You may have heard of Genshin Impact, a game that has recently taken the world by surprise. From its global release on September 28th up to present, it has approximately generated $60 million on the first week of release, as well as garnering 17 million downloads in its first 4 days. It has also remarkably managed to attract a great number of players from all over the world, having about 58 percent of its revenue stemming from overseas purchases than from its main server in China. MiHoYo Ltd, both its developer and publisher, managed to innovate from their well-made mobile releases like Honkai Impact 3rd, and made it a cross-platform experience on mobile, PC and the PS4. But what exactly sets this title apart from their previous games and the rest of its competition? Most importantly, does it live up to the hype it has created? Let us answer that question step-by-step by evaluating its gameplay, story, and progression elements.
Genshin Impact’s gameplay combines the fast-based dodging mechanics of Nier: Automata, and has a stamina system not far from Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But what makes the game unique is its incorporation of an elemental system that gives the player guidance on how to approach combat, as well as making the second-to-second combat experience visually stimulating.
This element system depends on the player’s party, which consists of up to 4 different characters, including the MC and other starter characters that players obtain naturally during the story. Other unique characters can be obtained using their Wish system, which is the game’s gacha that will be discussed later. Combined, these systems make a pseudo rock-paper-scissors battle with enemies that also have elements at their disposal. Does the enemy have an ice shield? Melt it down. Did they change it up and put on rock shields instead? Hit them with bigger rocks, a claymore, or both. Elements can also combine with each other. Electrifying a wet enemy, or enemies on water, spreads the effect to all enemies in range.
Non-combat gameplay is mostly exploration and solving the different puzzles scattered around the world, which can easily take up several hours of playtime. Players can find secrets by climbing, gliding, and swimming to hidden areas on the map, or by interacting with various objects. We would list them, but there are one too many, and it is recommended that you experience the world yourself. Oh, and did we mention the cooking feature?
In contrast to the combat, the story follows a lot of the traditional open-world storytelling systems. The player is thrust into the world of Teyvat ruled by the Seven Archons, godlike beings that represent an elemental power, after both them and their sibling are separated by an unknown god. Main quests (or Archon quests) are unlocked by playing the game naturally and raising your Adventure Rank level. Character story quests are unlocked in the same manner but are not required to progress the story, building on the world and its characters instead. World quests, which are side quests, are immediately available to the player once they hit a certain Adventure Rank, giving a bit more flavor to the world and the seemingly insignificant NPCs scattered around the map.
The game has a surprising amount of depth not found in other games in the mobile market, breathing in character into their most seemingly mundane quests, although there are still some of those in the game. The plot itself has been simple so far, although a lot of in-game lore hints to that changing as it progresses. And speaking of lore, the game also has books scattered in the world that the player can read, giving insights on the history of Teyvat and its Archons, as well as the culture of the two available regions in the world.
Unlocking the world of Teyvat itself isn’t tied to any progression system, the player simply has to travel to a location and unlock fast travel points. But the main system that the player is encouraged to prioritize is their Adventure Rank (AR), and consequently, their World Level (WL). Adventure Rank affects most of the world’s content, including available quests, dungeons, and most of its features. The player is left at AR 7 after the tutorial and encouraged to raise it as fast as they possibly can. At AR 12, players unlock Daily Commissions, which is one of the two repeatable ways a free-to-play individual can get Primogems, the currency needed for a gacha pull. AR 16 gives players access to co-op, and AR 20 is where the game fully releases the players into the world, unlocking the Spiral Abyss, currently the endgame content after the open world. Furthermore, AR 20 also brings the player to World Level 1, which scales the enemy level upwards and gives the player more rewards for in-game activities. World Level increases every five Adventure Ranks and gives the player significant progress boosts. For example, at AR 45, 5-star equipment are guaranteed drops from dungeons.
The (Extremely Big) Catch
Putting these systems together, the player is given a solid gameplay experience, a beautiful open world, and memorable characters that have their own distinct stories and personalities. However, Genshin Impact has systems in place that contradict its design goal of giving the player a sense of freedom and agency in their playtime. There currently exists 4 monetization methods, with one more releasing in the future. The game has a battle pass, a gacha system, a constellation system, and its most criminal monetization scheme, the stamina system, aka Resin. It is well understood by most gacha gamers that a stamina system in place exists to artificially restrict the gameplay of the player in order to prevent them from progressing from the game too fast, burning out, and then quitting. In a game like Genshin Impact, which will constantly get updated over the years with even more story, a player hitting the story end will be left with combat-centric activities to do in order to have a sense of game progression.
The Resin system exists to limit the player doing these activities, and allow them to continue playing by paying Primogems, or real-life money. This would seem up to par with other gacha games, but it is worse in comparison. This is because the different resources that one needs to progress a character, and the plethora of currency that a player needs to spend, all require Resin. Because it is a daily finite resource, the player is forced to choose only one of these currencies to gather for a day. Furthermore, these currencies, which are only found in dungeons, also only have specific days wherein they appear. What would take a few days’ worth of grinding for a level up in other games with similar systems would take weeks in Genshin Impact. Once the story ends, player agency also becomes extremely limited, and exploration is not as exciting as it used to be, if at all. There are no more puzzles to solve, no more chests to open, and ultimately, nothing left to do once your daily Resin reserves are depleted, lest you spend money on the game. One may find themselves spending more than the amount they would pay for a full game with similar gameplay to Genshin Impact just from the costs of refreshing Resin for a week.
Genshin Impact is an incredible experience up until a certain point, wherein the player is punished instead of being rewarded for putting more time than allowed them by the game. Its world is breathtaking, its combat fun, its characters are unique and exciting. But all of the good is crippled by a very simple bad: you can’t play the game as much as you want. The game has met its goal of bridging the gap between mobile, PC and console, but it has subsequently failed to compromise the short bursts of fun enjoyed by the former, and keeping the constant, long sessions of the latter. However, this does not mean that the game is not worth playing. If you’re looking for a game that scratches your open-world itch, then trying out Genshin Impact is something that you might want to do. Just be careful not to set yourself up for disappointment at the end.