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Palworld — everything you need to know about this controversial survival game

 Palworld screenshot.
Palworld screenshot.

A couple of weeks ago you’d probably never heard of Palworld. But now, just days after its early access launch last week (Friday, January 19) it’s become the one video game that everybody is talking about.

Pitched as “Pokémon with guns”, Japanese developer Pocket Pair has confirmed that Palworlds has shifted 5m copies in just a matter of days. And its popularity is showing no signs of wavering. It continues to rocket up the Steam charts, becoming only the sixth game in history to have more than a million players concurrently.

Usually, major gaming releases have a long gestation period, with extensive pre-release coverage and plenty of marketing ahead of a well-publicized launch, but Palworld has bucked all the normal trends. This survival game has come pretty much out of the blue, and while it could prove to be just a brief flash in the pan, here’s everything you need to know about the game that everybody is playing right now...

What is Palworld?

Palworld screenshot
Palworld screenshot

Palworld is a third-person, open-world survival game where you set out to explore a vast map and interact with its numerous animal-like inhabitants, known as Pals.

As mentioned, Palworld is a survival game so you can expect all the usual trappings of the genre including a hunger meter that you must keep topped up, as well as an emphasis on resource-gathering and crafting to construct useful items and build a base. But the real hook of the game, and the reason it’s taken off so rapidly, comes in the form of the adorable Pals.

There are more than 130 Pals in total, and each of them can be battled in combat, weakened and then captured using a “Pal Sphere”. Once you’ve captured a Pal, there are numerous things you can do with your new buddy depending on the type of Pal captured. These range from summoning them in combat to stationing them at your home base to help with crafting. Some Pals can also be used as mounts to make traveling the island easier.

Palworld screenshot
Palworld screenshot

Palworld is a multiplayer game allowing up to four “pal-tamers” to team up and roam the island together. The game also sports a comedic tone with tongue-in-cheek references to illegal hunting and forced labor. Plus, it gets a lot of mileage out of the inherent humor that comes from arming an adorable Pokémon-like creature with a machine gun.

Where can you play Palworld?

Palworld is currently available on PC, Xbox One,  Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S in early access form. Sorry, PlayStation gamers, there is no word on a PS5 or PS4 version yet.

Palworld screenshot
Palworld screenshot

On PC, Palworld can be purchased for $26 on Steam, which is a discounted price to celebrate its early access launch. The price will increase to $29 on January 25. Meanwhile, Xbox players can purchase Palworld for $29 on the Xbox Store with the option of a free 60-minute trial allowing you to try out the survival game before committing your cash.

Alternatively, Palworld is available on Xbox Game Pass for console and Windows PC. So, if you already have a Game Pass subscription, then you don’t need to pay any extra to start roaming the open world and building your collection of Pals.

Why is Palworld controversial?

Palworld is enjoying a remarkable rise in popularity but the game’s early access launch hasn’t been without a fair amount of controversy.

For starters, it’s not a secret that Palworld is inspired by Nintendo’s popular monster-catching series, Pokémon, but some gamers have accused developer Pockepair of going a step further and ripping off the designs of some Pokémon. It’s hard to draw a concrete conclusion on this matter, but some Pals do look suspiciously familiar.

Pocket Pair CEO, Takuro Mizobe, commented on the matter during an interview with Japanese gaming site Automation (spotted by Kotaku), saying “We have absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies.”

Some sources have also suggested that Palworld was created with the help of generative AI tools, a thorny subject in gaming development circles. Previous comments made by Mizobe in support of AI tools have been used as evidence to suggest that Palworld is at least partially AI-generated. However, there doesn’t appear to be any firm evidence of that fact.

Further controversy has also sprung up surrounding Pocket Pair's previous game, Craftopia, which takes inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Some players claimed that the developers abandoned the game, leaving it in an unfinished state, but as of now, Craftopia is still receiving regular patches.

Palworld outlook — will this game stick around?

Palworld screenshot
Palworld screenshot

Palworld has come pretty much out of leftfield and looks set to be one of the biggest gaming success stories of the year.

More than 5m copies sold in just a few days is a huge achievement for any game, especially a lower-budget indie title like Palworld, and the level of online interest is even bigger than what we've seen for many AAA blockbuster games in recent years.

Realistically, Palworld’s current level of popularity won’t be maintained forever, but if Pocket Pair plays its cards right, and delivers timely updates that incorporate player feedback, it’s hard to see Palworld fading into total obscentury any time soon.

It might not have the ultimate longevity of Fortnite or Rocket League, but Palworld has proved to be the right game at the right time, and it’s likely to continue to draw interest for many months to come.

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