Genshin Impact (PC/Mobile) – Review

  • Title: Genshin Impact
  • Platform: Microsoft Windows (Official Launcher) & Android
  • Also available on iOS, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5
  • Developer: miHoYo
  • Publisher: miHoYo
  • Played: Version 2.8 | Adventurer Rank 60 | All Archon & Story Quests completed | All Hangout Event endings obtained | Maxed Exploration in all areas | Maxed Statues and Reputation in all nations | Maxed Offering systems | Maxed Trust and Jar of Riches in the Serenitea Pot | 545 Achievements Unlocked | Far too much real money spent

Developer and publisher miHoYo has an ambitious vision for Genshin Impact. It aims to be an Action RPG with an open world on par with the best seen in AAA video games while also being “free” for all players to play. For the nearly two years since the game launched, miHoYo has delivered some of the goods. The game does have a lot of content for you to sink time (and money) into. At the same time, Genshin makes for a frustrating experience the second you enter its daily loop and “endgame”.

I. Does Anyone Remember the Unknown God? I Barely Do.

Genshin Impact revolves around an interstellar “Traveler” (Zach Aguilar/Sarah Miller-Crews) and their twin sibling. Following a battle with an Unknown God (Christie Cate), the twins are separated from each other and the Traveler finds themselves stripped of their powers and stranded in the fantasy world of Teyvat. Alongside their new companion Paimon (Corina Boettger), the Traveler journeys through Teyvat in search of their sibling. In the process, they become involved in the affairs of the world’s seven nations and encounter their deities, collectively called the Archons, as well as mysterious and dangerous factions known as the Fatui and the Abyss Order. Currently, the main story primarily consists of a prologue and two chapters, respectively set in the nations of Mondstadt, Liyue, and Inazuma. Version 3.0 begins the third chapter, set in the nation of Sumeru.

In general, Genshin’s main story operates in two ways. The first is a series of overarching plot threads surrounding Teyvat’s history and the current whereabouts of the Traveler’s sibling. The second is a more self-contained arc for each of the nations the Traveler visits. For example, the prologue has the Traveler assist in healing the corruption of Mondstadt’s dragon guardian while the first chapter deals with the aftermath of the sudden death of Liyue’s Archon. So far, the results have been hit or miss. The best I can call the overarching plot threads is simply “interesting”. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious in how they ultimately pan out but even with almost two years in, progress has been slow and aimless. The mini-arcs of each nation serve to tide us over though they aren’t all without their issues. Many of Liyue’s playable characters don’t have a lot of screentime in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 has a bad habit of making some of Inazuma’s playable characters absent from the plot entirely.

Alongside the main story are a couple of other mission types. By far, the most appealing are the vaguely named “Story Quests”, which actually star one of the game’s playable characters. Even at their weakest, I generally enjoy these the most for the added depth and/or charm they provide to the featured character. Version 1.4 introduced a variant of this called “Hangout Events” which are more down to Earth in tone and utilize a visual-novel-esque approach, complete with multiple endings. Save for a few exceptions, these are unfortunately obnoxious to play. The visual novel format is unnecessary and unlocking all the endings is often tedious, even with the convenience of returning to previous diverging points of dialogue. The last quest type of interest is the “World Quests”, which offer further insight into the world of Teyvat. Most of these are frankly forgettable though miHoYo has stepped up their game in recent patches and delivered some of the game’s best story arcs with this quest type.

There are a couple of general pet peeves that I have with Genshin’s narrative offerings. The setup requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. You’re simply expected to buy into the fact that you play as a teenager from space with an equally nebulous mascot character. Genshin is frankly far too reliant on exposition to tell its story. Characters, especially Paimon, won’t shut up as they drone about themselves and the plot to you, making a lot of cutscenes a slog to sit through. Most detrimental is the inability to replay quests, the only exception being Hangout Events (and they have to be replayable due to having multiple endings). If you want to re-experience any of the story, you have to make a new account or look the cutscenes up on YouTube.

II. The Legend of Lumine: Breath of the Gacha

Genshin’s open world currently has the nations of Mondstadt, Liyue, and Inazuma for the player to explore. Version 3.0 will see the release of Sumeru. Additionally, the game provides two underground mini-regions separate from the main open world. Occasionally, in-game events feature a seperate map for a limited time.

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 initial 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 plain sight. 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 with 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 your location. 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. From exotic landscapes to bygone civilizations to the actual remains of deceased deities, Genshin has a myriad of locations that have a story to tell, brimming with personality and history.

For me, the open world is the best part of Genshin Impact. 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 what miHoYo envisions.

III. Even Though I Just Play As the Waifus, I Still Have an Opinion on the Meta

Genshin Impact has you control a party of up to four characters. All playable characters possess a Vision, an item that grants them control over one of the seven elements – 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 once it is off cooldown. The second is an Elemental Burst which is on both a cooldown and a gauge that requires charging with Energy primarily generated by an Elemental Skill. Elements can also interact in combination with each other, resulting in an Elemental Reaction that causes additional damage and/or bonus effects to occur.

Broadly speaking: Pyro, Cyro, Electro, and Hydro serve as the offensive elements, the ones you combine into various Elemental Reactions for increased DPS. Anemo and Geo are more supportive in nature. Anemo has the singular “Swirl” reaction, which allows you to spread and mix the offensive elements. Geo has the singular “Crystalize” reaction which gives you a crystallized shield based on the offensive element used in the reaction. While Dendro has technically been around since launch it is only now receiving a formal launch in Version 3.0 (and yes, it really did take miHoYo nearly two years to fully figure it out). This Element will introduce a third tier of Reactions, when it is combined with two other elements. 

On paper, combat might sound a bit simplistic. Surprisingly however, it can be quite engaging. For starters, there’s the appeal of experimenting with different team compositions. What Elemental Reaction do you want your team to use? What characters should you use then? Are there any drawbacks to the team that you 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 synergize best with others. Even with an 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 carry 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 some noticeable balance issues with the elements. Hydro has arguably become the best element to invest in as it enables most of the Elemental Reactions commonly used for DPS. Pyro provides one of the easier paths towards high DPS due to two of its Reactions, Vaporize and Melt, having different and much more favorable scaling compared to other Reactions in the game. Electro has had quirky but otherwise weak Reactions, making it somewhat undesirable in endgame content. Anemo is easily the more useful of the two supportive elements due to Swirl’s ability to chain elements into multiple Reaction procs. Geo gets no additional damage from Crystallize and you are generally better off using a character who innately creates a shield with their kit rather than picking up the one created by the Reaction.

miHoYo has made a few adjustments across various patches. Geo gained one of, if not arguably, the best Elemental Resonances and has been repositioned as a self-contained alternative to mixing different Elements for Reactions. Version 1.6 adjusted the scaling of various reactions so that they’re a little bit more competitive with Vaporize and Melt. Despite some effort being made, the balancing has largely remained the same. There are good characters for each Element though often, their value in the meta is typically in spite of the fundamentals rather than because of it. The formal release of Dendro in Version 3.0 is looking to be the biggest rocking of the boat, with its Reactions with Electro looking particularly promising. However, only time will if that is the case as people experiment and more Dendro characters are released.

IV. The Monetary Elephant in the Room

While a handful of characters and weapons are provided to you free of charge, your roster of characters and arsenal of weapons only truly expands when you start gambling pulling in Genshin‘s gacha system, aptly titled “Wishes” in the game. The game provides three banner types to pull for. The first features a 5-Star character and three featured 4-Star characters. Starting with Version 2.3, there are sometimes two of this type running concurrently (this game now has a lot of 5-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 mrmr builds or as EXP fodder for the higher end weapons that you actually care about.

Wishes require a specific currency called Fates which come in two types, Intertwined for character and weapon banners and Acquaint for the standard banner. For obvious reasons, you want Intertwined Fates. 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, it does have a pity mechanic for its gacha. Every 10 pulls guarantees you a 4-Star drop and every 90 pulls (80 in the cases of the weapon banner) guarantees you a 5-Star drop. Though not officially stated, there is supposedly a soft pity where the 5-Star drop rate increases after a certain number of pulls. I’m inclined to believe this exists as I’ve gotten 5-Star drops a couple of pulls before hitting that exact 90 count. The character banner has a 50/50 chance of giving you the featured 5 star character but if you fail it, you are guaranteed that character in the next 90 pulls. If there are two concurrent character banners, pity is shared and pity carries over to the next phase of banner(s) which is nice. This means if you fail the 50/50, your full guarantee is not wasted and can be alternatively used for the next featured character. The weapon banner has a 75/25 chance though even if you win, you still have a 50/50 split between the two featured weapons. Version 2.0 adjusted this by adding a point system for when you fail to get the weapon you specifically want. Fail twice and you’re guaranteed that weapon on the next 5-Star drop. While pity does carry over, the points do not so unfortunately, you better be confident that you’ll get your desired weapon and you’ll still need to save a ton of pulls for the next one you want.

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 get one pull. 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 within the period that they are 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 the worst 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. Getting dupes yields up to 6 additional passives for characters and improves weapon passives up to 5 times. Whether or not these improvements are worthwhile is on a case by case basis but the fact of the matter is that the potential amount of money you need to spend skyrockets should you consider pulling for dupes. For a maxed out character, you’re looking at a potential $2,800 price tag. For a maxed weapon, it’s $2,500. 

As a whale with a few characters and weapons maxed out, I can confidently say that getting them maxed out does not cost nearly as much as the aforementioned prices. The cost generally goes down due to saving enough free pulls, the hidden soft pity mechanic, and simple luck. Also helpful is Masterless Starglitter, a currency that you obtain alongside your 4-Star and 5-Star drops. With enough Starglitter, you can purchase Fates and doing so can make a difference for your F2P status or wallet. At worst, the price tag is really about a grand and at best, you can get something maxed out with a couple hundred dollars. Mind you, that’s still a lot of money so I can only recommend it if you really want a particular character or weapon and you have the money to burn.

V. The Daily Grind, The Bi-Weekly(ish) Endgame, and The Lack of Things to Do

Technically, there is a lot of content in Genshin Impact. With its open world, quests, and combat, it’s bound to elicit hours of playtime. That being said, all the aforementioned content is finite and you do eventually run out of them. Once those wells are dried, you are left to contend with Genshin’s daily grind and endgame…neither of which are frankly all that good.

Aside from Daily Commissions and occasionally farming for materials in the open world, Genshin’s daily loop consists of using Resin, the game’s stamina system. While (thankfully) not needed to play Quests and the vast majority of Events, Resin is needed to gain various materials you need to build your characters after completing combat challenges and Boss fights, either in the open world or in separate arenas called Domains. The availability of these tasks can vary from every day to specific parts of the week to weekly. Building your characters comes in the form of direct upgrades and level ups as well as Artifacts, Genshin’s form of equipment. Technically, you don’t need to use Resin for the tasks themselves 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. All upgrades cost Mora, the game’s form of gold. Leveling up requires EXP materials. Raising the level cap requires items dropped by bosses. Talents and weapons require their own materials in order to be upgraded. Artifacts make or break your build and getting the pieces you need takes an egregious and nebulous amount of time due to stat allocation being complete RNG. The more you min-max, the more time consuming and more expensive things get. Keep in mind that you need to build not just one character but at least a full party of four. All this combined and you can see how grinding and Resin becomes a major issue.

Resin also takes a long time to replenish. It takes 8 minutes just to regain one point of Resin (you need at least 20 to do something with it) and a grand total of 21 hours and 20 minutes to have the full 160. You are effectively done for the day after you spend all of your Resin. Some items exist that can restore 60 Resin though your ability to obtain them is somewhat limited, especially if you’re F2P. There does exist a consistent method to refill Resin up to 6 times a day though this requires Primogems and each refill increases in price. 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.

Spending Resin in the game and days of your life to build your character wouldn’t be so bad if the investment could go towards something worthwhile. Unfortunately, Genshin’s endgame is non-existent. Save for a few instances, most enemies in the open world, including bosses, stop becoming a challenge the further you are with your builds. Domains are sometimes annoying though more so because of their repetitiveness than because of its difficulty. They have to be manageable or else you wouldn’t be able to get the materials you need.

The closest to an endgame is the Spiral Abyss, a multi-floor arena that pits your characters against the toughest enemies found in the game, usually within a time limit. The ninth to twelfth floors are repeatable with an evolving lineup of enemies and clearing them with a good rating will yield you rewards. Even though the Abyss is something for you to strive for, it’s not very good. The mode does challenge your understanding of Genshin’s combat system and your own skill but difficulty also stems from nonsense on miHoYo’s part. Even for an endgame mode, enemies are obnoxiously tanky and trying to efficiently fight them is made worse by the timer. Things can get especially egregious when you’re pitted against a boss, which has a lot of elaborate and time consuming behaviors that are beyond your control and will artificially affect your ability to clear a fight in time. 

Spiral Abyss also doesn’t really do much in satiating the player. It only resets on the first and sixteenth days of the month and the enemy lineups themselves don’t necessarily change at each reset. If you’re strong enough, the mode is really just an occasional blimp in your Genshin experience. Also detrimental is the lackluster rewards. You only get 600 Primogems for getting the best ratings in Floors 9-12, which only rounds out to 3 pulls. Simply put, Spiral Abyss is not enough to put your teams to the test and validate your hard work in building them.

After the grind and the Spiral Abyss, there really isn’t much else to do in Genshin. Version 1.5 added a housing component and Version 2.1 added a fishing mini-game. The former has one of the best in-game shops and catching enough fish will (somehow) yield you some free weapons. Beyond getting access to those, these modes are an acquired taste. And obviously, they don’t really count as endgame material. 

miHoYo gives Genshin a plethora of in-game events but the only one worth doing is the “flagship” event that each patch gets. They not only yield you the best rewards, they often also include a questline that adds to the game’s lore. Some events have combat challenges though these only amount to a handful of fights. You’ll only try them on the hardest difficulty out of curiosity as the best rewards, specifically the Primogems, are allocated to the lower settings. Beyond all that, most events boil down to mini-games, very simple and very bad mini-games at that. If it wasn’t for the fact that these events are brief and include Primogems, people wouldn’t actually bother doing them.

Conclusion

Since Genshin Impact is Free-to-Play, there is no immediate price to entry and there really is no harm in giving it a try. By all means, try the game and decide for yourself if it’s something you want to stick with. 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 encourage you to swipe your credit card as many times as I have. As with any Free-to-Play game, don’t spend if you truly don’t have the money to burn.

As for my own opinion of the game, I do enjoy it 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 with an incredibly respectable pity mechanic, the game is egregiously greedy and I struggle to say it’s friendly towards Free-to-Play players. Some people might not mind the daily grind or the lack of an endgame but I’ve grown extremely fed up with these aspects and I find them to be at odds with the open world and story, neither of which really encourage daily play. I have been playing Genshin daily, because gosh darn it I want to pull for those waifus, but doing so has become increasingly difficult with each new patch. miHoYo has grown pretty consistent at adding to the open world and that has helped with the fatigue but they really haven’t added anything substantial in the long term, either because they’re complacent with the state of the game or they actually have no clue on what they could add to it. I love Genshin Impact but I also kind of hate it.

Score: 6/10


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