Palworld review: Early access doesn't stop this creature-collecting survival game from blasting Pokémon out of the water

A full rating is to come, but Palworld does just about everything I've craved from Pokémon games.

Palworld: Riding a deer mount.
(Image: © Windows Central)

Early Verdict

While still in early access, Palworld is far more polished and engaging than many other creature-collecting games out there. The inclusion of survival mechanics, challenging combat, crafting, and exploration all work together to make one of the most compelling games in years. Since you can play with your friends in co-op multiplayer, it's also a great way to be social with friends.

Pros

  • +

    Large map to explore

  • +

    Engaging combat

  • +

    Varied creature collecting for adults

  • +

    Challenging survival mechanics

  • +

    Fun co-op multiplayer

Cons

  • -

    Bugs and errors need fixing

  • -

    Multiplayer indicators need fine-tuning

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The Internet is quick to tell anyone that Palworld is "Pokémon with guns," but after over 28 hours of playing it on PC (via Steam), I can say that it's so much more than that. It's an open-world multiplayer survival game with crafting and the ability to capture animals. But does it combine all of these elements effectively?

I'll easily argue that Palworld is already the best creature-collecting multiplayer adventure out there, designed for people who grew up with Pokémon but want something more involved to play with friends as an adult. However, it does need a bit of polish before its full launch. 

Disclaimer: This review was conducted on PC after purchasing the early access version of the game on Steam. Developer Pocketpair did not see the contents of this review before publishing. We will update this review with a rating when the full game launches.

Survival mechanics and crafting for adult players

(Image credit: Future via Michael Hoglund)

I've been a Pokémon fan since the first games came out, but I've been increasingly disappointed by the limited mechanics, continued hand-holding, and horrible playing experience of the latest titles. Thankfully, Palworld does everything that I had hoped a Pokémon game would have done at this point.

For one thing, Palworld treats you like an adult who has played other games before, which is both a blessing and a curse, depending on your skill level. Instead of limiting your movements and forcing you through a small tutorial, the game starts by giving you a tutorial missions box in the top right of the screen, but otherwise, it stays pretty hands-off and allows you to figure out how the game works on your own. 

Palworld

Platforms: Xbox, Windows PC
Developer: Pocketpair
Early Access date: January 19
Xbox Game Pass: Yes
Xbox Play Anywhere: Yes
Players: Single-player
Time to complete: Unknown
Price: $29.99

For me, this meant some initial confusion when I first started playing, but once I read some of the written tutorials in the menu and knew what Palworld was all about, I was able to do exactly what I wanted and develop my character according to my playstyle.

Much like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and various survival games, Palworld starts you off with absolutely nothing. Your character steps out onto a vast, untamed world, barely clothed in rags and you quickly discover that you need to find food, warmth, and weapons if you are to survive. As such, you're immediately tasked with exploring and gathering materials so you can craft tools and build facilities.

Palworld treats you like an adult who has played other games before, which is both a blessing and a curse depending on your skill level.

Doing just about anything in the game helps you earn experience points (XP), and each time you level up, you unlock a new tier of items that can be crafted or built. So, if you play it right, you can go from having absolutely nothing to having plenty of tools, various weapons, protective clothing, and a base to put your Pals to work on. The feeling of going from defenseless to powerful is exhilarating and makes you want to level up so you can continue to unlock more. 

But Palworld isn't forgiving. If your HP goes down to 0, you will drop to the ground and will have a limited amount of time to be revived by any other players (if you're playing multiplayer). If no one revives you, you drop everything you're holding. This means all of the Pals in your party and all of the items in your inventory are left behind. After respawning, you'll then need to rush back to the place where you died and grab your party and your gear, or else another player could take them. It adds a more dire, calculated, and challenging aspect to the game. 

Creature collecting and base buliding

A player is about to throw a Pal Sphere to capture a Pal in Palworld. (Image credit: Pocketpair)

Being first and foremost a survival game, one of the first things you need in Palword isn't a starter Pal, but rather a Pal Sphere — a Poké ball-like item used to capture the Pal creatures inhabiting the world. Once you have a few of these orbs, you can run up to a low-level Pal, start punching it until their health is low, and then throw your Pal Sphere to try and catch it. 

But you have to be careful about who you try and capture. Wild Pals that are much higher level than you will be harder to catch. Not to mention, if you go up against a Pal that is just a few levels higher than you, you could get one-hit KO'd.

After you craft weapons and have Pals in your party, you can have one Pal fight alongside you (more if you have crafted special items like Daedream's necklace) as you take larger beasties down in real-time combat. It kind of makes me think of Monster Hunter Stories in that way — the monsters are there to assist you against other monsters, but you and your survival are the main focus.

Whenever you throw a Pal Sphere, you can see how likely it is for you to capture the creature by looking at the Capture Rate percentage.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

There are over 100 Pals to catch in Palworld early access, and they each have a different Element or type associated with them. To be effective in battles, you need to use an Elment advantage against your enemy to whittle down their health until they are defeated or catchable. 

When it comes to the actual Palworld capturing process, something I love is that Palworld makes it visually easier than some other creature-collecting games to see whether or not it's worth it to use your precious Pal Spheres. As with Poké Balls, there are different types of Pal Spheres, and the rarer they are, the more effective they tend to be at capturing creatures.

Whenever I aim with a Pal Sphere, a Capture Rate percentage appears, and if I successfully hit the Pal, the Pal Sphere goes into the air. If the creature doesn't break out, the Pal Sphere will shake, and the Capture Rate percentage will go up higher until it's hopefully caught.

Once you have some Pals and you've reached level 19, you can build a breeding farm to get more Pals. Certain combinations of Pals can even create rare Fusion Pals. It's yet another fun way to interact with the creatures you've caught. 

Palworld's Black Marketeers buy and sell both Pals and human NPCs.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

Whether you're comfortable with it or not, Palworld also has no qualms with players catching human NPCs. There are explorers, traders, thugs, and merchants around the map and if you catch one, you can bring them back to your base and put them to work. For instance, my friend caught a thug who was attacking us, and now this NPC helps us build things in our base while the rest of our captured Pals are busy cutting lumber, mining stone, producing milk, gathering wool, and much more. This process also allows you to bring merchants back to your base. 

Whether you're comfortable with it or not, Palworld has no qualms with players catching human NPCs.

But it's not all work, work, work after capturing Pals. You have to provide facilities back at your camp, or else your Pals will get overburdened. For instance, my base has Pal beds, a spa, a feeding basket, a medicine workbench, and, more specifically, there for keeping my Pals happy and healthy. If someone falls ill, I need to do what I can to get them feeling 100% again.

What's more, to provide more of a challenge, groups of wild Pals and human NPCs occasionally raid your base with the intent of destroying things. So, it's best to run back to defend your base and make use of powerful Pals that can quickly take out the invaders. 

All in all, Pal catching and base building and feels well-balanced, save for a few things that need polishing. For instance, I've had several instances where I was trying to build a structure, but the game would tell me something was blocking my path even though it was clear. It can also be hard to get stairs or wall pieces to attach to the exact spot you want them to. Additionally, there is currently no way to move something that you've built. So, your only choice is to deal with an object's initial placement or to destroy it and build it again. Hopefully, the building process gets refined as time goes on. 

Multiplayer fun and exploration

Up to 32 players can join a Palworld server.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

Palworld offers a great way of being digitally social while providing a good range of different activities to keep everyone entertained.

My friends and I have been playing Palworld multiplayer together on a private Palworld dedicated server rather than jumping into one of the many public servers available. If possible, this is the best way to experience this game, as it means the game runs smoothly with no lag since I'm not jumping into one of the overburdened public servers. Playing on a private server with friends also allows me to play with others I know and trust rather than randos who could take advantage of my labors without giving back to the group. 

Now, Palworld currently doesn't support in-game voice chat, so my friends and I have been communicating via Discord. However, you can also type messages in-game if that's more your speed, by pressing Enter (on PC) and then writing your message. Just be warned that your messages must be kept short, or they get cut off, and people can't read your full intended thoughts. Hopefully, in the future, voice chat will be added.

One thing that I don't like about Palworld multiplayer is that unless you're very close to each other, there is no indicator on the in-game compass letting you know where your friends are. What's worse is that if a friend gets knocked down, their indicator symbol on the map goes away, which can make it hard to locate them before their revival window closes. This really needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

My friends and I defeated the Level 23 Bushi boss in Palworld.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

Palworld currently doesn't support in-game voice chat.

In my group, we help each other gather the materials we need for specific tools in our collective base inventory. We go on wild Pal boss raids together. We take turns throwing Pal Spheres at powerful Pals we've weakened until one of us catches it. Even when we go exploring in different locations, we alert each other of anything useful we come across.

Speaking of exploring, the map is far larger than I initially expected it to be, filled with wild Pal boss battles, cavern dungeons, and human NPC boss fights. I'm the wanderer of our friend group, so I've usually been the first one to discover Palworld's different biomes and bosses. I appreciate that the game allows me to ride Pals on land or in the air to get to any destinations I have my eye on. 

While exploring, I can fly on certain Pals in Palworld. (Image credit: Windows Central)

While Palworld doesn't use the most realistic art style and graphics, the world is beautiful, with differing terrain types, caves, and structures to keep things interesting. I just wish there was more variety in cavern and dungeon layouts, as they currently are far too similar, but that change could be coming in a future update.

Unfortunately, I have encountered quite a few bugs while playing Palworld, but I expected this since the game was in early access. There have been times when I fell through the floor and either died or spawned back at base. This even happened to me once when I was in a boss fight. Additionally, some Pals like Rushoar glitch out by vibrating up and down rather than walking. In another instance, my character rode one of my Pal mounts backward.

Some of these glitches are simply humorous, while others are very frustrating. But even so, the game is still far more playable than some other games that have launched recently.

Palworld: Should you buy it?

There are over 100 Pals to catch in Palworld. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Yes, you definitely should play Palworld if you like creature-collecting games, crafting, survival mechanics, and open-world exploration. As I said before, I've spent over 28 hours playing Palworld since early access launched, and it has been an absolute blast. My friends and I can't seem to get enough of the detailed world, with plenty of locations to explore, boss battles, items to build, and creatures to capture. At this point, I'm just excited to see what future updates bring to the game before it eventually gets taken out of early access and fully launches.

True, there are some pretty bad bugs that need to get fixed as well as some mechanics that need to be polished. But keeping in mind that the game is still in early access, many of these issues will likely be dealt with soon. Even then, Palworld is in a far better state now than many recently released games have been in at launch. So jump on in and see what the excitement is all about.

Now, if you're trying to determine where to play this game, I advise buying Palworld on Steam because the Microsoft Store and Xbox versions (including Xbox Game Pass) are on an older version of Palworld. This means that those playing the Xbox or PC Microsoft version of Palworld don't have access to missing features that are currently available on the Steam version.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Self-professed gaming geek, Rebecca Spear, is one of Windows Central's gaming editors with a focus on gaming handhelds, PC gaming, and laptops. When she isn't checking out the latest games on Xbox Game Pass, PC, ROG Ally, or Steam Deck; she can be found digital drawing with a Wacom tablet. She's written thousands of game guides, previews, features, and hardware reviews over the last few years. If you need information about anything gaming-related, her articles can help you out. She also loves testing game accessories and any new tech on the market. You can follow her @rrspear on X (formerly Twitter).