Imagine if I told you that there was a game out there that blended the lush visuals of Nintendo’s genre-defining The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with the intensity of an action-driven RPG. Picture a world that is teeming with life, characters, and all manner of challenges. Now imagine if I told you that not only did such a game exist, but it was free to play.
At this point, I’d be wiping the coffee off my face that you’d just excommunicated at high velocity from your mouth, because you wouldn’t believe me. At this point, you’d ask me what the catch is, no doubt thinking of some grievously awful microtransactions and freemium barriers. Here’s the real kicker though: Not only is Genshin Impact a damn good game that’s well worth sinking a multiple hours inside of, its premium elements hardly feel intrusive.
In fact, let’s talk about that first. Genshin Impact’s primary money-maker draws heavy influence from the gacha side of gaming. Simply put, you’ll save an in-game currency and drop it on a roll of the dice. Do you buy one spin of the wheel and hope you’ll receive a rare prize in return, or do you save up your coin and go for a guaranteed win?
Genshin Impact’s version of this age-old system uses a currency called Primogems to summon wishes. Once your wish has been made, you’ll receive either loot or characters to add to your party, with varying tiers of rarity. You’ll be able to earn Primogems out in the wild for doing a variety of tasks, or you can spend real cash on the Genesis Crystals currency which can be converted into Primogems and used to top up your roster.
Like any gacha game, the odds are indeed against. Single wishes are essentially a waste of your currency, as earning one of the coveted five-star characters for your party is less than 1%. A ten-wish splurge will net you a four-star character at the very least, as well as better equipment, but you’ll need to pray to RNGesus for a good roll. (Edit: I got my packs mixed up and this actually pertains to the novice welcome pack, which is itself limited to 20 wishes. After that is used up there is zero assurance you’ll get a character.)
Here’s the catch though: Even if you successfully get a great character, you’ll still need to spend time training them up to god-tier status. And that right there, is where Genshin Impact shines. Each character in the game is a master of a specific element, and you won’t be left wanting when it comes to increasing your small army of icy-cool sword-masters, blazing-hot warriors and absent-minded spellcasters.
Your own primary avatar is no slouch either, and can definitely hold their own in combat. There’s a delightful feeling of weight behind each action in the game, as well as a sense of power that few games are capable of once you’ve spent time improving on your chosen warrior. Elemental weaknesses play a large role in Genshin Impact, such as drenching slime monsters in water so that you can zap them with lightning, setting goblin shields on fire with pyro-archery, and freezing opponents in their tracks.
It feels like a premium game no matter who you use, and that says a lot. The combat is just deep enough to dig into, your team can have four members accessible at any given time, and once you start chaining elements together, you’ll feel like a reborn god. Knowing who to bring along with you in a dungeon is the key to victory, as you need to keep a team ready and flexible at all times.
The world of Teyvat is also massive, and is set to increase further in the months to come. Some areas are currently gated off, but there’s no shortage of locations to visit and monsters to battle. A few weeks in, and I’m still reading up on gameplay elements that I hadn’t yet gotten to. I’m scouring the land during my rare moments of rest, uncovering treasure and occasionally adventuring with other players. I’m genuinely having a good time, and I haven’t spent a penny yet on Genshin Impact.
Although a part of me wants to get stuck proper into it, and drop some cash on the battle pass for the bonuses. While Genshin Impact does a lot to avoid the pitfalls of other free-to-play games, there are some natural limitations to be aware of. If you’re the type of player who has to be the best for example, then you know what I’m talking about.
Those minute stat increases when you reach the character ceiling require utter devotion to the game as you spend every waking minute inside of it. To be the best, you’re also going to need to be a sufficient level to survive the challenges ahead, which does create a soft wall around the Genshin Impact’s sandbox. It does also encourage a grind for more level-up goodies though, which is something that I’m all about.
I’m also hoping that the game will at least improve when the PS5 rolls around. It’s gorgeous to behold, make no mistake, but on PS4 I’m experiencing a terrible frame-rate that hampers my enthusiasm. But what developer Mihiyo has created, is a terrific first impression and a positive first step for how free-to-play games can be ambitiously better.
Last Updated: October 19, 2020