First Impressions: Genshin Impact is half decent ARPG and half gacha

But which one got stuck in the other?

    
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First Impressions: Genshin Impact is half decent ARPG and half gacha

I forget when I first heard about Genshin Impact, but it was a while back, and it was something that I earmarked for the future as worth keeping an eye on. It turns out that I didn’t keep a very good eye on it, though; my awareness of the game’s actual launch was when it was mentioned in chat here, at which point I resolved that I wanted to try that out and should do so sooner rather than later.

Here I am more than a week later, and I’m still not sure how much I actually like the game. But I do seem to keep playing it.

The thing about Genshin Impact is that in a lot of ways, it’s a game of two halves. One half is a game that is, ultimately, a solid ARPG with multiplayer elements that is perhaps not quite right to call “free-to-play Breath of the Wild” but is at least close to that marker. The other half is exactly the sort of gacha game that mobile titles – especially RPGs – have embraced as a way of making money for a while now. So the real question becomes whether or not those two halves have something interesting to connect them.

First and foremost, it’s important to note that the game is clearly hoping to use its visuals to impress you… and that’s a reasonable approach, because the visuals are impressive. Rather than going for a blanket cel-shaded approach, the game instead uses what seems like a mixture of low-poly models with some careful detailing and texture work… and the result is a gorgeous game. Characters animate well and with a real sense of weight and personality. Enemies are reactive and responsive throughout the world. Everyone seems to have distinct idle animations and looks immediately recognizable, the environments are sweeping and vast, and so forth.

It’s also a reasonable approach because like many games in the “mobile gacha title” department, the actual story is clearly hoping you will just brush over its initial weaknesses in a rush to get on with things. Right from the start, you choose between one of two twins (a male or female character, basically) and the other one is scooped up by some weird deity. Except it’s also unclear who you both are and why you’re fighting this deity in the first place, so… all right, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Here you are by the shore of a lake with your little traveling companion, the flying Paimon, and she directs you off to start exploring the landscape and unlocking things and so forth.

Let's get hacking.

From there it’s all about hopping and bopping your way through the gorgeous landscape and finding points of interest. Every character has five basic abilities. Your normal attack and your short-cooldown special ability, both of which have a press and charged version, and a larger ability that charges over time. You can also make a quick dash with a button press, open a glider after jumping into the air, climb things, and so forth.

Climbing, gliding, charged attacks, and dashes are all governed by your stamina, but it’s only a broad limiting factor and various upgrades can improve your overall stamina. Of course, this would all still feel pretty basic if not for the game’s main party gimmick that allows you to swap between four characters almost instantly. Which means that rather than having access to those five listed abilities, you really have a wider lineup.

Beyond even that, though, the game’s elemental system comes into play… and here’s where interplay becomes important. Elemental states have a notable effect upon things and are the core of choosing between your characters, with the main character able to (eventually) access all seven elements while other party members have just one.

For example, let’s say you hit your enemy with a water attack. Now that enemy is Wet. What will you do next? Well, you could hit an electrical ability that will use the water to your target into a conductive nightmare for any nearby enemies. Or maybe you should use fire to inflict Vaporize, dealing extra damage on the unfortunate victim. On the other hand, ice could freeze your target solid…

All of this encourages swapping back and forth and experimenting with elemental interplay and so forth. Which is… well, where you run into the problem of needing different characters to do that. And how do you get different characters? Oh, right… gacha.

Come home.

Credit where credit is due, the overall gacha system is not one of the worst I’ve seen. Especially in its “just launched” state the game has been pretty generous about giving free pulls to players, and with a pool of 20-odd characters there are also a fair number of events and promotional items to give some assured characters. However, it’s also not one of the best I’ve seen, and… well, what did I just say? It’s really easy to wind up with no characters of certain elements, because random pulls are random pulls.

There’s supposedly a behind-the-scenes balancing mechanism ensuring that you will eventually pull a rarer character, but it is entirely lacking anything serving as a real surety mechanism; you can’t be assured of getting the character you want if you bank up your Wishes (that’s what the random pulls are called) and so you just have to hope for the best. This may change when, again, the game is a bit more mature.

It also doesn’t help that the characters you get are tossed into your party with nary a word of explanation or story. All of them have a story you can access, and sometimes you don’t need much. You get Lisa automatically for doing story quests, for example; the story quests introduce you to Lisa. But the beginner pull gets you a maid with a giant sword and Earth powers, and she has no explanation for who she is or why she’s your friend or whatever.

Not that this is a huge deal, since the story here is… well, it exists. Pretty soon after your mysterious appearance you’re dealing with ancient deific nonsense and tormented dragons and kingdom politics and… look, no one gets points for figuring out how all of this goes. Most gacha games try to put some of the cast’s outsized personality front-and-center, but Genshin Impact seems reluctant to do so, like it wants to be an ARPG first and not just a gacha game.

But it really, really wants you pulling those gacha levers.

Dude?

There is also a monthly pass you can buy for a steady stream of Wish currency at about $5, and there’s also a seasonal content-style battle pass system with a paid tier and a free tier. The fact that these options are in place again makes me flip-flop about monetization. It’s definitely still pushing that gacha button, and it should be more open… but it also does have less-annoying options in there, and at least so far there’s no direct-buy options that feel faintly exploitative. I’d really love to see how common giveaways and the like will be in the future before rendering a verdict on that.

Here’s the thing, though… I’d probably feel all right about buying this one outright and just playing it as a slightly multiplayer ARPG without the gacha elements. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse, but it’s definitely there. It’s nice how, for example, the game encourages you to do things like burn through shields or hit the water with electricity. I like having modes of deployment for abilities. It’s fun to be able to swap between characters and use abilities that you fire and then forget, creating space for less frontline-worthy characters.

At the same time, the story is pretty threadbare, the monetization is definitely in the gacha abyss, and it’s easy to find yourself playing it for a while without being altogether clear why you keep playing. Not because it’s bad, but because it occupies that state of munching potato chips, where you keep eating more because they’re fine but not totally memorable.

And yet at the same time as well, that is because it’s ultimately kind of fun. It’s a bit janky, there’s stuff I don’t like, but I never feel like it has wasted my time. Sure, the daily objectives are just “go here and beat up these guys” most of the time, but… these fights are genuinely fun and a lark, so I don’t mind? This is fine dot jpeg?

Genshin Impact is not going to change your mind if you hate gacha titles, and it’s debatable whether it pulls past that. But it is a genuinely enjoyable ARPG regardless, and you might find that you’re willing to put up with monetization you aren’t wild about in exchange for a solid game that is otherwise free. And hey, the buy-in price isn’t bad.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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Suikoden

This is all I’ve played since its launch. It took me completely away from my current MMO despite my best efforts to log in and at least do my dailies. The graphics are amazing, music is some of the best I’ve heard, and as a huge anime fan they really nailed the aesthetic; I could not love it more.
It’s completely open world, only the dungeons are instanced. The multiplayer is like Diablo 3. You do cop-op when you queue for it, otherwise it’s single player. No hubs like Path of Exile.
For me I love this because I love playing solo with the option to queue or to play with a friend on Discord.
You do not customize your character. It’s like Marvel Heroes, where you unlock characters. Similarly to Marvel Heroes, you can unlock them by paying, or you can earn game currency to unlock. And similar to Marvel Heroes, each character plays different. Furthermore, you don’t run with one character, you run with four in your party, so it’s about making a solid party as much as it is about buffing up a character.
I could go on and on, but I have to go play Genshin Impact now. Later all!

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Reuben

I played it and my issue with it is feels kinda grindy. And gameplay wise when it comes to the deeper content the mob battles don’t really change much. Just higher health pools bigger damage spikes. Its going to be a game that for those who have tons of time they will burn out quickly.

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Nathan Aldana

Honestly, the main pull of the game for me is its Breath of the wild without the mechanics that made me stop playing breath of the wild like weapon durability and “realistic” things like falling off cliffs in a rainstorm.

Am I a huge fan of the gacha part? no, but I can ignore it mostly and concentrate o n just wandering around exploring.

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Captain Blood

This is, surprisingly, a pretty solid title, which has quite the pull to make you come back and play it. I’m looking forward to seeing the other areas outside of Mondstadt and Liyue. Possible Spoilers:

Also, Paimon is probably going to be revealed as the “Unknown God” that trapped you on Teyvat. Something about her and their interest in power rubs me up the wrong way.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Yeah to me its spelled out at the start, but I still had to review it on Youtube. She ‘knows’ quite well how the power of the Traveler is coveted.

Now, whatever happens, there might be the story justification to always have ‘a’ Paimon, but the one we have, reflected in main story content, has suspicious characteristics. Kyubey.

Ernost
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Ernost

Something about her and their interest in power rubs me up the wrong way.

She reminds me BDO’s Black Spirit in that way.

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PanagiotisLial1

I havent even tried it yet but my experience with chinese f2p games(I tried a good number of those between 2003 and 2008) is that they seem to base a lot on an element circle system where each element is stronger against one and weaker against another. Probably its common on their gaming culture

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cykelbud

“Rock, paper or scissor” is very old and used in many genres e.g. RTS or RPG both western and eastern.

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PanagiotisLial1

Chinese devs seem to prefer it with elements

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bobfish

It is from their culture’s mythology, where gods and heroes were associated with the elements.

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styopa

I find it strangely compelling. It’s certainly not the deepest game in the world, but there’s stuff to do, generally I learn something each session (I’m only AL 11), and I’m having fun.
I mean my other game is Elite Dangerous and I’m pretty far out there, so my other ‘time sink’ is interminably jumping from system to system for several hours…pretty much anything would be engaging after that.

It’s worth the money for a free game, certainly there are far worst free to plays.
It is ABSOLUTELY pay to win, but I’m not competing with anyone, so I don’t care.

EDIT: BTW every other MMORPG needs to implement climbing.

Hint: water’s pretty damn deadly, not just to you but to enemies.

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styopa

“little traveling companion”
That would be Emergency Food, sir.

I normally *despise* the Japanocanonical ‘floating fairy guidebot’ but I actually found Paimon fairly funny. “I’m glad we found a treasure map but I have to say the art here is frankly a little disappointing”

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Malcolm Swoboda

When she first said a lot would covet the Travelers power I immediately pointed back to her.

Paimon is evil. Trust in her name.

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Ravven

I was very surprised at how addictive the game is. I’m at level 40 and am still loving it. It’s quite possible to play without spending anything, and I could have done that happily…except for the fact that I have my heart set on getting Diluc and I have terrible luck. So I spent £4.99 and that’s it (still no Diluc). I am resisting spending anything else because that is a very deep hole to risk staring into. But the game is gorgeous, the story is fun and it rewards exploration.

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Malcolm Swoboda

“I have my heart set on getting Diluc” Oh no, don’t do it.

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Ravven

I must. :D

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Malcolm Swoboda

I’ll try not to be hypocritical. If there was one character I really wanted, it was the one in this video (its silly, but the music in the trailer did half the work – this stuff matters to the psyche) and I got her early so everything else is bonus.

Carlo Lacsina
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Carlo Lacsina

I need Diluc too, and this is coming from a guy who dumped $60 to pull Hercher of the Void in Honkai Impact!

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bobfish

At some point Diluc will be on an event banner, like Venti is now, save your currency for then if you’re really only chasing him.

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Ravven

That’s a good point, thanks! I have been spending everything I earn in game to try and get him, but it would be worth saving them and trying in sets of ten rather than singles once he’s on an event banner.

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Malcolm Swoboda

10pulls give you no extra luck, they just, if anything, help you keep better track of exchanges if you’re trying to count til the 90 and 180 pity. Any every 10 (however it shows on your screen and how you pick them) should guarantee a 4star weapon or character.

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Ravven

Ah, okay…good to know. I have the most terrible luck in anything relating to RNG or chance, anyway. :/

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Malcolm Swoboda

If its any consolation, it can all be completed (with at least some fun!) with the Traveler and main story units, any 4stars from gacha are gravy on that or helpful in Abyss etc, and any 5stars is outright gravy or obsessive levels of progression gameplay. You’ll get pretty characters you like. Just maybe not Deluc right now – then he’ll arrive when you least prepare for it.

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NeoWolf

So much about this game to love but for the fact it is so totally Pay to Win which was a massive turn off.

So not for me, but by all accounts they are making a mint with it so more power to them.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Unless you mean there existing weeks+ of grind and the progressively tighter requirements of Abyss, what’s pay to win? Who do you win over? What can’t you complete by playing free? Is grinding for a few months instead of a week or two, is that a losing condition? Do you mean having characters to use as tools against other content? Or having an empty spot in a character’s (dupe gacha based) constellation menu?

If you mean paying to progress faster being your definition, that’s one I don’t use but I’ll accept, so sure.

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agemyth 😩

There are much better characters and equipment in the game than the ones you get for free that are exceptionally rare in gacha pulls. Sure, you can get by with whatever characters you happen to get, but games like this implicitly treat non-paying players as second-class players and constantly remind them that their game experience could be better if they gave them money (as long as they get lucky pulls of course).

You pay for power in this game. That is a fact. People use “P2W” interchangeably to speak about the more literal form of “winning” you are talking about and the less easy to define “power” or “progress” type of winning. This is most often paying for a more convenient game experience with less unwanted grinding preventing you from playing the part of the game you like. If it is something you are comfortable with paying for or just ignoring that is fine. It will also be something many people cannot ignore and refuse to be coerced into paying money for a “free” game.

You don’t need to proselytize for companies like miHoYo making f2p gacha games. They are very successful as is and have done a great job of getting western audiences accustomed to gacha mechanics over the last five to ten years. Or if you like doing it you could at least find a way to get them to pay you for the marketing.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Try to read my other posts sometime and you’ll see I mostly agree with you except for the allegation that I proselytize. That’s a rather extreme term for when I’m also calling gacha a shit monetization scheme that no one should feel obliged to partake in. The only company I’ve proselytized with (indirect) payment for was Trion, and that’s always with some twinge of regret, but only a twinge, because a paid California trip is a paid California trip! ;) And even there, I was absolutely honest, and they just managed to twist my words for a marketing video, for which I had no payment but was starry eyed at meeting devs. Even then, honest about my experience and had criticism in the forums and in person.

Literally your whole second paragraph’s notion is something I completely agree with. People have one notion of P2W (“Its a P2W game.”) and that’s not what Genshin is, but there’s another notion that I buy much less into, but consider more a distasteful attribute rather than an exact label (“Its pretty P2W”), and Genshin obviously is/has it. Unless we’d delusionally believe the months of grind setup, that payers can speed up a lot, is just a ‘design’ choice (its obviously not).

Agreed about the ‘second-class’, but some games are much kinder or at least hands-off about it than others. I don’t feel most of the pressure in Genshin, but I absolutely do in SWTOR, and not as much as new players who can’t even equip any useful gear. I have Another Eden where there’s locked character quests, meta features, bonus points for grind if you have the right characters, but I’m too sucked into the actual gameplay (or at worst, the real-time management sim elements of playing any gacha.. to put it kindly) to think about spending any money, funny enough. I log into ESO and it wants me to buy an expansion NOW. RIGHT NOW. CARE TO BUY THE SKYRIM DLC? NO? WELL WE WILL ASK AGAIN. There’s pros and cons everywhere, which of course happens the further away from ‘just buy the game’ a model gets. Gacha’s worst is that they actively pursue specifically available customers to spend many thousands of dollars. Casinos do the same, that’s the gambling. But resorts would sure take your thousands too, and hotels, and restaurants, depending on where you go, and they’ll nudge the atmosphere along as well. Gacha’s best acts as ‘polite’ as these examples, or at least by this point they’ve learned to. Gacha’s worst is the scummiest available in the entire industry. Neither is tasteful. I don’t like it. I want it regulated and I actively warn people about it. I just don’t think the games have no free fun in them. They do. Genshin’s fun for me.

Calm down about me next time and read through the posts. I like the game designers’ choices for Genshin, and I have self-control, so I am having quite a bit of fun. They (largely) don’t choose the monetization. I see the flaws though, both in the monetization of course, but hell even the more basic game design. And the cross between (like the chest farming for minimal rewards).

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Syran

I agree that it’s a bit of a stretch to call Genshin pay to win.

If “acquiring gameplay benefits by spending additional money” is all it takes to be pay to win, then it would apply to almost any game these days. Should we also start calling Pokemon pay to win?

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Malcolm Swoboda

I think it just needs a less extreme term that still makes clear that power is not (necessarily) purely gameplay acquired.

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Rees Racer

I’m having a lovely time of it all.