Some games launch with a carefully planned years-long hype campaign, calculated trailer drops, slow reveals, ad placements, and a whole choreographed routine designed to ensure success. Some appear out of nowhere, barreling up the Steam charts and onto GamePass powered entirely by word of mouth and a tight pitch. To be fair, “It’s Minecraft with Pokemon and the Pokemon have machine guns” is one hell of a pitch.
Normally, I don’t like survival crafting games, but I watched a gameplay video and a dude went out in the world and beat the hell out of a chicken with his bare hands to capture it. Chicken punching is an instant buy for me and the millions of others who bought in. In the interest of full disclosure, I was sick and packed to the gills on cold medicine, so even more deranged than usual. If you’re asking what the hell is Palworld and does it really look that much like Pokemon…I’m glad you asked because there are a ton of words devoted to answering that very question. This one isn’t so much a summary as a journey through the first several hours of the game with a tour guide sippin on sizzurp. Get ready for…The Ballad of Big Chungus.
Palworld is an Early Access game but already has a few different options: You can chill in your own world. There are official servers right now but you do have to remember which one you created a character on. Exclusive private servers are currently experimental, but they’re working on it. I wanted to harass other people so I tried multiplayer first.
It’s a pretty slick character creator for making attractive characters, which is boring, or making terrible monstrosities, which is a cool fun activity for cool dudes like me.
On multiplayer servers, you pick a spawn point and it tells you what kind of resources and Pals are around in a very general sense, so you know how much trouble you’re getting into. I picked the one called “The Windswept Hills of Beginnings,” because I felt like there was a hint in there somewhere. My server was pretty populated, so someone already had a fire going and some basic stuff built. The game said I was Cold, so I set myself on fire to solve that.
This survival stuff is pretty easy, dunno what everyone is complaining about.
Being Cold actually does matter because it does do damage…but then, so does being on fire. Maybe there’s a middle ground. I secured some wood and consulted my survival guide, which was actually pretty useful for figuring out what to do.
Punch things. Exactly what I came to do. Somebody already had a workbench up, so I got one of those built and saw I needed to make a Pokeba…Pal Sphere to capture a chicken once I’d choke…punched it into submission.
As you can see, there’s a full blown tech tree, a Pokede…Paldeck where you can find out all about your Pals, your inventory (which also has your character info), and even some guild options. Nonetheless, punching time was upon us, and Big Chungus is built for punching.
I found the very retro/Dreamcast aesthetic of the menu and interface pleasing. The whole thing felt like some forgotten classic, actually, even the weird keybinds and controls on PC fit into that. Sadly, the cats jumped on me, I had to feed them, and I couldn’t remember what multiplayer server I was on. Maybe it was time to ride solo. On that note, oh my god, the difficulty settings. You can control all kinds of things…
Time to punch some chickens.
In a solo game, there’s more of a story element. There’s a mystery to be solved, something about trees, something about expeditions, the Pals are eating people. Frankly, the Pals seemed more like Dicks. Also, note this mf is strapped, but he was nice enough to give me some supplies so I could build a workbench.
Nick Offerman intensifies.
The game told me I should make a pickaxe or axe to mine minerals, but my new broski for life told me hostile Pals are running around. I went to the School of Hard Knocks myself and the Street Game (I am very street) told me to use my new workbench to strap myself up.
Throws Right, Hits Chickens Right
I got my club and I got my Pal Sphere and I got the knowledge of a life as a banger on the streets of Palworld. Let’s go chicken hunting.
Siri, play MC Thunder II (Dancing Like A Ninja) by Electric Callboy, it’s BATTLE TIME!
NOW YOU’RE GONNA FEEL THE MIGHTY THUNDER!
Once the immediate score was settled, I had to do a little building and unlocking. It got dark and cold, but you know I’m about that rise and grind Palworld life. Hashtag nosleep hashtag maybeonfireagain. By daybreak, BEHOLD, MIGHTY FORT CHUNGUS!
Okay, in fairness, not that mighty yet. But I have a little board to manage my Pals, a fire to not freeze to death, and an axe and pick to go with my trusty club. Oh, that screen below the tutorial?
One of Palworld’s twists is your Poke…Pals can be put to work in THE MINES! Or you can eat them. Or sell them. Or arm them with assault rifles. (I’m not joking). But they can also get sad and stressed. And in addition to battle skills, they have work skills and do certain things around the homestead. And they can get sad and stressed if you don’t take care of them. So my new chicken buddy can be put to work around Fort Chungus or I can bring him out in the world to hunt other Pals with me.
I am a benevolent ruler, even if I might devour him later since chickens are delicious, being made out of chicken. But he is stressed without a bed, and the Whole Foods hippies always say stressed animals taste worse, so…
Sleep tight, preferably in a lemon pepper marinade.
Thus begins the familiar survival game loop of “figure out what I want to build or need to survive, then go gather resources to build it”, mixed with the Pokemon loop of “also fight cute monsters and capture them”, but with an added “or maybe kill them for crafting materials or eat them or put them to work or OH SHIT WHAT THE HELL IS THAT…”
There is megafauna. There are also poachers and villages and villagers and lost towers and dungeons…but we’ll get there.
From humble beginnings, Fort Chungus grows. Also Big Chungus builds fires right in the living room.
As your burgeoning empire of slaves…Pals builds, and the roster management aspect becomes apparent. Consider this:
I have some I can leave at my base to work on things. There’s a limited number of those and I can increase that number with upgrades, but each one only has certain skills and upgrades, so I have to consider what tasks need doing at the ol’ homestead. I also have a party to go fight in the world with me, so I have to consider who is better in the field or at home. And then I have my bench. Down the road, I can also sell them to merchants and such if I’m so inclined. So it’s not just “gotta catch em all”, it’s “gotta catch a better miner because I keep running short on stone and the goddamn cat keeps slacking off because he’s depressed.”
I’m not joking, by the way.
The little bastard is an emo pyromaniac and every time I leave him at the base I get messages he’s slacking off, so if I want to leave him, I have to build a hot tub to improve his mental state. Holy hell, what even is this game?
And that’s the twist or evolution in the Pokemon formula, if you will: What if they were actually useful? And the twist in the survival formula: What if the base building and resource gathering eventually wasn’t tedious? What if you could capture creatures that did that stuff for you, so you could do the cool, fun stuff, then come back? Like what if there was a penguin that was really useful and could build things and water the garden….
Not as cute as Danny Devito’s The Penguin, but who is?
Now, yes, Big Chungus is so thicc his arm is in his torso, there’s still some bugs to work out, but these are also screenshots I personally took, not PR bullshots all gussied up. Back to my train of thought: And what if you could get better and better Pals? And as you leveled up your base you could do more stuff? And what if there were super rare Pals that had extra special abilities in combat and/or base management? And as you built stuff and fought stuff and unlocked stuff there was MORE to do? And as you explored, you found hints about what happened and other fast travel points and the chance to make more bases?
Or you found an incredibly large sheep to help around the fort and defend it because those mean ol’ other Pals will sometimes raid it.
As you get your base built and explore, you may see shiny things in the distance, ruins that seem interesting, ancient technology, or diaries of other explorers, which is another chunk of the game opening up. There’s exploration and adventure and even dungeons. And soon you will have a little compound with a corral and a bunch of Pals harvesting resources and maybe even actual clothes…
The tutorial also gives hints, like there’s some kind of boss to fight, but you can also stumble on things, like a small village with people and merchants.
If you’ve played Pokemon, you may have wondered things like “Why don’t people kill and eat these animals wandering around? Why don’t they put them to work? Why don’t people buy and sell them? What’s with all this hippie crap?” In Palworld…they do a brisk trade in Pals, as this individual is willing to pay for some of my scrubs.
The guillotine and torture chair do raise some questions…
You know what, I got it. They smashed capitalism and overthrew the bourgeoisie, like commie Twitter is always saying.
Now, I was mentioning those poachers, and as I left the village, I ran into one. And…
That jerk started shooting at me. STOP RESISTING! I AM AN OFFICER OF THE LAW! Fortunately, I subdued him without trouble and explored a little further and, huh, this seems kinda…
I’d stumbled on a poacher camp
I AM AN OFFICER OF THE LAW!
I was in fear for my life.
On the other side of the camp, I could see them harassing more Pals. NOBODY HASSLES THE LOCAL WILDLIFE BUT ME.
COPS IS FILMED ON LOCATION WITH THE BIG CHUNGUS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT.
Poking around their camp, I found…
Don’t worry, little guy. I’ll set you free. And probably enslave you at my camp. NEVERTHELESS…
During this battle, I also discovered you can capture humans in your Pal spheres but the game told me it’s considered inhumane. I consider it very funny though.
Shortly thereafter, I had my first encounter with death when I started a fight with a wolf. If I’d paid attention to those memes your uncle posts about being loyal but dangerous, I would’ve known that wolves move in packs, and I got swarmed and died. I respawned, Cold and naked..but here is where the game saves itself from the survival crafting bullshit I hate. It is annoying to have to refit yourself, but when it’s a matter of going back to base and seeing what your Pals have gathered resource wise and maybe building a few things to get going again, it’s actually not that bad to die.
And as you get stronger and get a little further out, another chunk of the game reveals itself. You may be firmly committed to not murdering the cute animals, but what if I told you they were full of good crafting materials? That chunk of the game becomes a…Monster Hunter WAIT NO HANG ON. Soon you’ll be muttering “gotta kill more penguins” as you and your Pals stalk the local wildlife and clobber it for valuable materials to build out your base. And exploring may lead to interesting things, like APES WITH ASSAULT RIFLES.
As you get into the production chains and more familiar with the Pal types and work types, the hilarity of the production process and affinities reveals itself. For example, “Why isn’t my forge going? It says it needs Kindling, but I have a ton of wood.” Well, Kindling is a Pal type. So, I put my handy “Fox that is also made of fire” to work, so he started breathing fire into the forge and now I can finally make ingots.
THE STATE OF FORT CHUNGUS IS STRONG
To break it down: In the lower left corner is the crib. To the right of that, you can see some beds for the Pals and a corral where my giant chicken lives. Above those are my wood farm and stone mine. To the left of those, you can see the alarm bell for raids and the hot tub to keep the Pals sane. To the left of those is the crafting area. Oh, how the empire has grown.
If Palworld has an issue right now, it’s that the core game is very much there, but there’s not a lot outside it when it gets old. The fact that it is currently the most-played game on Steam and selling incredibly well will, one hopes, provide the funds to lead to more development in the future and they do have a roadmap in place.
Palworld also launched to the glorious sound of No Discourse at All. It caught social media completely by surprise and for a few hours people could enjoy things. Naturally, this made the internet furious and it undertook an investigation and posting frenzy as people desperately sought something to be Big Mad about. This resulted in several hilarities like internet communists going to the mattresses to defend the multi-billion dollar and notoriously litigious Nintendo Corporation; gamers piously posting about the importance of copyright on computers full of pirated music, movies, and games; and people who’d been posting about how plagiarism isn’t that important actually when that Harvard lady was getting fired suddenly being deeply concerned about plagiarism. Regardless, Nintendo is investigating how curiously similar many of the monster designs are.
Assuming you’re willing to risk the wrath of the Very Online posting about you (though, let’s be fair, they did have a ton of success boosting Bernie Sanders, be careful!) and Nintendo breaking your knees, Palworld is in a pretty good state for an Early Access game, which is my usual metric for judging. On the other hand, the prospect of PvP is wildly enticing. I have no idea how it will work, but leading a squad of angry monkeys with Kalishnikovs into battle is the culmination of my wildest dreams.