Unpacking Genshin Impact

Genshin Impact hit the metaphorical shelves on Sept. 28. Available on PC, iOS, Android and PlayStation 4, Genshin Impact is a free-to-play action-adventure RPG developed by miHoYo, the same studio behind Honkai Impact 3, a hack-and-slash RPG from 2016. According to a mobile statistic tracker App Annie, Genshin Impact had 17 million mobile downloads in its first week. PC and PS4 numbers would make that number even larger, and it should continue to grow.

The game follows a player character in a quest to find his or her sibling, contacting the seven gods of the world to see if they know anything. Each god encompasses a distinct region of the world, with two currently available to the player: Mondstadt with its Anemo (wind) god Barbatos and Liyue with its Geo (earth) god Rex Lapis. Still, while entertaining, the story is far from why this game is worth a shot.

As the game thrusts you into its world, the art style is immediately reminiscent of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s almost scary. In Genshin Impact, enemy camps give chests as rewards, the player comes across periodic cooking pots, the game provides the ability to climb almost anything and glide from almost any distance, all of which are so evocative of Breath of the Wild that people have been writing it off as a clone of the game. Still, it doesn’t detract from the experience and the more you play, the more it fleshes out into its own unique personality.

There are simple differences, like being able to have four characters on your team at once, along with the ability to freely swap between them, single-player dungeons that grant rewards which are used to level up characters, and weapons and hundreds of little secrets to find. It feels like just enough to set the game apart from Breath of the Wild while retaining that game’s nature of exploration.

However, the single most interesting thing about the gameplay is how seriously it takes elemental manipulation. Sure, the idea of elemental advantages has been around since before video games were even a thing, but Genshin Impact takes the concept to another level. Each character harnesses a singular element, and swapping between each allows for countless different combinations. Ice and fire moves do bonus damage to one another, as do fire and water. Electric attacks bounce between characters debuffed by water and do damage over time. Ice attacks freeze wet opponents. Earth reacts with any other element, generating crystals that shield you from it.

This system also extends to the environment. Fire attacks set grass ablaze, debuffing enemies while they stand on it. Stepping in water debuffs as well, and electrifying the water hurts all enemies in it. You can even freeze water as a means of transportation. Having multiple party members that wield different elements can bring out some incredible combos that melt large amounts of enemies.

Just how you go about getting to the enemies is where this game starts to get complicated. While there are a few characters obtained via the story, the game relies on a gacha system for monetization which can net some particularly strong characters and weapons. While the game is far from free-to-play, players can spend currency on loot boxes to potentially bolster their team. The currencies can be acquired through real-world money but are also obtained through most different activities in-game, like opening chests or completing quests.

However, after a while this game stalls out. The daily quests slowly chip away at the experience you need before you can take on the story quest. It’s very similar to how other gacha games operate. This fact is slightly mitigated by the exploration and how fun it is to just run around the world, along with the promise for more content down the line. It stops being a main game so much as something you check in with daily, for better or for worse. But doing so never felt like a chore.

There’s no reason not to give Genshin Impact a try. It’s a gorgeous game with action sequences that are simple enough to pick up and play, but can still be as intricate as you make it. The characters are memorable, while the Japanese voice actors are incredibly high-profile. It’s free and runs smoothly on all platforms. Give it a shot and join the masses of people