Full disclosure: I’m one of the few people out there who has yet to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, so I can’t say for sure whether free-to-play, open-world action RPG Genshin Impact actively tries to emulate it or not. I will note that, from what I do know about BotW, there are quite a few gameplay similarities to be found in Genshin Impact, especially in how you can explore its expansive lands. I do feel that this latest title from developer Mihoyo wears its video game and anime inspirations on its sleeve, in everything from gameplay to animation to character design. Regardless, I found Genshin Impact to be a fun gaming experience, especially once I started looking at all of the various components that make up its whole.
Perhaps the biggest question about Genshin Impact is whether the game is playable without putting any real-world currency into it.
The story begins with the player choosing between a pair of siblings; they are Travelers from another world who have stumbled upon the realm of Teyvat. Brother and sister become separated during a fierce battle, and the Traveler of your choosing wanders the world in search of their missing sibling, becoming embroiled in quests and conflicts for the various regions they travel through as an overarching plot unfolds in the background. The story is pretty standard for an action RPG, though it moves the game along admirably enough, and getting immersed in the tale whenever your Adventure Rank reaches a sufficient level is rather enjoyable. There was one plot twist I found quite interesting, but that was about it. I can’t say the story in Genshin Impact is particularly groundbreaking, but it is serviceable enough.
So far, players can explore two expansive countries within Teyvat at their leisure: Mondstadt and Liyue, each with their own unique geographic qualities and customs. More countries are set to be added for exploration as the game updates. The characters that show up in story scenes are a stereotypical yet fundamentally likable bunch, although Paimon might be a bit much for some players. I was disappointed to see that the majority of characters don’t tend to stick around overly long once their respective quests are completed, regardless of whether they happen to join you automatically through the plot (like Lisa, Kaeya, and Amber) or you acquire them through the use of the gacha mechanics or Paimon’s store. The few quests that do feature playable characters tend to be rather interesting and are unsurprisingly filled with anime- and JRPG-inspired moments. I’d definitely describe the plot, characters, and setting of Genshin Impact as “anime” in all respects. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your individual preferences. Personally, I didn’t mind the JRPG aesthetic and quite enjoyed the idea of playing through a relatively engaging, immersive anime.
Gameplay-wise, there isn’t really much to fault Genshin Impact on, especially as an action RPG. The game has a surprising amount of polish to its mechanics, and the wealth of actions you can take while exploring Teyvat is impressive. Players can climb, glide, and swim throughout the wide-open areas so long as their stamina holds. They can cook food to help improve stats or restore health, gather and craft materials that can help them strengthen their characters and weapons, and engage in combo-heavy combat with any foes they encounter. Melee attacks combine with various elemental skills and reactions to great effect in the heat of battle, and I genuinely found fighting to be quite fluid and rather fun to partake in. You can switch between characters, with their differing elements and fighting styles, almost seamlessly both in and out of battle, which adds an unexpected layer of strategic depth I wasn’t expecting. I tend to rely heavily on my sword-wielding Traveler and her varied elemental strengths — as she is the only character who can switch between elements once you travel to a different region — or Amber with her bow and fire-based attacks, though other characters have moments where their abilities prove most beneficial for a given situation.
Every so often, a ruin or dungeon appears that can be explored further, and having a variety of characters in your four-person party is extremely beneficial, depending on what enemy types or puzzles you might uncover. Fortunately, the game provides a list of which elements are most useful in a given dungeon before you enter so that you can change your party members accordingly. Activities within dungeons are immensely varied, and I found that no dungeon felt like an exact copy of another. As you explore the regions of Teyvat, you also uncover mysterious structures and puzzles that require the use of various elements to properly activate or solve, and finding the best way to approach these explorative moments tends to be a surprisingly fun experience. There are numerous challenges to uncover as you travel the land too.
Graphics-wise, Genshin Impact boasts impressive visuals in terms of its massive locales. One can easily lose themselves just chewing the scenery while exploring. However, there is a bit of an aliasing issue at times, especially in the city areas where there are a lot of NPC models about. This can be quite distracting, especially when playing on PS4, but it fortunately never gets to the point where it becomes a game-breaking issue. Occasionally the camera will pan out to an odd angle while playing, but it is easy enough to adjust it back when that happens.
The English voice acting for the game tends to be hit or miss, though I’d say the biggest issue with the script is when characters’ spoken lines simply don’t match up with their subtitles. Lip syncing is quite off in the English version and can border on distracting, but it gets easier to overlook with time. For the most part, the localization is quite well done with few grammar or spelling mistakes, though sometimes the pronouns for the Traveler and their sibling get mixed up. The music for the game is truly excellent! I love how both Mondstadt and Liyue have very distinctive themes and feelings attached to them, and I always find myself impressed every time a new track begins to play.
Perhaps the biggest question about Genshin Impact is whether the game is playable without putting any real-world currency into it. The answer is yes, but with a small caveat. Players acquire three additional characters for free to make up their party of four over the early course of the game, though that doesn’t cover every element or playstyle available. As you progress through the game, you acquire Primogen, a type of specialized currency that can be traded for items used with the gacha elements of the title; once you have a sufficient amount of said items, you can roll for unique weapons or characters to add to your party. It is possible to collect Primogen simply by playing the game and exploring, so theoretically you never need to put actual money down to acquire it. However, banner pull rates tend to be rather low for characters, so it takes quite a bit of grinding to gain enough Primogen to acquire them all. I managed to pull three characters using collected Primogen during my playthrough, but I pretty much resigned myself to not acquiring any more given how long it would take to do so. Completionists might have a hard time with the gacha elements, but it is quite easy to have a full game experience even without putting in any real-life money.
Exploration, grinding, and completing quests is also the only way to raise your Adventure Rank, which you need to increase to advance the main story. Unfortunately, this does tend to take quite a while, so players could potentially get bored while slowly working towards advancing the plot. There is also a multiplayer element to Genshin Impact, though it can be skipped entirely if players prefer to tackle things solo.
Genshin Impact might not be the most original game in a lot of respects, but it certainly has a wealth of things to offer players should they still be willing to give it a chance. Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time with it, and I plan to continue playing once future updates are implemented. The fact that it can be played for free is also quite impressive given just how much time you can invest in the game, especially with people perhaps staying at home more and being on a budget. All in all, Genshin Impact is a surprisingly solid action RPG adventure!