- Title: Genshin Impact
- Platform: Microsoft Windows; also available on Android, iOS, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5
- Played: Adventurer Rank 56 | All story missions and standard side quests as of Version 1.6 completed | Spiral Abyss Floor 10-3 | Maxed Exploration and Reputation in Mondstadt and Liyue | Housing Trust Rank 8 | 277 Achievements Unlocked | Far too much real money spent
One of the biggest Free-to-Play titles in the past year, Genshin Impact is an open-world RPG developed and published by miHoYo. Before Genshin, you might’ve known them for their cult action RPG title, Honkai Impact 3rd. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve been playing a lot of Genshin Impact. A lot. It’s a game that I’ve sunk in a ton of hours (and dollars) into since it launched. I dig it even when it frankly frustrates me at times. Being a live service, Genshin is periodically evolving with new updates. Therefore, my opinion of the game is evolving with it. However, with the game now in its second cycle of updates, I think now is a good time to reflect on the first cycle and share my thoughts on the game for the time being.
I. Does Anyone Remember the Unknown God? I Barely Do.
Genshin Impact tells the story of twin siblings who travel around the universe, visiting various worlds. Following a brief fight with an Unknown God (Christie Cate), the twins are separated from each other. The sibling that you choose to take control of, referred to as the “Traveler” (Zach Aguilar/Sarah Miller-Crews), now finds themselves stripped of their powers and stranded in the fantasy world of Teyvat. Alongside their new companion Paimon (Corina Boettger), the Traveler sets off on a journey throughout Teyvat in search of their sibling. In the process, they become involved in the affairs of Teyvat’s seven nations and their deities, collectively called the Archons, as well as encounter a mysterious and dangerous factions called the Fatui and the Abyss Order. Currently, the game includes the full prologue and first chapter, respectively set in the nations of Mondstadt and Liyue. Versions 1.6 and 2.0 begins the second chapter, set in the nation of Inazuma.
I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the main story. There are a couple of pet peeves that I have with it. The setup does require a lot of suspension of disbelief; you’re simply expected to buy into the fact that you play as an interstellar teenager with an equally nebulous mascot character. A number of characters do border on archetypical. Exposition and flavor text are often too relied upon to tell the story. Past all that however, some threads do grab your attention such as the current political and cultural climate of each of Teyvat’s nations, the history and ideals of their respective Archons, an overarching scheme concocted by the Fatui’s Archon, and the Abyss Order’s origins and connection to the Traveler.
The biggest weakness however is how slowly the story has been moving. Since Genshin is still early in its story and the whole picture is still in development, it’s going to be a long while before any of the game’s plot threads make significant progress, let alone be resolved. While exactly all the different threads connect is also left pretty vague. As a result, the main story feels incredibly aimless. I’m intrigued but I also don’t have any sense of where the story is heading towards and that does make me feel a little disconnected.
For me, Genshin‘s narrative fares better in more self-contained situations. Each chapter in the main story has a conflict of its own set in the nation it respectively takes place in. The prologue involves the corruption of Mondstadt’s dragon guardian. The first chapter deals with the aftermath of the sudden death of Liyue’s Archon. There’s a beginning, middle, and end to each of these conflicts as well a distinct cast of characters, creating a mini-arc that can tide the player over until more is revealed regarding the more overarching plot threads. Also enjoyable are side stories centered one of the game’s increasing roster of playable characters. These don’t necessarily have a strong bearing on the grander scheme of things but they do expand on the starring character’s personality, giving them increased depth and/or charm.
Every patch since launch typically has a main event with a quest line to accompany it. To be frank, I consider these quests to be among the weakest of Genshin‘s story content. The first quest line, “Unreconciled Stars” is maybe the only exception. That felt like a mini-arc akin to a main story chapter, with its own plot and cast of characters. It even established a potentially huge bit of lore and introduced a new member of the antagonistic Fatui. Subsequent quest lines kind of follow this structure but they’ve grown increasingly more inconsequential every patch, to the point that they’re entirely forgettable experiences. My theory is that miHoYo might’ve realized it’s a bit unfair for players joining after “Unreconciled Stars” to miss out on potentially relevant plot details and thus, subsequent events aren’t as heavy on story. That’s understandable if that’s the case…I’m still bored however.
Version 1.4 introduces a separate type of quest called Hangout Events. These differentiate from the regular story quests in that they take a more visual novel inspired approach, complete with dialogue trees and multiple endings. The tone is considerably more down to earth and characters starring in these characters are ones that either have not appeared in the main story or only play a small role in it. Like with the regular story quests, getting to know more of Genshin‘s characters is always a plus and the more lighthearted tone is often times funny and charming. That said, I remain unconvinced that the visual novel approach is entirely necessary. The various paths and endings of a given Hangout Event tend to blur either in terms of plot or theme. You are encouraged to see all of them for rewards but the task of doing is pretty tedious, even with the convenience of returning to previous diverging points of dialogue.
II. The Legend of Lumine: Breath of the Gacha
The most obvious game to compare Genshin Impact to in open world design is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In fact, before the game launched, it generated some controversy over the similarity. We now know that the game is overall quite different from Breath of the Wild (for starters, the game and its DLC is a one-time purchase) though the accusations weren’t completely unfounded. Any fantasy open world game releasing after Breath of the Wild is inevitably subject to comparison. It also doesn’t help that a number of cues were taken from that game. Genshin has stamina, climbing, cooking, gliding, and resource gathering. Some locations, enemies, and weapon designs are clear homages to Breath of the Wild‘s art direction. That all said, it shouldn’t have shocked anyone that miHoYo would take a page from Nintendo. Breath of the Wild was a landmark in game design, featuring one of the best designed open worlds of all time. Of course someone would get inspired by it.
It’d be one thing if the world of Teyvat really is the cheap Chinese knock-off that pre-release naysayers accused it to be but truth be told, there’s a strong sense of passion and integrity in its design. Past the tutorials, you are given almost complete agency over how to explore Teyvat. Chests are aplenty to find and claim rewards from; some are in plain sight, others are hidden from the naked. Various types of puzzles and challenges populate the world, with some types even being exclusive to a particular region, so you have to keep an eye out for them. I wouldn’t call Genshin‘s open world as clever as Breath of the Wild‘s but miHoYo seems to greatly understand what one of that game’s design philosophies was. The open world needs to be big but it also needs to be dense, filled to the brim for things to find and do.
While the actual design of the open world matters most, I must also acknowledge that the presentation of it is strong as well. The game alternates from pure ambience to the occasional tune that fills the scene with a sense of adventure, tranquility, or even nostalgia. Different music, both in and out of battle, also plays depending on which region you’re currently in. The anime-style, cel-shaded graphics certainly look solid but what I really love about the art direction is how much personality is in some of the vistas. For example, Dragonspine, a mini-region added in Version 1.2, appears to be a simple snowy mountain situated at the southern edge of Mondstadt. As you explore however, you stumble upon ruins of a city, a bygone civilization that predates the Mondstadt the characters know of today. Also scattered are the bones of a dragon slain centuries ago, its heart still beating in a cavern formed from the ribcage. Hence the name, Dragonspine. It’s one of a myriad of areas that have a story to tell.
For me, the open world is the best part of Genshin Impact. Even now, with all but a few chests opened, I still enjoy walking around in it from point A to B as opposed simply clicking on a waypoint and fast travel. My favorite memory of the game so far was exploring Liyue until I finally made my way to its main town, Liyue Harbor. Technically, there’s a straight path forward to it but I ended up taking hours getting to the destination. Countless times, I got sidetracked, wanting to find the next waypoint to fill out the map and getting distracted by a shiny treasure chest or puzzle. Liyue alone could suffice as its own open world and yet, it’s only a fraction of whatever miHoYo has envisioned.
Pyro Impact Combat in Genshin Impact
Genshin Impact has you control a party of four characters. All playable characters possess a Vision, an item that grants them control over one of the seven elements (six, but we don’t talk about that) – Anemo, Cyro,
Dendro, Electro, Geo, Hydro, and Pyro. Characters channel these elemental powers through two “Talents”. The first is an Elemental Skill which can be used at any times albeit with a cooldown period in between uses. The second is an Elemental Burst, the character’s Ult, that can be used after amassing sufficient Energy generated by an Elemental Skill. Elements can also interact in combinations called Elemental Reactions, causing additional damage and bonus effects to occur.
On paper, combat might sound a bit simplistic. Surprisingly however, it can be quite engaging. For starters, there’s the appeal of experimenting different team compositions. What Elemental Reaction do you want your team to mainly be dealing? What characters should you use then? Are there any drawbacks to the team that ou need to consider? As an example, let’s say you have two characters, one who can deal Cyro damage and another who can deal Hydro damage. Cyro and Hydro can combine to cause “Frozen” which immobilizes enemies for a few seconds. Now, let’s say you have a third character who deals Pyro damage. When Pyro attacks a Frozen enemy, it usually triggers Melt. You then can decide between using Frozen as a setup for easy Melt hits or save that Pyro character for a different team as you’d much prefer having uptime on Frozen. Alternatively, you could keep that Pyro character in case you run into enemies immune to Cyro or Hydro in the open world.
It’s also fun figuring which character’s kits synergizes best with others. Even with a Elemental Reaction in mind, you still need to consider the characters working with each other in tandem. Some characters are greedy and want to stay on the field for long as possible to deal massive amounts of damage. Some can comfortably be switched in and out of the field and enable the damager dealer to utilize Reactions. Others may not contribute much offensively but instead make it up for it with utility, be it healing, providing a shield, helping with crowd control, buffing, or debuffing. You might have two characters that you really enjoy playing as but they might not work together well for a number of reasons. Maybe they fulfill the same role and should therefore be on separate teams. Maybe their kits conflict too much with each other and it makes setting up your desired Reaction too awkward. While you can have a party of four unique elements, it can be worth having two of the same one as doing so provides a buff called Elemental Resonance. Even when you do have a party perfectly figured out, you then have to take the time figuring out a rotation, making sure that characters are switched to at the most appropriate times. Figuring out and striking upon a perfect synergy within your team composition is what makes combat so much fun in Genshin.
There are unfortunately some noticeable balance issues with Genshin‘s combat meta. In particular, Pyro almost dominates over other elements for DPS. This is mainly due to the Melt (Pyro + Cryo) and Vaporize (Pyro + Hydro) reactions scaling differently and much more favorably compared to almost every other reaction in the game. Electro reactions possess some helpful quirks to them but they are otherwise some some of the weakest reactions in the game. Anemo and Geo reactions are more supportive in nature and despite their utility, you can easily get away with having a team without either of those two elements. In the game’s defense, you’ll always get respectable numbers with enough investment and the right setup in mind. Furthermore, the game’s most challenging content doesn’t necessarily force you to go one element over the other. Still, it’s a shame that there is a gap in power at all in this game and it would be nice if all Elements and all Reactions were competitive enough that they’re on equal footing.
miHoYo has made some adjustments in past patches. Geo gained a considerable edge, both offensively and defensively, thanks to an improved Elemental Resonance and an adjustment to it. Version 1.7 adjusted the scaling of various reactions so that they’re a bit more competitive with Melt and Vaporize. For the most part though, Pyro has remained the uncrowned king in the meta. Even miHoYo is aware of that due to the sheer amount of Pyro characters that have been added since launch. It also doesn’t help that the main solution miHoYo has done to address DPS issues of non-Pyro characters is by simply cranking their numbers up the wazoo. Admittedly, this actually does work pretty well for certain characters but this is otherwise a potentially short-term solution, especially should powercreep become a major issue as the game continues on.
IV. The Monetary Elephant in the Room
While a small handful of characters and weapons are provided to you free of charge, your roster of characters and arsenal of weapon only truly expands when you start
gambling pulling in Genshin‘s gacha system, aptly titled “Wishes” in the game. The game provides three banners to pull for. The first features a 5 star character and three featured 4 star characters. The second features two 5 star weapons and five 4 star weapons. The third is a standard banner with no bias towards any particular character or weapon in the drop pool. This last one is technically the F2P-friendly alternative to the first two banners…but no one really pulls here. In between all the 4 star and 5 star drops are a bunch of 3 star weapons that you’ll quickly ditch, apart from using them for joke builds or as EXP fodder for the higher end weapons that you actually care about. While there are
Wishes require a specific currency called Fates which come in two types, one for the character and weapon Event Banners and another for the Standard Banner. To buy Fates, you have to exchange another currency called Primogems. There’s a myriad of ways to get Primogems for free but generally, the most consistent method is by completing Daily Commision quests and in-game Events. Primogems can alternatively be obtained by exchanging another currency called Genesis Crystals, which is the currency that you can swipe your credit card for. If all this sounds needlessly complicated, that’s because it is. The game actually lets you use your Primogems outright for summoning in banners and Genesis Crystals convert to Primogems on a 1:1 ratio. Frankly, the only reason there are two different types of Fates is to trick you into accidentally exchanging Primogems for the wrong type. The only reason Genesis Crystals exist as a separate currency is because Genshin is also selling various skins and material bundles and Mihoyo doesn’t want you to purchase these with freely obtained Primogems.
To Genshin‘s credit, this game actually has a very generous pity mechanic with its banners. Every 10 pulls guarantees you a 4 star drop and every 90 pulls (80 in the case of the weapon banner) guarantees you a 5 star drop. Though not officially stated, there is supposedly a soft pity where 5 star rates increase after a certain number of pulls. I’m inclined to believe this exist as I’ve gotten 5 star drops a couple of pulls before hitting that exact 90 count. The character banners does have a 50/50 of giving you the featured 5 star character but if you fail it, you are guaranteed that character in the next 90 pulls. The weapon banner has a 75/25 chance instead and, as of Version 2.0, you are guaranteed the exact weapon that you want if you fail to get it twice (either by failing the 75/25 or getting the other featured 5 star weapon). By far, the best part is that your pull count towards pity in each banner type carries over to the next version of the respective banner. This means that if you fail the 50/50 or 75/25 in an event banner, your full guarantee is not wasted and can be alternatively used for the next featured character or weapon.
As nice as it is to have a guarantee of any kind in your gacha game, actually pulling enough times towards pity is a whole other matter. Naturally, as Mihoyo wants your life savings, Genshin is reluctant to hand out free Primogems. For context, you need 160 Primogems just to pull once. Daily Commissions only give you 60 per day. It takes at least three days of Daily Commissions just to pull once. Events and various other tasks can and do speed this process but you aren’t likely to amass enough pulls to fully secure your desired 5 star character (or weapon but let’s face it, you’re pulling for the character first) within the patch that they’re respectively made available. You essentially have two options then. The first is hoarding your Primogems like a dragon hoards gold and even then, unless there’s enough foresight, you still might not have enough pulls and you’ll have to resort to luck. The second is busting out your credit card.
Should you consider whaling, and I don’t even need to speak from experience here, I must warn you that the price of a 5 star drop is really expensive. The highest priced pack of Genesis Crystals is the $100 one and it gives you 8080 crystals, which is a little more than enough for 50 pulls. Assuming worse case scenario, which is 180 pulls for a 5 star character and 240 for a 5 star weapon, you need to spend $400 or $500 respectively. The price tags pretty much speak for themselves. Keep in mind that this is to get a 5 star character or weapon once.
There is actually an incentive to pull for dupes, a really scummy one at that. Getting up copies of the same character unlocks Constellations, additional skills that can be added to the character’s base kit. All characters have a total of six Constellations that can be unlocked meaning, if you want them, you have to pull the character seven times. Getting copies of the same weapon lets you merge them and improve its passive ability. For a fully refined weapon, you need five copies. These upgrades aren’t necessary but they can be a substantial boost to your builds. Constellations are especially valuable, improving upon a character’s viability within the meta and/or opening up new gameplay opportunities for them. The price for constellations or refinements for a 5 star character or weapon respectively however is insane. The maximum price of a C6 5 star character is $2,800 while an R5 weapon will price upwards of $2,500. It’s a huge shame. Again, Constellations aren’t necessary but if there’s a character that you particularly want and love, it does suck then to play as them while being actively aware that they’re not technically at their best due to a paywall. Weapon refinements are at least easier to look past as they’re simply the same passive but better. That doesn’t make the mechanic any less scummy however.
I actually have two 5 star characters at C6 and while I’m too embarrassed to say how much I spent for them, I must admit that neither of them came close to costing $2,800. Saving enough free pulls, soft pity kicking in, and sheer luck tends to drive the cost down. Also helpful is that 4 star drops and 5 star duplicates also net you another currency called Starglitter which can be exchanged for free Fates. That said, a couple hundred dollars, as opposed to a couple thousand dollars, is hardly a bargain and I obviously can’t recommend doing this.
V. Since I’m Out of Resin At Time of Writing This Review, Let’s Talk About How Bad Resin Is
Resin is Genshin Impact‘s stamina system. While (thankfully) not needed to play Quests and most Events, Resin is needed to gain various materials you need to build your characters after completing combat challenges and Boss fights. Technically, you don’t need to use Resin for these tasks though I don’t know why you would play them if you’re not going to claim any rewards.
As of Version 1.1, you have a maximum of 160 Resin per day. This generally equates to eight challenges or four boss fights. This actually wouldn’t sound so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that building characters requires a ton of resources. Leveling up requires EXP materials. Raising the level cap requires items dropped by bosses. Talents are upgrade separately. Weapons are leveled up separately and also require their own set of materials to raise its level cap. Most importantly, you can need to farm for and raise Artifacts, this game’s form of equipment to give a character a significant boost in stats. All of this requires spending Mora, a.k.a. gold, which can also be farmed. Keep in mind, this is just for one character. You need to do this same process for at least four characters within a full party. And that’s where Resin starts to become a major issue.
This is further exacerbated as your account rises in rank and you to look to min-maxing your characters. The last couple of level ups are heavy on all types of resources. You aren’t guaranteed some of the higher end item drops and you’ll most likely have to resort to crafting them out of their early game equivalents. Talents require items from bosses that you can only get rewards from once and those bosses might not even drop the exact one you need. Artifacts are especially egregious as the stats they may possess are entirely left to chance. That there’s an element of RNG only makes the Resin situation even worse.
The worst part of Resin however is how slowly it replenishes. It takes 8 minutes to just to regain one point of Resin. This means it takes 2 hours and 20 minutes so that you have bare minimum of 20 Resin needed to do a combat challenge and grand total of 21 hours and 20 minutes to have the full 160 for the next day. This means that, save for squeezing in an extra challenge, you’re effectively done for the day after spending 160 Resin. You can refill Resin yourself though the thing is that it requires Primogems to do so. Considering that this is the same unit you need for Wishes, it’s not worth doing unless you’re pumping your account with actual money. As it that wasn’t bad enough, the cost of Primogems even increases the more times you refill. There does exist some items that replenishes Resin but even they can be hard to come by, depending on your budget for your account.
In this game’s defense, Mihoyo has made some efforts to alleviate the woes of Resin. The main event of Version 1.1 required Resin and Mihoyo wisely agreed with player feedback to not require Resin for most in-game events. As of Version 1.3, Resin restores are now rewards in Genshin‘s Battle Pass, which has a F2P tier, giving players a consistent flow of item restores. In Version 1.5, the cost of the first three weekly bosses you claim rewards from was lowered from 60 to 30. Items that allow you to convert certain drops to the ones that you want have steadily been in the game. All of these changes or additions are nice and they have made Resin management easier. Even so, the fundamental issue of Genshin‘s stamina mechanic slowing the grind down to a snail’s pace and it serving as yet another excuse to funnel money out of the player remains.
VI. Housing, Because Where Else Am I Going to Talk About This?
Introduced in Version 1.5 is a housing component where you can decorate a house and a plot of land contained inside a magical teapot (trust me, it makes sense in context). The vast majority of furnishings you can place in your home have to crafted. Crafting is on a timer that can last several hours though every day, you can purchase and use items that completes the process instantly. Surprisingly, these items aren’t monetized in the game…for now.
Mileage with this system really depends on if you the freedom of customization is a big draw for you. Me personally, it’s not really my kind of thing so I haven’t really been decorating my Traveler’s home too seriously. That said, it is worth investing time and effort in as crafting enough times increases your house’s rank which unlocks resources for you to purchase with the housing system’s unit of currency, potentially saving you precious Resin.
Version 1.6 added furnishing sets that characters in the game may enjoy and comment on. Getting the right furnishing set for the right characters will net you some rewards. This is where housing clicked more for me as it gives the system some sense of direction. With so many furnishings to craft, it can feel overwhelming and while you technically just can craft anything at random, it feels more worthwhile and rewarding when you now have a priority list of things to make.
VII. I’m Running Out of Things to Say so I’ll Go Over How This Game Is Running Out of Things for Me to Play
Technically, there is a lot of content in Genshin Impact. With a world so big, a fair amount of quests, and a battle system so engaging, it’s bound to elicit hours of playtime. The problem is that amount of content it has to offer is at odds with the fact that the game encourages you to play daily. I love the open world in this game but there can only be so much to do in it. At some point, you’ve done everything that it currently has to offer. Once you’re down to a couple of missing chests, you’re essentially left entirely with the game’s daily loop which is almost entirely comprised of grinding for either your characters or your potential gambling addiction. This would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that Resin prolongs that experience across multiple days, making the experience increasingly tedious and monotonous.
It also doesn’t help that building your characters is a nebulous experience in and of itself. You obviously want to keep your characters leveled up as enemies levels begin to increase as your account progresses in rank. Beyond that however, there’s not much to put you teams to the test and validate your hard work in building them. There’s Spiral Abyss, Genshin‘s endgame challenge, and a few few combat-themed events but that’s mostly it. Most enemies in the game, including bosses, stop becoming a challenge the further you are with your builds, which then makes the grind even more mind-numbing.
This is of course where Genshin‘s updates ought to come into play but frankly, their contributions in addressing this content drought has been a mixed bag. My favorite updates are Versions 1.2 and 1.6 and that’s fittingly and largely because they both featured new areas for you to explore. Besides those two, most of the patches typically don’t add much apart from a few new quests and/or a bunch of events. Most of the events boil down to simple combat arenas or gimmicky mini-games. Some events do have a questline but as mentioned earlier, those quests are among the most forgettable ones in the game. Version 1.5 did add the housing component but again, how much that has to offer is entirely up to personal preference. The introduction of Inazuma in Version 2.0 would have been exciting no matter what, it’s the first major region being added after all, but I can’t deny that the hype for it increased tenfold because people are simply starved for anything substantial.
I enjoy Genshin Impact but I enjoy it most when it’s a real game. The integrity of the game’s open world is as legitimate as it gets and there’s plenty to like about the combat and story. Unfortunately, this game also has a lot of the downsides commonly found in Free-to-Play titles. Even by gacha standards and an incredibly respectable pity mechanic, the game is incredibly greedy. I struggle to say it’s friendly towards Free-to-Play players. Some people might not mind the daily grind or content drought as much but I find it problematic in and of itself as well as at odds with the open world and story, neither of which really encourage daily play.
As for recommending the game: while the flaws I’ve brought in the review are things to consider, the game is nevertheless Free-to-Play. There really is no harm in giving it a try and the game is by no means so godawful that I’d default to warning people to stay away from it. Try the game and decide for yourself. As for how much money I recommend spending on, that of course depends on your own financial solution. I am admittedly a whale player but that doesn’t mean I should recommend that you swipe your credit card as many times that I have. As with any Free-to-Play game, don’t spend if you truly don’t have the money to burn.
Thanks for reading!