The Element of Surprise
Genshin Impact: a free-to-play open-world action RPG with gacha elements developed and published by miHoYo. Likely you’ve already heard about this captivating title that has swept through the gaming community since its release on multiple platforms at the end of September. It has, unquestionably, been somewhat of a surprise hit, reaching 10 million pre-registrations across all platforms and regions. The fact that it is only the second game by miHoYo, a mobile game developer, makes Genshin Impact’s success even more remarkable.
Based on the manga series launched in 2018 by the same name, Genshin Impact is a single-player game that puts you in the role of a traveler from another world. You are one of a set of twins, a boy and a girl. At the beginning of the game, you select which twin you would like to play and the sibling that you don’t choose soon experiences an unfortunate fate. You awaken an unknown period of time later, alone and stranded on the foreign world of Teyvat.
Big Tech, Little Tech
By now, we’ve all gotten used to playing games on handheld devices. We’ve already forgotten the groundbreakers that were the PSP and 3DS, and moved on to the Switch, perhaps complaining under our breath that it’s not powerful enough. And for years now, most of us have had a phone or tablet that can handle processor-intensive games without breaking a sweat.
Yet even now, technologically spoiled as I am, I still occasionally encounter a game that is graphically impressive enough that I must pause and appreciate the fact that I’m playing such a gem on a little six-inch screen. Such is Genshin Impact. Even on consoles, the game’s graphics will make you ooh and ahh. On a little phone screen, I was frequently awestruck at how detailed and crisp the image was, how smoothly the game ran even on a device that’s not the latest or greatest.
Not that there wasn’t occasional lag, and my phone struggled a bit in terms of power. But even on my aging device, Genshin Impact held up surprisingly well. And I had been resolved to dealing with issues, considering that I can only play games like Black Desert Mobile with settings turned all the way down and experience a noticeable graphical downgrade. Even on low settings, miHoYo’s creation looks really good.
I Looked at You…and We’re on Our Way
So let’s talk about these praiseworthy graphics. Initially, they call to mind Breath of the Wild’s cel-shaded aesthetic, except with tighter detail and a bit less saturation. It feels anticlimactic to say, but Genshin Impact simply looks lovely. Leaves fall gently from the trees, plants sway in the breeze, fabric blows in the wind as you traverse the world, all accompanied by the peaceful chirping of birds or an understated soundtrack.
And this immersive world is faithfully reproduced on the small screen. The interface changes somewhat; the controls change a lot. But the cinematics, gameplay and breathtaking art style are all here. The game you experience on more powerful platforms is the same as the one on your handheld device, with only a minimally noticeable decrease in quality.
The game world so lovingly crafted is immense and will require dedication to fully explore. And keep in mind that Genshin Impact is still in development. So far, there are two regions open for traversal, but seven planned in total. If you’re like me and can’t resist picking each flower, chasing every lizard, or mining all iron nodes for crafting, expect that playtime to grow exponentially. I had a good 20 hours into the game before I even completed Act 1 of the Prologue.
Besides crafting, you will spend most of your time happily flying about on your wind glider; climbing tall hills to explore the enticing, monster-infested regions above; and venturing into mini dungeons. There are puzzles to solve, hidden chests to uncover, shooting or flying challenges to unexpectedly discover… This is not a game you will play for an hour or two. My intended casual sessions quickly and inevitably morphed into all-nighters.
Together or Solo?
All of this exploration serves a purpose. While each of the characters in your roster has their individual levels, you as a player also have an Adventure Rank, which increases as you explore the world and complete quests. This unlocks tougher dungeons, opens new areas, rewards you with loot, and even introduces a multiplayer mode that allows you to play co-op with up to three of your friends.
And Genshin Impact has crossplay. That’s right. While using your Android device, you can team up with buddies playing on iPhone or PS4. Because the game is at its core single-player, you won’t be able to complete story quests while in multiplayer mode. But you can undertake open-world challenges, hunt monsters and bosses, and work on daily quests together.
When playing solo, you’ll have your own party to manage, which you grow by completing quests or with in-app store purchases. And Genshin Impact is one of the few games whose gacha mechanics I don’t resent. You can use real cash to gain various currencies, per usual with a gacha title, but you also earn currency just by playing the game. This allows you to advance even if you can’t or don’t want to spend money. The gacha mechanics are a means of getting what you want, if you choose, not a bottleneck to keep you from progressing.
There’s Gotta Be Something Wrong With It
As with most games, it can’t be all good. Genshin Impact on Android is no exception, although the cons are negligible when weighed against the positives of the game. The biggest disappointment for me came upon learning that there is no controller support for the game on Android. This can be particularly jarring for fans coming from other platforms. It might take quite a bit to get used to the sudden jump from precise game pad controls, and navigating with the touchscreen may seem that much more awkward in comparison.
I didn’t play the game on other platforms before jumping into the Android version, and I still had a difficult time. I’d charge past targets, whether they be flowers I intended to pick or hills I wanted to climb. In combat, I’d often find myself facing the wrong way or maladroitly turning like a malfunctioning robot when I should have already been attacking.
Luckily, basic attacks have auto-aim. So in a pinch, you can fall back on that. But I frequently squandered charged attacks that have a cooldown by striking empty air. It’s no surprise that some curse words accompanied my first hours playing the game. This oversight on the part of miHoYo will hopefully be remedied soon, especially considering the extreme success the game has already experienced.
There’s really not much else negative that comes to mind about Genshin Impact. There’s a reason the game grossed over $100 million in less than two weeks after release. It’s almost everything a person wants in an RPG—characters, story, graphics, quests, loot, crafting, in-depth combat. Way more than I could get into in this review. It’s free. Try it.
Is It Hardcore?
Genshin Impact by miHoYo is a contender for Game of the Year. There’s not really much more to say. If you enjoy RPGs in any way, chances are high you will get hooked on this one.