Genshin Impact on PS4
I’ve spent 40 hours playing Genshin Impact so far and I still have a hard time believing this enormous, beautiful, charming open-world RPG is completely free. But somehow it is, and the result is an experience that raises the bar for an entire segment of the games industry that’s often bemoaned for its controversial monetization model.
Indeed, the depth of content and the high standard to which Genshin Impact been developed is shockingly impressive, and not just by free-to-play gacha game standards. This is an RPG that boasts a quality that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with many premium games, and there are aspects of its design that are actually more engaging.
And here I was, all the while thinking in the lead up to its release that Genshin Impact was nothing more than a Breath of the Wild knock-off –one that wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to the genre-defining classic it generously borrows from.
But it’s much more than a cookie-cutter game, even if the similarities to Nintendo’s masterpiece verge on parody at times, from the cel-shaded art style, plinky-plonky piano score, cooking and climbing mechanics, and an item pickup sound bite that I could have sworn was a copy-paste job.
Yet Genshin Impact definitely has its own thing going on thanks to some big differences in the game’s combat and progression systems; the former being objectively great and hugely entertaining, while the latter will divide opinion for its overly complicated nature and somewhat predatory relationship with its gacha monetization model.
There’s a full storyline, too, of course, which is more or less your run of the mill generic anime affair, though it does surprise with some decent writing and a colorful cast of well-voiced characters. Overall I found it interesting enough in adding context to the world and quests, and I’m definitely invested in seeing it through as developer miHoYo produces future expansions.
But the real reason to play Genshin Impact is for the three core pillars that comprise its main gameplay loop: combat, role-playing mechanics, and exploration.
The combat revolves around elemental attacks and is superb fun, which in addition to featuring basic light, heavy, and ultimate attacks for each individual character, encourages you to quickly switch between your party to chain together different moves to increase damage and produce unique effects.
You might, say, splash enemies with Barbara’s Hydro attacks before zapping them with Lisa’s Electro abilities. And that’s just a very basic example; there are dozens of different combinations to learn and experiment with depending on your party composition, from overcharging to vaporizing to melting enemies.
As the game got harder and I became more familiar with the best combos I found myself linking attacks not just between two characters but my whole party of four. And of Genshin Impact’s 24 playable characters, I’ve only played nine of them, so there’s plenty more yet to experiment with even after 40 hours of playtime.
Of course, whether I actually get any more characters comes down to a roll of the dice, and this is where the game’s gacha mechanics are likely to have some players feeling weary. Rightly so, too, because gacha is essentially a loot box, which is basically glorified gambling.
In brief, Genshin Impact’s gacha system, called Wishes, offers players a chance at winning new items (which includes characters and weapons) of 3, 4, and 5-Star rarity. For every Wish, you have less than 1% chance of scoring a 5-Star pull, though a “pity system” guarantees you a 5-Star item if you’ve been unlucky enough not to score one after 89 Wishes.
Not great odds, then. But thankfully, and surprisingly, Genshin Impact never really makes a fuss over its gacha mechanics, nor is the game designed in a way that ever throttles your progress in a way that makes it impossible to enjoy the game without spending money. It’s quite feasible to finish the main story and enjoy its end game content as a free-to-play player.
I find miHoYo’s approach to gacha monetization refreshing for it banking on the quality of Genshin Impact to encourage you to spend rather than rigging the entire experience to push you down the rabbit hole.
That said, it still features a bizarre and frustrating focus on dozens of different resources and currencies and materials which is typical of games from this segment of the industry.
There’s a truly overwhelming amount to learn right from the off; every weapon, every item, and every character require leveling with all manner of different currencies and resources.
It was only several hours into the game I felt comfortable with what I was doing, which though admittedly felt satisfying as everything became to click made me wonder about the nature of its design.
It’s hard not to feel as though the focus on different currencies and grinding for resources upon resources is all a ploy to get you hooked into its progression and more likely to spend money. This almost dark side to its RPG mechanics is an odd juxtaposition in a game that’s otherwise endlessly charming.
But again, you don’t have to engage with any of it if you don’t want to, and if you’re disciplined enough to limit your Primogem farming to in-game activities then you can still enjoy the gacha mechanic as a free-to-play player. In fact, I scored two 5-Star characters without spending a dime.
Those have come in particularly handy now that I’ve beaten the main storyline and started making runs on the Spiral Abyss end game content. Unlike other domains (read: dungeons), the Spiral Abyss has 12 levels featuring different chambers of enemies that increase in difficulty, which you can face alone or run with other players in cooperative play.
Quite how long I’ll stay motivated to keep making runs I’m not sure, but it provides a compelling enough reason to keep experimenting with different team compositions for the time being. Moving forward it’s also set to rotate each month and offer new challenges to players in addition to story expansions as miHoYo’s live-service support of the game gets underway.
Of course, there’s more to Genshin Impact than combat and progression. The focus on exploration is the aspect of its gameplay most influenced by Breath of the Wild, with a similarly huge open-world to explore that’s impressively rich with content. Traversal features the same stamina-based climbing mechanics, as is a cooking system, and a gliding mechanic that offers that same wonderful sense of freedom when floating from clifftop to clifftop.
Throughout the sandbox, you’ll also find random world events and minor quests to beat, which aren’t every particularly interesting or complex but do help breathe a bit of life into the world and are fun to tick off.
The main crux of exploration in Genshin Impact, though, boils down to opening chests of different rarities, both for loot and progressing your overall level in the game. Also, traveling to Statues of the Seven which both remove fog of war from the map and reward players for making “offerings” of yet more currencies exchange for, you guessed it, loot and progression.
Like Breath of the Wild, there’s plenty of puzzle-solving throughout the ope-world, either to unlock chests or reveal hidden secrets and Domains. None of these designed with anything near the level of complexity in a Zelda game, but they still add some interesting diversity to proceedings. There are plenty of cool secrets to discover across Teyvat, too, from hidden areas to various trials and challenges that test both your platforming and combat prowess.
Unfortunately, though, the platforming sections are sometimes a little problematic, which stems from its always-online nature. The controls often felt too imprecise and lazy for my liking, and I’m sure it’s to do with server lag.
In fact, Genshin Impact’s overall performance is perhaps the biggest disappointment. The frame rate is a mixed bag, ranging from a stable 30 across the open-world during exploration to a dogged 10 or so when walking around cities like Mondstadt. There’s also noticeable pop-in and some really low-quality textures that sully what is otherwise a very pretty game.
But even in its wonkiest moments I find it hard to get upset with Genshin Impact, so impressive is its quality judged as an overall package. There’s just so much content and it’s all executed so well across the board that I encourage everyone to download the game and at least try.
Put aside your reservations about free-to-play mobile RPGs, gacha mechanics, and weeby storytelling: Genshin Impact is totally unique. I came in a skeptic and now find myself genuinely relishing hours more time spent chaining elemental combos, grinding for new characters, and the intrigue of its ongoing story.
RPG mechanics can feel unnecessarily complicated and grindy.
Puzzle gameplay isn’t particularly clever.