Genshin Impact has made a big splash recently, despite being brushed off as a Breath of the Wild clone. Sure, you see the influence of BotW here and there, like a stamina gauge that drains when you climb or swim, or perhaps the graphics. Of course, miHoYo, Genshin Impact’s developer, already admitted to being influenced by the aforementioned Zelda title. They even have Paimon, a Navi-like creature that guides you in your travels, sans the “Hey! Listen!” meme (most of the time, anyway).
Once you get past the initial tutorial stage, unlock new characters and get a good sense of the combat, you’ll soon notice that the similarities to Breath of the Wild are only skin deep. Oh, but there’s also the flight system that is similar to Link’s glider in BotW, but yes, other than that, the similarities stop there. Okay, there’s also the cooking system, teleport points that you can fast travel to, and pillars that reveal a portion of the map once you activate them, but that is it, we promise.
Jokes aside, after sinking a few hours into your game, you’ll notice how Genshin Impact becomes less of a Zelda clone and more of its own thing. There are fewer physics-based puzzles and more action-oriented combat. A new open-world opens up before you, one that you can explore at your own pace.
Despite Genshin Impact being ridiculed as a pale reflection of a much better game throughout its development, it certainly is much better than people give it credit. If the 10 million downloads on its first day, or the fact that it’s the 2nd top-grossing app on the iOS after Tik Tok isn’t enough to convince you, then read on.
Genshin Impact is miHoYo’s 4th title and its first open-world action RPG. You start off as one of two characters, Aether or Lumine, depending on who you choose. Eventually, you get to unlock new characters through the storyline or through a random gacha.
You take control of one character at a time but can switch freely between 3 others in your party. The game features an open world that you can explore freely. Although initially, you will be barred from exploring the entire map until you finish the tutorial.
Each character has its own corresponding weapon. Your main character, for example, only uses one-handed swords, while Amber, one of the first characters you unlock, only uses a bow. Every character also has two unique skills: a normal skill and an ultimate or special skill.
You can use normal skills at any time, provided they are not in cooldown. Special skills, on the other hand, require energy, which you can amass through combat or through completing attack combos.
One thing that sets Genshin Impact apart is its element system. There are 7 elements in the game, namely, Hydro (water), Pyro (fire), Cryo (ice), Electro (electricity), Anemo (wind), Geo (earth), and Dendro (nature). Currently, Dendro has not been implemented on a playable character on the initial release, but it is present in the game as obstacles, enemies, and other environmental assets.
Now, element systems have been around for a long time now, and Genshin Impact certainly didn’t invent it. You can find it in the oldest Pokémon games, where the combat revolves around an advanced version of rock-paper-scissors.
Genshin Impact’s element system goes beyond that. Elements aren’t just something that can give you an edge in combat, they play a huge role in how you explore and play your game.
You can cast ice over water to create a path to an otherwise inaccessible area. You can burn down obstacles and shields to flush out your opponents. Is it raining?
Well too bad, no fire spells for you, sir. They’re practically useless, now. But that also means fire-based monsters are severely weakened and vulnerable to elemental combos.
And while Genshin Impact’s puzzles don’t have the same physics-based problem solving as Zelda: Breath of the Wild has, it makes up for it in, you guessed it, elemental manipulation.
This elements system means there’s a great deal of strategizing to be done when choosing your characters. It pays to have a well-rounded team, but since you are limited to having a party of 4 characters at a time, you really have to weigh your pros and cons. Do you prioritize damage? Do you focus on survivability? Would you sacrifice overall power for ease of exploration? Up to you.
How each element interacts with one another isn’t linear, either. In Pokémon games, for example, water beats fire, fire beats grass, and finally, grass beats water. Simple, right? In Genshin Impact, elemental effects can go both ways and all over the place.
Being effective in combat means switching out one character for another constantly. It wouldn’t do you good if you only use your favorite waifu or husbando. You’ll need to experiment and see which tactic works best for you and develop your characters accordingly.
The Open World and an Open Future
You can’t really talk about an open-world game without talking about the world itself. In open-world games, during the best of times, you can play in a world that you can immerse in fully, one that feels lived-in and full of things to do. At worst, you get an empty world where traveling from point A to point B feels like a chore, and the worst part about it is that you FEEL every agonizing second of it.
The world of Genshin Impact is one of the good ones. There’s always something to see, something to pique your interest over the horizon or at the top of the mountain. You move from one place to another, and on your way, you get distracted by an errant treasure chest or a floating wind spirit, or even a random radiant quest, ala-Skyrim or Fallout 4.
Genshin Impact makes the effort of presenting a breathing, living world, when it has absolutely no business to, being a free to play the game. Certainly, after sinking hours of your time into it, it’s easy to forget that you’ve spent nothing but your time.
Genshin Impact is not a game that will remind you of how little you’ve spent on it. All that matters is that you explore the world around you, no prompts, no ads, just hours of exploration. Genshin Impact is still a gacha game, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
There are still microtransactions, sure, but you can unlock a fair bit without spending a penny. A few hours of gameplay, and it’s possible to unlock a good roster of characters and rare weaponry.
Nowadays, gacha games rely solely on repetitive gameplay, reskinned champions, and an invisible progression wall that sure, free-to-play players can surpass eventually, but will take forever.
Even worse, these games will usually let you play on auto, where you can just leave the game to play itself. You end up with a game that’s essentially a money sink where all you ever do is collect characters in an effort to surpass a certain meta. While some people do trade genshin accounts, the game does not feel like a money sink at all.
Genshin Impact feels like a labor of love from the developers. It’s a game that they wanted to create and play for themselves, profits be damned. They shared it with the world, and it’s certainly a masterpiece. Here’s to hoping it stays that way.
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