Review: Though not for everyone, Genshin Impact provides a surprisingly fun and deep experience

If this is the future of free-to-play and mobile gaming, we’re in.

Genshin Impact 1.1 update leak hints at new weapons and items, no Inazuma inclusion

Image via miHoYo

Have you ever wanted to see how a mobile Gacha game would translate to the world of Triple-A development? Or maybe you’ve been looking for a new live service game to fill the MMO-shaped void in your schedule? Genshin Impact is a near-perfect mix of both of those genres, while also bringing a lot of great aspects from open-world games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and adding them to the mix. 

In just two weeks since release, the game has grossed over $100 million and has received more than 17 million downloads — and that’s just for the mobile version (it’s also available on PC and PS4). It has grown into one of the most popular games on Twitch, averaging around 26,635 viewers and peaking at 202,169 right after launch. And updates are on the way.

While you won’t get the deep fulfillment of exploration and movement that BotW offers, nor the absolutely insane stat investments or multiplayer experience of an MMO, Genshin Impact absolutely hits a middle ground that will keep you coming back for more. If you can ignore a few minor annoyances, that is. 

Growing with the elements

As soon as you step into the world of Teyvat, you are given the choice of playing one of two twin travelers as they battle a mysterious goddess. The story doesn’t really change based on which character you pick, at least early on, but it does instantly pull the player in by setting up the need to rescue their sibling. 

From there, Genshin ramps up pretty quickly, introducing you to the basic battle mechanics, including a crash course in what will come to be the single most important weapon you will be using: Visions. 

Visions are basically magical gemstones that give characters the ability to use elemental powers, whether that be for boosting their attacks, controlling the battlefield, or defending themselves. The main player character is granted wind as his or her element at the start of the game, with early members of the cast having access to others, like fire, ice, and lighting. In total, there are seven elements at play here, and each interacts with the others in unique ways.

Once you build out your party, you can swap between characters with a press of a button and combine their elemental attacks into massive assaults that can take out multiple enemies at once. For example, combining an ice attack with water can instantly freeze opponents in place. Being aware of your surroundings and how your party’s elements can best take advantage of them is something Genshin does a good job of pushing you to get used to and improve early on. 

These elements can also be used to interact with the environment, though to a lesser extent than, say, BotW. Fire skills can burn away obstacles, ice skills can freeze water and let players walk on the surface, and so on. 

Gacha a new trick

Genshin Impact

While the layout of Genshin Impact is that of a traditional game at the onset, it does quickly morph into that three-headed mashup of genres by pushing Gacha mechanics into the mix. Because the game is a free-to-play title that offers the polish of a big-budget release, the developers at miHoYo do a fine job of separating the game’s core mechanics from the Gacha elements. You won’t need to spend a single penny to complete the game, but if you want to have access to the massive roster of characters or improve your party with some high-grade equipment and a few bonuses, you are going to need some lucky banner pulls. 

When you go to make a “Wish,” you will be using various resources to perform a certain number of pulls from different banners, otherwise known as pull pools. These pools will determine what equipment, items, and most importantly which characters you can get from each banner. 

The main appeal of a banner pull outside of quick growth is providing players a chance to expand their party with new characters. These banner characters can appear in four- and five-star variants, which have base pull rates of 5.1% and 0.6% respectively. 

Multiple banners will usually be running at the same time, with Standard Wishes using a currency called Aquiant Fate and Limited/Event Wishes using one called Intertwined Fate. Both also use Primogems, the game’s premium currency, to facilitate transactions if a player doesn’t have enough of either Fate. 

New players will be given enough Fate, Primogems, and other resources to pull from multiple banners once they start the game, and other bonuses as they progress through the early story. This is a common tactic used in most Gacha games to hook players into the pulling system while they enjoy the rest of the game. 

The developers also entice players by letting them try out certain characters on a trial basis during dungeon missions before taking them away. Banners are the only way to obtain most characters, so save up your resources if you don’t want to spend money but still want to collect your favorite new additions. 

Overall, Gensin’s Gacha system is less intrusive than most I have encountered. And if the occasional message about new banners and deals is the price of playing such a high-quality game for free, then the trade off is worth it. 

Teyvat tales

Image via miHoYo

At least through the first 10 hours or so, the story and dialogue in Genshin Impact was the last thing on my mind when I thought about returning to the game for another session. 

Exploring the map and gathering ingredients and resources that I could later use to cook or upgrade my equipment scratched an itch that I haven’t been able to hit since I stepped away from MMOs years ago. The ability to mix in a more traditional video game world with everything lovable about the monotony of an MMO, like the various ways to increase your characters’ stats, hit a sweet spot. 

The graphics are gorgeous, making exploration something most players will want to do once they get the freedom to do so, though you should probably at least finish part of the prologue so you can traverse the areas easier and complete side quests along the way. Gliding around Genshin’s world is simply incredible, and there’s really no shortage of quests, events, collections, and daily commissions to give you things to do, especially at first.

You can also enjoy the game alongside four friends thanks to Genshin’s multiplayer functionality across PC, mobile, and PlayStation 4. You will need to reach Adventure Rank 16 to join or host co-op sessions, but then you can run around and cause mayhem with a group of dimensional wizards instead of going solo. 

There is also a Battle Pass that you unlock at Rank 20, which feels a little tacked on at first, especially when you have to grind to unlock it. However, once you get into the flow of completing the daily and weekly missions, it becomes second nature. And there is a premium version for players who do want to get extra bonuses. 

The multiplayer element lends itself to the MMO comparisons, letting you bring friends along when you enter various dungeons or temples scattered around the world. These trials can vary wildly, with some of the more common tasks being to take out a certain number of enemies in a set amount of time or beating some bosses. A few of those runs can get pretty repetitive or feel a little janky, but there is a strong base there that miHoYo can improve on with time. 

The controls are also a sticking point, with PC players having to suffer through a lack of keybinding and being forced to select the controller option every time they launch the game. Remapping in general is not an option within the game, which is hopefully something that will change in the future.

The verdict

Genshin Impact might be the first of many free-to-play Triple-A games to be released in the coming years after seeing such massive early success — according to reports, it’s recouped its development costs in just its first two weeks. And even though it is free and uses Gacha mechanics to try and grab some money, it is mostly unintrusive and doesn’t cheapen the experience. 

Genshin is also one of the most accessible titles of the generation, being available on mobile devices, PS4, and PC, in 13 languages. You can enjoy the game on all three platforms and not lose out on much between them, especially with multiplayer being open to cross-play. 

The visuals, music, combat, world, and overall feel of Genshin borrows from some of the best games to release in recent years, but it takes those elements and makes them its own over the course of your time with the game. Even if you don’t get invested in the minimal story or fall in love with the combat, you will walk away with a distinct picture of what Genshin does to stand out.

Final score:

9 / 10

+ The graphics, music, and world are all amazing. 
+ Combat is a solid mix of action and MMO-style gameplay.
+ You can absolutely get lost in playing the game, but in the best way.
+ The game doesn’t overwhelm you, despite having very detailed mechanics.
The story is pretty bare-bones, and the late-game can get pretty grind-heavy.