Reviewed on: Playstation 4
Release Date: September 28th, 2020
Full disclosure; I am a sucker for a JRPG. I’m still grinding through Persona 5 Royal, I haven’t stopped playing Fire Emblem Three Houses since its release date, and I’m desperately trying to find time to chip away at Dragon Quest XI. Through a combination of experience grinding, lovable characters, and stories where you somehow always end up killing god, these games have their hooks in me deep. So naturally when I heard that the trendy new game was an anime-style and open world gacha game, I was more than a little bit intrigued.
I understand that I’m a little late to the party, Genshin dropped nearly a month ago, but I can’t help myself. Any game with the ambition to lift artistic elements and gameplay from Breath of the Wild is going to get a little bit of my time, and one that does it well will get get a lot more than that. Hopefully this will serve as either an enjoyable accompaniment if you are loving Genshin Impact, or maybe just the last push you need to hop onto the bandwagon.
I prefer to start my reviews off with the presentation, simply because it is the first thing you’re going to see, and if it doesn’t wow you immediately, it’s going to have a hard time doing so. Luckily, Genshin Impact starts with a decently intriguing cut scene of our two avatar protagonists, who travel between worlds on some never-ending journey. I wasn’t expecting this to be an isekai, but I also know that the genre is too predominant to escape so easily. That’s on me, so I apologize.
Genshin Impact, as a gacha game, lives and dies on the quality of its characters and especially their designs. Fortunately they do this quite handily, as the array of characters you meet in the first part of the game come with distinctive silhouettes, colorful palettes, and distinctive enough personalities to get by. In the more general graphics area, you’ll be spending the majority of your time in its open world or in the dungeons that cap off most quests, and they largely serve their purpose. The world feels expansive and ripe for exploring, the dungeons have an eerie mystique to them, though they suffer from a bit of sameness that could be harmful to players in for the long haul.
The music is triumphant and adventurous, although no tracks have really stuck out. The double-edged sword of having a consistent soundtrack is that it all appears to meld together. It isn’t the subdued piano of Breath of the Wild, nor is it the themes that differentiate every distinct area like Hollow Knight, but I can’t fault a game for succeeding at what it’s trying to do.
The game does have an unfortunate stutter that drags down performance pretty frequently. It’s worrying, as it happens regardless of what is going on screen, and I was not doing multiplayer for a majority of my play. Maybe my internet is unreliable, but most online games run smoothly for me, so the PS4 version at least could use some work.
Moving past the aesthetic, which the game largely succeeds at, and onto the story, where things become a bit murkier. Genshin Impact’s story largely falls under the category of ‘serviceable’. The lore and world building is quite interesting whenever they sneak some in, but the story is mostly a cut and dry vehicle for the gameplay. Surprisingly, I don’t have an issue with that; I’m not a big fan of story in video games, especially when they try to become movies. Games can have incredible stories, but I think the interactive element affords them a much slower and environmental style of storytelling. You can just as easily enjoy the story of Dark Souls as you can ignore it, and that’s quite hard to pull off in any other medium. So when I say Genshin Impact’s story is nothing to write home about (at this point), take it as a very soft rebuke.
Concerning the actual gameplay, the basic loop goes as follows: unlock the map through teleport beacons, clear enemy camps for experience and loot, and follow side or main quests that end in dungeons. There’s some variety here and there, I enjoy the Adventurer’s Guild aspect, but has adopted a large portion of Breath of the Wild’s basic game structure. My only criticism with that is that Breath of the Wild’s ‘dungeons’, shrines, were usually complex and interlocking puzzles, or at the very least a bit of the game’s lovely one-on-one combat. The dungeons in Genshin are largely straight lines to the end, with the only barrier being combat.
And how is the combat? Simple, with a lot of room to explore. With easy to middling enemies, this combat system is comparable to any hack-and-slash game like early God of War and Devil May Cry, but the real fun comes with high level challenges. For weak enemies, usually spamming the attack button and using your basic elemental attack is all you need, but when you come across the Ruin Guardian twice your level, it’s all hands on deck. It’s one of the few times where you need to switch between every character on your team constantly, whenever their super elemental attacks are ready, combining the elements using the game’s interactive chemistry system, and eating a whole buffet of prepared foods to survive. It’s these moments of tense action that keep Genshin’s fighting from getting tedious.
In summary, I think Genshin Impact is a good game, but far from a perfect one. The saving grace of Genshin is that it has many aspects that meld together and make the game rise above its mediocre aspects. While I may be harsh to Genshin as a critic, I fully intend on playing this for quite awhile and enjoying my time with it. If you are a fan of games with the anime aesthetic, or need a decent JRPG, you could do a lot worse than play Genshin Impact. It’s especially a good opportunity, as it is free if you can manage to avoid spending money to get your waifu. There’s a lot of kinks to work out, but the developers seem quite open to criticism based on their many surveys, and performance should improve with the jump to next-gen consoles. At this point, you might not be missing out on much, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.