Palworld is the Best Pokémon Game, and Here’s Why

Palworld is the Best Pokémon Game, and Here’s Why
With apologies to Hbombingguy for stealing his formula for a clickbaity title

Before I am skewered by your pitchforks, let me clarify: this is my opinion. Pokémon is an IP that many people have grown up with and have a special relationship to it. As a massive IP, there’s a ton of different games and methods to interact with Pokémon. Therefore, each person’s idea of what is the “essence” of the Pokémon experience will be different, and that’s okay. This post is my interpretation of what Pokémon truly “is” and how Palworld is doing that better than Pokémon itself.

I used to think that Pokémon GO was the best Pokémon game. “It’s not a real Pokémon game!” many people said. “You can catch a bunch of legendaries! And you have to walk around outside! And there’s no natures/personalities/EVs/etc./etc.!”

But the point of Pokémon GO is to get up and run around (outside) to find and catch Pokémon. In the mainline games (i.e. Red/Blue/Yellow, Gold/Silver/Crystal, etc.), you are given a Pokédex, a starter, and the goal of leaving your tiny town to run around the region to find and catch Pokémon. When Pokémon GO launched, that was all you could do. They’ve added a ton of content since then, but that’s still the core gameplay loop.

Once Pokémon Legends: Arceus (PLA) came out, I then felt that was the best Pokémon game. It had a lot of features of the stereotypical “ideal Pokémon game” that had been around for forever: Pokémon walking around the overworld, your Pokémon walking alongside you or you riding them, an actually good story. It introduced concepts like different sizes of individuals, “alpha” Pokémon (bigger and stronger individuals), but it also removed a lot of “core” Pokémon elements people expect a Pokémon game to have, like breeding, abilities/natures, EVs/IVs, and any form of PVP.

The battling was simplified, but, as someone who isn’t into min-maxing my ‘mons (as I explain later in this post), I was glad to see that go. But it also left battles feeling…off. They were too simple, it didn’t feel like battling in a Pokémon game. It was a Pokémon game, but in many ways not. If it was it’s own IP, would I still feel that way?

This is the part where Palworld comes in

It was marketed (and/or the internet decided it was) as “Pokémon with guns.” And that it was a dark, twisted Pokémon where you could kill and enslave them. When it launched last week, many people were disappointed that it was more like “ARK but with Pokémon instead of dinosaurs.” People dunked on it for having Fortnite chests, base building, hey, isn’t that just a Lucario?

And I was making fun of it, too. I watched my favorite streamers play it, and then there was a moment that made me realize, wait a minute…this core gameplay loop seems…fun? And it was only $26, if it sucks, no biggie, right? And, clearly, it must be doing well if millions of people have bought it and they all didn’t insta-return it.

I didn’t expect to love it like I do now. I didn’t expect to be constantly challenged and discovering new things. And I didn’t expect it to be better at being a Pokémon game than any Pokémon game ever has. There’s three major things that, in my opinion, make the true ideal Pokémon game.

1 – Every ‘mon has value

Pokémon GO is really bad at having useless Pokémon. “IVs” and level and species states are calculated into a single number, CP, which determines the relative strength of a Pokémon. The PVP leagues are up to 1,500 CP, up to 2,500 CP, and unlimited CP. There are several species whose max CPs (perfect “IVs”, max level) don’t even hit 1,000. I have a perfect Smeargle with a good moveset and it’s max CP will only ever be 200-something. It can never be useful for anything.

The end-game of Pokémon GO is to have multiple copies of very strong Pokémon to take to raids to catch even more very strong Pokémon, such as legendaries and megas. This means you’re going to see about the 30 same Pokémon in raids and the unlimited CP PVP. Even the lower brackets are going to feature the same Pokémon, as certain moves are much better than others and the move pool for each species is tiny. Catching a Giratina is no longer special if you’re expected to have 20 to do well in a raid.

The mainline Pokémon games have an easy enough story mode nowadays that you can get away with any fully-evolved Pokémon in your team, but this means the unevolved forms are useless. Even if you level them up high enough, their species stats just cannot compete. And if you’re one of the few who does competitive PVP, the number of viable Pokémon is only a small fraction of the 1,025 species available.

But in Palworld, every pal has value. Catching or defeating a pal gives you materials used in crafting, and catching ten of a species gives you a big chunk of XP; leveling is critical to unlock more of the tech tree and increase the level cap of your pals.

The gimmick of Palworld is making your pals work at your base. There’s different skills, like logging, fire-making, and crafting, with a value of 0-4 (there might be a 5, but I’ve yet to encounter it). A 1 or higher means a pal can do a task, like harvesting wood from trees or creating fire for a forge. The later-game pals have higher numbers, but in fewer skills. My Jormuntide is an absolute beast in battle, but she has only one skill (watering) at a 4. So she can absolutely tear through a huge workorder at the mill or grinder.

She is also hilariously huge and clips through everything.

Two of the pals you first encounter are Lamball and Chikipi, a sheep and a chicken. Will they be able to go toe to toe with an alpha pal? Probably not, but they make wool and eggs on the ranch like nobody’s business. Cloth is an important component for armor and furniture and eggs are needed for cooking, including cake, which is required for breeding.

Huge pals can be very good at one or two tasks, but they also can’t fit in normal pal beds…or in most places. And they move quite slowly and get stuck on things. They also tend not to have hands, which is a big problem when you need to make a huge order of high-level pal spheres to catch stronger pals. Your base can’t be made up solely of end game pals or the biggest pals or the strongest pals. Everyone can help in one way or another.

The Horny Lizard is surprsingly useful.

Pals can have 0-4 “passive skills,” which can include things like higher or lower attack, a % resistence to a certain type, or a % improvent to your own harvesting, crafting, or movement speed. There’s also “partner skills.” For many, including the larger ones, you can ride them. You can fly, swim, jump high, or move faster over land. For smaller pals, they can also have weapons or be weapons. Foxparks is now a flame thrower, and Lifmunk has a gun. It’s very funny, but it’s also helpful, depending on your play style. A small, weak pal can still deserve a spot on your team.

There are currently no “world bosses” that require a multi-person raid or PVP, and I highly doubt there will be formal tournaments like the mainline Pokémon games. Therefore, there’s no incentive to minmax your pals or your team. If there’s an individual that you like, because it was the first you encountered, or it was a particularly memorable fight, there’s a few ways you can “upgrade” them with better stats. An okay pal can become a “good” one. But you need more than good pals, you need to get good yourself, because…

2 – I’ve never played Dark Souls, but I imagine this is what Dark Souls is like

Is that a Dark Souls? I don’t go here so I dunno

I really liked the totem boss fights in PLA, as they required you to learn the boss’s movements and attack patterns and dodge while you throw things at them. I was fighting a Pokémon! But why aren’t my Pokémon fighting with me? Aren’t we partners? Why am I doing all the hard work and then sitting on my hands when they fight each other in an orderly fashion? (The whole turn-taking part of Pokémon battles always felt silly to me)

Every fight in Palwrold requires you to be an active participant, even if that means calling off your pal to keep it from killing a weakened opponent you want to capture. A pal can know up to three moves, which have their own cooldown timers and your pal uses automatically. The AI isn’t the greatest, but this is an early release state, so I can forgive it.

It feels awesome to raid a camp of baddies with a fire-breathing dragon

But when 20 enemies are invading my base, there simply isn’t time to give orders. I need to pick up my weapons and join in.

I took a break writing this to go get more screenshots and look what happens: raided by a bunch of birds.

During boss fights with alpha pals (which are either in a dungeon or as a special overworld version), I’m dodging, gauging attacks, and drawing the boss’s attention so my own pal can attack. When the boss locks on and starts a powerful strike, I can recall my pal so the move misses. And some bosses simply will just target you instead of your pal. You can’t hide behind a column and let your pal take all the risk.

This is Dark Souls, right?

When I’m out in the world, even in an area I’ve been to countless times, there’s always the chance I’ll stumble upon a boss, alpha, or lucky (higher level, stats, and larger size) pal. I’ll go “Holy shit! I can’t believe I just found this!” promptly followed by “Holy shit! I gotta get my act together before this thing kills me!” And these moments are what keep me addicted to this game, since…

3 – The world is full of discoverability and wonder

Okay, let’s be honest. We already know what we’re going to find in every Pokémon game before we even pick it up. We know we’re getting a super-thin, bullshit story where some bad guys are doing bad things around us and we end up defeating them and saving the world and also catching the guy on the box. And Pikachu will be there, and Ditto. And the starters, who we’ve already seen everything about, and most of the new species, and any regional variants, and unique moves and abilities. Nothing is a surprise because it’s marketed to the point nothing can be a surprise, and every Pokémon game “needs” to be the same in order for people to like it.

The reason why PLA (and Pokémon GO, to a lesser extent) were my idea of the best Pokémon game was because you never know what you’ll find. I could find a shiny on my morning coffee trip, I could find an alpha of one of my favorite species. My favorite moment in PLA was when I found an alpha shiny Ninetales. It felt awesome, like I’d discovered something rare and special and something only I have ever found. It made my character feel like they really were out there and discovering things about Pokémon no one else ever had.

The story of PLA is very funny, as you are isekai’d into the past, so you (the character) already know all about Pokémon, like they’re not all bloodthirsty monsters, because you (the player) know that. Since you’ve played Pokémon before and/or don’t live under a rock. It was great to finally see a Pokémon game acknowledge that the human player isn’t actually the naive 10 year old their character is supposed to be.

But PLA was set in a region we’d been to before. We already knew all the species that would be there, and how they work, and what moves they can learn, and how they evolve. The regional versions of the starters were a huge part of the marketing. Imagine what a great surprise it would have been if your Cyndaquil evolved into a totally different Typhlosion than you would have expected. It would have really driven home that this region was something totally different in the past.

Palworld is set in a region where you’re washed ashore as a castaway, I think? This isn’t where your character is from. But you, the player, don’t know this world. You don’t know what these species are, what they can do, how the type match ups work. Something like Lamball and Chikipi are just regular animals. But then you see a Mammorest for the first time, or a Suzaku, or some other thing that people aren’t pointing to and saying, “Hey, it’s just that Pokémon, but X!”

In the mainline Pokémon games, if a Pokémon is found in an area, you’ll find it eventually by running in circles until it spawns. But, like Pokémon GO, just because a pal could be found in an area, it doesn’t mean it will be there. I’m constantly stumbling into new species in areas where I’ve already thought I’ve seen everything.

Example: I’ve set up my third base towards the top of a mountain to farm ore. I’ve spent a lot of time in the area, making supply trips, building stuff, defending the base from raiders. There’s about five or six species that I see in the area all the time. I must have seen everything. And then, one night, I spot a Helzephyr flying overhead. And she was glowing in the dark. Holy shit, this has to be some rare, powerful pal. I dropped everything to catch her.

There’s quite a few pals that emit light in some form, and it makes them feel like a real, living thing in a real, living world.

Another story: I was running around on the ground to catch 10 of a species for the bonus XP. I’d run into some human baddies and had killed them and went on my way without thinking about it. I come back a few minutes later, and I see some thing pecking at the corpse. Holy shit, is this some sort of vulture? I love vultures!

But it was Incawgnito, a plague doctor-looking crow. I panic-threw a sphere at it and it breaks out, since it was at full HP. It starts to run towards me and it is the funniest animation I’d ever seen. But it’s a bird and can’t fly? Weird. I start to fight it, and then it disappears. I thought this was an Abra-type situation, where it was just gone and I couldn’t catch it. Before I can truly be bummed out, it reappears in a burst of shadow and attacks me, and then disappears again.

Oh, incognito, I get it! What a cool mix of things, but why can it do that? Is it going invisible or stepping into a shadow realm? When I catch it, I read the paldeck and…well, at least I know why it can’t fly. But how is it teleporting? Does anyone in the world know? No, probably not, and I love that.

Another thing that I love is that there’s different big, ancient statues in the world. Who made them? That’s not the interesting part. What sort of creature is it, though? Is it a mythical creature, like a griffon, or a human interpretation of a pal? Or maybe some genero-not-real-thing like the Rhydon-but-not-really statues in every Pokémon game?

You can guess some things from a statue, but not the true scale of the pal, or the colors, or the typing. So when you stumble upon it in the middle of a desert or in the depths of a volcano, it feels like you’re actually finding some sort of legendary creature, and, oh shit, it sees my flying and it’s shooting lasers at me I gotta get the hell outta here!

You can breed your pals to make eggs, but you’re going to find most of your eggs in the overworld. They respawn and in different locations, so there’s always reason to keep your eyes peeled.

There’s a fire egg right below my pal’s chin, but there is also a chest on one of the bones in the distance. Treasures chests are another incentive to re-explore areas.

I’ve discovered a lot of new species this way, including bosses that have been too high level for me to take on yet. It is absolutely wild to me that you can hatch what is essentially a Lugia from an egg that is just laying on the ground. I also find a lot of subspecies of pals this way. A pal is normally one, maybe two types, but some species have a second version, that lives in another biome, and is another type. So a grass type you’ve found in forests might have an ice version on the top of a mountain.

Okay, he’s not actually that shiny, but there’s this weird bug where “shiny” materials get waaaay too shiny when they’re wet. So I had to take a picture.

It makes the world feel more alive, that pals have evolved to fit these different ecological niches. The paldeck is numbered, but a subspecies is #-B, and those aren’t in the deck until you encounter one. So finding one is always a surprise.

My Pokémon Veteran Story is getting into arguments with kids how the Mystery Bird in s1e1 of the Pokémon anime was clearly a sign of a future Pokémon 2 (as was Togepi) but everyone tried to tell me it was a Fearrow and there was no reason to assume they’d make another Pokémon game

I’ve been playing Pokémon ever since it came to the US. My first console game was Pokémon Pinball. I got both Blue and Red, but mained Blue because I didn’t like the color of the water in Red. I also had picked Charmander in Red, so the first two gyms were way harder, and I wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to deal with that.

Anyways, what made Pokémon so compelling as a kid was that I didn’t have the internet, and I doubt anyone did at that time, since my town was in the middle of nowhere and also not-rich. You had to see commercials on Kids WB or ads in Nintendo Power to know what was out there. There were no leaks of game assets, no trailer breakdowns. You discovered things by playing the game (or hearing it from other kids, which had a high chance of being untrue).

You might have gotten a starter with crappy IVs, but you loved it, because it was your Pokémon, you had those memories from hard battles and beating the elite four. Gen I is unique because the code is very wonky and it’s very easy to game the system with certain Pokémon and move combos. But the strongest kid at school wasn’t the one with a blizzbolt Starmie and a Persian and a Taurous and an Alakazam. It was the kid with six level 100 Mewtwos, because it was such a flex to finish the game six times on two copies of the game.

Pokémon has changed a lot, as is how we engage with it. EVs and IVs were hidden from the player, but now there’s ways to improve them in-game that are trivial to get. There’s items to change abilities and natures. Even the most casual players are being flooded with stats and values to think of and this pressure that, hey, that starter you love so much? It’s shit, actually. The whole team you trained and used to beat the elite four is just total garbage.

How is a player supposed to feel about that? The game does not require you to make or find “the best” individual of a “good” species, and it’s not necessary for 99%+ of players. But the game wants you to know, this one has bad stats, that species has bad stats or bad abilities, so don’t even bother. The story tells you every Pokémon is special and your friend but the mechanics tells you they’re just numbers to discard if they’re unoptimized.

And about the whole guns thing…

Palworld doesn’t make you do that, by the way. The default work setting on your base is set to “humane,” and you don’t have to butcher a pal for materials. I only recently got a gun; making ammo is pretty resource-intensive, including unique resources that are out of the way to get, so I am just buying it or picking it up as drops. There’s no reason to have multiple production lines for weapons and making a bunch of guns at once, like you see in the trailers. You only have two hands!

You don’t have to be any crueler to your pals than you treat your Pokémon. If anything, I have a closer bond to my pals than my Pokémon since I work alongisde them. We fight bad guys together, we win and lose together. We’re building a base together and we sleep in beds that we’ve collectively built. There’s a lot less box (storage) space for pals than Pokémon, so a fair number of your pals will be “out” working on your bases, compared to the 99%+ of your Pokémon moldering on Someone’s PC.

I like that this game has no story. The story for a Pokémon game had never been the selling point. Like Pokémon, the main gameplay loop is catching/defeating funny little guys. In Pokémon, you need money to buy Pokéballs, which you get by beating other trainers. In Palworld, you need to craft your pal spheres, so gathering and processing supplies is crucial. And, to do that, you need to work with your pals.

Plus, any game that lets me stab a mammoth with a spear while I’m riding a giant elk is a cool game.

I didn’t expect to like this game as much as I do. The moment that convinced me to buy it myself was when a streamer found a baddy base (the “Team Rocket” types), fought them, and then released a sullen pal in a cage in the center of the base. It was a totally different species than anything else seen in the overworld, and it was a promise of even more things to explore and find.

If your favorite part of Pokémon is minmaxing, you’re going to hate this game

But I never liked that way of playing Pokémon, reducing creatures into pure numbers. Restarting the game hundreds of times to get a starter with the “correct” ability. Stopping progression the moment the daycare center is unlocked to breed an individual with the “correct” personality. Sitting down and planning out your entire team before you’ve even bought the game.

The world of Pokémon is about forming bonds and playing with your favorites. I once saw a post saying how every single Pokémon is someone’s favorite and how wonderful that is. The ice cream cone, the tadpole with feet, the fake tree, Metapod. “Yes, this is my garbage son with an awful move pool and worthless stats, but he’s a funny little guy and I love him for that.”

In Palworld, your favorite can be the first Lamball you’ve found, or your Pengullet and his rocket launcher, or the not-very-creatively-named Anubis that you’ve seen in the mythical statue used to upgrade your pals and then you had an epic battle to finally catch him. The value of a pal is more than its raw stats or potential moves or what it can do for you in your base.

And it’s right there in the name: it’s your pal, and we don’t pick our friends based on what they can do for us or their skillset. Friendship is built out of our shared experiences and memories. This is what Pokémon has always been about. It’s what the plot of the mainline games tries to say is the message.

But everyone ignores that, because they need a shiny, they need a Froakie with protean, they need the perfectly-balanced team with the perfect moveset, but for what end? Most people aren’t playing Pokémon competitively, and you don’t need to do any of that to finish the game or the Pokédex. A pal cannot be any of those things, so instead Palworld focuses on the heart of the monster-catching genre: friendship and memories.

I can only hope that the Pokémon Company can see past its trigger-happy lawyers and realizes this. I hope they can make the major shift in their games to bring it back to bonding with Pokémon instead of seeing them only as bits of data, but I doubt it. The fact that Pokémon Mystery Dungeon has been forgotten says as much. All they care about is making sure you’re catching ’em all.

But even in the anime and manga, that had never been the point. Media like Pokémon Concierge and Detective Pikachu proves that people want to form deep relationships with their Pokémon as individuals, the friends they’ve journeyed with, and not the numbers attached to them. This is why I always liked Digimon more than Pokémon, since your Digimon is your partner and grows alongside you, instead of being a tertiary character that can easily be replaced.

I’m excited to see where Palworld goes from here, and I can’t wait to find even more pals and create even more memories with them.


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