After the customary New Year cooling off period where Steam’s release lineup consists almost entirely of experimental indies enjoying the uncommon quiet, one of the biggest genres on PC is about to kick it into high gear. The survival game space is due for a double whammy later this month with Palworld and Enshrouded, both among the most wishlisted survival games on Steam according to SteamDB, now confirmed to be launching less than a week apart.
The Palworld release date arrived just today, confirming that the Pokemon-like open-world game will enter Early Access on January 19, and hit Xbox Game Preview (and Game Pass) at the same time. Five days later, Enshrouded will start its Steam Early Access journey on January 24. Servers will surely crash and bugs will surely be plentiful, but if we’re lucky, these Early Access launches could be a great start to 2024’s survival games.
Palworld was announced a while back, and its core pitch of ‘Pokemon, but with guns’ immediately turned heads, if only through raw weirdness. It’s a creature-collecting survival game that’s also a creature-shooter, creature-besieger, and all-around creature-destroyer. No legally distinct Pokemon (called a “Pal”) is too cute to be pumped full of lead or labor crimes, especially when you can pack 32 gun-toting players into one instance.
Palworld will enter Early Access with over 100 Pals, 350 items, and 70 types of buildings, according to developer Rocketpair. Its Steam page also spells out surprisingly grim automation systems where Pals will “keep working as long as they’re fed – until they’re dead, that is.” Aw. There’s also much cuter farming gameplay where little water Pals tend to your crops. Awww. It’s an eclectic mix of cute and cruel, and it might be the best case study yet for whether the idea of an M-rated Pokemon game actually holds water.
Enshrouded looks and plays very differently than Palworld. It was praised during the latest Steam Next Fest as ‘Valheim meets Dark Souls’ – an alluring hook for a promising demo that became the most-played game of the entire November fest.
Enshrouded opens with a more familiar sequence of punching trees and hunting deer, but quickly evolves into a surprisingly robust action RPG with parrying and spells and archery and melee attacks that are actually fun, not just a means to kill boars or whatever. From combat to build crafting, Enshrouded leans much more on RPG elements to flesh out its 16-player survival crafting experience. It’s one of the better-feeling entries to the genre in some time, and after its explosive Steam Next Fest showing, its full launch – well, full Early Access launch – is going to be one to watch.
Palworld feels like a weird underdog with loads of potential that could very well end up being an overscoped jank fest, while Enshrouded – which we’ve crucially already been able to try hands-on – is positioned as a refined spin on countless games before it. Somewhat paradoxically, survival crafting games often feel same-y yet are constantly experimenting with wild tweaks to the genre’s tried-and-true formula, and January 2024 is shaping up to be a heck of an acid test.