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Tim Disney

Division of Labor: How Palworld's Mechanics Hooked Me

I've been playing a bunch of Palworld recently (along with everyone else apparently) and been having a great time. It's open-world survival crafting (think Valheim) mixed with monster collecting (Pokémon) mixed with some very light (at least in the first ten or so hours, might get more complicated later) automation (a little bit of Satisfactory).

I'm a little surprised how much it has hooked me since I've always bounced off the survival crafting and monster collecting genres. I understand their appeal but the tedium inherent in both have been too much for me (also the combat in Pokémon just straight up sucks, don't @ me). That said, I've sunk hundreds of hours into automation games (every few months I circle back to either Satisfactory, Factorio, or Dyson Sphere Program), and those games definitely have plenty of tedium baked into their design.

So what makes Palworld click for me?

I think the key is the way that Palworld uses monster collecting to relieve the survival crafting tedium. The pals you collect are not just used in combat, you put them to work in your base to gather resources and craft items. The tedium is a motivator to find new and better Pals. There is a virtuous cycle at work here; you collect Pals to build a better base and craft better items that you use to find better Pals that you use to build a better base and so on.

This ever-building cycle is exactly the hook that pulls me so deep into automation games, the initial tedium is a motivator to build more complicated factories that you use to build yet more complicated factories and so on.

I'm only ten or so hours into Palworld so I'm curious to see if its hook can sustain itself to an endgame. I suspect not, automation games have another endgame hook that Palworld seems to be missing: player expression. As you build out more complicated factories in a game like Satisfactory the player expresses their design sensibilities in their builds (how they prioritize aesthetics, compactness, modularity, etc.). At least so far, I don't see an equivalent space for player expression in Palworld (I'm not counting base building because it's not tied back into the core mechanics, bases are mostly cosmetic).

In any case, Palworld is very enjoyable and I'm interested to see how it unfolds both as I play more of it and as the developers evolve it during the early access period.