Unless you’ve been living under a rock-type for the last week, you’ll have no doubt heard about Palworld by now. The breakout sensation initially dubbed “Pokémon with guns” by onlookers is shattering even the most generous expectations and rattling the cage of almost every video game enthusiast. The only thing bigger than Palworld’s sales figures and player counts is the discourse surrounding the game, with almost everyone in the gaming zeitgeist drawing battle lines over accusations of plagiarism, the loose conspiracy theories of generative AI use and, of course, whether the game is ‘good’ or not.
Whichever side of the fence you find yourself on, there’s no denying that Palworld has blown up like Voltorb and swept up the community in a way that I haven’t seen since the launch of something like Fortnite or ironically, Pokémon GO.
If you’ve already played Palworld, you don’t need me to tell you what a strange and surprisingly fun experience it is. If you’re one of the very few people who either haven’t taken the plunge or sworn off it completely, allow me to offer this metaphor; Palworld is like that late-night slab of salt and fat from a shady food truck that you crave on the way home from a big night out. It’s cheap, the contents are questionable, and it’s been thrown together with very little love or consideration, but whatever they’ve put in the secret sauce is undeniably delicious and everything you want at that very moment.
For something that looked like either a joke or a hoax when it was first announced, I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how popular this would be, but there’s definitely a reason why sales figures have soared past eight million units in less than a week since launch, and that’s not even counting the droves of Xbox Games Pass players, myself included.
For all the talk about “Pokémon with guns” my biggest surprise on booting up Palworld was that it plays a lot more like a survival/crafting game such as Ark: Survival Evolved or The Forest. I was expecting to meet my starter ‘Pal’, strap on some iron and get to blastin’. Instead, I found myself needing to collect some wood and stone to make tools, manage my hunger and build a campfire to avoid freezing before I could even think about catching my new best friend.
I’ve always been a sucker for these kinds of games and not only did Palworld scratch that ever-present itch for me, it did so with relative competence and accessibility. Trading the dinosaurs and gritty realism of Ark for a more cartoony aesthetic and Poké– err, Pals was jarring at first, but I swiftly found myself excited to build up my base of operations, hunt some creatures and explore more of the massive world on offer.
My quest for pistols and pals was enhanced even further when I had three friends join in the fun. Aside from a noticeable but manageable dip in performance as each of them joined, we were all able to pursue adventure either together or as independently as we wanted.
After we established our first base, two of us went off to catch some Pals that could assist us in developing our new home. At the same time, our friend who loves building games had just happily built us a villa and then spent the rest of the session collecting resources and erecting more structures, with no real desire to hunt for Pals. Our other friend went off on their own to find a particular Pal he wanted, occasionally stopping in to build more arrows for his bow. When we eventually decided to jump off, each one of us felt equally pleased with what we’d experienced and couldn’t wait to dive back in and hang out.
Palworld is in early access and as such, I’ve come across the odd bug or two in my time with it so far (on the Game Pass version of the game, at least). That said, I’ve played my fair share of early access titles and this one does feel surprisingly well put together, and it’ll (hopefully) only get better over time. If you can wrangle a few mates together for some ‘mon-like’ fun, or if you’re just a grizzled old survivalist like I am, I’d absolutely recommend picking up the game on Steam or jumping in via Game Pass to see for yourself if the hype is real. Go on, use HM03 and ride the Palworld wave that’s sweeping the globe.