This free-to-play cozy MMORPG manages to fit all of its farming, hunting, crafting, cooking, and more on the Switch.
When Palia was announced during the June 21 Nintendo Direct this year I immediately took note. A new MMO that focused on crafting, farming, and a cozy world? And that I could play for free on my Nintendo Switch? Sign me up! Sign up all my friends too!
If you’re not familiar with Palia, it’s what I would introduce as a “Cozy MMO”. Think World of WarCraft, but instead of jumping into conflict and chaos, players awaken in a magical fantasy world and farm, cook, harvest, fish, mine, catch bugs, make furniture, build their house, and hunt.
The closest you come to combat is chasing after deer with a bow and arrow. The closest you come to a “guild raid” is a 2 hour long cooperative cooking session at another player’s farm house with everyone operating different cooking stations and sharing their ingredients (I speak from personal experience: cake parties are intense). The endgame is building and decorating your house and farm (and romancing your favorite NPC). Server chat consists of players helping each other track down rare resources and roving magical creatures. And when multiple people chop down a tree, mine a metal, or hunt a magical creature, they ALL get the reward for it.
Palia is a game that intentionally wants to build positive interactions and easy-going-vibes for its community. But how do you cram all that Massively Multiplayer Online RPG game into a portable Switch experience? Apparently it CAN be done! There are rough edges, but the full Palia experience is here, including cross play with players gaming on PC.
When it comes to controls, Palia takes full advantage of ALL the buttons on the Switch. You can do almost everything you could with a mouse and keyboard (though being relegated to the Switch’s software keyboard for chat means you’ll never be a “Chatty Cathy”) but it’ll take a little getting used to and there are UI conveniences that I do miss, particularly in inventory management. One last gripe I have here versus the PC version is there's no easy way to quickly snap the camera into orientation behind your character.
However, the less fluid controls do have a significant effect on hunting (and to a lesser extent bug-catching) due to moving targets that are actively trying to escape. Palia doesn’t support motion-controlled aiming currently, but the game does attempt to compensate by giving your arrows a sliver of a homing effect to make it easier to connect on near misses. Still, it’s a pity that this isn’t more fluid: hunting in Palia could have a zen all of its own because of the flow involved in approaching, ambushing, and even chasing down prey. (It brings to mind real world persistence hunting where even after you hit your target, you need to be able to continue tracking and following it to finish the job!)
To be honest, I put up with similar control challenges for over 200+ hours with Civilization VI on the Switch just so I could play that game from my bed instead of at my desk, so this may just be par-for-the-course for keyboard-and-mouse to controller conversions.
Where graphics are concerned, Palia is a world full of colorful sights and gentle visuals. During the PC Open Beta I was playing Palia on BELOW minimum spec PC hardware and though I missed out on how pretty the game could be when fully turned up I still had plenty of fun. I’m please to find that the Switch’s graphics feel like a cut above that: improved in some places, but ultimately serviceable with some framerate hiccups around town. In Handheld Mode player character models seemed to have difficulty switching to higher fidelity models quickly enough if they were rapidly approaching, but when Docked this didn't seem as much of an issue. When the world is less busy, populated mostly by trees and animals, or at your own house and plot of land, the graphical issues are far less noticeable.
What actually might be more important no matter how you play Palia is how well the game servers keep up with things. Even playing the PC Open Beta earlier this year there were instances where I would be hunting deer only to see it lag (another player once described it as a “moonwalking” deer), become immune to my arrows in that lagged state, then suddenly warp dozens of feet away to its "actual" position. Additionally, every once in a while I’d lose connection to the servers while playing on my PC.
I occasionally ran into similar issues during my recent Switch play. Whether this is a server-only issue or something compounded by the Switch hardware, it is definitely an area that I hope the developers continue to work on for all players regardless of platform. This is likely the most serious issue that could affect one’s experience playing the game.
So did Singularity 6 deliver when they promised they would bring Palia to Switch? Yes they did! Is there immediate room for improvement? Certainly, and I pray they act on those topics soon. Will I be playing it from my bed and hoping my favorite Twitch streamers start playing this on their Switches too? One hundred percent. After all, my farm is in its infancy, my virtual house is full of clutter, I have a full quest log, and I still haven’t yet decided which character in the game I’m going to try to romance.