Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Don’t let the fact that Genshin Impact is a free-to-play game available for mobile put you off – it’s a quality game whether you play it on your phone, PC or PlayStation. Certainly it shares a good deal of DNA with Breath of the Wild, but it continues to get content updates and refinements with a handful of notable twists that make Genshin Impact its own game.
I was vaguely aware of Genshin Impact when it was first announced. The colorful, anime-styled visuals were certainly appealing and I can lose myself in a big action-RPG set in a fantasy world as quickly as anyone, but at the same time? It wasn’t really at the front of my to-play list. After all, my gaming schedule is usually dictated by the reviews I have on my plate and I don’t get a lot of spare time for other games unless it’s a slow period like the holidays.
One of our members of the team however, Chris, had gotten into Genshin Impact almost from day one and continued to sing its praises. I finally knuckled down to give it a try over the holiday season and promptly managed to sink over one hundred hours into it. That escalated quickly.
There are some pretty natural Breath of the Wild comparisons, from the ability to climb everything, to the way the world is visually presented to gliding over large swaths of land and more. There are puzzles built into almost every corner of the world, and combat comes down to a mixture of ranged and melee attacks where some enemies have weak points and others you simply want to take advantage of the environment (exploding barrels waiting for an arrow to strike them? Sure!). There were certainly times early on where this familiarity made Genshin Impact pretty approachable for me, if not feeling terribly original out of the gates.
However, as I continued to play and dig into the systems a bit, I began to enjoy some of the other nuanced differences. Probably the biggest theme throughout the game is its reliance on elements and having a party of four characters at your disposal. Elements play a big part in combat as well as puzzle solving. Throughout the continent there are puzzles that range from being as simple as lighting the nearby torches to reveal a treasure chest, to more complicated ones that require you hit certain items with specific elemental charges within a set time to unlock a door or take down a barrier.
Combat as a similar flavor, as you can have a very powerful claymore swinging fire elemental character who deals plenty of damage by himself – but deals significantly more when you have other elements impacting your enemies such as electricity or water. Hitting a character standing in water with an ice attack can freeze them – but sometimes you want that elemental reaction where there is no water nearby and teaming up a water user with a cryo character can cause that same reaction wherever you need it. On the typical enemy none of this strategy is needed, but for some of the game’s bigger menaces, there is a lot of benefit to combining elements like this whenever possible.
Creating an effective party comes down to a handful of factors. The first and most obvious is availability, as you do not have access to all of the characters (more on that below). The next is combining elements that complement one another well. The other is picking characters who have complementary weapon styles too. My primary DPS character uses a heavy two-handed sword, and I have a character who is skilled with a bow (great for ranged or weak point targeted attacks), while the other two characters in my party are a bit less weapon-focused and more about their complementary skills. You use the directional pad to swap back and forth between characters during a fight. So for example, an example battle’s ebb and flow may look like this:
I start the fight with my bow-user, pinging an enemy at distance to get the first shot in, and then as they get closer, use one of her special abilities that creates a small electrical AOE storm near her. I quickly pivot to my water mage to fire off a similar water damage AOE that also persists for several seconds. Now every enemy in range gets hit with a water / electricity combo. I then switch to my fire-user to do a trio of fire damage attacks that cause an overload effect, compounding the damage as I then move to my healer / wind magic user to do her attack that ‘swirls’ effects, making them hit a larger group and spreading the impact a bit before switching back to my fire user, who also is my primary DPS. At that point I use his massive claymore to finish beating the enemies to death.
If that sounds like a lot of activity in a very short time, that’s because it is – and it definitely gives Genshin Impact a different sort of pacing during combat. Now, not all battles go just like that. That’s an example of what I might do with a small cluster of fairly low-risk enemies. My approach might be completely different for a hulking ruin guardian that has a couple of very specific weaknesses that might have me relying on my bow-user more heavily. Or perhaps leaning more heavily on my water mage against a massive fire plant because my primary DPS relies on fire and is not going to be overly helpful in this fight. Add to it oddball elements like rain and you can see how encounters have a fair amount of strategy when they involve more challenging enemies.
As such, you will want to give some thought to your group construction. When Genshin Impact starts, you have your character (whom you can name, but is referred to as Traveler after a brief introduction that sees a brother / sister duo split up by a powerful opponent. You pick the sibling you want to play as and the story sees you trying to find your missing sibling after that), who discovers an affinity towards wind magic. Shortly after you meet a character who has fire magic. Not too long after that, your party rounds out with some other elements and you have a core working group, each with a different elemental affinity.
However, while Genshin Impact is free and doesn’t lock any of its quests / zones behind any kind of a paywall, where it does make its month is through its gacha system for acquiring more characters. The ones you get via the story are obviously going to be weaker than the ones you might pull via the Wish system, where you can spend a couple of different currency at pulling new weapons and characters. This is a pretty popular mechanic found in a variety of mobile games such as Fire Emblem Heroes or Fate/Grand Order. Weapons make up the majority of what you will pull, and getting a good one is of course a huge perk – but it’s really about the characters.
Those character pulls come in a couple of different flavors. There is a perpetual pool and there are some limited time ones that introduce characters and weapons not always available at increased rates. There are several ways to spend real world money on the game, buying different currency or perhaps signing up for a monthly slow drip that gives you primogems (the game’s primary / most flexible currency) on daily login. Now, I don’t feel that the game requires you to spend money. I have twice done the $5 monthly bit since I enjoyed the game and wanted to kick a little money towards the devs, and I’m someone who does a fair number of ‘daily’ games where I log in for my free goodies, so there was little-to-no-risk I would miss multiple days and squander my daily bonus.
That having been my only spend (outside of the time I’ve spent playing that is), I have to say I feel as though I have had some pretty good luck. Obviously everyone’s mileage will vary, but over the last couple of months, I have pull four of the five-star characters (two were duplicates – Mona, a water sorceress, but duplicates are spent powering up your original, so it’s hardly a loss as those power-ups are pretty significant), and a 5-star weapon. I have more characters than I know what to do with, so again – this is how the devs make their money, but I don’t feel it has done anything to inhibit my overall enjoyment of the game. I just know that pay mechanics are of high importance to many potential players, and I wanted to fully explain how it worked.
As fore the core gameplay, combat generally feels pretty good (though occasionally the ragdoll physics can be annoying when you get knocked off of a ledge or enemies flop into a weird spot that makes it difficult to interact with them), exploration is often delightful (as mentioned earlier, there is a lot of climbing, which can be a bit tedious, but I thoroughly enjoy gliding around the expansive landscapes) and there is no shortage of content here. Granted, that content can absolutely get somewhat repetitive. After a couple of months of logging in daily and playing somewhat heavily a few days per week, I’m starting to just now feel the grind as I near the maximum adventure level (there is character level, which is reflective of the character themselves, and adventure level which grants further growth of the characters and increased world level). It certainly has helped that there are daily adventures, lots of quests and more than that, the development team continues to trickle in new content.
Some of these content drops are more substantive than others. The lightweight ones tend to be new characters or weapons, or maybe some small new mechanic. Larger ones have added an entire new area (a frozen land where the cold can start to take a heavy toll on your characters), or a fairly extensive lantern festival that spun off into a variety of small quest chains that led to some rather sizeable rewards. In truth – Genshin Impact is still an incomplete game. I haven’t touched on all of the various gameplay systems at play here, but so far my primary character has only earned access to wind and earth elements.
It stands to reason the way things are structured, there will be new lands and more abilities for him to learn along the way. Given how popular Genshin Impact has proven to be so far, it feels safe to say that the development team still has a lot of different options in front of them and they have talked a bit about big plans coming down the road. Will Genshin Impact ever reach a ‘complete’ state? Hard to say as it seems to be straddling the line between large action-RPG (not always single player – there’s a co-op mode available after reaching a certain level as well) and a game-as-a-service with regular updates.
Still, what is here is expansive and generally speaking, a good deal of fun.
Genshin Impact certainly has obvious parallels to Breath of the Wild, but the team has done a good job making sure that this is very much its own game as well. It certainly feels quite polished for being free and also playable on mobile. One might expect it to be a cheap or short game, but Genshin Impact has proven to be anything but, and I’ve certainly enjoyed my time with it – spanning well over one hundred hours, with more content to come.Score: 8 / 10