Release date: August 2, 2023 (closed beta)
August 10, 2023 (open beta)
Systems: PC (Reviewed), Switch (holidays 2023)
Developer: Singularity 6 Corporation
Publisher: Singularity 6 Corporation
Palia is the debut title from small LA-based studio Singularity 6. It’s described as a community sim (or cozy MMO, if you prefer), with elements of Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing. Currently, the game is in open beta on PC—it’s free-to-play and will remain so—with a Nintendo Switch release planned for around the holidays. You can sign up and download the game directly from the website. Currently, it does not have full controller support, although this is in the works.
The aesthetics drew me in immediately; the charming graphics are reminiscent of Fable and the (something) soundtrack was recorded by a real live orchestra. It’s easy to see that this game is a labor of love. The studio may be young and relatively small, but it is staffed with industry veterans who have brought their collective goals and experience to the table.
This is your sign to take a small moment to relax with us!
All the music you hear in Palia is played entirely by a real live orchestra, composed by @composerschmidt. 🎼
Do these tunes soothe your soul? pic.twitter.com/jYQGzQsNIB
— Palia (@playPalia) June 3, 2022
Our vision is to create rich, compelling universes filled with meaningful social interactions and diverse gameplay experiences. We aspire for our players to feel a true sense of belonging when playing our games and feel valued within the community. [via Singularity6]
The world is inhabited by purple elf-like people called the Majiri, but your player character is a human. Shortly after your arrival, you will learn that your kind has not been seen in Palia for thousands of years. Humans mysteriously disappeared at the height of their civilization and no one knows why—it may have something to do with a magical energy known as Flow—and now, just as mysteriously, they are suddenly reappearing.
The map is dotted with ruins from the ancient humans, and you will explore them to gather clues and slowly piece together what happened. As you progress, you will also get to know the townsfolk, developing friendships and maybe even romance with them.
The second aspect that jumped out at me was the overwhelming friendliness of the player base. This is perhaps in part due to the cutesy nature of the game, but some credit definitely goes to the devs for their commitment to creating a warm and inclusive environment. In both server chat and Discord, I’ve yet to encounter a hint of toxicity, which is incredibly refreshing. There’s always someone willing to answer any question you may have, and nobody ever makes you feel silly for asking.
Another point in Palia’s favor is the completely gender-neutral character-creation process. Instead of a gender, you pick from one of two body types, and all cosmetic options are available to both body types. I do wish there were more diverse body types or even a slider; Singularity 6 assures players there will be more body types in the future, but it’s always disappointing when larger-bodied folks are relegated to an afterthought. Facial hair is also missing currently but is planned for the future, along with more extensive customization in general. Right now, the options are adorable but limited. At creation, though, you have a solid array of hairstyles and outfits to choose from, and you can change these at any time in-game.
The Cash Shop
Which brings us to my biggest complaint: the premium store. If you want more clothing aside from the basic offerings, there is no way to obtain it in-game; additional cosmetics must be purchased from the premium store, where Singularity 6 seems to be taking a leaf out of Riot’s book with its pricing model. Fortunately, these items are strictly aesthetic and do not provide any sort of in-game advantages, however, even the most conservatively-priced bundles, which come with three outfits—or rather, what looks to be basically the same outfit in three different colorways—are almost $20 USD. The cheaper ones seem to be pajama-type items. The more expensive ones will run you closer to $50, and that’s if you buy the most efficiently-priced coin bundle. The outfits bundles are priced at a slight discount; individually, the prices are even higher.
I understand that free-to-play games make all their money from microtransactions, but I think developers shoot themselves in the foot by pricing something so highly that costs them virtually nothing to distribute. It just doesn’t make any sense to price cosmetics at a point that is prohibitive to most gamers. At the very least, you should be able to craft some clothing in-game like you can in both Stardew and Animal Crossing. It’s hard to justify spending what I would normally spend on an entire game on a few in-game clothing items that, frankly, aren’t all that impressive.
The major draw, for me, was the housing. Each player gets an instanced housing plot where they can build and farm and craft to their heart’s content. There have been some issues with housing plots spawning on top of one another, and players’ items disappearing, but Singularity 6 has been hard at work putting out fixes for these. Your friends can visit your housing plot and you can cook dishes together. There’s a decent amount of furniture you can craft, and it all looks very cozy. Building is pretty satisfying; there’s a grid to help line things up, but it’s a very small grid, so there’s a lot of freedom in where you can place things.
See Also: All Upcoming MMOs
For a game that’s described as an MMO, Palia is really light on actual MMO elements, to the point where it almost doesn’t need to be an MMO. You’re able to group with friends, but this doesn’t seem to confer any benefit beyond seeing their map location. They have a guild equivalent called Communities, but again, these feel completely perfunctory. There’s no in-game economy; rather, they have a request system, where players can request preset numbers of items, and other players can fulfill these requests for a small amount of renown. There’s no combat, so no raids or anything of the sort; the only thing that really requires player cooperation is cutting down flow trees, which are harder to cut down than normal trees and give flow wood, a necessary crafting material. There’s not a traditional leveling system; rather, like Stardew, you have a number of skills you can level.
Palia is fun and aesthetically appealing, but right now, the content is very sparse. The characters are endearing, but the quests and relationships feel a bit shallow. It incorporates mechanics from multiple games but doesn’t necessarily improve upon or even match up to them. There are only two main areas of the world and only two types of animals (aside from the bugs and fish). Food only ever confers one bonus, which is focus; this increases experience gained when engaging in skills.
Although it doesn’t really feel like a complete experience right now, Palia is still in beta. Singularity 6 assures players that they have frequent content updates planned, such as themed events; new quests, storylines, crops, recipes, furniture, and villagers; more character customization options; full controller support; and quality of life improvements. The devs have been working tirelessly to address issues and solicit player feedback, and they seem to be really listening. I’m interested to see where they go with it. It’s also free-to-play, so you stand to lose nothing from trying it.