Palworld is destined to be 2024’s most bonkers videogame. The ‘Pokémon-with-guns’ game that dropped everyone’s jaws when it was revealed in 2021 is almost here. Despite some confusion after a rather vague launch date trailer, it is definitely going to be coming to Xbox consoles and Game Pass on day one when it launches in early access on January 19. It’s Game Pass’ first day-one launch of this year in fact. That’s a pretty ridiculous way to kick off the service’s slate for the year, but, in many ways, Palworld and Game Pass are a perfect match.
2024 is set to be a big year for Xbox, but when it comes to Game Pass specifically, it’s off to a flying start. The January lineup of new Xbox Game Pass games was already looking strong, with the likes of WW2 shooter Hell Let Loose and a sprawling, triple-A RPG in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The ludicrous open world game Palworld will look to bolster that start even further. Treating players to a day-one launch just 19 days into the year (even if the game will technically be in early access) sets a strong precedent for the year ahead.
The madness of Palworld has enticed many of us since its first trailer, and the news of a Game Pass launch on day one is going to enable so many people to give it a whirl. But more importantly than that, opening things up to Game Pass’ millions of subscribers will help realize its ambitions to be one of the best co-op games out there. Up to four people can play in a party online, while developer Pocketpair is encouraging people to “create guilds together” in dedicated servers, which can host up to 32 players at once.
While Game Pass is certainly a good thing for Palworld, I feel there’s some mutual benefit to be had here too. There’s no denying the line up of Xbox exclusives and games that will hit Game Pass on day one this year is looking strong – the likes of Hellblade 2, Stalker 2, and Avowed all have huge potential to be excellent games. But it’s all quite… serious. Palworld is an injection of lunacy that I, for one, am glad is hitting the service.
There’s no doubt that among the best Xbox Game Pass games there are already some very weird yet enjoyable titles. Headbangers Rhythm Royale sees you compete in rhythm-based party games as a suggestively-shaped pigeon. For unbridled, janky chaos you’ve got two Goat Simulator titles to get stuck into. Or you could listen to the unhinged musings of a talking alien gun in High on Life. But Palworld might give all of them a run for their money.
The similarities with recent Pokémon games are obvious. There are over 100 monsters called Pals to catch, train, and battle with, some of which look suspiciously similar to existing creatures in the Pokémon universe. Pals are captured in spherical devices that definitely aren’t influenced by PokéBalls. And battles are seamlessly initiated in its vast open world. From that description alone, it sounds fairly timid – familiar, even.
However, Palworld adds an element that makes so many of the best survival games a joy to play – base-building. It also turns into a third-person shooter by throwing bows, crossbows, and guns into the mix. What makes this even more cursed is that you can get your Pals to craft your bases and even your new weapons for you, and there have even been shots in previous trailers showing Pals wielding these firearms. Just imagine if Nintendo were to add a production line of Pikachus crafting submachine guns into the next Pokémon game – it’s a hilarious premise that Palworld is more than happy to run with.
There is a risk that the madness of Palworld, mixed with the fact that it’s trying to do a lot all at once, will make it a bit of a dud. But if Pocketpair has actually made something magical here, it might go down as one of the best Xbox games to hit Game Pass this year – even when you take those big-budget, first-party games into account. I’ll certainly be diving in on the 19th to see if I’m on the money, or totally wide of the mark. While you join me in (impatiently) waiting, check out our number crunching on the $5,000-worth of games added to Xbox Game Pass throughout 2023.