If the name Genshin Impact is at all familiar to you, it’s likely because of the game’s rather striking resemblance to Nintendo’s critically-acclaimed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I won’t use the word rip-off, but a lot of angry fans certainly did were when the game was first announced last year. Thankfully, the tone changed when developer MiHoYo released a Genshin Impact beta in June of last year and it turned out the game was…actually pretty legit. Sure, some Zelda fans are still upset, but there’s now a certain sense of cautious optimism surrounding the game.
Well, a second Genshin Impact closed beta kicked off a few weeks back, and I’ve had the opportunity to sink a decent chunk of time into the game. So, how is the game coming together? Can Genshin Impact leave its own mark or is it just not necessary in a world where BOTW exists? Let’s find out…
Every Breath You Take
There’s no point in denying it, Genshin Impact is, in many ways, a pretty shameless Breath of the Wild wannabe. The game serves up a rather familiar-looking open world packed with wildlife, items to collect for crafting and cooking, and monster camps to clear out. But being similar to BOTW isn’t an inherently bad thing – how many dozens (or hundreds) of games have taken notes from Zelda over the decades? So, if Genshin Impact is a BOTW copycat, is it at least a good one? Thankfully, the answer is yes.
As in BOTW, there’s a satisfying verticality to the world, with large cliffs and other obstacles often turning your journey to the next waypoint into an environmental puzzle of sorts. Of course, you can scramble up almost any surface (and, thankfully, your stamina meter isn’t nearly as limited as Link’s) and soar from high vantage points with a pair of glider wings. Exploring the world is relaxing and rewarding, with secrets and memorable sights hiding around ever corner. Visually, Genshin Impact is quite impressive, particularly considering it seems to have been optimized to run on a literal brick. Despite playing on a basic laptop without a powerful GPU, I was still able to run at high settings and 60fps, and while I’m not a big mobile gamer, I imagine this has to be one of the best looking games on iOS or Android devices.
In some ways, Genshin Impact actually one-ups BOTW, delivering a world that feels more lived-in than Hyrule’s often-lonely expanses. The area you explore in the beta is centered around the bustling city of Mondstadt, which is packed with NPCs to talk to and opportunities for parkour-style fun as you scramble and glide over rooftops. Meanwhile, the Chinese-flavored port city of Liyue Harbor provides even more sights, sounds, and characters to experience. Admittedly, the scale of the beta is somewhat limited, with map being around a quarter the size of BOTW’s, but MiHoYo is promising the finished game will be about three times larger than the beta, with seven different city states to explore.
An Anime Infusion
Okay, so, Genshin Impact is a surprisingly decent facsimile of Breath of the Wild, but is it more than that? Yes, actually, it is. The first thing you’ll notice, is the game is anime as hell. Granted, BOTW had its share of big eyes too, but instead of just one protagonist, Genshin lets you switch between multiple characters, most of which are attractive girls in the requisite array of intricate, skin-bearing outfits. Naturally, some will appreciate that more than others, but regardless of taste, it’s hard to deny the quality of Genshin’s character designs. Story-wise, the game sticks to standard tropes – a “chosen one” style protagonist, a lost sibling, a mystery involving powerful gods and dragons – but cutscenes are generally well-done and character dialogue can be charming, even if the English translation is iffy at times (hopefully that improves). In terms of story and character-building, Genshin feels very similar to Bandai Namco’s “Tales of…” franchise, which I’d consider a positive.
The Tales feel extends to Genshin Impact’s combat, which is more action-driven and complex than anything in BOTW. Each one of the game’s characters has their own weapon type (sword, bow, spear, etc.) and elemental affinity (fire, ice, electricity, ect.), and can unleash two special moves – an Elemental Skill that only takes a few seconds to recharge and a more powerful Elemental Burst that you need to build up by defeating enemies. Thus far, I haven’t found Genshin particularly challenging, and, for the most part, you can just hack away with whatever character you prefer, occasionally switching in order to take advantage of an obvious weakness (attacking a fire-based enemy with water, etc.)
That said, Genshin Impact’s combat becomes a lot more interesting once you really start switching between party members. While you can only control one character at a time, the effects of some special attacks linger after you swap, allowing you to pull off powerful combinations. Douse enemies with a water attack to make them wet then switch to an electric character to deal extra shock damage. Set fire to the ground with the pyro archer Amber, then unleash your main character’s tornado attack to create a scorching fire tornado. Admittedly, I didn’t delve all that deeply into the character swapping, but I checked out some high-level play on YouTube, and with the right person behind the controller this game almost starts to resemble a simplified Platinum Games actioner. Genshin Impact seems to nail that “easy to pick up, difficult to master” sweet spot.
And you should have plenty of time to master the game, as even the beta is packed with content, including tons of missions and dungeons that can tackled multiple times. There are also, of course, your standard complex, interlocking JRPG upgrade systems, with players being able to level up and customize every one of the game’s characters (there will be as many as 30 in the final game).
The Gacha Catch
Which brings us to the big catch – monetization. Genshin Impact will be free to play, with MiHoYo planning to make money with a loot-box-like “gacha” system. This hasn’t been fully implemented in the beta, but the basic outline of how it will work is pretty clear. The game has the usual mind-boggling array of different currencies (Primogens, Acquaint Fate, Masterless Stardust), some of which will be able to be bought with real-world money and spent on random gacha draws or in a special store.
While the beta was fairly generous about handing out new characters and weapons throught regular gameplay, some of them are locked behind the gacha system, and I suspect that will be doubly true in the full game. While I didn’t find Genshin Impact’s monetization particularly overbearing in the beta, there’s certainly room for its gacha system to be exploited down the line. I kind of wish there was an option to just pay upfront for the game and sidestep the irritating free-to-play nickel and diming.
I wasn’t expecting that much from Genshin Impact, but I found myself surprisingly engrossed in its world, to the point I'm honestly rather sad I’ll have to stop playing when the beta ends. If a mixture of Breath of the Wild and Bandai Namco’s Tales series sounds interesting to you, or you just want something BOTW-flavored without buying a Switch, this game belongs on your radar. Sure, there are still some rough edges, and I’m a bit concerned about how the game will be monetized, but Genshin Impact left one on me.
Genshin Impact is coming to PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and mobile platforms sometime in 2020. If you want to know more, you can check out Wccftech’s interview with the game’s developers here.