I’ll be honest, I was not prepared for a game best described as “Pokémon with guns” to be anything more than a meme. And while Palworld may be a meme, Pocket Pair’s survival monster fighter is a genuinely fun experience that is tearing up the charts on Steam, is a sudden huge boon to Xbox Game Pass and even makes players shake their heads wondering what exactly The Pokémon Company has been doing the past few generations.
I am not a survival game guy at all. I didn’t even like LEGO Fortnite when that launched, much less more involved games like Valheim. But the base-building and the survival mechanics are basic enough where I don’t feel exhausted by them, and am actually enjoying the process. Plus, at baseline, it is very funny to have your entire base managed by animals. It’s not slavery! Stop saying that! I built them a hot tub!
And it’s just a wild, hilarious game. In my first day with Palworld I:
- Beat a chicken to death with my bare fists to level up for the first time within 30 seconds of spawning.
- Upgraded my fire fox Pal so I can carry him around like a flamethrower.
- Upgraded a ghost pal so it floats over my shoulder and fires at enemies like a sentient turret.
- Threw an underperforming sheep Pal off a cliff and replaced him in my lineup.
- Found an enormous shiny Pal that I killed for extremely rare resources.
- I didn’t do this myself, but I saw on a stream you can actually capture humans you fight, and sell or butcher them. Genuinely not sure if this a bug but yeah, wow
I don’t even have any guns yet, so no “Pokémon with guns” for me just yet, but it’s still a blast hunting and fighting with my spear and bow, and sending out my giant plant dinosaurs and terrifying electric cats to take on enemies. Material gathering is a bit exhausting at first, but once you figure out which Pals to assign to which task, it gets a lot better, especially when you can have them auto-farm wood and stone so you’re not constantly venturing out to hack and trees and rocks.
Visually, the game isn’t anything too nuts, just Unreal Engine 5 to the point where yes, it very much does look and play like Fortnite. But the comparisons to Game Freak barely attempting to make the last few Pokémon games even live up to the Switch’s limited graphical potential are stark. Yes, Pokémon is a much more involved, complex monster fighter, but it looks increasingly bad with each new iteration, leaving room for something like Palworld to come in, eat its lunch and put up nearly a million concurrent players on Steam.
It is a very funny game, as the half dozen dead sheep rolling around like beach balls on my screen right now would indicate. But it also has a solid crafting/building/team management core, with real-time combat with increasingly powerful weapons and Pals that is a whole lot of actual fun. If this didn’t play well, all the Pokémon with AK-47s and Gatling guns in the world couldn’t save it. But it’s actually a blast.
I absolutely understand why this game is clicking immediately with so many people, along with a snowball “you have to try this” effect between the game being on Game Pass and only being $26 on Steam. It’s kind of insane that you can watch a AAA game with a $200 million budget off six years of development time pale in comparison to something like this out of relative nowhere.
It just ticks so many boxes. If you like Valheim, Fortnite or Pokémon, you will probably like this. And that’s one hell of a wide net to cast. Clearly it’s working.