Over the weekend, I downloaded Palworld on my PC. I was excited. After all the weird trailers and screenshots showing Pokémon-like creatures using assault rifles or being shot with handguns, I was ready to earn official Xbox achievements as I killed Pokémon facsimiles using modern guns. It was hunting time. And then, after playing for over six hours, I realized that I had been tricked into playing another goddamn survival crafting game that wanted me to punch trees and mine stone for a few hours before it got fun.
It seems almost silly to stop and explain what Palworld is because, statistically speaking, you’ve likely already played it or seen someone on Twitch or YouTube playing it. It’s a very popular game at the moment, haven’t you heard? But for those just tuning in, Palworld, released last week, combines Pokémon-like creatures, Fortnite-like visuals, and Ark: Survival Evolved-like gameplay into one big Unreal Engine-powered survival crafting game available on Steam, Xbox, and PC.
Before its release it was called “Pokémon With Guns” by many people, myself included, because that’s the best way to describe the vibe given off by screenshots and trailers for this game. And that concept intrigued me. Putting aside, for the moment, all the ongoing discourse around AI-generated creatures, ripping off Pokémon designs, the game’s numerous bugs, and other controversies surrounding this overnight blockbuster, I was interested in a big game—one supported by Xbox via its Game Pass service—letting me grab an assault rifle and hunt down Pokémon creatures. I’m not a violent person, but the juxtaposition was captivating, and honestly, who hasn’t wanted to shoot an annoying Pokémon at least once when playing the games? Oh, you’re blocking my path? Say hello to Smith and Wesson.
So after downloading the game I immediately hopped in and within 30 seconds, I sadly realized I wasn’t going to be shooting Pokémon anytime soon. Sure, I knew this was a survival crafting game, but I hoped I’d be crafting guns and ammo, not punching trees and rocks as a half-naked man lost in an Unreal Engine tech demo filled with knock-off Pokémon.
Still, the survival loop and crafting gameplay did their job and Palworld got its hooks in me. I spent a few hours grinding resources, catching Pals (aka the fake Pokémon in the game), and building up a little wooden base that I called home. It was fun enough, and I think the game does a solid job of teaching you what to do and offering ways to speed up the slower parts using Pals—who can do most jobs for you—or by upgrading your character’s stats.
But after about 10 crashes and six hours of playing Palworld, I was starting to feel like Milhouse waiting for the fireworks factory. Where were all the promised guns with which I could shoot Pokémon? I did eventually craft a bow and some arrows, but that’s not what I’m looking for.
I finally checked out a guide online to see if I had missed something. I had not. Instead, I learned that you needed to be level 25 before you gained access to the first craftable handgun in the game. The assault rifle? Level 45. My heart sank. The guide mentioned that it might take a few days of playing to reach these higher levels and you would still need a bunch of high-level resources to craft them. At that point, I closed Palworld.
I think Palworld is an intriguing game. I get why so many people are playing it. The Pokémon-like critters and promise of assault rifles got eyeballs on the game, but when you actually play it, Palworld mostly works as an easy-to-learn survival crafting adventure that looks and plays a lot better than most modern Pokémon games on the Switch.
I’m not surprised that so many people across Xbox and PC are checking out the game and sticking around. Being able to pet, feed, collect, and take care of your Pals—you can build them a spa, even—is fun. And I think a lot of players will likely enjoy trying to balance productivity with care as they try to not overwork the Pals, but also to grow their base, too.
So yeah, there is something here—something beyond just guns and Pokémon —that I think will keep a lot of players hanging around and punching trees for days and weeks to come, assuming Nintendo lawyers don’t come knocking.
But for me, well, I’ve played so many of these “punch a tree, get some wood, build a thing, repeat” games that I’m just not sure I’m willing or able to sink in the hours needed to level up and earn an assault rifle all by myself. My dream of shooting Pikachu with an AR-15 will stay just that, a dream, for now.