‘Genshin Impact’ is underwhelming

November 20, 2020

Developed by miHoYo, “Genshin Impact” is an ambitious free-to-play anime mobile RPG that has taken the gaming industry by storm, raking in $245 million worldwide within its first month, making it the highest-grossing mobile game of October. It has high production values with an open world design, a first for the mobile games platform excluding MMOs. It draws heavy inspiration from Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” in terms of art direction and gameplay mechanics in an attempt to capture the feel of a AAA gaming experience. And it has a PC and PS4 port. As such, I will be reviewing this game as a fully-fledged RPG, as opposed to just as a mobile game, which generally demands lower expectations. 

“Genshin Impact’s” open world is visually stunning, with its vibrant colors and somewhat cartoon-y art style, one that is very similar to that of Zelda. There is a day-night cycle and a weather cycle, which is impressive. Most importantly, the cute anime-styled characters you control are each highly detailed and uniquely designed, such as the Chinese-style zombie girl that I find absolutely adorable. 

But at this point, I’m running out of nice things to say about the world. The lush grasslands that occupy a significant part of the map feel surprisingly lifeless. When you’re out of the central hub area, it’s hard to find any NPCs or side quests. There isn’t much to do aside from picking up plants and materials, occasionally encountering enemies and sometimes finding secrets hidden in the map. And while the NPCs inside the hub area do have interesting dialogue, there are still too few of them that the area often feels like a creepy ghost town. 

There’s a nice variety of skill sets and play styles among different characters. There’s an archer that lights things on fire, a sorceress that manipulates electricity, a Chinese warrior lady that wields a gigantic sword with dazzling combat animations and so on. You can have four characters at a time in your squad and you can switch between them on the fly. In fact, combining skills from different characters can produce satisfying elemental combos (e.g. ice + water = things getting frozen) that deal massive damage. However, this emphasis on synergy means that individual characters aren’t very powerful by themselves and have limited movesets. 

If you only want to play one character (like me) and aren’t willing to switch, you’re going to have a bad time. Some characters seem to be far more useful than others depending on what elemental type you need at the moment, which means you’re sort of forced to have them on your team. 

The game features a gliding mechanic: pressing and holding the jump button allows you to glide in the air and soar through the open world. This is easily my favorite part of the game. I think that in order for open world games to be fun to play, there needs to be greater freedom of movement for the player, like the addition of mounts for instance, and “Genshin Impact” certainly delivers it here. Gliding is not only a part of general movement, but incorporated into combat as well, making for some exciting set-pieces like fighting a dragon in the sky or dropping bombs on enemies while riding the wind. Though I’m not sure how much praise the game deserves for this, since it obviously borrowed the mechanic from “Breath of the Wild.” 

The stamina bar is another borrowed mechanic, but this time it’s a major source of frustration for me. My character can only run for about six seconds before getting tired. Performing certain combat moves, swimming and gliding also consume stamina. I keep finding myself wanting to switch to other games because of how not fun this is. Sure, there is fast travel, but the whole point of an open world is to enable exploration so I’d much rather move around myself. I think stamina bars don’t belong in open world games. Perhaps a good compromise would be making stamina a combat-only mechanic, so that running by itself doesn’t consume it.

Since this is a free-to-play game, there is a “gacha” and it sucks. A gacha is a system where you can spend premium currency, which can be bought with real money or earned in-game, to roll for loot and characters with differing rarities. The main problem of this game’s gacha is that the odds are disturbingly low. A five star character, the rarest type, has a 0.6 percent base chance of appearing, a rate that is significantly lower than the industry standard (about two to four percent). The game will guarantee a five star every 90 consecutive failed rolls, yet the game rewards you only a handful of premium currency at a time—roughly from two to 30 depending on what you do—when a 10 roll requires 1600. In addition, the gacha pool itself is shallow. Typically you would expect to see at least a few dozen characters in a gacha game, whereas “Genshin Impact” has only about 20 characters available in the gacha. 

As technically impressive as “Genshin Impact” is for its platform, I don’t think most mobile devices can afford to run it at high settings without bursting into flames. Under max graphics and 60 FPS, my iPhone XS heats up too much to be comfortable while the game runs and the battery drains quickly. The most optimal platform to play this game right now is probably the PC, where you could just go and play better games like “The Witcher 3” or “Nier: Automata.” 

“Genshin Impact” isn’t horrible of course, but the design choices and the gacha do turn me off, and it just doesn’t have that “wow factor” that makes it stand out compared to other open world games. I would recommend it if you play exclusively mobile games and have never had an open world experience, in which case this might just be the perfect game for you.

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