The multi-genre inspired mechanics and adorable creatures of Palworld are taking the world by storm, how does it fare when it comes to accessibility? Palworld combines monster taming combat of animal-like “Pals”, with open world survival, farming, resource collecting, crafting, and base-building. The game has single player, 4 player local/online co-op, and 32 player online (Steam version) modes.
Indie developer Pocket Pair released the game to much fanfare at the end of last month. It is in an early access state for Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. I had a chance to play the first 10 hours of the single player experience on Xbox Game Pass PC. So far I’m really enjoying the amount of content and impressed with the customization available for difficulty settings.
Starting the Journey
After reaching the title screen, I could access the options menu and a Survival Guide. The options menu of Palworld is pretty bare bones, but there are some accessibility focused settings. Sprint can be set to toggle, and the keyboard can be completely remapped. Sadly mouse buttons are locked to the default settings. Palworld has controller support for standard Xbox controllers, Pro Controllers, and is compatible with Steam Link. The game also offers adjustable keybindings and analog stick sensitivity, when playing with a controller.
The Survival Guide acts as a comprehensive game manual and covers a ton of different features in Palworld. It teaches the basics on catching Pals, crafting, navigating the HUD, the leveling system, and other mechanics in the game. Although the in-game tutorials do a good job of guiding the player with relevant tasks, the Survival Guide goes into much more detail. The Survival Guide can be accessed from the title screen or anytime in-game from the Inventory screen.
Whether playing online or single player, a new save must first be created. It’s here that the game offers customizable difficulty settings. Palworld has more ways to customize difficulty settings and world parameters than any other game that I’ve played!
For starters, there are four default difficulty modes: Casual, Normal, Hard, and Custom. I recommend Casual difficulty for players with fine-motor skill impairments because it makes fights more manageable. Pals are also easier to capture, there’s more experience gained, and crafting materials spawn more frequently. However, Custom mode offers even more flexibility with tons of sliders that adjust nearly every aspect of the gameplay.
Everything from damage multipliers, health regeneration, capture rate, and hunger status can be adjusted. But also structural deterioration rate, item multipliers, level scaling, and many more. Dying in Palworld can result in losing items or pals, but even this can be reduced in Custom mode.
Much of the Palworld experience and accessibility can depend heavily on the parameters adjusted here in these settings. Custom mode lets players have little to no challenge if they choose. This comes with the freedom to change settings anytime before loading up a save.
What to do in Palworld
After making a new save and creating my avatar, Palworld threw me into the fray like a true survival game. Having me forage for food, craft my own weapons, and then make camp to escape the elements. Pretty soon I was able to start crafting “Pal Spheres”, circular objects used for capturing pals.
There are over 100 pals in the game and each one can be captured. They can be used for hunting for supplies, farming, breeding, fighting, or building a base. They can even be sold or eaten. Once captured, pals can be summoned to battle. A pop-up menu allows players to pet them, feed them, or dish out attack commands.
Players will also encounter hostile NPCs in the form of rival tamers and the Rayne Syndicate criminal organization. Some of these are powerful characters that reside in tall towers across the map, essentially acting as boss battles.
The Art of Capturing Pals
Having patience, and catching the right pals with the right status advantages, are essential to winning combat encounters. Players can also improve their odds by crafting accessories for their pals. These accessories unlock new abilities and turn some pals into mounts, making it much quicker to explore the map.
Similar to other monster taming games, to capture pals, Pal Spheres must be thrown at one after weakening them. For me, it was tough at first getting the hang of capturing them. You only get one chance for each sphere and it requires fast-paced movement and precision. I had to get up-close and personal to weaken them. All while avoiding their attacks and not killing my potential pal in the process.
Palworld also doesn’t have a lock-on mechanic, so I often felt that I was wasting resources having to make new Pal Spheres every time I missed my mark. Thankfully, Palworld has a great reward system that ensures new gameplay improving items are unlocked after every level up.
Crafting Made Easy
To begin crafting, first the recipe of the item must be loaded up at the Workbench. The crafting button must be held down until finished. If a pal is out and summoned from the player party, they will automatically start crafting those items for you. As soon as I unlocked the bow and arrow, I was able to fight and capture pals much easier. I could hold the attack button down, pulling back the arrow to increase damage, while the added distance gave me ample time to successfully throw a Pal Sphere.
Once I crafted enough materials and collected more pals, I started to work on building my home base. At level 2, the Palbox (A container for holding extra pals) is unlocked. It’s here where a base can be set up. Palworld offered many different options for creating my personal homestead. All the resources I collected out in the wild helped determine what structures I could create. Chopping wood was easy, unlocking tons of wooden structures. But it was also important to mine stones for stronger fortifications.
Building A Base
By pressing the Build button, a series of menus will appear with tabs categorized by object type. I really appreciated the game’s snap-to function here, guiding the design when placing an object or merging two separate structures. Also, Palworld helpfully warns players when objects are placed on top of another or going to clip into the ground.
Palworld really sets itself apart by letting players fight or craft without forcing them to choose one over the other. Crafting new items and building up my base was when I had the most fun playing the game. So far I’ve spent most of my time building a two-story house with a workbench. It has 6 pal beds out front, a giant wooden gate, 2 berry plantations, a pal ranch, sauna, and furnace. I did all this after only capturing about 20 pals.
That’s not to say that Palworld doesn’t reward players for fighting and capturing pals. On the contrary, every pal you acquire is another worker at your disposal. Pals aren’t just for fighting, as they each have a unique skill for completing certain tasks at a base. Some pals do better with planting or watering, while others are better at defending the base or gathering supplies. Pals will automatically start completing tasks that they’re good at the minute they are placed at a base.
Taking care of your pals
Still, on my playthrough I realized that it was important to check up on my pals periodically. When tasks are complete they can sometimes lose focus. It seems hungry, sick, or overworked pals will refuse to work at all. On occasion, I would have to remember to feed certain pals directly, even though their feed bowl would be full. The way players run their base can affect the overall mental health of their pals. In order to deal with this, a sauna can be installed to improve pal sanity. Making sure the base has plenty of beds will reduce pal stress.
After setting up a base and enough time has passed, new challenges will emerge in the form of Raids. These events usually consist of groups of wild pals or human poachers that try their best to storm the base. They will attempt to demolish it and steal all the pals inside. I felt the game gave me plenty of time to prepare for them, but I would still recommend having at least one pal defending the base at all times. Alternatively, players can choose to turn off Raids completely in the Custom difficulty settings.
Visual and Audio Accessibility
The game is not without its pitfalls of course. There are options to turn off motion blur and camera shake, but that’s about it for visual accessibility options in Palworld. Neither the HUD nor the UI text can be adjusted in any way. There isn’t even an option to change the brightness or contrast. The island map of Palworld has very bright and colorful environments. However, without a torch equipped it gets very difficult to see at night and in certain dungeons. Players with visual impairments may run into some issues exploring in the game.
Icons and visual indicators
Thankfully, there are some great visual icons in Palworld that offer some support. Whether it be status effects, pal notifications, or Raid alerts; there are visual icons that accompany all of them. If a pal in the player’s party is attacking something off-screen, the game shows an icon of the pal’s face. This icon is also accompanied by an arrow that points in the direction of the pal. A light bulb icon above pals heads’ indicates that they see a new relevant task, flowers indicate that they’ve completed it.
Live pal notifications pop up on the left side of the screen. Player health updates, for hunger or armor damage, show up as bright red notes in the center of the screen. Most menus and text have a background, but some are semi-transparent. It would be nice to have the option to change the opacity of these. The red exclamation points that appear above enemies or injured pals work really well and aren’t obscured by objects or when moving the camera.
No spoken dialogue, but no closed captions either
On the audio side of things, Palworld doesn’t have any audible dialogue. Though, I did notice that there was scrolling text when talking to Non-hostile NPCs. Closed captions would be a big help for deaf players to be better alerted to pals in the wild, but aiming at pals does reveal info from a distance. Aside from a master volume slider, there are separate sliders for background music, player voices, sound effects, ambient sound, and pal noises.
Palworld is a truly ambitious early access game that successfully combines action-adventure combat with open world survival. The custom difficulty mode allows players freedom to choose their challenge in Palworld, but the visual accessibility needs a lot more work. Thankfully, the developers have stated they’re dedicated to improving the game with multiple patches released, and more on the way. Here’s hoping they continue to listen to community feedback and also improve the accessibility of Palworld!