Cozy games have become quite the staple in the industry over the last few years, with titles like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons offering players the chance to create their own slice-of-life adventures. But there’s always room for new games in the emerging genre, especially as more and more players look for games that offer intimate and light-hearted experiences.
The upcoming free-to-play massively multiplayer online (MMO) game Palia is quickly shaping up to be a unique entry into that genre, as it’s perhaps the first MMO that is also a cozy simulator. From developer Singularity 6, Palia looks to offer players an immersive world and evolving story in which they can explore, interact with villagers and other players, and build out their own fully customizable home.
In late June, I was able to get hands-on with Palia, playing on my own as well as spending some time exploring the game with a few members of the team behind it. During my playtime, I found the world of Palia and the colorful cast of characters that call it home to be especially fun and welcoming across the board. I was keen to return to its inviting world time and time again, something I think other cozy gamers will find to be true as well.
Palia is described as a ”cozy world made for you” right on the game’s website and I found that descriptor to be very true during my time playing — from creating my first character all the way through exploring the world. There’s a certain vibe that’s come to be associated with cozy games, particularly in the often warm and welcoming game design, the relaxing pace of story, and a focus on non-violent gameplay through activities like farming, fishing, exploration, and world customization. And so far, Palia really fits into that vibe. With an endearing art style, fantastical music that inspires a sense of calm, and a focus on taking your time as you explore the world, Palia very much fits into the cozy genre from the get-go.
Right after creating my character, I was almost immediately pulled into the MMO’s story, as its world was quickly established through character interactions. While the first few minutes involve tutorial quests just like any other game does, Palia wastes no time in setting up an intriguing open world where humans are the odd ones out among the residents of Kilima Village.
Humans have been randomly appearing in some ancient ruins with no real explanation. I encountered two of my first villagers in Jina and Hekla, a pair of friends who helped me get started in Kilima Village by pointing me in the direction of my first few quests. These first missions don’t just explain its wealth of systems but also introduce players to the world of Palia and a few of the other villagers that they’ll soon get to know.
You can expect to see cinematics in the beginning that help to establish a little bit of lore, particularly when you are talking with Jina and Hekla early on and when you are completing some quests. For example, you eventually venture further into the ruins where you first arrive. There’s an accompanying cinematic that you cut away to that reveals a part of the ruins that have been hidden away from the area where you meet Jina. Early story quests also stick to introductory quest lines in an effort to introduce you to game mechanics, the NPC’s scattered throughout the world, and the general layout of Palia — such as meeting the Daiya family who run a local farm, and Tish, the furniture crafter who provides you with your first furniture recipes.
Palia feels very full of life, from its chatty villagers to the landscape itself where players can forage, hunt, fish, and build out their own homes. And while I was playing through the beginning quests, I started to get little hints of lore here and there, both from quest activities (such as further exploring the ancient ruins I began in) and by interacting with villagers who are often happy enough to share information with me.
Palia’s developers note that the villagers and quests are really designed both for depth and to feature complex stories that tie back to the game’s larger world story — and that was something I found myself really enjoying as I played. It sets Palia a little apart from other MMOs I’ve played and it feels like a natural addition to a game that’s expanding on what a cozy sim can offer.
Both cozy games and MMOs have gameplay mechanics that we’re all familiar with. The cozy genre tends to lean heavily into a more chill playstyle with an emphasis on things like farming, crafting, fishing, and foraging while many traditional MMOs center around a character-progression system based on combat and social features that encourage collaborative gameplay.
Palia, which has frequently been described as a hybrid of Stardew Valley and games like World of Warcraft and Valheim, works to blend the relaxing, cozy elements that allow players to carve out their own little corner of the world with MMO social features that allow players to group up and complete unique challenges and activities. This blend of core features really emphasizes building player skills and creating a sense of community.
While I don’t think any of the main skills I played through are anything new, including foraging, fishing, mining, and gardening, there was a certain refreshing take to some of these activities that I noticed right away. There were small details that made gameplay feel a little more intuitive than other cozy sims, like giving me easier access to items that have been placed into chests on my housing plot.
For example, when I went to craft items, I didn’t need to dig through my chest to make sure I had the exact materials on my person. This is a relatively small detail, but it made for an intuitive system that I can really appreciate after having to go through all manner of storage chests in other cozy sims to hunt down the right materials. Other gameplay details that stand out include how player-friendly fishing is (there’s really no fighting with the fishing rod to be found here), the ability to easily check what crops are growing, and taking the time to physically till garden plots.
Player-versus-player (PvP) experiences are an MMO staple, but that’s nowhere to be found in Palia. Game’s director Aidan Karabaich makes this clear when discussing the vision for PvP in Palia’s game design philosophy: “The core vision and target experience for Palia centers around creating a collaborative, cozy, and safe multiplayer experience. An inherent part of providing that safety is that players know that they exist in a world largely devoid of physical, social, and emotional threats.”
Without PvP, Palia puts a lot of focus into offering players chances to party up and play together. Player parties can consist of four players total, including yourself, while a single server can populate with up to 25 players. Activities like harvesting resources together and even inviting others (I’d recommend sticking to friends you trust!) to a housing plot to decorate, make for collaborative experiences that help to build out that sense of community that the game is looking to offer players.
One thing that particularly stood out during my time playing was how collaborative and fun cooking was. Cooking in many other cozy games tends to be pretty straightforward. You gather ingredients, just click a button or two over a fire or stove, and are given a finished meal. But in Palia, cooking is a little more involved. There are different stations to be found in the kitchen, such as a chopping and pan station (think something similar to Cooking Mama), that encourage players to cook with friends.
And while there is a big emphasis on building out a community and playing with friends, there’s plenty for players who prefer a more single-player approach to enjoy as well. You can explore, complete activities, and build out your little corner of Palia on your own as much as you’d like to.
For players who enjoy MMOs, cozy games, or both, I think Palia is shaping up to be one to check out — especially for anyone who’s interested in some fresh takes on cozy-style gameplay systems or those who have waited for an open-world, community-based game. There’s quite a bit to dig into with Palia, either with friends or on your own.
Palia is free-to-play and is currently available on PC for Closed Beta. Open Beta begins on August 10, 2023, at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT. It will also be available on Nintendo Switch soon.
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