The world of esteemed Role Playing video games is dominated by well worn and established franchises. Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, The Legend of Zelda, these are all names that command respect for their storied histories in the market and they are all games that I grew up loving. But a Role Playing Game can also be a demanding investment of both time and mindshare. Some of the best games in this genre can run upwards of sixty hours to complete and demand that you learn a system and gameplay architecture that typically have a steep learning curve. As I find myself in my forties I dedicate less and less of my free time to what was once my favorite genre of game. Whereas 15 year old me would have leapt at the opportunity to play a deep 60 hour experience, 40 year old Adam is looking for a more bite sized game. Because of this I’ve been left on the outside looking in at some of the most acclaimed RPG experiences of late simply because of the daunting investment that the games require. But I’ve just found the perfect RPG experience that invokes the best of what I used to love about this genre while adopting modern gameplay and quality of life sensibilities that make it perfectly suited to my needs.
Genshin Impact is a Free-to-Play Action RPG developed by Chinese studio miHoYo and it is exactly the game I needed to reignite my love of getting lost in a world rich with lore and adventure. Now I know when the term Free-to-Play is applied to a game there are a lot of preconceived notions of what that could mean. Predatory monetization, addicting loops and paywalls to the fun probably leap to mind when most people hear free-to-play. But I am here to tell you that while there are a multitude of ways for the player to put coin into Genshin Impact, I spent 40 hours with the game before I spent a single penny and probably a good 30 hours before I even realized there was anything to pay for. But before we speak to the monetization systems of Genshin Impact, much like the game itself does, I want to tell you about the experience first.
The story of Genshin Impact follows one of a set of celestial twins who are separated by a mysterious and powerful god-like force. At the outset of the game you choose which twin you want to play as and the other is taken from you as you are banished to the world below during the ensuing battle. Upon your arrival in the world you partner up with a fairy named Paimon who promises to help guide you as you attempt to discover what happened to your twin and why they were taken from you. Along the way you will explore fields, mountains, canyons and kingdoms as you piece together the puzzle of Genshin Impact. Just like any good Role Playing Game worth it’s Ether you will meet and ally yourself with a wide range of charming and unforgettable adventurers who will bring new abilities and questlines into your game. Whether it’s helping free an ancient dragon who has been corrupted by unseen evils, participating in a ritual cooking competition to help a friend or stealing a mystical harp from the depths of a fortress, there is never a shortage of quests for you to embark on in Genshin Impact. If you find yourself immersed in its world and wanting more, the ever-updating online world of Genshin Impact means the game is continuously adding new mainline story missions completely free of charge.
The gameplay will be instantly familiar to any player who has played The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild. The inspiration of that game is quite obvious and sometimes tip-toes around straight up copying the Nintendo epic. Your traveler will wander a vast open world with roaming enemies to dispatch as you make your journey your own. While Genshin Impact certainly has a main story with always present missions to select, the pure joy and exhilaration of exploring the world on your own is a thrill lifted straight from Links last adventure and that’s not all. Your traveler will gather ingredients for cooking, has a stamina meter for swimming sprinting and climbing, and even has a glider that enables you to soar from the highest peak to the soft grass below. It is undeniable how much Zelda DNA is in this game for sure, but there are so many other different ideas and mechanics layered on top of it that it is forgivable when the entire package of this game feels so fresh and unique.
Combat is one of the areas where Genshin Impact differentiates itself greatly. Firstly there are no breakable weapons. In fact your weapons and your characters are all customizable and can be levelled up and enhanced in a multitude of ways. The systems for this process can be a bit much to wrap your head around at first but once you master them you will see how clever they are. Powerful weapons are levelled up by using lesser weapons and goods as a currency towards upgrading your better gear. Have a 3 star longsword that you want to make stronger? Simply break down your one star weapons as a consumable to level up that longsword. This keeps your ever-growing inventory from ever being useless as all your items serve dual purpose.
In addition to curating your weapon set each party member has a unique set of skills, attacks and assists that are all based on an elemental system. You will have archers who can inflict flame damage, wizards who use electric based attacks, healers who use the power of water magic and more. These different elemental based abilities give you the tactical edge when going up against your enemies who also have elemental properties. While you only control one character on the battlefield at a time, with a click of the D-Pad you can call on whichever party member you want to handle any given situation. This means if you’re battling an ice mage you can instantly summon your fire elemental to inflict bonus damage on the fly. It all works seamlessly and keeps each character unique and important to the adventure as a whole. These elements also come into play in puzzle solving in the world. A thick covering of thorny vines can give way to fire arrows from your archer to reveal secret paths or treasures, a vast lake might be to far to swim across but your ice elemental can create a bridge of ice to make traversal a breeze. By utilizing all of your characters abilities in a multitude of ways outside of combat you will have an incredible time exploring the lands around you much in the same way as Breath of the Wild, and to be completely honest, I feel like Genshin Impact does a lot of it better.
All of these amazing gameplay and story beats can be had for no money down. But as I said at the start of this review, Genshin Impact is a Free-to-Play game and with that comes micro transactions and buy-in opportunities. This is done in several ways and a lot of it is not only hidden in menus, but takes some practice to understand, which can be off-putting. Firstly you need to understand that there are a crazy amount of currencies in the game and there is no one universal means of purchasing anything. Unlike a game like Fortnite which has V-Bucks as their dollar, Genshin Impact has Mora, Genesis Crystals, Wishes, Primogems, Stardust and about a million others that I probably don’t know about yet. This is very frustrating when trying to learn what’s behind the curtain of a game like this and how you can acquire the things you want. While I won’t go into detail as to how the monetization system works in this game I will tell that they do nothing to gatekeep you from the experience of playing Genshin Impact and having a lot of fun with it. But if you get to the point like me where I am enjoying myself so much with the game it will absolutely frustrate you to no end just trying to figure out how to give the game your money. I suppose this could be seen as a positive as the game really goes out of its way to not take your money, but still when you’d like to buy a new character it would be nice if there was a streamlined way of doing so.
So how then you might be asking yourself does Genshin Impact, a game with seemingly no end, that has expansive systems and hundreds of hours of content satisfy me when I was looking for something small and bite sized to get me back into the RPG genre? It comes down to the fact that this game is built to constantly reward and entice the player in his or her small victories. All of these things combined create a package that is both vast and contained. Every time I play I find a new area I can spend ten minutes in and feel like an explorer, or perhaps I spend a fifteen minute session levelling up my characters and gear, or taking on a small commission from the adventurer’s guild that doesn’t command any more than ten minutes of my time. The brilliant thing about it all is that miHoYo has crafted this experience where every little thing you do rewards the player in some form or fashion. It’s brilliant design and miHoYo’s dedication to nurturing a community of players with an ever-expanding experience always makes the player feel entices to come back for more.
In addition to that I have to comment on the artistry at work in this game. The world is simply jaw dropping and looks like an animated film come to life. The artists at miHoYo have crafted a world that is lush with colors and character in a way that makes every play session a feast for the eyes. If there is one complaint I could lodge at Breath of the Wild it’s that the limitations of the Switch hardware means the worlds visuals couldn’t live up to the ambition of its design. In Genshin Impact I am constantly stopping to admire the design of my surroundings and dipping in and out of photo mode to capture its beauty. Pair that with an orchestral score that rivals almost any RPG I’ve ever played and Genshin Impact is a pure delight for the senses.
In the end as I write this review with 45 hours put into Genshin Impact I marvel at the sheer scope and beauty of the game. While I’m not sure if there is such a thing as rolling credits on a title like this, and as miHoYo continues to pump new content and features into it with a 10 year proposed road map of content, I find myself utterly charmed and invested into what appears to be my new forever game, and it didn’t cost me a dime.