In the perpetual cycle of game announcements, it’s rare that a game trailer surprises me. Palworld is an exception. Announced last month at Indie World Expo 2021, Palworld mixes the best elements of a number of popular titles to create a concept that, on paper, feels totally unique.
Palworld‘s first trailer provides the perfect elevator pitch for what the game is. Imagine Pokémon, riffing on Breath Of The Wild‘s aesthetic but in a multiplayer world with guns, pitch-black themes and a touch of labour exploitation. It’s a unique mix, and one that aims to subvert the often whimsical tone of monster collection games.
For as much as Palworld’s trailer revealed about the game, it left a lot unanswered. Developers Pocketpair Inc. left enough questions unanswered that it got people desperate to fill in the blanks. I, like many others, instantly needed to know more about Palworld.
But how would Pocketpair Inc., developers of Palworld, describe the game? “Open-world creature collection sandbox game,” said CEO Takuro Mizobe, when I hopped onto a Zoom call to talk all things Palworld with him and fellow developer Hawkward, who also acted as an interpreter. It’s a succinct summary that perfectly captures what Palworld is in a brief vertical slice. The creature collection aspect is something that fans have already honed in on, commonly comparing the game to Pokémon.
Hawkward and Mizobe seem to have taken the comparisons in good nature, although it was something they never intended. “We were surprised by the comparisons to be honest, especially those labeling it as ‘Pokémon with guns’. Pokémon definitely inspired us, but Palworld is far more action-orientated in comparison.”
Pokémon isn’t the only inspiration. Hawkward, Mizobe and the rest of the team are drawing from several notable names in the industry. Palworld will include mechanics inspired by the likes of Rust, Minecraft and ARK: Survival Evolved.
“Our favourite games inspire Palworld, one of which is ARK: Survival Evolved. We are still fleshing everything out and deciding exactly how it will work, but if we had to compare it to anything right now, it would definitely be ARK.”
Other games like Rust and Minecraft have also been big inspirations for us both. We particularly like how the survival elements work in Rust, which has been a big inspiration in how we develop the world of Palworld.”
Palworld’s world is one of beauty, diversity and, well, animal abuse. Rather than shy away from the somewhat exploitative nature of the relationships in Pokémon, Palworld places it front and centre. I asked Mizobe where Palworld‘s themes of exploitation and late-stage capitalism might interject with the narrative.
“Palworld is not strictly a story-driven game. Not that there won’t be story elements dotted around the world. We just want players to create their own interpretation of the world through the environment and game mechanics.”
“In terms of the darker elements, we want to leave those decisions up to players. Player agency will be key in Palworld, which is why players can be good or bad. We want players to build their own story, and the gameplay mechanics are our way of facilitating that.”
Societal issues of wealth distribution, civil rights and the power-dynamic between corporations and workers have been at the forefront of social commentary throughout the pandemic. Late-stage capitalism felt like a particularly prevalent theme through Palworld’s reveal trailer. Players will be able to exploit Pal’s as free labour, thereby removing the need to do the work yourself.
“Real-world events definitely inspired us while creating Palworld. We were also driven by the need to create an imperfect game world. We don’t want Palworld to be beautiful and perfect. We want to inject elements of darker themes, including exploitation and violence, alongside the intelligent animals.”
One of the most interesting moments in the reveal trailer involved the player picking up a Pal and quite literally using it as a bullet shield. Pals aren’t static, and at numerous points throughout the trailer you can see them looking dejected and miserable. Even though the game is still fairly early on in development, I asked Mizobe if how players treat Pals might have some effect on relationships or bonds.
“Much like other games that revolve around monster collection, Pals will have some level of intelligence,” Mizobe said.
We haven’t yet built a complex system around the intelligence of the animals. However, we would like to include a relationship system between the player and the Pals.”
There’s a tangible excitement in the way Hawkward and Mizobe both talk about Palworld and this is a team which is clearly passionate about video games. Pocketpair Inc. is aiming to cherry-pick the best elements of the games they love, while injecting a dark, imperfect vision of the monster collection genre.
Mizobe, Hawkard and the rest of the team are still deep in development on Palworld, and the two of them tell me we likely won’t see any new footage or updates for some time. “It will be at least another six months until we can announce something, although it may be even longer. We do know Palworld will release in early access sometime in 2022, but we don’t know when that is going to be.”
Mizobe also mentioned that they’re looking to support the game long-term: “We intend to continue building Palworld once it releases. We aren’t sure on the specifics yet, but we intend to create new characters and events for the world.”
“The team is also considering releasing on other consoles, but this is something we would have to look into once we have released on early access.”
It’s hard not to be excited about Palwold considering the scope of the world Pocketpair Inc. is aiming for. Numerous titles have tried to reinvent the monster collection formula, but none have tried it in such a unique, and dark manner.
Rather than trying to mimic one specific game, Pocketpair is instead taking the best elements of numerous titles and creating something new. It’s easy to see why the label of ‘Pokémon with guns’ frustrated the team, when Palworld is aiming to be so much more than that.
Palworld will release in early access during 2022. You can view the game’s official Steam page here.