Palia, from indie dev Singularity 6, is a strange game to me. Positioned as a relaxing MMO, it pitches its tent somewhere between World of Warcraft and Disney Dreamlight Valley, offering solo and group questing in a world where everyone is already friends and every day is a lazy Sunday. And, look, as something aimed squarely at younger gamers (or older gamers who want something non-violent to invest time in), it’s pretty decent. But this is not a game that’s going to appeal to fans of standard MMOs or games with a stronger focus on action.
In Palia you play a human transported to a fantasy world, without your memory, and you just kind of accept that everyone is a bright colour and has horns or pointy ears or whatever, and begin to harvest items and craft things right away without so much as a tour of the place. There’s a very inclusive character creator that allows you to forge your avatar without bringing up genre, although it would be nice to have some beards and different body types to work with.
Either way, your arrival heralds nothing in particular. You’re just given a pickaxe and wood axe and told to gather materials to build a workbench and a massive tent to live in. And you just go along with it, breaking rocks and hewing trees in your colourful dragon T-shirt and designer jeans because there’s nothing much else to do.
Pretty soon after you’ll be fishing, catching bugs, picking flowers, and all the other Animal Crossing / Disney Dreamlight stuff, turning in easily gathered quest items to smiling NPCs. Oh, and hunting. But it’s not what you think. The game handed me a bow and some smoke bombs and I thought “Great! A-hunting we will go! Maybe find some goblins or an angry hedgehog…” But nope. You can hunt wildlife, but you won’t be “harvesting” it. If you nail a deer in Palia it just kind of transforms into a bag of supplies. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s worse, and found myself wondering if the deer retained sentience as I dragged its new drawstringed neck open to fish around inside for crafting goods.
As for the fishing itself, it’s quite engaging. You need to hold the left mouse button to reel in the fish while holding the cursor over the fighting fish until it’s close enough to scoop up. Most of Palia is like this; little mundane jobs made cute and engaging by the application of tried and tested mini game mechanics. And honestly, it’s all really effortlessly likeable.
Being an MMO you can team up with other players to explore the world and complete fetch quests, but there are no dragons to slay or gender-neutral royalty to rescue; just light farming, crafting and the expansion of your domain. The crafting is simple, too, requiring nothing but the ingredients to fabricate everything from beds to tools. You then get to place what you’ve crafted like Animal Crossing, and invite other players round for late night parties in the grove.
It’s all wrapped up with an easy to use interface and a hot bar that contains items you’ve gathered. Tools are stored in a radial menu for quick access, too. But you won’t be pulling tools and gear out in a crisis; it’s all super laid back and very chilled out. Like Disney Dreamlight Valley, the hardest part of Palia is finding out where certain items and ingredients grow or dwell.
Interacting with NPCs will allow you to complete tasks for them, which in turn raises your friendship level. Sooner or later they’ll be calling you by your chosen nickname or may even become potential romance options. If you do prefer the solitary, quiet life, you can opt to develop your little homestead and spend your time farming, cultivating fruit and vegetables that you can then go and cook for healthy stat-boosting meals.
Another game Palia borrows quite heavily from is Breath of the Wild (and Tears of the Kingdom, I suppose) in that you can climb most cliff faces until a stamina meter runs out and you fall. There’s even a glider later on that stops you plummeting to your doom from higher places.
What I’ve played of Palia so far has revealed a cozy, pleasant, and positive-natured little game with more than a few ideas borrowed from games you probably already love if you’re looking at Palia at all. It’s cute and bright, violence-free, and built around the themes of community, exploration, teamwork or, simply, manual work, and allows you to cultivate a second life filled with mystery and friendship and, in today’s world, that’s not something to brush aside. It may not feel particularly unique in it’s approach, but it’s worth checking out for those who just want to enjoy a game without stress or competition.
Palia is in closed beta now, with an open beta coming soon.