I have engaged in survival games for an extensive period, a long freaking duration. So much so that if you use the term “survival game” in an online search and expand the list that Google provides, I’ve experienced each and every one. Within that pile, there have been some absolute marvels. These are games that I’ve come to cherish and still engage with to this day: Minecraft, DayZ, Valheim, Grounded, and more.
I’ve also confronted quite a few new survival games in the past year. Some were excellent in their display, with fantastic worlds created on solid principles, such as Sons of the Forest. Others were simply awful, like the painful disgrace that was The Day Before.
I experimented with games I hadn’t explored before, eager to discover the next game to captivate me. I went through a phase of modded DayZ, connecting with nearly a dozen different community servers through PC and Xbox. I tried my hand at SCUM, not realizing my micro and macro training from the last few months of fitness would pay off in a video game. I might give it another shot when it arrives on Xbox.
Even as I write this article, Palworld is all the rage. Captivating not only players across Steam and Xbox alike, but also the writers of Windows Central as we try to keep up with the wild demand for guides. Immersing myself in it, I feel undeniable attractions in terms of gameplay. An outlandish blend of Pokémon meets Breathe of the Wild is enthralling, but for me, something is missing.
That something always seems to be the same—building mechanics.
They’re all the same
Almost every game has identical foundations for base building, literally and figuratively. You start with a square wooden foundation, upgrade to stone, then metal. Players then add walls, doors, and rooftops, all with the same sense of progression. This progression isn’t what’s boring to me; it’s the fact that they’re all set pieces.
Every foundation is a square, trapezoid, or triangle. They’re always the same cookie-cutter pieces, with exceptionally limited placement measures preventing the player from actually creating. It’s up to players to break the game world’s rules to produce genuinely masterful works of art.
I find Palworld lacking within these rules. There isn’t anything there that shakes the core of what can be built. The building itself is elementary and straightforward. It’s almost the same as it was five years ago in Craftopia, and that’s the problem. Every game has been virtually identical with building for years, outside of new building pieces that have different coats of paint or textures. Games like Conan Exiles, which has a plethora of different textured blocks, now locks its new pieces behind a battle pass of all things.
Now and then, a game will change the fundamental aspects of a specific trait in a game genre. For building mechanics, one such title was Valheim. It’s a game that lets builders loose with creativity—allowing for obscure angles of creation that players could take nearly unlimited advantage of. Especially once players begin to dabble in mods.
Alongside allowing more excellent levels of connectivity between objects, the landscape itself was voxel-based. This permitted levels of imagination that other games restricted. A landscape became as customizable as the objects themselves, something many games outside Minecraft fail to allow.