could automate production, I feel deep down the rabbit hole.

My sole focus was now building a humming, fine-tuned factory for producing goods and advancing technology. Like a Sid Meiers Civ gunning for the Science Victory, I was storming through the tech tree, building up a machine of Pal labor to get me there. Once-natural resources, like Stone and Wood, became hubs I could set adorable Cattivas to work on, accruing my precious resources.

I sought out Pals not for their combat prowess, but for what they could do for my base: transport goods, craft items, seed fields, and water the crops. As my workshops and buildings expanded, I constructed a small fort, and soon had to defend it against invaders.

Screenshot by Destructoid

What’s impressive to me is that Palworld is pretty openly following in design footsteps. As much as there’s Pokémon, especially Legends: Arceus, in this game, there’s also Breath of the Wild and Rust, Valheim and Monster Hunter. And like a hearty stew, everything simmers right until it blends together.

I’m hesitant to pin any full appraisals to the game yet, as I’ve mostly wiled away the hours building a humming, ethically questionable hub of production and economy. It seems like there are bosses to conquer in some manner of story, and probably some formidable Pals to fight and win over. I’m just pleasantly surprised that Palworld not only works, but works so well. It’s genuinely enjoyable, even for me, someone who takes a while to warm up to the survival genre. As a Dyson Sphere Program and Satisfactory fan, the engaging automation certainly helps.

We’ll continue to follow Palworld as it develops throughout Early Access. But right now, Pocketpair has managed to both deliver on its surreal vision, and still create something that feels like more than just a novel “what-if” mash-up of ideas.

About The Author
Eric Van Allen
Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.
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