Palia Shows Promise

Palia Preview

As Shakespeare said, an MMORPG by any other name is still an MMORPG. We’ve maybe moved past caring what genre a game identifies with. The important thing is really fun vs. no fun. Palia is a “community sim” or MMORPG or something akin to Animal Crossing, without the fanciful anthropomorphic animals. It’s an easy-paced chill game that checks off all the builder/community features like crafting, questing, exploration, and farming, alone or with others. There’s also a bit of confusion about whether Palia is an open beta (its official designation), an early access game, or something even a little less ready for the big leagues. Either way, you can try it out now.

Cover the Basics

Palia is set in a gentle, bucolic world where colorfully-skinned elves are the dominant race and humans like yourself are rare. After you create an avatar — the character creator is a bit limited — you set off on a series of tutorial quests that teach you the basics of movement, tool use, foraging, crafting, and homesteading. At launch, Palia only supported mouse and keyboard. Controller support is getting there, but still a bit buggy.

If you’ve played any other farming sims or MMORPGs, you’re pretty well equipped to guess what happens next. You meet and get to know a wide cast of amiable NPCs and take on quests for them. Completing the quests moves you out into the greater world, and gives you access to new tools, upgrades, and new items to make for your house. It’s a comforting loop, and that’s the point.

Speaking of comforting, unlike our real world, Palia is a place where Nothing Bad Ever Happens. There’s no combat at all, either PvP or PvE, and players don’t die. They can run out of stamina and fall from a cliff or “drown” in the water. In other games, the character would be a red stain on the tile. In Palia, they just reappear, safe and sound. A little like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, now that I think of it.

Gatherer and Hunter

There may be no explicit violence or combat in Palia, but a body needs food, and not just veggies. There is a good deal of fishing and hunting, with many parts of the animals being harvested for tools and other objects in addition to sustenance. Hunting and fishing are important skills to level up. If you want to roleplay a totally non-violent character, you can always have a buddy do the killing for you. It’s an MMORPG after all. That’s what friends are for. The multiplayer mechanics are in place but evolving.

There’s a reasonable rationale for killing at least some of the animals. According to game lore, the game’s iconic chapaa (a kind of cat-fox with a beaver tail) was imported as a pet but became invasive and is messing with the local wildlife and ecological balance. Also, the game explains, if you chop down a tree you get seeds, which allows you to plant even more trees. It’s nice that a game has a bit of gentle environmental education built in.

Have Shop, Bring Cash

Palia is an MMO, so true to the “O” it’s always on. It’s free-to-play, which means someone, somewhere has to pay for all those colorful pixels. There’s a cash shop for clothes and other cosmetic items, where real-world money buys in-game currency. Palia allows players to swap out their clothes any time but new outfits only come from the tailor (i.e. storefront). In a game where stylish appearance is part of the allure, it’s disappointing you can’t learn to sew your own swag.

I’ve heard folks gush about Palia’s visuals. In the style of cel-shaded cartoons, it’s attractive but lacking in textural complexity and artistic imagination. I feel like it’s a style and look we’ve seen in a lot of games. It’s not bad, though, and if you’re just into Palia for a bit of relaxing fun, you probably won’t complain about the art. The game’s music is fantastic. Less amazing is the audio design in general. It’s very repetitive and rudimentary, at least right now.

Whatever you want to call it — open beta, early access, demo — technically things are still rough but improving. It seems like the team was a little overwhelmed by the unexpected amount of attention when the game appeared. They’re doing their best to patch, improve and respond.

In a world where it’s hard to escape bad news and persistent conflict, dropping into a peaceful game like Palia has genuine appeal. It isn’t the most sophisticated or polished game on the market, but the chance to relax and have some rewarding fun is more than worth its price of admission.

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