We are not even a month into 2024 and it can easily be said that Palworld is going to be the biggest game of the year. Granted there have only been a small handful of games to launch so far. But as far as general popularity and the effect this game caused similar to titles like Elden Ring, or Baldur”s Gate 3? It will take something truly earth shattering to knock this game off the top. But how did this game become so popular? Well, there are many, many layers to this that go beyond the perceived setting the game is in. Often referred to by many as “Pokémon With Guns”.
However, as we ride the spiral down to the pits of disappointing and shameful claims and accusations. It is important to note that Palworld has become the number two top played game in Steams history. As well as recently hitting eight million copies sold. Which, even by AAA game studio standards, is not something you see often. So, what sparked this game to explode onto the scene and become so popular?
This Ain’t Your Kid’s Pokémon
As mentioned previously, Palworld has an interesting premise that many have coined Pokémon with guns. This was originally said by Geoff Keighley, host of Summer Game Fest and The Game Awards. The trailers showcased a game that would be a bombastic action-adventure game with monsters carrying gatling guns and rocket launchers aplenty, even for your character. The thing that sparked the most intrigue was last year’s trailer showing elements of base building and automation with enslaved monsters.
But the game we all received, turned out to be way more interesting. As it is more focused on being something that is not in the same genre as Pokémon. Palworld is actually an open world action-adventure survival game, as opposed to just being another turn-based game, similar to other Pokémon-likes such as Temtem. Do not get me wrong, as someone who is a major fan of that style of gameplay, I am only stating that Pokémon essentially had the same style of gameplay and template for almost three decades now, and that starts to take a toll on people. Giving them a feel of unwanted familiarity. A lack of evolution so to speak.
Suffice it to say, making an expansive survival game with Pokémon-like monsters instead of boars, wolves and bears was one of the reasons why people are enjoying it. It is giving people a new experience that they desperately crave. But outside of the change in gameplay style, is it actually good?
Yes, Palworld is Just Good
Let’s face it, when we see a trailer for what could be another “meme game”, there is a slim chance of it being good. It also did not help that the release date was announced only a few days prior. No hype articles, no mass marketing. Just a promise of the game being on Xbox Game Pass Day one. It could be a few days of ironic fun, and everyone forgets about it.
But no, the game turned out to be incredibly solid. It took some getting used to and understanding the various resources. But wandering out of a set of ruins and punching a Lambell to death to avoid starvation was a good first impression. The capturing mechanic requires precision and the chances to capture anything is clear when you throw a Pal Sphere. The base building mechanic is actually required and helps you in your journey so there is incentive to engage with it. Not to mention you can assign Pals right as you start messing with that mechanic.
The movement is very inspired by Breath of the Wild. While the combat is very similar to Ark: Survival Evolved. It’s an excellent mixture of game mechanics that while not wholly original, helps to create an experience that feels “right”. Heck, even the gun acquisition takes a long time to get to. But once you are there, it feels very satisfying and motivates you to go out and explore more. The open world is also filled with so many mini-Pal-bosses, dangerous humans, and Pal bosses. As well as Human bosses with a signature dangerous Pal that takes a group in multiplayer to take down easily.
There is so much variety and content in the game that its meager price tag of $29.99 is more than justifiable. However, there is one last layer to the success of Palworld that we need to peel back. One made up of so much irony.
Lies and Industry Wide Slander Against the Game
Palworld was facing accusations during its launch days. The CEO of the company is for the idea of AI and even the possibilities of cryptocurrency. Both of these things are highly controversial, and I do not like either one. This sparked people to throw accusations of the game being riddled with AI generated designs for the Pals. As well as Twitter user Byofrog claiming the game copied the exact 3D designs of certain Pals from Pokémon. All of this was disproven as shoddy speculation, and even Byofrog admitting to fabricating their claims.
It has been proven that #Palworld was NOT made with AI and was NOT made with stolen assets.
The "Look how the models are a 1:1" twitter user later admitted to scaling them to fit.
Y'all couldn't find legitimate reason for anger and FABRICATED IT. pic.twitter.com/gErGibWG3F
— Palmer (@ttvPalmer) January 24, 2024
While it was clearly shameless of Byofrog, the worst offender recently was a developer from Naughty Dog trying to throw the game under the bus as well. In a now-deleted tweet thread, he accused the game of “cheating somehow”:
Del Walker is a character artist at Naughty Dog, and despite deleting the tweets. When every possible allegation against Pocket Pair and Palworld was disproven, he has not apologized for any wrongdoing. Equally shameful to Byofrog. It reminded me of when Rocksteady’s character artist Lee Devonald came to the defense of Gotham Knights in 2022 by attacking the Xbox Series S console in very disappointing Twitter threads. As well as when developers from Guerilla Games vented online in flippant jealousy over the success of Elden Ring shadowing the release of Horizon Forbidden West. It is very shameful to stoop to the low of accusing other game developers of malicious intent.
But what does all of this have to do with the game’s success? Well, the game was selling off novelty alone, and the aforementioned extremely enjoyable gameplay mechanics and systems. However, the wider gaming community took notice of these instances and it spread further than the current reach of Twitter. Sparking people to just buy or play the game on Xbox Game Pass out of spite.
The wider gaming community is very spiteful, and considering there was no wrongdoing on Pocket Pair’s end? They had no reason not to support the studio’s project. Especially when it is a very enjoyable product.
All or Nothing
Currently, Palworld has a very promising-looking roadmap for a game that has sold eight million copies so far. From raids, PvP, Arenas, new Pals and Islands to a variety of needed fixes coming eventually to the game. But one thing needs to be spoken about the game. Pocket Pair is responsible for Craftopia, a game that is in early access limbo and may stay that way. I am only bringing this up out of concern they may leave this game in a similar state. But considering the success of Palworld, they may stick to the game. I just hope they follow up on the content they are promising.
I am very much enjoying the game, but not so much the discourse. I feel depressed knowing how toxic a lot of game developers and Twitter users can be. Especially when it is towards their peers and people who just want to give people something to enjoy.