As of the time of this writing, developer Pocketpair’s Palworld is taking over the gaming world. Despite only officially being released earlier today, Palworld is one of the most viewed games on Twitch and has almost 400,000 concurrent players on Steam as of the time of this writing. That already stunning player count is made all the more impressive by the fact that Palworld is also available on Xbox and Xbox Game Pass. That means that the actual number of people currently playing the game is significantly higher than that. In fact, Pocketpair recently revealed that over 1,000,000 people have played some version of the game just eight hours after its official launch, and that number will almost certainly shoot up as we head into the weekend.
Never heard of Palworld? Don’t be surprised. Until now, the game has been a relatively obscure project that has lingered in Early Access. However, there is a good chance you’ve heard Palworld referred to by the name that many of those on the internet have given it: “Pokémon with guns.”
Developer Pocketpair hasn’t exactly shied away from that title. Most of Palworld‘s promotional images feature some kind of Pokémon-like creature holding a gun, and much of Palworld‘s gameplay revolves around building a roster of those collectible creatures and utilizing their abilities. It’s flatteringly familiar, to say the least.
Despite initial appearances, though, Palworld is actually closer to an open-world survival game than a traditional Pokémon adventure. Most of your time in the game will be spent gathering resources, crafting items, and trying to stay alive in harsh environments. For that matter, few of the actual in-game creatures have guns, and most of the shooting in this game is instead done by the player.
But is Palworld a good game? Well, fans of survival titles like Rust and Ark: Survival Evolved will almost certainly love Palworld‘s use of similar genre mechanics. If those same fans happen to also love Pokémon, so much the better. Generally speaking, though, it does seem like many Palworld players are pleasantly surprised by both the quality and quantity of the game’s initial content offerings.
However, it’s very much worth noting that expectations for Palworld were generally quite low. Numerous subpar survival games are released on Steam every week, and Palworld certainly appeared to be another one of those games. Hilariously, the game’s FAQ page even includes the question “Is this game a scam?” which really sums up the state of the PC game marketplace at the moment.
Mind you, the cynicism surrounding Palworld isn’t entirely based on what other games have done. Not only did developer Pocketpair previously release a shockingly similar survival game that they eventually abandoned, but numerous elements of Palworld appear to scream “rip-off.”
Many of the game’s creatures are thinly veiled variations of Pokémon designs, many of Palworld’s visual, UI, and audio elements are also…inspired by larger games, and, as noted above, the whole “Pokémon with guns’ thing is starting to feel wildly exaggerated. The game’s servers are also (understandably) taking a pounding at the moment, the Xbox version of the title is missing several features, and there are elements of the game’s design and humor that are seen as questionable, to say the least.
The fact of the matter is that Palworld could very well prove to be a flash in the pan. There are aspects of the game that are generally well-made and certainly entertaining, but serious questions remain about its short and long-term prospects. For the moment, though, the thing that matters most about Palworld’s stunning early success isn’t the game itself but rather just how hungry Pokémon fans seem to be for the very idea of its existence.
I can’t blame them. Even the most hardcore Pokémon fans will enthusiastically tell you that the franchise has been stuck in a rut for quite some time now. Recent Pokémon titles released for the Nintendo Switch have fallen well short of expectations fans had for the mainline series’ long-awaited debut on consoles. They look bland, they are riddled with bugs, and they are even missing features previously included in the more recent handheld Pokémon games. Even Pokémon Legends Arceus felt like a breath of fresh air, and that game was a surprisingly simple open-world variation on the Pokémon formula that generally offers fewer things to do than what you’ll find in Palworld.
And that is very much the point. For years, Pokémon players have been begging for more substantial games that take the series in interesting new directions that better reflect modern gaming trends and the desires of the franchise’s older fans. Since Nintendo has largely failed to give them that, those fans have often turned to fanmade games and Pokémon-like titles such as Palworld to satiate their hunger. Those games can vary wildly in quality, but the desire for them remains remarkably consistent.
So when a game like Palworld comes along and offers an online version of a vaguely Pokémon-like experience with modern gaming mechanics and edgier themes…well, it seems that more and more Pokémon fans would rather risk being burnt by a game that tries something new rather than simply settle for what the official Pokémon titles have to offer.
Like the rest of the gaming world, I don’t know what will become of Palworld. Realistically, it will be difficult for its developers to maintain the game’s early success and satiate those who will explore every corner of the experience and soon cry for more. Mind you, Nintendo may very well find a way to sue the Palworld team and shut the whole thing down before Pocketpair has a fair chance to explore what they suddenly have on their hands. It’s unlikely given the largely superficial similarities, but let’s not rule anything out given Nintendo’s litigious history.
What I do know is that hundreds of thousands (perhaps eventually millions) have eagerly thrown their money and support behind Palworld in its earliest hours on the mere chance that it will offer the more substantial modern Pokémon-like experience that they’ve been dreaming of and have been officially denied so far. If that’s not enough to get Nintendo to finally go back to the drawing board, then maybe it is time for some other company to simply give those fans what they clearly want.
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