The developers behind new PC game Palia call it a community sim, but the first thing your brain screams when you see it in action is Valheim meets Animal Crossing. Think all the social, homebuilding parts of an RPG MMO, but as wholesome as a puppy who has had sensitivity training. Your customizable character will build and decorate a home, farm and fish, befriend and even romance NPCs, and have the chance to do it all with your friends by your side.
You play as a human – a race that is just starting to mysteriously return to the world of Valeria – who takes up residence in a small community by a lake. It'll be up to you to discover more about humanity's past and, of course, to help forge its future. The game's creators promise a main story that will take years to reveal and lots of lore to uncover along the way. Creating the look of your human character will be one of your first tasks, and the developers are keen to give players as many options as possible. We got a quick look at some concept art showing a diverse range of face and skin tones, different hairstyles, clothing that can be customized with colors and patterns, and were told there would be a couple of different body types at launch.
The sense from the developers is that they're keen to react to what the community wants when it comes to these kinds of options. "One of the good things about the game as a service is that what we offer on day one is just the beginning," says game director Aidan Karabaich, "and choice here is really core to our beliefs. So expect to see these options continue to robustly expand over time."
It all looks gorgeous too, falling into that gap between realism and the bright colors of an animated movie, and everything in the trailer is either green or cozy, like a place you'd want to go for a weekend break if you were a Disney princess. The studio cites The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Studio Ghibli as influences, and it shows.
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Palia really wants to be somewhere you find and meet with friends, and promises lots of opportunities to collaborate as you explore the world. You'll be able to play with your nearest and dearest without worrying about what server they're on, and there'll be a social matchmaking system to make connection easier. Instead of guilds, you'll be able to create neighborhoods or find those you want to join and earn rewards as a team.
The creators likened these communities to Mr Rogers-style neighborhoods, which is a big hope for anyone who has ever spent any time on any part of the internet. Imagine heading over to a friend's house to help them decorate, or to work on their garden together. Actually interacting with the world your friends have created is the next step beyond what current community games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons allow right now, and make it more likely that you'll want to spend more time together, given that you can really achieve things as a team. It's one of the secrets of the cult success of Valheim, a game packed with combat but where players have really spent time coming together to build impressive buildings and weird structures.
Luckily the studio, Singularity 6, knows a thing or two about building a community. Two of the leads on the project used to work at Riot Games, and creating a safe world where you can connect with your friends, but also control what other players can see and do on your turf, is key to the project. They're planning to have proximity voice chat, but only for people you've designated as friends.
Meet the locals
Misanthropes like me will be pleased to know that if you can't find any real friends to play with, Palia will have plenty of NPCs who, Karabaich promises, are more than just set dressing. "These characters are so much more than simple quest givers. We've developed a rich, deep set of characters and, as you play, you'll have the opportunity to discover their hopes and dreams, their fears and challenges, and see how they evolve and react to a changing world, and to the actions you ultimately take as a player in our game.
We got a glimpse of Einar, the fishing mad golem – no, he can't be romanced – and the innkeeper Shura who will help you settle into your new life. Like in Stardew Valley, gifting will be an important part of getting to know and wooing any potential Palia life partners. Some might like love poems, others will want you to hang out and share their hobbies. Gifting a particular flower to a romanceable character will start you on your path to love.
"Just like with real life, people, when you meet them, they reveal certain aspects of themselves. And as you increase that friendship, whether it is through doing quests for them, or gifting them items, they start revealing more about themselves," says community lead Edaleen Cruz. "They also have a set of items that they like, they have items that they love, and then they have items that they absolutely dislike!"
The launch cast is "just the beginning" too, with new characters added as the game is updated and again, the studio promises to react to player feedback when it comes to romance and friendship options.
Choices and charges
Throughout this first preview of Palia, Singularity 6 really wanted to highlight just how much choice players will have. Hate people? You can play solo. There is combat in the game, but it will be entirely optional and you won't miss out on loot for skipping it. You'll be able to make your home feel truly yours, at the time of launch there will be over 1000 items, each with its own customization options, available. Your character, meanwhile, can become a brilliant cook, or an elite gardener, or a hunter of big game or bugs.
The only tiny red flag waving in the balmy breezes of the Palia preview was that the studio isn't revealing how it's going to charge you for playing just yet. Games like Genshin: Impact have proved that you can provide an awful lot of game for free, but it's hard to imagine Palia reproducing the lucrative gacha mechanic that supports that kind of developer generosity. That said, Singularity 6 did hint that it thought players would be excited about what they had planned for monetization, and for entry to a beautiful world where I could hang out with my friends, I'd happily pay a monthly fee. Just don't combine the interior decorating aspect with microtransactions, or I'll be bankrupt in a week.
The pre-alpha sign-ups for Palia start today, with the pre-alpha expected to start this summer. If you sign up, I'll see you in Valeria. Just don't trample my vegetable garden.
Looking ahead to more future releases? Here are all of the new games 2021.