It’s fair to say the launch of Genshin Impact has gone according to plan. The free-to-play adventure, which combines a vast open world similar in style to Zelda: Breath of the Wild with complex interlocking JRPG mechanics has already been downloaded by 10s of millions and is likely on track to bring in $100 million (more than its total budget) by the end of this month.
That said, there are some who remain leery about the game’s approach to monetization. While the game is free-to-play, it employs a random lootbox-like “gacha” system for unlocking most of its characters and some high-level weapons. There is already widespread evidence of people spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on the game, but what if you’re the more cautious type? What if your goal was to spend only roughly the amount of a full-price game – say, $50? What would that actually get you? As somebody who’s typically allergic to microtransactions, I decided to put that question to the test.
Note: All the in-game currency I spent for the purpose of this article was provided by Genshin Impact developer miHoYo for free or earned in-game. I have not spent any real-world money on this game.
How Does Genshin Impact’s Gacha System Work?
There are a dizzying number of different currencies and collectibles in play in Genshin Impact, but gacha system itself is fairly straightforward. You unlock characters and weapons by buying “Wishes” (essentially randomized loot boxes containing a single item each) from one of several different “Banners”. Each Banner offers different characters, weapons, and rules, which you can check on at any time.
You buy Wishes with either “Acquaint Fates” or “Intertwined Fates,” with one Fate getting you one Wish. There are currently four different Banners, with two requiring Acquaint Fates and other two requiring Intertwined Fates. These Fates are purchased using a currency called Primogems, which can be earned in game. 160 Primogems gets you one Acquaint or Intertwined Fate. If you’re low on Primogems, you can buy Genesis Crystals for real money, which can then be traded for Primogems on a one-to-one basis.
How much do Genesis Crystals cost?
Right now, miHoYo is selling 300 Crystals for $5, 980 for $15, 1980 for $15, 3240 for $50, and 6480 for $100. That said, if it's your first time buying Genesis Crystals you’ll get double the amount, so for instance, spending $50 will get you 6480 Crystals.
So, how many characters can you unlock with $50 in Genshin Impact?
While I didn’t actually spend any money out of pocket, for the purpose of this experiment I traded in 6480 Primogems I got from miHoYo or earned in game (the amount you’d get for spending $50 for the first time) for 20 Acquaint Fates and 20 Intertwined Fates.
Genshin Impact is currently offering four Banners, with most of them offering a 0.6% chance of pulling a 5-star character or weapon, 5.1% chance of pulling a 4-star item, and 94.3% chance of pulling a “meh” 3-star weapon. That said, there’s also a pity system in place – if you buy 9 Wishes without getting a 4-star character or weapon, you’re guaranteed to get one on your 10th pull. Similarly, if you buy 89 Wishes without getting a 5-Star character or weapon, you’re guaranteed to get one on your 90th pull. Here are the specific rules for the current four Banners:
- Beginner’s Wish is for folks new to the game, and offers you 10 Wishes for only 8 Acquaint Fates. You’re also guaranteed to get the 4-star character Noelle within your first 10 Wishes. Unfortunately, you can only buy 20 Wishes from this Banner before it disappears.
- Ballad in Goblets is a character-specific Banner, meaning it’s currently the only way to get the 5-star character Venti. Also, while the chance of pulling a 5-star character is the same as in other Banners, if you do happen to get one, there’s a 50 percent chance it will be Venti. Meanwhile, if you happen to get a 4-star character, there’s a 50 percent chance it will be either Xiangling, Fischl, or Barbara.
- Epitome Invocation is similar to the character-specific Banners, but it focuses on certain 5-star weapons. I didn’t bother investing in this Banner as I was gunning for characters, not weapons.
- Wanderlust Invocation this is your basic banner, offering standard drops rates without any bonuses for most characters and weapons, with the exception of Venti.
I spent 16 of my 40 Fates on the Beginner’s Wish, 20 on Ballad in Goblets, and the remaining 4 on the standard Wanderlust Invocation Banner. For that, I ended up with…
- One 5-star character – Qiqi
- Three 4-star characters – Noelle, Ningguang, and Sucrose
I also unlocked Xiangling, but she can be acquired through regular play fairly early on in the game, so she doesn’t really count. So, basically, for $50 I got 4 gacha-exclusive characters, only one of which was a top 5-star character. Not terribly thrilling for 50 big ones.
How much will $50 and all the freebies miHoYo is handing out get you?
In addition to the Primogems I got for being a member of the press, miHoYo is handing out a fairly generous amount of gacha currency to everyone who downloads the game. It felt like it was only fair to include that in the “What can you get for $50?” question. Currently everyone who downloads Genshin gets 3360 Primogems, 20 Acquaint Fates, and 10 Intertwined Fates. All combined, that’s the equivalent of 51 more Fates to spend on Wishes.
Since the Beginner’s Wish was now exhausted, I spent 30 of mine on the Ballad in Goblets and 21 on the standard Wanderlust Invocation. For that, I ended up with…
- Four more 4-Star characters – Barbara, Fischl, Beidou, and Razor
Ah, but my wishing wasn’t over quite yet. With every Wish you get a bit of an additional currency called Stardust, and if you pull a duplicate character, you get something called Starglitter. You can reinvest your Stardust and Starglitter in more Fates. I managed to get 13 more Fates, which earned me…
- One final 4-star character – Xingqiu
Let’s Tally This Up
After spending my $50 worth of Primogems and all the free gacha currency everyone gets, and adding the 5 characters you unlock through regular play, I ended up with a roster of…
- Two 5-star characters (the Protagonist and Qiqi)
- 12 4-star characters (Amber, Lisa, Kaeya, Xiangling, Noelle, Ningguang, Sucrose, Barbara, Fischl, Beidou, Razor, and Xingqui)
I also got one 5-star weapon, three 4-star weapons, and a whole lot of 3-star filler.
Do I feel like I got value for my money?
Well, there’s two ways to look at this. There are currently 23 playable characters in Genshin Impact, and I managed to collect over half of them. These characters cover a wide gamut of elemental strengths and play styles, and I could probably pretty comfortably play through the rest of the game with this roster.
On the other hand, I only managed to unlock one of the eight 5-Star characters in the game (the main protagonist doesn’t really count). One of eight! For nearly the price of full traditional game! This is clearly where the gacha gotcha comes in – 4-star characters are easy enough to get, but if a 5-star is what you’re gunning for? You’re going to need to shell out.
Is there a cheaper way to get Genesis Crystals?
In addition to the standard Genesis Crystal bundles, miHoYo is also selling monthly cards for $5, that include 300 Genesis Crystals and a daily allotment of 90 Primogems for 30 days. So, you essentially get 3000 Primogems for only 5 bucks, but there’s no instant gratification – you have to wait a full month to get all your stuff. Clearly miHoYo is betting on folks not having the patience, but if you do, this is a solid option.
How many Primogems can you earn strictly through gameplay?
What if you want to go the entirely free-to-play route? How many Primogems can you actually earn through gameplay? The main way to earn them are Daily Commissions, which will give you 60 Primogems a day if you complete them all, for a total of 1800 a month. You can also earn more by finding chests, completing missions, and battling through dungeons and domains.
If you log in and play a couple hours every day, I’d say you could realistically earn around 3000 Primogems a month. So yes, if you’re very dedicated and patient, you could make a dent in the gacha system without spending anything, although it could be months before you score even one 5-star character (3000 Primogems will get you 18 Fates, so you’d need to work for 5 months to hit the 90 Wish pity barrier).
Is Genshin Impact exploitative?
Finally, let’s get down to brass tacks – is Genshin Impact exploitative? Once again, there’s two ways to look at it. If you just want to explore the game’s world and story with a functional roster of characters, I’ve shown you can do that for a reasonable $50 investment or simply by logging in every day and playing/buying monthly cards if you’re the patient type. Genshin Impact doesn’t lock any of its core experiences behind a paywall.
That said, if those 5-star characters and weapons are important to you and you opt to really engage with the gacha system, yes, Genshin Impact is exploitative. No two ways about it. The 0.6% pull rate for 5-star items is shamefully low (most other gacha games offer rates between 1% and 5% for top items) and the “pity” system is rather insulting. Again, in order to be guaranteed a 5-Star item, you need to purchase 90 Wishes, which would cost more than $100 if you’re buying the standard Genesis Crystal bundles. And the pity system only guarantees you a character OR a weapon, so you might spend over $100 gunning for a new character and get some sword you don’t want.
So, do I recommend you stay away from Genshin Impact? Not necessarily (I’ll have a full review of the game later this week), but you should know what you’re getting into. If exploration and adventure is all that matters to you, this is a remarkable game in a lot of ways, but if you have notions about collecting all the characters, let me strongly encourage you not to bother. The way the gacha system is rigged right now, you won’t be able to “catch ‘em all” without spending hundreds of dollars (at least). Needless to say, if you’ve ever had an issue with gambling or similar free-to-play games, steer well clear. Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself whether Genshin Impact is for you.
Genshin Impact is currently available on PC, PS4, and mobile platforms. A Nintendo Switch version is also in the works, but is currently without a release date.