Palworld probably isn't going to have a meaningful impact on the direction of Pokémon games long term, but it absolutely might be charting the course for a whole new trend in survival crafting games: the era of little dudes with little jobs in your massive, NPC-automated bases.
Survival crafting games blew up after Minecraft in 2010 and their broad design strokes have stayed pretty consistent in the last 14 years. They all start—Palworld included—with picking up rocks and sticks, crafting rudimentary tools, eating berries off bushes, and slapping together a horrible wood shack with a bed in it before nightfall.
But certain viral hits have managed to shift the survival crafting formula over the years. Minecraft set the original expectation that all the crafting games should have procedurally generated worlds, and they mostly did for a long time. Rust was a phenomenon that spawned tons of other PvP survivalcraft server games. Valheim added bosses and then suddenly several other new survival games (including Palworld) considered that the new standard. And now Palworld and its cast of critters are about to set the next trend for survival crafting games.
Give it a year and I bet we'll have three more survivalcraft games with hoards of recruitable NPCs who you can boss around at your base.
Palworld takes a darker turn when it pushes you into developing guns and horrific work conditions for your adorable Pals, but its first 10 hours are a blueprint for what this new trend in survival crafting might be. I spent my first several days nearly conflict-free as I caught a collection of Lamballs, crafted a saddle for my Melpaca, and diligently tended to the comfort of my pals with beds and food and breaks from their gathering tasks. If I ignore the butcher knife and rifles in the tech tree I can almost make believe that it's just a sweet crafting game about base building with my little buddies.
Working alongside my collection of creatures is so delightful that I'm positive there's a huge audience for a game that stays focused on catching, hatching, and managing in the style of Palworld's early hours. Traditional takes on monster taming often have those elements, but they're rare to non-existent in a survival crafting game. Palworld hasn't sold six million copies and topped the Steam charts just because of its Pokémon-esque designs and memey humor—there's a core appeal to directing a little army of cute helpers in a genre all about harnessing resources more and more efficiently.
We've already seen the prelude to this trend. Sons of the Forest, which was massively popular around this same time last year, also had a very popular NPC that we enjoyed lovingly ordering around. There was an outpouring of adoration online for Kelvin and his hapless habit of toppling trees onto bases and his incredible aptitude for fishing barehanded. We were all primed with the instinct to collect and protect our silly little dudes (especially those of us who spawned an entourage of Kelvin clones). Palworld pushes the concept further by giving you even more unique pals to collect and care for.
Automation is already a popular end goal for a lot of crafting games—Minecraft and Satisfactory, for instance—but the kind of pride you feel for developing a particularly clever conveyor belt layout just isn't the same as the emotional attachment to my collected creatures. Micromanaging tons of NPCs is standard for sims like Oxygen Not Included, but has never broken into survivalcraft the way Palworld has.
Survival crafting games still have massive insta-hit potential, as Palworld just demonstrated. We've collectively maintained a bottomless appetite for the stuff, meaning at least one takes off every year. The genre that never quits has always been ground zero for early access experiments, and I'm looking forward to the ways other developers are sure to go all in on creatures and crafting. Hopefully at least one of them will take a gentler hand to the concept than Palworld has, because I'm keen to get some proper survivalcraft onto my list of best cozy games.