Palworld Early Access Review — Fusing Survival With Monster-Catching Doesn’t Trigger an Evolution

Gotta catch'em all... and put them to work?

by Davi Braid
Palworld title art, featuring a wide range of Pals facing each other in a field
Image: Pocketpair

If a monster-catching survival sounds like a fun game to you, Palworld might be what you’re looking for. This highly anticipated game allows you to fight side by side with your Pals, use guns, design your base, and more.

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Drawing inspiration from Pokémon and incorporating all the clichés you’d expect in the open-world survival genre, Palworld aims to offer the best of both worlds. But does it succeed?

What is Palworld?

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Image: Attack of the Fanboy

Palworld is an open-world, creature-collecting, survival, crafting, action RPG. It has so many different elements taken from different genres, and it is decently cohesive when you start playing. The developer of Palworld, Pocketpair, is not new to this idea of mixing a bunch of different mechanics. Its other survival game, also in early access, is Craftopia, a game that, according to the Steam page, came into existence after imagining all of the team’s favorite video games combined into one package. Palworld follows the same direction but leans more toward monster collecting compared to Craftopia.

What Kind of Pokémon is This?

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Image: Attack of the Fanboy

Let’s address the elephant in the room: the creatures in this game bear a striking resemblance to Pokémon. I’m not saying that the creature design is a cheap imitation of known popular pocket monsters, but legendary game designer Ken Sugimori’s style was perfectly recreated in Palworld, and there’s no way that this is just a coincidence. Add that to capture mechanics, creature types that you are most likely familiar with, and the Pal Spheres you use to capture Pals, and you might end up forgetting this is an entirely separate series.

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  • Pyrin-Paldeck-Entry-in-Palworld
  • Lunaris-Paldeck-Entry-in-Palworld
  • Cinnamoth-in-Palworld

The art of Palworld leaves me conflicted. While the Pals generally look amazing, and I’m surprised by how much I appreciate their design, I can’t help but attribute this to Sugimori’s distinct art style. It’s undeniable that some Pals bear a striking resemblance to familiar Pokémon. Foxparks, a fire-breathing Pal, resembles the iconic and adorable Vulpix, and it doesn’t stop there. Anubis looks just like Lucario, Dinossom looks a lot like Meganium, and Boltmane certainly resembles Luxray. Still, many Pals are original and charismatic, with unique animations that set them apart from random creatures or mere Pokémon copies.

Palworld also sets itself apart from its competitors by excluding evolution mechanics. You assign Pals to a breeding farm so they can produce an egg that might become a rare Pal or a variation of a Pal. I appreciate the creature variations; they add depth to the survival experience. The fact that they aren’t considered different Pals is a bonus and might encourage players to experiment with unusual Pal pairings to discover more and more variations. Pals also possess special abilities, such as gunplay, terrain traversal, or as battle companions, even when another Pal is outside its Pal Sphere.

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Image: Attack of the Fanboy

There are rare specimens of Pals in the open world that possess skills typically unassociated with their type. Each Pal possesses unique attitudes that influence their behavior at your base. Since some are lazy, some are hard workers, and some might be a weird combination of positive and negative traits, you always have an incentive to keep catching more Pals of the same species. Different species also come with different skills. Some can help you cook; others can craft things for you, while others can seed and water your plantations. Some have a combination of skills, making them even more valuable.

What Am I Supposed to Do Exactly?

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Image: Attack of the Fanboy

Like many other survival games, Palworld drops you in an unknown location and leaves you to discover the game’s fun aspects on your own. Weirdly, I’m not sure if I have found the fun so far, but I’m not sure I haven’t either. One thing is for certain, there’s always something to do in the game. You will always be crafting, collecting material, capturing Pals, fighting to level up, mining, building stuff, designing your base, and so on.

This is where I find myself at a loss. While Palworld may resemble Pokémon and even feel like a Pokémon island, the game is much more about survival than about collecting creatures. When I see familiar creatures, familiar mechanics, and a familiar art style, it’s only natural to miss a familiar structure to the game. That doesn’t happen here.

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Image: Attack of the Fanboy

Stuffing numerous genre elements inside of one game can certainly draw in a larger pool of gamers, but it can also deter others for the same reasons. If you’re not into survival games, get ready to be frequently annoyed by hunger mechanics, the constant need for materials and base redesigns, random invasions, unlocking better structures, and more. There’s a good chance you’ll spend more time dealing with the craft and survival mechanics of the game than fighting and capturing creatures.

Despite these points, I thoroughly enjoy the monster-catching portion Palworld. By the time you earn a decent weapon and befriend capable Pals, fighting huge bosses is definitely a fun experience. Since Pals have different types, Work Suitability, drops, and attacks, they all feel very distinct from each other. Even though the combat mechanics are surface-level, you must actively pay attention to your surroundings when dealing with dangerous creatures. At first this game loop is immersive and exciting, buta ll that said, it grows stale with little else to offer.

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Image: Attack of the Fanboy

If you find joy in survival games by teaming up with friends to survive the harsh nights, Palworld allows you to invite friends to your world. While a co-op mode isn’t necessary for you to enjoy the game, it’s undoubtedly a fantastic addition. Still, it’s a shame that Palworld launches in early access without a competitive mode to duke it out with your Pals.

The Ugly and the Awkward

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Image: Attack of the Fanboy

Palworld, being an early-access game, clearly exhibits its developmental stage. Although you can still play, enjoy, and have fun with it, it does contain performance issues that are hard to ignore. During the building and crafting process, you may encounter inexplicable collision issues. Sometimes, with no obstacles in your way, the game won’t let you build a wall, while other times it will let you build a chest inside a rock. There’s also a lack of animations, the world feels generic and hollow, dungeons are boring, and exploration leaves much desired.

The Pals require further refinement, too. They don’t always behave as they should, often going under the ground, ignoring their enemies, or eating all your food for no reason. Some might just forget how to walk up a ramp or a staircase, while others might decide that they will sleep instead of finishing something you just told them to do.

Sadly, the issues don’t stop there. In my playthrough I experienced human enemies pausing at my base, doing absolutely nothing, even when attacked. I’ve seen them get stuck in rocks or staircases and stand there doing nothing for a couple of minutes before floating away and disappearing.

Fighting-a-Thug-in-a-Dungeon-in-Palworld
Image: Attack of the Fanboy

Verdict

Although Palworld can provide an enjoyable experience for a while, it’s a hard sell. It feels like halves of two different games that, when put together, don’t seem to make a whole. In this game, you always have something to do, but unless you enjoy walking back and forth to grab materials constantly, there’s a good chance Palworld will annoy you eventually. The same can be said if you don’t want to look for more efficient Pals to make your base work as you want it to.

Despite its potential and the enjoyment I derived from it, Palworld is not without its shortcomings. It’s not well polished, the world feels uninspired, and for every single thing that I liked about this game, I can point to one that annoys me or doesn’t work properly. It won’t please everyone, and it won’t please people who want a great monster-catching game or a deep, functional survival game. However, if you want a casual game that dabbles into both genres and is clearly in early access, you might be able to enjoy your time with Palworld.

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

- This article was updated on January 18th, 2024

About The Author

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Davi Braid is a devoted writer and gamer who's immersed in the world of interactive storytelling. Having worked in office jobs, he took a daring leap to pursue his dream job: writing about video games. His work is featured at many publications, and his journey has allowed him to explore the rich narratives and immersive experiences that this medium has to offer. In his quest to uncover the hidden gems within gaming, Davi embraces new genres and unearths unexpected delights in the world of video games.

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Palworld

  • Score: 2.5 / 5
  • Available On: Xbox Series X|S, PC, Xbox One
  • Published By: Pocketpair
  • Developed By: Pocketpair
  • Genre: Survival Monster-Catcher
  • US Release Date: January 19, 2024
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "Although Palworld can provide an enjoyable experience for a while, it's a hard sell .It feels like halves of two different games that, when put together, don't seem to make a whole."
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