Genshin Impact is Chinese developer miHoYo’s first open-world JRPG coming to PS4/PC platforms while also releasing on mobile. It’s a free-to-play (F2P) action game that wants to provide the complete open-world experience found in full-priced games. Microtransactions are in the game, but the studio wants to prove naysayers wrong. With a surprising amount of depth and fun to be had, Genshin Impact is breaking negative assumptions about F2P narrative-based adventures.
Developer & Publisher // miHoYo
Platforms // Switch, PlayStation 4|5, PC
MSRP & Release Date //Free To Play, Sep 28, 2020
Reviewed On // PC
Introducing Genshin Impact
Genshin Impact is a F2P open-world action RPG that gives you a lot to do and discover. The core of its gameplay is exploration, and that is clear as soon as you take control of your character. At launch, players can explore two of the planned seven major cities – Mondstadt and Liyue Harbor. Each are filled with stories and content to unlock. While an in-depth story is there, in-game markers for story quests are just nudges. What it really wants you to do is go off the beaten path. The sense of organic discovery can best be compared to Breath of the Wild.
When you leave the trail of story breadcrumbs, you will come across secret dungeons, fun combat challenges, quick puzzles to solve, and side quests. Early on, dungeons follow the same basic structure: Room 1, Batch of Enemies, Room 2, More Enemies, End. Taking on later dungeons is where you see miHoYo’s creative muscle flex a bit more by adding puzzles or boss fights, and Genshin Impact makes good use of its intricate combat design to keep things interesting.
What Makes the Combat Satisfying
The combat ties heavily into nature elements, such as earth, wind, fire, etc. Each character specializes in one element with up to four characters being available at any given time during battles. The strategy is to mix-and-match the characters’ playstyles and elements to execute combos. Each have two unique element-specific attacks: Elemental Skill, an ability with a cooldown, and Elemental Burst, a charged-up and more powerful attack.
The flare of elemental combinations is seeing them interact with one another. Enemies labeled as “Wet” are susceptible to be frozen with ice attacks. Meanwhile combining fire and lightning Elemental Bursts will greatly damage enemies in a wide radius. Figuring out the best combos tailored to my playstyle has been a constant and fun experiment to see what works.
It’s generally a good idea to have one of each element present at all times. Even so, bonuses are granted to those that want more of one element in their party. Having two Anemo (wind)-based characters in your group increases movement speed and reduces skill cooldown. Add two fire-based characters and negative effects from ice will be reduced. Which buffs are granted to what kind of party is something to consider, especially in higher-level dungeons.
What characters can do is not only limited to their element, but their weapon as well. Each are experts in one of three categories: long-range, mid-range, and close-range. The combat gives more emphasis to element combinations than weapon types, so which weapon you choose to use is preferential. Weapon combos are simple in execution, but the monotony is outweighed by the ability to switch characters in and out at will.
Variety in Play
With seven different elements and multiple fighting techniques, there’s a great mix of playstyles. As someone who likes having multiple options in combat, there was rarely a time I got bored. Every new combo discovery was a happy accident and ultimately fulfilling. For instance, in a fight, I cast a wind-based Elemental skill near a fire-lit lamp post. When the attack sounded off, the fire from the lamp was swept into the wind and caused an explosion. These small details show how the elements expand beyond the attack-based elements to the natural elements in the world. This dynamic brings a fun on-the-fly style of strategy. Take caution though, because what you can do with elements can also be done to you by enemies.
The combat gameplay has enough layers to be thoughtful, but not overly complex. The variety in elements and which fighting-type to use makes it extremely approachable and more fun than I anticipated. I continue to look forward to jumping back in with a different party setup.
There is a well-groomed cohesion of exploration, combat, and RPG mechanics in Genshin Impact. While it may not be innovating on the structure, it is polished and fun enough to keep my attention for dozens of hours. With that said, characters and weapons you are able to use are limited due to the game’s gacha system.
Teyvat, Knights, and the Four Winds
Genshin Impact‘s story has less focus than I initially thought. The main campaign has an action-packed opening that ends with your character being separated from their fraternal twin before waking up in a new world called Teyvat. After securing the aid of Paimon, your guide, and Amber, an energetic archer, the player truly starts their adventure in the lively city of Mondstadt. Like any good RPG, your quest for your missing twin is quickly sidetracked in this case by the introduction of the Knights of Favonius, an elite group of warriors that can use the elements, who enlists your help in solving the recent mysteries affecting the world due to primordial gods.
Following along with Teyvat’s history took a bit of mental gymnastics, so it was hard to stay interested. It felt like being thrown into the middle of a fantasy novel where its glossary and timeline of events could only be found on the author’s website. Natural elements play a critical role in the game’s story and Teyvat’s history. It also relies heavily on its previously built lore about the Four Winds (the primordial gods mentioned before), ancient dragons and long-standing clans with dark secrets. If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
The beginning hours of the story are slower-paced, but the inclusion of likeable characters picks up the drag. The companion Paimon is great example since her spunky nature livens dull conversations. More often than not, she ended up saying what I thought in my head during a few cliché JRPG moments. This is a testament to the wonderful writing that likes to be self-aware from time to time.
The Writing is on the Wall
Genshin Impact has strong footing in well-written dialogue and side quests. JRPGs aren’t usually known for having intriguing side quests, but Genshin Impact does an admirable job breaking that stigma. The short stories that accompany its side quests are very entertaining and even downright impressive. Who would have thought that a basic tutorial on how to glide could lead into an investigation mission? It is these surprises that kept me invested in each quest and accepting any I could find. It makes me wish the main narrative could find this happy medium between exciting drama and meaningful story beats.
A part of what makes the open-world so great is its strong writing for NPCs. miHoYo gives each NPC a stand-out personality. It made my experience all the more engaging. Hearing city-dwellers nag about store prices in a non-cringe anime atmosphere gave me a pure sigh of relief.
At first, I was worried story progression would be halted due to not having a specific character only obtainable through the game’s gacha structure. Thankfully, the story missions that do require a certain individual are given to the player in a sort of “trial” period. Once that mission is completed, the required character cannot be chosen to be in your party afterwards.
Leveling Up Characters and Your Adventure Rank
Newly-acquired characters, weapons, and accessories are able to be leveled up pretty easily. You are constantly rewarded with weapons and materials to make your characters more powerful. Characters and equippable items not only gain experience points for completing missions, but also through items obtained in-game. The idea is similar to EXP Candy from the Pokémon series. So if you get a new character and they start at level 1, you can easily bring them up to your party’s level average using those earned items.
Accomplishments are also highlighted by your Adventure Rank. Increasing the Adventure Rank level grants access to more features in the game, like co-op multiplayer and daily quests. I liked this approach because Genshin Impact has a lot going for it. Throwing all of this information at the player can be overwhelming. However, it manages to introduce the mechanics at a great pace. Its cohesion all leads back to exploration too. The more you explore Teyvat and complete content, the more resources you earn to enhance your characters. The gameplay loop takes a few hours to get going, but once it does, hours of play feel like minutes.
Gacha and Genshin
The history of gacha-style games can be traced back to vending machines filled with capsule toys. While vending machines randomly dispensing items are found worldwide, they are immensely popular in Japan and now in mobile games. In more timely terms, gacha mechanics are like lootboxes – you pay, with either real-world money or in-game currency, to get a random assortment of items. Typically in mobile games, players can purchase items through in-game promotions generally called “banners.” The common term used when purchasing a banner is called “pulling” or “drawing.” So if you want a specific character, item, or weapon, have luck on your side and some cash at the ready.
In Genshin Impact, the top-layer currency used for the things you need for RPG progression are called Primogems. The game will frequently distribute Primogems to the player through various activities, like completing quests or discovering new landmarks. They can be exchanged for a number of items such as needed resources to level up your characters. Primogems can also be exchanged for materials called Acquaint Fates and Intertwined Fates, which are used to pull from banners.
Microtransactions in Genshin Impact
The microtransactions in the game range from $1 to $100 for Genesis Crystals, which can be used to buy in-game resource bundles. They can also be exchanged for Primogems if you choose. Unlike most gacha games, Genshin Impact doesn’t throw its microtransactions in your face, which is awesome. The only time you will get a notification directing you to the in-game store would be for a new character or set of weapons. Even when I had more than enough Primogems to spend, not once did the game rush me to its store. It was wonderful to not get interrupted while playing by predatory money schemes.
Is It Too Grindy?
Since Genshin Impact is F2P, you might assume it turns a fun game into grindy chore. In my written previews, I expressed that I was worried the game would be hindered by ultra-slow progression. In the 20+ hours played, I am happy to say the game is not dreadfully grindy.
You still do a fair bit of Adventure Rank level grinding, but no more than your average JRPG. Very rarely did accepting a quest or reaching a waypoint feel like a chore. There is a lot of fun to be had engaging in the free content. Before you know it, you will reach the required Adventure Rank to continue the main narrative. The game gives you a constant flow of rewards through the entertaining quests and exploration. So while the option is there to pay, I never felt like I needed to spend a dime to enjoy what the game had to offer.
Which Version Should You Play?
I tested Genshin Impact on all of its available platforms: PS4, PC, and mobile. The PC version predictably runs the best at a smooth 60fps. Having a rock-solid performance is key because battles can get quite hectic. I’ve experienced only a few random dips in performance when walking in the open-world areas.
The game runs at 30fps on PS4 Pro. Compared to the final beta experience, the game runs much better. The mobile version is another great way to play. Controls are responsive and easy to maneuver with its well-designed UI. miHoYo did a fantastic job polishing the game for all platforms.
Genshin Impact also offers a cross-platform 4-player co-op multiplayer. So no matter your platform of choice, your friends can join you in dungeons wherever they choose to play. If you play on PC, grab its mobile version to have your save file on the go. The convenience of being able to play daily wherever you are is a huge lifestyle benefit. Unfortunately, PS4 players get the short end of the stick here, and are confined to the platform. Still, the game runs decently on a PS4, so it is not a bad way to go.
The Future is Bright for Genshin Impact
miHoYo plans to expand the game with post launch content including more cities, characters and seasonal events. It’ll be interesting to see where the studio takes the game after its very successful launch.
At launch, the game delivers on its commitment to provide a modern JRPG experience. Combat, exploration, and its RPG DNA all work together to provide the AAA quality found in full-priced games, but for free. Despite microtransactions and a gacha structure, my core game experience felt rewarding and enjoyable. In fact, the microtransactions were no more than an afterthought for me. Genshin Impact is a standout game you do not want to miss.