If you’ve been following the mobile/free to play scene in the last few months, the name “Genshin Impact” has probably been brought up several times. A free to play mobile game with cross-platform launches on console, mobile, and PC; a beautiful aesthetic, and gameplay not really seen from mobile at this depth. With the game officially launched worldwide, we have a title that depending on your platform of choice is either one of the best examples…or just an okay one.
The story of Genshin Impact follows a pair of twins when an evil god captures one of them and banishes the other to a mysterious world. Your mission is to figure out how to get your powers back, save the world, and of course rescue your twin with the help of as many colorful characters you can collect. The world design and aesthetics are the highlights of this game. The look puts a lot of mobile games to shame and could easily stand next to titles like the Tales series or Dragon Quest.
In terms of the world, everyone has been comparing the game to Breath of the Wild and that holds up to some extent. The game is open world with areas gated by story and the general strength of the enemies. There are so many points of interest to find, treasure chests to open, hidden bosses, and much more. All exploration grows your adventurer rank which is kind of like your account level. Hitting certain milestones will grant you rewards and move the overall story along. Movement borrows from BOTW, with the ability to climb up almost any surface given enough stamina, and you’ll quickly unlock a glider for long-distance gliding.
Where the comparisons break a little bit is when we talk about interacting. A major part of BOTW was the emergent behavior associated with how the world responded to Link. You could cut trees down to make bridges, set grassy hills on fire to deal with enemies, and much more. Genshin Impact focuses more on light interactions but with more elements. Every element in the game can impact the world or enemies depending on its role. Fire can burn through wooden weapons and shields, while ice can freeze wet enemies as a few examples. At any time, you can switch freely between your party of four characters (with a slight cooldown with each switch); allowing you to set up some elemental combinations.
Speaking of characters, this is where the gacha design of Genshin Impact comes into display, and what could push people away.
The Legend of Gacha
By playing the game, you will amass equipment and characters without spending money, but the very best is saved for the banners. As with other gacha games before it, the game uses a five-star rarity system to dictate the quality and overall power. Besides rarity, characters are categorized by their class/weapon, element affinity, an ultimate, and a set of passives that unlock as you get multiple copies of them. Characters will use one weapon and can equip different artifacts that have set bonuses as well. All gear can be upgraded by sacrificing (or milling) other gear into it. Characters can level up through combat, but the main way is to use experience tomes.
As for the banners themselves, Genshin Impact unfortunately has one of the stingiest systems seen in mobile/gacha. A five-star pull has a .6, yes, that’s a decimal point, chance of occurring. The rate does slowly improve, but you must make a lot of pulls before it is noticeable and then resets when you do make that pull. Watching big-name mobile streamers play the game, some of them were spending hundreds, or thousands, of dollars of real money to acquire characters and gear.
So, the question turns to: “Is this game pay to win?” The short answer is no, while the long answer is…maybe.
Genshin Impact‘s gameplay itself cannot be superseded or skipped by spending money. If you want to progress through the world, you’re going to have to explore and complete challenges no matter how much money you spend. Where the characters and equipment come into play is during combat: you are going to have a far easier time making progress that way with higher-ranked characters and fully upgraded gear. At this time, I do not have enough experience in the game to say whether the end game is balanced around five-star rarity, or just high-level characters.
The character designs remind me a lot of the other hit mobile game Arknights: that you’re not just paying for rarity, but for utility. A greatsword wielding fire elemental character provides different options and use compared to a spellcasting fire elemental. Advanced dungeons and challenges are balanced around having a party of different elemental types that can take advantage of the enemies’ elements. For instance, if an enemy has an elemental shield, like ice, only a counter will allow you to break through it to start doing damage on the enemy. From a gameplay standpoint, you do want a healthy combination of melee and ranged characters of each of the elements, as there are fights that are easier either in melee or range.
With all that said, Genshen Impact has all the makings of a great mobile game, but how does it stack compared to the rest of the genre?
Your overall opinion of Genshen Impact will undoubtedly be dependent on the games you play. If you are strictly a mobile player, this is easily one of the best and biggest games on the market. If you’re like me and have more than enough console and PC games to keep you satisfied, you’re going to find some major red flags in terms of quality.
As mentioned at the start, the game was designed for cross-platform play across the three platforms, and it really hurts it when it comes to the UI/UX design. Menus are annoying to go through, there didn’t seem to be a way to change the key bindings on the PS4, and there’s no lock-on that I could find while fighting enemies. All the gameplay here works, but it’s not anywhere as deep compared to its peers. Combat is more button mashing with the occasional ultimate or elemental move mixed in.
The game is built around repeating the same set of tasks — complete challenges, find waypoints and points of interest, go into dungeons. None of it is bad, but it’s not anything you haven’t seen before in other games. I like the depth of building a party of four, but there are limits in terms of how much you can dig into these systems. Again, due to the rarity system, a lot of your choices are going to be dictated for you by what drops you get from the pulls. There is a lot of grinding in the game, as it combines the “best” of both mobile and MMO progression. Quests and content are locked behind the adventure rank, and you’ll need to grind areas for items and resources to upgrades your characters and weapons.
The UI was very cumbersome, and there were times that it seemed like I was fighting it to get basic information or perform simple tasks in other games. One major example is trying to keep track of the different effects that elements have against one another. The game pops up information the first time you run into a new enemy, but I would have liked an on-screen indicator or easy to find guide for when things get harder.
For those of you wondering if this game is just going to be a quick and dirty affair, the developers have already promised expansions and more content to expand the already big world. This is looking like a game that if it works for you, there’s going to be gameplay (and spending) for months.
Ultimately, I feel Genshin Impact has the potential to be the most platform-breaking out mobile game on the market to date and is one of those rare instances of a gacha developer really swinging for the fences. However, there’s just not enough here from a moment to moment standpoint to keep someone with over two thousand games in their backlog interested in coming back daily.
For you, what do you think of the game, and can the gameplay make up for the gacha design?
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