Monday, January 29, 2024

More First Impressions Of Palworld That Nobody Asked For

While they're all still relatively fresh in my mind, let's run through a few more notes on Palworld. I'll grant it feels a little redundant, even to me, what with millions of other people playing the game and no doubt tens of thousands posting, streaming and vlogging about it, but if I don't write about the things I'm noticing, it feels like I have grit in my socks. Gotta shake it out.

I want to start with the Pokemon comparison controversy. I'm not even going to bother linking to the news items about it, most of which, at least the ones I've read, are speculative at best. I'm sure everyone knows the gist, anyway, but if not, Tobold has a decent overview of the issues involved. 

I've mentioned this before but I want to re-iterate that, for someone who's never played a Pokemon game, other than the obvious similarity in the naming convention, which does feel very Pokemonesque, there's pretty much nothing in Palworld that I haven't already seen in another game I have played. It feels very much like a portmanteau of tropes, systems and mechanics from a number of other successful and less-successful titles I've played, some recently, some a very long time ago.

As I already said, much of the creature-catching, taming and riding reminds me of Chimeraland, which I don't remember anyone comparing to Pokemon. I haven't got to the breeding part yet so we'll see if that's also similar, but I already have a bunch of eggs stashed away, which I found lying on the ground in various places, and there's a blueprint for an Incubator in the Ancient Tech Tree just waiting for me to find the mats to make. And that's exactly how it was in Chimeraland.

Much of the rest of the game is Survival 101. You can say it's inspired by Ark or Valheim but really it's going to feel like whatever survival game you played last, which in my case would be Once Human and Dawnlands. The gameplay loop in all of them is near enough the same.

I don't have any shots of random Pal fights so here's one of me and my glider.

The influence that most interests and also surprises me is neither Pokemon nor survival games but the clear through-line that threads back to early MMORPGs, mostly the DIKU-MUD variety. One of the defining features of those virtual worlds (As opposed to those games.) was the complex interaction between non-player entities, both mobs and NPCs. It's something I stopped seeing commonly in new MMORPGs many years ago and it's always both a surprise and a joy to see it re-appear. It makes the world feel so much more alive and convincing.

In Palworld, it's not just a basic on/off switch, either. There are aggressive and non-aggressive mobs but they seem to behave quite differently. Some don't react until you get in their way, while others spot you from a long way off and charge over to attack. 

What's much more interesting and amusing, though, is the way Pals and NPCs behave amongst each other. They skirmish and fight, hunt each other or run away, all apparently according to some set of behaviors you can see in the detailed description when you catch them. 

I'm not sure yet if the behaviors are species-specific or controlled by individual traits, meaning different individuals of the same species might not all behave the same way. Based on observation, that does seem possible. Cativas, for example, often have the Cowardly trait and a lot of Cativas run away when you try to catch them - but not all of them. I might have to try catching some that do and some that don't so I can see if their traits match their behavior but even then, of course, I couldn't be sure the one I caught hadn't had its traits generated at the time of capture.  

One thing I can be sure of is that Pals have friendly-fire turned on. A lot of them have ranged attacks, most of which are dodgeable. If you roll out of the way of a blast and it hits another Pal behind you - a wild one, not one of your own, tamed ones - that Pal will take instant offence and join in against whichever Pal tried to poison it or set it on fire.

Level 31 Mammorest v Level 5 Thugs. Place your bets but make it quick.

This opens up one of my all-time favorite strategies - getting mobs to do my fighting for me. Yesterday, I spotted a Level 32 Mammorest, a large, normally peacable, elephantine Pal, lumbering towards a bandit camp. I pulled the bandits, most of whom use automatic weapons, and put myself between them and the Mammorest. They shot at me, missed and hit the Mammorest. One round of fire later and the enraged beast was trampling them underfoot, clearing the camp for me in seconds.

I find that sort of thing immensely satisfying. Also much more efficient than doing it myself. It also offers great opportunities to attempt to capture Pals you don't fancy fighting. Just stand near a fight between Pals, then toss a Pal Sphere at the winner before it begins to recover health.

Another curious feature of Palworld is the seeming universality of the capture mechanic. It seems you can capture humans as well as Pals. So far I haven't managed to add any people to my collection but I did establish proof of concept by throwing a Pal Sphere at a bandit. It worked. Unfortunately I couldn't subdue him enough to capture him without beating him to death but there are plenty more bandits out there!

Even Tower Bosses like Zoe and Grizzbolt can be captured, although only by use of yet another exploit. Still, it shows the mechanic is there. I suspect it's baked into every creature in the game. That could  make things interesting...

Speaking of mechanics, I can now answer a question I raised in an earlier post. No, you cannot dive down and swim underwater. At least, not under your own power. I suppose there might be aquatic Pals you could capture and ride to go beneath the waves, which was how it worked in Chimeraland, but if so I haven't seen any yet.

He's called a Nitewing but he seems happy to fly by day as well.

I have, however, seen and captured a flying mount. I had to wait two levels to get the recipe to make the saddle for it but now I can ride my Nitewing into the skies... at least for as long as my Stamina holds out. 

I did fear that would be how it worked; that I'd need stamina to fly. Climbing and gliding both work that way, although riding a ground mount doesn't. At least you don't seem to come plummeting to the ground when you run out of stamina on a flying mount, the way you very much do with a glider. You just can't go anywhere until you land and re-enstaminate (It's a word. Or it should be.)

Somethng you can do on a flying mount is fight with other Pals, either on the ground or in the air. I tried both. Skirmishing aloft with another Nitewing was chaotic and disorienting but strafing earthbound Lamballs and Foxparks from the air was disturbingly enjoyable. 

Not as enjoyable as holding a Foxpark in my arms and using it as a flamethrower, though. Now that really is fun. Also they do an incredible amount of damage that way, although they soon get too hot qnd have to be rested so they can cool down. Honestly, the number of bizarre possibilities I've already seen in the game make me almost scared to find out what happens later on.

I'll be sure to grab a Foxpark next time the Palworld equivalent of the Animal Liberation Front turn up to raid my base. I know I said I was thinking of turning base raids off but they've been very easy and you get useful loot from them so I'd almost started to look forward to them. And then this lot arrived.

Back off, unless you want a face full of fox fire!

I didn't take any screenshots and I can't remember the exact name of their organisation, but it's something like the Pal Freedom Society. They want to set all enslaved Pals free, or I imagine that's their agenda. They clearly see me as one one of the oppressors. Not without reason.

All of that is fair enough but when I saw the raid alert pop, I didn't expect a dozen or so humans in battle-dress to come storming up the hill and I most definitely did not expect them to all to be Level 16.  As with most direct action, there was considerable collateral damage involving the supposed benificiaries of the protest. Five of my Pals ended up back in the Pal box in intensive care. I ended up face down in the dirt. 

Fortunately for me, once they'd made their point, the whole lot of them ran off. I think my team and I did for maybe a third of them but they certainly won the day. If I get many more incidents like that, base raids will be terminated. (Addendum: I have now switched raids off. I did a bit of research and apparently they just get worse and worse. Better to knock the whole thing on the head before it really gets out of hand.)

The last thing I have to report, for the moment, is that I found a couple of dungeons and explored one of them. I knew there were "dungeons" which, on the basis of the one example I've seen, seems to mean instanced caves filled with Pals, bandits and lots of mining nodes. Also some very impressive scenery, involving stalagtites and stalagmites, giant skeletons and a lot of the kind of luminescent, phosphorescence you'd expect to find at the bottom of the sea. It was big, too.

Not quite "measureless to man" but big enough.

Obviously, at this stage I'm still seeing and discovering multiple new things every session. It's very much the honeymoon period for a new game. Even so, having played quite a lot of games not dissimilar to this before, I have to say it's very impressive. The world has something of a hand-crafted feel to it, with interesting or rewarding things to find wherever you explore. The whole thing has been hand-crafted, not procedurally generated, and it shows.

And I still haven't really encountered any bugs. Once in a while one of my Pals will get stuck somewhere in the base and need to be put back in the box and taken out again to get them re-started but that barely registers as a glitch. Other than that, I don't think I've had any issues at all.

When I drafted this on Friday, Steam told me I'd played for 13 hours. It's barely changed since then.I workled all weekend, which really put a crimp in my play-time. I'm aware there may be some diminishing returns, following so many lengthy runs in survival games over the past few years, but I was actually a little annoyed I couldn't play as much over the weekend as I wanted, which I take to be a good sign.

Then again, it's less than a month until Nightingale goes into Early Access. There's an open Stress Test for that one next Friday, with no NDA. It's short, but it's at a very convenient time for me, so I'll have to see if I can get in for an hour or two. 

It'll be interesting to see what impact that has on Palworld's impressive concurrency numbers - the EA launch, not the stress test, that is. The timing is good for Nightingale, I think, unlike for poor old Enshrouded. I bet they feel like they were hit by a train over there.

Anyway, enough of all the speculation. Time to go play Palworld again!


  1. Don't feel bad posting about a popular thing! As someone who doesn't usually take part in these game hype cycles, I still always find it enjoyable and interesting to see a familiar face's take on the newest trend.

    1. I'm always going to be writing about what I'm playing, whether it's the latest craze or some obscure title no-one's heard of so it's not like I have a choice! Both ways rond have their attractions but this one is particularly well-covered so it does feel a little odd to be talking about new discoveries in the game when literally millions of people must have doscovered them before me!

  2. I asked! I haven't had a chance to check it out yet, but it looks fantastic to me. That may be the game that finally gets me over the hump on survival/ crafting MMOs.

    I have seen Palworld described as a game that shamelessly copies the mechanics of a lot of other popular genres and mashes them together. As if that's a bad thing :-)

    1. I'm about 16 hours in and about the same level and I realy haven't encountered any significant bugs. The gameplay loop is solid, there's plenty of content and the world is large and interesting to explore. For an Early Access title it's in very good shape. I do think all of these survival games are going to suffer from overfamiliarity and a sense of diminishing returns before too much longer but Palworld has a strong advantage with its quirky take on some familiar tropes from outside the genre.


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