Genshin Impact Review
Genshin Impact was pretty much on my nope list, owing to it’s place in the gacha genre. However, after a few friends mentioned how fun it was, I capitulated and was pleasantly surprised. As I progressed through my adventure, I started to see the papering over the cracks was more apparent in the lacklustre, grindy endgame. Let’s start with the positives first though.
So, I’ll address the elephant in the room early. Genshin Impact is clearly inspired by Breath of the Wild (BotW). This is present in everything from the aesthetics to enemy design. This inspiration is also very much present in the combat system. Which, potentially to the ire of Nintendo fanboys, is simply a more enjoyable experience.
The combat basics are so easy to master that it hides the system depth. It has the obvious light and hard melee attacks, a satisfying 2B-like dodge, and each character special a special elemental attack. Whether you’re using a bow and arrow or sword-wielding character, you will master the basics in your first fight. However, as you encounter enemies in your first few hours, you’ll learn the elemental attacks not only interact with the environment but, often explosively, interact with each other.
The second character you acquire shoots flame arrows. If you quickly switch to the story protagonist and use their wind attack, it will be augmented by the flames your enemy’s doused in, or from the flames on the ground. Likewise, you’ll find wet enemies superconduct electrical attacks or instantly freeze when attacked by ice. You can combine these further to deal greater damage, by mixing three or four attacks. The system is deep, but the simplicity of the control scheme, permits immediate experimentation.
Your experimentation with the combat system never really ends either. When you acquire a new party member, your team balance is shook and you start the min-maxing process anew. I feel like this system went through rigorous QA testing, and it is simply brilliant. Literally, my only annoyance, is that you can’t attack while jumping.
Doubling down on taking the best of BotW and improving it, the real star of Genshin Impact is the world. It’s vibrant, unique and has wonderful regional variation. It takes an active discovery approach, and really nails it.
I spent a large amount of my early hours exploring the seemingly endless first region. Curiosity is always met with a satisfying reward. There’s always something just over the next hill, or at the foot of a waterfall. Reaching the top of a hill is likely to present a timed challenge, or something invitingly salient. It was nice to explore and have my curiosity rewarded by something more gratifying than a fucking korok seed.
You’ll find things you can’t access yet, but the obstruction never really lasts long. For instance, you’ll see something that requires a key to unlock. However, you will get a key to open it from your first few dungeons. Overall, the world is a place I just want to explore. Lastly, the Wonders of the World achievement was extremely fun. Each of the wonders are stunning and, if you play Genshin Impact at all, I encourage you to find them.
The story is not particularly complex. You start the game off discovering a demigod dragon has gone rogue, and it’s your job to help save the kingdom. As the story progresses, you learn there’s more to that than meets the eye. Early on, you learn that the corrupted the dragon is tied to a conspiracy to murder the demigods who, to varying degrees, are present and active in the world.
I did love the overall feel of the story and the characters. It felt like the Sword Art Online game I always wanted. The biggest compliment is that, despite the simplicity, my curiosity never diminished. The issue, however, is that progressing through the story is where the monetisation trap starts to emerge.
I run this on two systems – GTX 1070/6800K/16GB RAM and a RTX 3080/5900x/32GB RAM. Neither system presented any stability issues on at 1440p. The frame rate has a 60FPS cap, and runs at a solid 60 throughout. I tried tanking the frame rate, however, 60FPS was maintained throughout while the several elemental attacks were interacting.
This is why I can’t recommend Genshin Impact. It’s so fucking painfully close to being a game of the year contender as well. I could see it coming, but continued playing anyway, because I did want to see what it was like at the endgame. To be fair; I continued to play because it’s a fun game. However, you hit a pay-to-play wall as you approach the endgame. The issue is the resin system here.
To continue progressing as you reach explorer level 35, you rely heavily on the 200-400XP you receive from killing elite enemies. However, in order to get that XP, you need resin. At the time of writing, resin is capped at 150, which replenishes at a rate of 1 unit per 8 minutes. Each elite, or dungeon, is between 20 and 60 resin to complete. So, you kill a few elites, then you have a sixteen hour wait to carry on – or you can buy more resin, which requires premium currency (primogems).
I think defenders are going to try and liken this to MMO dailies, but it’s not the same. I haven’t come across any daily systems that allows me to pay to bypass the grind. Apologists may defend this as a pick up and play game. However, that’s not the gameplay loop they’ve created and, in releasing on PC, it’s not the audience they’re trying to capture.
Likewise, other than the six main story characters, new characters are acquired trough
lootboxes surprise mechanics. Probably taking a leaf from EA’s book here, you don’t buy the loot boxes, you buy the currency needed to “make a wish”. The usual horse shit of bright colours, spectacular animations and dramatic music ensues. It’s a sensory feast designed to simulate the sensation of gambling without being immediately classifiable as gambling under current legislation – Hi, Netherlands, we love you.
If you want to know more about why I hate this mechanic, see our upcoming Psychology of Videogames series.
Building on that, if playing a bit more than casually, you can earn a full ten wishes (complete loot box) in a week. A week is a fairly long period of time to work towards something. It’s more often than not met with disappointment too. Whether it’s character or weapon doubles, you are always inevitably going to end up with something you don’t want. Landing something you actually want is an outlier. That’s the point of the character trials. To give you a taste of something better so you dump money into a loot box system trying to land it. It’s FIFA Ultimate Team in a fanntasy setting, and it’s utter fucking bullshit.
I know what the rebuttal to this criticism is going to be: “But you earn lots of currency as you progress” or “But it’s a free game. It needs to make money”. Yes, yes and yes. However, coupled with the cynical character trials, the “earned” coin is to tempt you into spending. Give you a little bit of that sweet, sweet dopamine so you crave some more. It’s an exploitative system underpinned by the endgame’s pay-to-play systems. If they really wanted your engagement, and not just to turn you into whales, they’d introduce a battle pass through which your progression would be rewarded with characters. If EA released a game of this popularity, with this monetisation system, they’d be in Dutch and Belgian courts faster than you can say “surprise mechanics”.
Conclusion: Do Not Recommend
When Genshin does something well, it often excels in and builds on everything that inspired it. The combat is so nice. The world is so striking, with a colour palette I never tired of seeing. Exploration is done so well. I hope more games take inspiration from the world design. The characters are charming and fun, with surprising depth. The game is just fun, especially the main story quests. However, for all Genshin Impact does well, it more than makes up for in gambling bullshit.
The gameplay, the world, story and characters are all so lovable. However, I can’t recommend this game. Genshin Impact is a money trap. Granted, it’s a very well decorated trap, but a trap nonetheless. I can’t, in good conscience, advise anyone to voluntarily step into a psychologically manipulative system. This is especially true for those whom may have previously experienced difficulty suppressing the urge to put another few quid or dollars into exploitative monetisation systems.
If Genshin Impact ever receives an update that improves the monetisation system, my recommendation may change. In light of recent events in Holland and Belgium with loot boxes being tied to gambling laws, this may be a reality. However, this game, at release, revealed what it wants; to strong-arm you into becoming a whale.
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