As someone who had spent hours and weeks defeating Runebearers, surviving a harsh in-game environment, using the force within, and, of course, years into building up my farm in Stardew Valley, imagine my surprise when Singularity 6’s cozy MMO, Palia, came across my radar. The first I heard about this game came during Nintendo’s Direct showcase in June 2023, and since then, have been actively following the game and its development.
When it came time to join the Closed Beta period, I went in with some moderate expectations so as not to disappoint myself. Some minor technical issues aside, after downloading and installing the launcher and logging in, I was greeted to Palia with great wonder and excitement.
I was pleasantly surprised by how in-depth their Character Customization options were; the Gameplay First Look livestream did give us a sneak peek into this, but experiencing it first-hand, there's plenty of freedom. Additionally, the decision to not have gender-assigned body types is a noteworthy detail, which doesn't restrict or force players to choose a gender.
Right! Character created! Jumping into the game in an aura of purple-hued smoke gave me the main protagonist vibes, but upon opening my eyes, I was greeted by Jina and her companion Hekla. One exciting surprise if the decision to forgo a five-minute cutscene explaining why humans and magic disappeared from the world, but it does lead you to explore the gameplay mechanics through the tutorial quest.
Now, it took me a half hour to figure out how to run or sprint, thanks to the server chats, but those opening minutes will be important to most players. There are a few ways of going about this: either start socializing with your fellow Villagers, begin exploring the world, and in doing so, forage items, completing the quests, or if you’re unfamiliar with playing keyboard and mouse like me, spend as much time possible learning and binding the shortcuts.
Back to Palia. With my created character and a world filled with opportunities, I determined that if I were to get familiar with playing on the keyboard and mouse, I might as well start completing quests. The first few quests explain and guide players through the game mechanics and its Skill system, which took no time to reach Level 2 for Mining and Foraging, respectively.
Through interactions with various characters, you’ll receive the “101” quests which you’ll learn more about that specific Skill and acquire some tools and recipes. I did end up spending my clearing out the entire housing plot and collecting various resources before crafting my tent and storage chests during the tutorial quest, but once I was completed, it was back to questing.
The game’s Quests system and how one progresses with them are very vaguely similar to how one would progress in Animal Crossing. One accepts a quest and begins grinding towards completing an objective to either learn more lore, unlock recipes for better equipment, or earn Renown and level up your Skill.
The quests don’t have to be completed in a specific order, and I found that through exploration, I would complete various quest objectives before turning them in. Nevertheless, it does take some time to grind these quests; it does provide opportunities to explore other in-game mechanics and opportunities, like mastering your Skills, building your dream home, befriending Villagers, and crafting.
This organic approach to completing quests makes the experience more enjoyable, given how essential exploration factors into the game. In fact, exploration is central to how the game plays, from completing quests, leveling up Skills, learning the gameplay mechanics, and just socializing with others.
There’s no risk in exploring the forests, climbing the cliffs, or heading out to the docks as you are encouraged to experience the world the way you want. Although, going into the water respawns you back to your last known location rather than letting you drown. Everything happens gradually, and in its own time in Palia, so there are no time objectives, no rush to get specific Achievements or rewards, or to complete quests.
The more time you put into the game, the more rewarding and satisfying it gets, and experiencing this within 10 hours made it hard to sign off. Likewise, spending time exploring, completing quests, crafting, and leveling up the Skills, there was still so much to do, and it felt unique and fresh each time you interacted with the world.
While yes, most of my time spent has been from the perspective of a single player, its MMO elements and mechanics do a surprising job of providing a well-rounded multiplayer experience. It stems from how intuitive its social features are as I spent time chatting with other online players, having a jumping contest towards the village, or just standing in one spot locking eyes with others as I adjust my game settings.
But once I found a few players to tag along with to mine resources, hunt animals, or going catch insects, this added a sense of realism, making the world feel much more lively. And while I’m still living in a tent due to the hours I spent exploring and resource collecting, it feels so comforting having to spend the nighttime hours cooking up Grilled Mushrooms and plotting schemes to take over the village in the company of others.
For a first game from a studio comprised of experienced and talented individuals, Palia feels like a fresh new step in the right direction for MMOs. It has well-designed mechanics, an intriguing narrative, a stunning open world, and a commitment to promoting the cozier side of gaming. Its diverse character customization and inclusive multiplayer experiences gives me hope that this game is onto something incredibly huge for the genre.
The most surprising part is that the game is in its Closed Beta, a promising sign for the game and its developer, Singularity 6. It will launch on PC and Nintendo Switch; the latter arriving in the Holiday Season 2023, as the developer has planned more content for later this year.