Not only is Palworld a breakout success on Steam, but it can also be played on both PC and Xbox systems through a preview build on Game Pass. In addition to the expected Series X and Series S compatibility, this Unreal Engine 5 release is interesting in that Xbox One consoles are also upheld.
In essence, the developer, Pocket Pair, combined the survival elements of games like Ark: Survival Evolved with the open world monster hunting of Pokémon. Specifically, it draws inspiration from Pokémon Legends: Arceus from 2022, offering a similar range of seamless exploration, capturing, and battling creatures. The game’s strong resemblance to Pokémon has sparked some controversy due to many of its ideas and creatures bearing a striking resemblance to Game Freak’s designs.
Setting the controversy aside, how does the game perform on Xbox Series X, Series S, Xbox One X, and the base Xbox One? How close are they to achieving their target 60fps, given that the frame-rate is unlocked on all four? And how do Palworld’s visuals vary from the most powerful machine to the weakest? Early access has never been a more fitting description from a technical perspective. There’s a lot of work to be done before the game can be considered final.
Prior to diving into the frame-rate tests, a brief note on the technical basics. Despite being an open world UE5 game, Palworld somehow manages to fit into a small 6GB install – or just 5GB on the base Xbox One machines. Despite its significant success on PC, it’s important to emphasize once again that this is undeniably in an early access state, a preview build, with numerous bugs.
Most of the bugs are related to collision detection, clipping, and animation. Pokémon and NPCs can get stuck in the world’s geometry, jittering on the spot as they attempt to escape being trapped in place indefinitely. Creatures can also be seen floating midair, and even Pals rocketing into space for no apparent reason. While the world is visually appealing, with a similar aesthetic to Breath of the Wild – complete with rag doll physics and a cloud simulation effect – there are noticeable rough patches. Even on Series X, we encounter muddy low resolution textures at points that fail to switch to higher-grade assets. There is also aggressive pop-in on geometry.
A more serious issue is stability – the game is quite susceptible to crashes as of patch 0.1.1.0, and after only eight hours of testing, every Xbox has abruptly closed the game executable at some point. There is no error message; we have to return to the Xbox dashboard and restart the game from scratch.
With that in mind, let’s go through the Xbox consoles from most potent to least. Starting with the Series X, we’re aiming for a 60fps frame-rate with v-sync, so no screen tearing is evident. In general, however, the game is not optimized enough to consistently maintain 60fps on Series X at this point, with a 40-50fps readout being most common. The only way to consistently achieve that 60fps update is by looking straight up at the sky. Given the game’s relatively basic graphical feature set at present, one would certainly hope for significant improvements once the game exits early access.
The native resolution is also worth mentioning. Series X runs at a fixed 2880×1620, rather than utilizing dynamic resolution scaling. DRS would permit the game to run more smoothly by adjusting the resolution to enhance performance in GPU-heavy scenes. This kind of flexibility is sorely needed given the open world action and often chaotic battles, and ought to be implemented as a quick performance fix before more time-consuming optimizations are addressed, even if it results in some visual degradation. Similarly, an option for a capped 30fps would at least deliver a smoother experience, without the erratic frame-rate swings of the game as it currently stands.
The long-term solution to poor Palworld performance on Series X will ideally involve smarter optimizations in terms of LOD management. Judging by the current state of the game, with noticeable geometry pop-in and frequently low-quality shadows and textures, there is clearly a lot of work to be done. Nonetheless, the game does opt for pretty screen-space reflections on Series X, a feature retained on every Xbox platform.
Turning our attention to Xbox Series S, there are a few surprises. Firstly, the frame-rate is significantly better than on Series X, with the opening area running at 50-60fps while larger-scale areas still occasionally drop into the 30s, but maintain a higher average frame-rate than the Series S. In most cases, the frame-rate ranges between 40-60fps, and those using a VRR display will benefit from the unlocked 60fps output of the machine. In short, Series S is the best performing Xbox machine of the quartet.
As expected, the reason for the frame-rate advantage on weaker hardware stems from visual sacrifices, including a substantial drop in resolution. The fixed resolution is at 1280×720, with textures and shadows matching those on Series X, even at their lowest quality. While there is SSR available, there is a noticeable reduction in draw distances for geometry. There’s also more pop-in on Series S for buildings. When combined with the lower image quality, sacrifices are necessary to approach – and sometimes meet – the target 60fps.
There’s also support for Xbox One X, and given the 6TF machine sports a more powerful GPU than Series S but a weaker CPU, the performance is a mixed bag. On the positive side, One X can render at a higher (and still fixed) 1080p resolution, offering a notable improvement in image quality over the 720p on Series S.
Performance is also quite good in those initial scenes where you’re putting together your first workbench, with 50-60fps readouts commonplace. Unfortunately, One X has noticeable visual drawbacks. As we descend to the lower plains, it’s evident that texture resolution – at its lowest – is of much poorer quality and a significant downgrade from Series S. Similarly, draw distance settings are lower for geometry, trees, and grass tufts overall.
This brings us to the overall frame-rate, which is another issue. Despite the promising start at 50-60fps, entering more complex open areas drops us well into the 20s for prolonged periods, a level of performance not yet seen on Series X or Series S. At its worst, I measured just 17fps in spots with numerous roaming Pals. There’s also a significant issue with asset streaming hitches on One X, most likely due to CPU contention or reliance on a mechanical hard drive for storage. Any interaction with the menus, or simply running across busy areas, triggers a substantial frame-time spike that disrupts the already low frame-rate.
All of this brings us to the base Xbox One – or rather the One S I used in my tests. In essence, all the visual cutbacks on the One X apply once again, with lowered grass and geometry LODs, significantly inferior texture quality, and lower grass density. The resolution drops even further, to just 960×540, while the frame-rate is only just passable between 15-35fps. Most of the early sections hover around the 35fps mark, but once you venture into the first open field area, it’s practically on par with One X’s worst readout, dropping well into the 20s and as low as 16fps in the same trouble spot as before. If you’re curious about Palworld, and you’ve held onto your trusty Xbox One and don’t mind paying for a Game Pass subscription, be prepared for numerous cutbacks – plus the traversal and menu hitches that also plague the Xbox One X.
Unsurprisingly, an early access and open world title from a small development team doesn’t scale particularly gracefully from Series X to One S – there’s a huge gap in CPU, GPU, and storage horsepower that even veteran developers sometimes struggle to address properly. However, if the developers intend to target these machines for the game’s eventual 1.0 release, significant optimization steps are necessary to tailor the relatively acceptable Xbox Series X/S versions to suit these weaker machines, given that the One machines are already dealing with notable visual cutbacks beyond resolution.
In a broader sense, Palworld is an intriguing exercise in imitative game development. There’s direct borrowing going on – from Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Ark: Survival Evolved to The Legend Zelda: Breath of the Wild. To some extent, emulating another game’s mechanics is expected in an industry that thrives on imitation and iteration – the plethora of Souls-likes that emerged since 2010 attests to that. At times, imitation aids in pushing the boundaries and honing a bold new idea in unexpected directions. However, the extent to which developer Pocket Pair has created a likeness of so many Pokémon designs is a concern that has already piqued Nintendo’s interest.
Setting that aside, the game’s surprising success proves one thing: there is demand for a Pokémon-style game on PC. A next-gen Pokémon, so to speak, built on more advanced tech with a networked multiplayer component. Despite its blatant borrowing, it will be fascinating to see how Palworld’s amalgamation of ideas evolves beyond this initial access stage.