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Genshin Impact review – three months in

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Genshin Impact is simultaneously the next step forward in open-world games and one of the biggest and worst time sinks you can imagine. It’s a game that has a nicely-crafted world and a bunch of environmental puzzles with a wide variety of characters with interesting, different, and unique playstyles, that can be combined into interesting teams, and a horrible grindfest that eats up days of your time for minimal progression and a stingy gacha system that demands your time and your money with no guarantee you will get what you want without investing hundreds of dollars.

Ostensibly, you play as the Traveler – a character from another world who was depowered by a god, their brother/sister kidnapped, and they themselves dumped down into the world below for who knows how long. One day, you encounter Paimon, a floating cherubic fairy-like creature who encourages you to go seek out the seven gods, teaching you how to absorb their elemental powers from their statues for your own use.

Joining you on your journey is a vast array of characters – over two dozen at the time of writing – all with unique personalities, voice acting, backstories, and most importantly, playstyles. There are seven elemental affinities in the world (though characters only existed for six of them at the time of this review), and five different weapons, but more importantly, each character has a unique set of talents. These talents affect how a character plays.

Core Gameplay

The core gameplay is very reminiscent of Breath of the Wild and other third person open-world action-RPGs. You control a character, you can run, dash (which also doubles as a dodge), jump a short distance in the air, glide in the air, climb walls and cliffs and other things (everything except special walls in the world is climbable), and explore the world in order to find environmental puzzles and complete quests for NPCs.

The main thing that sets this game apart is the combat system. Unlike Breath of the Wild, the game has a much more fluid and flowing combat system, with fairly rapid attacks and agile characters. Moreover, you are not stuck with a single character, but rather have four characters, that you switch between during combat. This four character team makes up the core of the game, as you will need to use your various characters skills in concert to overcome your foes.

Each character has three combat talents – a basic attack, an elemental skill, and an elemental burst. The basic attack is exactly that – something that allows you to swing your weapon around, as well as make “charged attacks” by holding the attack button, and plunge attacks by attacking enemies from above. Each character has a unique set of autoattacks that deal different levels of damage and have different hitboxes and different attack rates, making each character feel different even when they use the same weapon. There are five weapons – polearms, swords, claymores (giant two-handed swords), bows, and catalysts, the last of which are used by “magic users”. Each suggests a different playstyle, with different characters further changing how they play.

The elemental skills are more flashy. Here, characters call upon their elemental powers and do something. This can range from making a flame-empowered sword strike, to summoning a raven who strikes your foes repeatedly with lightning, to throwing out a magic lightning kunai that, with a second activation of the elemental skill, you teleport to. These abilities have varying cooldown times and deal varying amounts of damage, and radically change how characters play. A character who can teleport around can not only be very swift in combat and engage enemies on platforms, but can also use this ability outside of combat to teleport up walls or over gaps. A character who can shield can prevent knockback and ignore a lot of enemy attacks. A character who can heal can restore the rest of your team’s life – very important in some of the more dangerous areas, where you cannot simply use food items to restore your health at will.

The elemental bursts are the most flashy abilities. These both have a cooldown timer, AND require you to gather enough “energy” to use them. Using elemental skills, attacking with your basic attacks, killing enemies – all of these things generate energy, and you can also equip items that further increase energy regeneration. Elemental bursts tend to be quite powerful and are the most “exciting” abilities in some ways, playing a brief cutscene during which the characters are invulnerable and unleashing some powerful burst of power, ranging from throwing a firey phoenix across the field, to rapid attacks too fast for the eye to follow striking everyone nearby, to turning into a raven and flying across the battlefield (shocking everyone along the way), to summoning a gigantic meteorite which petrifies your foes, to creating an aura that boosts your attacks and heals you over time. Using these abilities can turn the tide of battle, and the brief period of invulnerability is yet another way to dodge enemy attacks.

On top of this, each character has three passive talents, two of which boost your combat prowess (often affecting how your skills work), as well as a third that has some minor effect on the game’s crafting or resource gathering mechanics. The out of combat mechanics are mostly boring, but some pretty useful – some reduce the time you have to spend to farm materials on a passive “expedition” that you dispatch characters on, or give you more items when you craft, while others give you the ability to see different kinds of items automatically on your minimap.

The most important aspect of the combat system is the way that various elements can interact. If two elements are applied to the same enemy, then an elemental reaction occurs. These can deal extra damage, send enemies flying, generate shields, or spread elemental effects to other enemies as well. Thus, the ideal team uses a variety of elements to exploit these reactions as often as possible, often particular ones that are synergistic with the characters you concentrate on using for damage output as opposed for things like healing or shields.

Additionally, there are some enemies that have shields that are only vulnerable to particular elements, be it a wooden shield that can be set on fire or a water “empowerment” that can be broken by repeatedly electrocuting the enemy.

All of this conspires to encourage players to run diverse teams so as to be able to respond to a variety of enemies and circumstances while exploiting elemental reactions to deal as much damage as possible.

Unfortunately, the combat also turns into one of the game’s greatest weaknesses in the long term.

The problem comes from the fact that while there is okay enemy variety, it is still fairly limited relative to the very long time the game wants you to play it for. On top of this, the most common type of enemy – the hilichurl – is nigh-omnipresent, and has sharply limited variety. While on one hand, palette cleaners like them can be fun to bat around with your overpowered characters, the map has enormous numbers of these, and they really present no threat to you. As a result, a great deal of what you do while wandering around is filler.

Additionally, there is limited challenge overall in overworld encounters in general. It is common to encounter very small groups of enemies, but rare for there to be actual threatening encounters – indeed, there are perhaps three actually challenging encounters around on the overworld map, where multiple enemies congregate in a small area and present a real challenge. This is unfortunate, because it means that, while you are free to explore to your heart’s content, after a while, all you will run into is easy, samey encounters, with very few exceptions. This is disappointing – while first entering a new area will expose you to some new foes, there are no more than a handful typically, and the novelty quickly wears off.

The only actually challenging encounters are found in domains and the Abyss, instanced areas where you fight on small, circular, samey maps every single time. While these maps allow the game creators to quickly create new encounters, it feels like a let-down that with a game with a bunch of neat overworld areas to explore, all the actual challenging encounters occur in samey instanced areas.

These encounters do a great deal more to test a player’s skill, though, with the domains serving to give players materials for powering up characters and special equippable items, and the Abyss serving as an endgame area to grind for.

Unfortunately, while this all sounds cool, the domains are likely to wear thin after a while, as they are always the same and you often must do them dozens of times to get all the items you need for powering up your characters.

This leads to one of the main issues with the game…

The Grind

Genshin Impact involves a ridiculous amount of grinding, and like most gacha games, progression is limited by a energy system, where you are limited in how much you can play the areas that give you rewards based on real time. The resin system gives you about 180 resin a day, or about 7.5 per hour. The purpose of this is to slow down character progression; however, it has some pretty large negative consequences, especially in the endgame.

The issue arises from the conflict between this slow, long-term grinding and the fact that you want to use new characters. Because it takes several weeks of grinding to power up a new character, you are forced to focus on only a small number of characters so that they can actually complete the content – if you spread out your focus too much, you end up with a bunch of underpowered characters who can’t progress in the game.

This has major negative consequences. By the end of my time with the game – three months of gameplay – I had only nine characters levelled up, with a tenth being sort of half-leveled. This was because I simply didn’t have the materials to level up the rest of my team. And indeed, even amongst my core team, many were unable to progress as high as I’d like – or be equipped as well as I’d like – because I simply didn’t have the ability to grind for either the materials they needed to level up/otherwise become stronger, or for their equipment. A large number of characters I would have liked to use were simply not available for use due to lack of materials.

This conflict between the coolness of the game having a lot of characters with varied gameplay and the fact that you can’t actually use most of them severely undercuts one of the major selling points of the game, and one of the major sources of gameplay variety that it theoretically offers.

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On top of this, there are a lot of inane tasks that the player is given to get the game’s currency for levelling characters. Every day, a player gets four “commissions”, that are very simple, short encounters that give you “primogems”, the game’s premium currency. While a few of these tasks have some cute little stories attached to them, probably 80% of them are just “Go to a spot and kill the enemies there”. The encounters aren’t even difficult, so these are purely a waste of the player’s time.

In addition, every day there are multiple “magic crystals” locations that spawn a bunch of special ore deposits. Ore is crafted into a material that is used to level up weapons. As players need vast amounts of this material to level their weapons, they need to farm for this every day to max out their weapons. This is independent of the other forms of grinding, and is very tedious after a while, as you are just going to the same spots day after day to check if ore spawned there. There are NPCs that tell you where ore has spawned – but you have to check other locations anyway in many cases, as ore spawns in addition to the marked locations.

The result is a bunch of tedious daily busywork intended to keep the player playing every single day. And none of it is fun.

This is a huge problem. The game has neat exploration, but to progress beyond a certain point, you need to interact with these grindy systems. The result is that you feel compelled to do many things that simply are not very fun so that you can do the few fun things as they occur.

The game tries to hook you in with the promise of the cool overworld content, but it quickly devolves into this grindfest, after you feel like you’ve sunk a lot of time into the game (and potentially, money, if you are fool enough to spend money on it). This sunk cost fallacy combined with daily tasks is designed to monopolize your time and keep you playing, even though most of what you do isn’t very interesting. While periodic events and releases of new content do help a little, they simply are far too small compared to the amount of boring grinding the game expects you to do.

The Gacha System

The gacha system in this game is very much a mixed bag. On the one hand, the pull rates are terrible. On the other hand, if you don’t really care what characters you get, you can get the overwhelming majority of the cast for pretty cheap if you play the game for a few months. On the gripping hand, the game exploits gambling addicts and people who want particular characters to the tunes of hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

For those not familiar, gacha systems are very closely related to loot box systems. You spend some amount of premium currency and you get a “roll”, where you have a chance of getting a weapon or a character. Getting multiple copies of the same character gives you “constellations”, which make those characters more powerful; getting multiple copies of the same weapon gives you the ability to refine the weapon into a more powerful version.

The catch is, all the cool items and literally all of the characters are 4-star and 5-star drops, which are rare pulls; 4-stars drop only a bit over 6% of the time, and 5-stars 0.6%.

To make up for these low drop rates, there is a “pity” system where the probability of getting a 4-star increases after about 7 or 8 rolls without one, and the probability of getting a 5-star increases after about 75 rolls without one. On average, you get them after about 9 pulls and 75 pulls respectively, and never later than every 10 and 90 pulls respectively.

As a result, the game encourages you to pull… a lot.

And it doesn’t give you a lot of resources to do it with, while trying to manipulate you into paying money.

If you do all the various overworld stuff and do your daily commissions, you’ll get about enough free premium currency to do about 150 pulls. This is roughly enough to get two 5-star characters or items, along with a bunch of others. This seems like a good start, and it is – but it is really there to trigger the sunk cost fallacy, because from there on out, your rate of currency earning will plummet.

And, notably, all the characters and all the cool weapons are 4-stars and 5-stars. As a result, almost everything you pull is garbage – and you don’t get to pull very much.

Now, this is a basal rate; the actual rate is a bit higher due to events, so you’re more likely to get about 10-15 more pulls than that a month. The spiral abyss – if you are good enough to push deep in it – can provide about six more per month. Even still, it’s pretty paltry – because of the game’s “pity system” giving you a 4-star every 10th pull and a 5-star every 90th (though in reality, the average is about the 9th pull and 75th pull because the game tweaks the probability of getting such a pull0

In comes the ability to buy currency.

There is really one efficient option here – the Blessing of the Welkin Moon. For $5 a month, you get another 3000 premium currency – but the catch is that you get 300 up front, and then 90 a day for the next 30 days. This is designed to encourage you to keep playing, but if you actually are going to play the game for a month, you will go from getting 60 premium currency a day from the daily commissions to getting 150. As a pull is 160, and you got 300 gems up front, this works out to getting a pull a day, every day. This not only greatly increases your rate of pulls, but it also just makes it feel like less of a struggle to get more characters.

The other option is the gnostic hymn – the game’s equivalent of a battle pass, something that gives you rewards for completing various tasks in game over the course of six weeks. This mostly exists for the purpose of making grinding less awful – you get a bunch of materials for levelling your characters – but it also gives you a free 4-star weapon of your choice (which lets you equip a key character who you haven’t gotten lucky enough to pull a weapon for) and some extra premium currency, about enough for eight pulls. This costs $10, and is not a great deal from a pulls perspective, but if you’re someone who really wants to get a weapon for their main character, it’s a way to make sure you got one, and to help lessen the grind.

By the end of my three month stint with the game, I bought the Blessing three times, and the gnostic hymn twice. After $35 spent on the game, I had every single 4-star character (some at maximum constellations – meaning they got a bunch of bonuses), half of the 5-star characters (including a constellation for one), and two 5-star weapons.

I was actually pretty happy with this assortment, save for the fact that I couldn’t level most of them.

But for people who have impulse control problems, or who want particular characters, the game can fleece you for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

The game has “character event banners”, where a new 5-star character and three 4-star characters are given a “rate up” – half the time when you get a 5-star or a 4-star, you will get one of the rate up characters. If you don’t get a rate-up character, then the next time you roll a drop of the same rarity, it is guaranteed to be one from the banner.

The problem is, you will get about enough premium currency to guarantee you’ll get a 5-star about 2 banners in 3, even if you spend money, and about 1 banner in 3 if you don’t.

This means that you will miss out on at least half of these characters, even if you spend money on the “reasonable” stuff.

If you feel like you “must” have one of these characters, you will need to pay.

A lot.

81 pulls – about what is required for a 5-star character – will run you $99.99 the first time, and twice that thereafter, or more than $2 per pull.

And if you want constellations for the character, it can easily run over $1,000.

Needless to say, when 90% of your pulls are garbage, this is not only inordinately expensive, but just flat-out exploitative.

Unfortunately, these games tend to heavily rely on so-called “whales” – people with impulse control disorders with money to burn – to finance themselves.

The result is a much worse experience for everyone else, and no real ground between “spending a marginal amount of money” and “bankrupting yourself for digital characters”.

Story and Plot

The plot of the game is serviceable so far. It isn’t great but it isn’t terrible, either, and it does a pretty good job of mixing in humor while managing a serious plot that doesn’t feel like it is the same generic JRPG plot that is seen in upteen many games. The characters have excellent voice acting, but the actual plot itself varies in quality; some sidequests are pretty high quality while others are only okay, and the various random world quests around are often pretty weak, though a small number did some solid worldbuilding or hit strong emotional notes.

Unfortunately, after playing through the first two areas of the game, you will run out of game to play entirely; the game is very, very much unfinished, and won’t be finished for many years to come.

Recommendation

While the core of the game is fun, the game is unfinished. Moreover, because of the awful gacha system combined with the inability to level your characters fully, playing the game just feels like a mistake – you’ll have fun for a while, long enough to get you hooked, and then you’ll run out of stuff to do and be stuck with a lot of repetitive, grindy gameplay.

The actual cost of the game varies from “free” to “outright extortative”, and anyone with impulse control problems should never, ever, ever play this game, as it will try to fleece you for all that you’re worth.

The game’s core mechanics drive you towards grinding, but the result is that the amount of “fun” gameplay you get will ever dwindle over time.

All in all, as much fun as I had with this game starting out, I can’t recommend it. It’s a game that tries to eat your life, and it is unfinished to boot.

Maybe when the plot is finished, you could just pick it up and play it as a free open-world game. But you’d have to be able to ignore the myriad ways in which the game is trying to get you to open your wallet and devour your time.

All in all, this is a game to be avoided, not because of its low quality, but because of its incomplete nature and attempt at eating your life and wallet.

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