I spent most of the week of its release playing through Genshin Impact, the new open-world anime RPG by Chinese developer Mihoyo that some people have compared to Breath of the Wild. (I will not compare it to Breath of the Wild, and in fact, in my sixty or so hours of playtime, I have not once even considered making this comparison.) Since then, I have also consistently logged on to do daily quests while dabbling in the miscellaneous minor events that pop up every week. Having completed all the story content and having experienced almost all of the endgame, I feel that it’s finally time for me to answer the question — with all the weight of authority that this experience gives me — is Genshin Impact a good game?
Let me start by warning that this review will be a lot like my Disgaea 5 review — which is the second-most viewed article on this blog, and ipso facto a model of good writing — in that it will be excessively long and needlessly thorough. I will try to leave nothing out. And, because I really enjoy this Nietzsche quote, here is the introduction from that review:
I spent 100 hours on Disgaea 5 over the past two weeks. I’m not sure, though, how much of this time was well-spent. I’m writing this in part to clarify to myself just how much of that I would repeat if given the chance, in line with Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal recurrence. This article should be accessible whether you’ve played Disgaea or not, and there is one minor spoiler (marked).
What if a demon crept after you into your loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to you: “This life, as you live it at present, and have lived it, you must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to you again, and all in the same series and sequence — and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and you with it, you speck of dust!” — Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth, and curse the demon that so spoke? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment in which you would answer him: “You are a God, and never did I hear anything so divine!” If that thought acquired power over you as you are, it would transform you, and perhaps crush you; the question with regard to all and everything: “Do you want this once more, and also for innumerable times?” would lie as the heaviest burden upon your activity! Or, how would you have to become favourably inclined to yourself and to life, so as to long for nothing more ardently than for this last eternal sanctioning and sealing?
— The Gay Science, Aphorism #341
What is Genshin Impact?
Genshin Impact is an open-world realtime action RPG. It is a team-based RPG, similar to JRPGs like FF7, but you level characters by feeding them items instead of by using them in battles. Character customization is based around weapon choice (weapons can be upgraded), as well as choice of secondary equipment, called “artifacts” (which also can be upgraded). Each artifact is part of an artifact set with a two-item effect and a four-item set effect, so you’ll want to try and get these set bonuses in your builds.
The core mechanical oddity in Genshin’s combat is elemental reactions. Each character has one of six elements: fire, water, ice, lightning, wind, or earth (there is a seventh grass type, but no existing character has it), and has some way of dealing elemental damage, rather than standard untyped physical damage, to enemies. Dealing elemental damage will attach elemental status effects to enemies, and mixing various elements by switching characters mid-fight will allow you to create elemental reactions. Repeatedly switching characters is key to effective combat, especially with regards to managing cooldowns. (You only have one character active at a time.)
Each character has an Elemental Skill, which can be used with a cooldown of 6–30 seconds depending on the character, and an Elemental Burst, which usually has a short cooldown but requires gathering Energy to use. Attacking monsters or dealing elemental damage to them causes them to release Elemental Orbs, which automatically fly to you after a short amount of time, and grant Energy to all characters in your team (but far more to the active character). These two skills, as well as the character’s basic attack, can be upgraded (see the Talents section) for more damage.
Each character also has several non-upgradeable passive skills, some of which are gained by levelling up and others of which are acquired through highly hostile monetization systems (see the Constellations section).
Most characters aren’t that effective at dealing damage through normal attacks, so it’s likely that your team (of four) will be composed of one “main DPS”, who does the normal attacks while your cooldowns are up, and two or three “support DPS” that you use by switching in, using the skills, and switching out.
While this combat system is fun and interesting when you first get to play around with it, it is limited by the lack of complexity in battle itself. After you figure out the basic strategy, there’s very little for you to do other than repeat the same basic combos over and over again against every enemy you run into. The combat is heavily proactive — you spend comparatively little time dodging — but there’s little room for expression in actual play. This is due partially to the lack of combat options (basic attack, skill with a 15 second cooldown, and an ultimate with an energy requirement) and partially to the lack of enemy attack complexity. I discussed these kinds of issues at length in my Xenoblade Chronicles article, but here it suffices to say that enemies aren’t complex enough to call this a Soulslike and characters aren’t complex enough to enjoy playing them for particularly long. I have below provided a flowchart of how my standard team (Xiangling, Barbara, Fischl, Venti) plays out:
Is someone low on HP?
Yes -> Switch to Barbara and heal
No -> Is Fischl's bird inactive and is Fischl's skill or ultimate off cooldown?
Yes -> Switch to Fischl and activate bird
No -> Is Venti's ultimate or skill off cooldown and are there multiple enemies?
Yes -> Switch to Venti and ultimate or skill
No -> Switch to Xiangling and spam attack, use bear and spin2win when off cooldown
However, the combat system is surprisingly deep outside of combat. You have to assemble a team of four characters, serving various combat roles, filling out various elements for the reactions you want. For each character, you need to find a weapon with a secondary effect that encourages the one flowchart you want to build. Then, you need to find artifacts with secondary effects and set bonuses that support the build. There’s a lot of theorycrafting and optimization that goes into this, but it’s held back by hostile monetization systems and artificial progression gates (see the next several sections).
Outside of combat, you’ll spend a lot of time exploring, finding treasure chests littered around and solving small puzzles or interactions in the open world, as well as doing a lot of miscellaneous quests. People often describe this as “bread crumb” design, where you go find one treasure chest, and see in the corner of your eye some strangely placed stack of rocks, go inspect that, then see a strangely placed enemy in the corner of your other eye, then go inspect that, then you feel the brush of a Seelie on the back of your head, and you go inspect that, and before you know it you’re on the other side of the map. The exploration loop in the open world is undoubtedly the best part of the game, and organically mixing story quests with exploration is one of the appeals of the early Genshin experience.
Most mobile games feature some sort of energy system which restricts the number of meaningful actions you can perform per day. In Genshin, this system is Resin. You regenerate 180 resin per day, with a cap of 120 (oops!), and the following activities require resin to do:
- Fighting once-weekly bosses
- Fighting “elite” bosses, which drop upgrade materials for characters
- Clearing weapon domains, which drop specific weapon upgrade materials
- Clearing talent domains, which drop talent books (see the Talents section)
- Clearing artifact domains, which drop artifacts (see the Artifacts section)
- Clearing Ley Lines, which drop either gold or EXP items depending on their color (see the Character Levelling section)
Domains are small combat instances that can be cleared in two to three minutes. They do not change, and thus get extremely repetitive.
Ley Lines are mini-events in the open world which you can activate to fight a handful of enemies. There are about twenty fixed locations where Ley Lines can show up, and each location always has the same set of enemies in the same spawn configuration.
The once-weekly bosses are the same every week.
In the interest of fairness, here are the activities that do not require resin:
- Story quests
- Daily quests
- Running around the open world and looking for treasure chests
- Farming enemies (note that enemies give approximately zero experience points, so the only reason to farm them is for upgrade materials)
- Spiral Abyss challenges
As you might guess, Genshin Impact has a fundamental problem where there simply isn’t anything to do after you complete all the quests. In a normal game, completing all the story quests is when you are “finished” with the game. But Genshin is a live service game, and after you complete all the quests (which stop only a fraction of the way into the story), you’re expected to stick around for the repetitive daily missions, periodic events, and eventual story updates. This is almost mitigated by the Spiral Abyss, but the twelve Spiral Abyss challenges are so spread out in enemy levels that you’ll probably only be able to do one per week or so. (A challenge takes 10–20 minutes to complete.)
You can log in every day and do a few things with resin, but honestly, the things you can do with resin are so repetitive that I don’t see why anyone would want to do more of them. There is no appeal in fighting the same two-minute battle six times in a row as a daily habit. Furthermore, while a lot of the resin rewards are necessary for upgrades, you would gain very little with an extra hundred resin per day, since having excess upgrade materials isn’t particularly useful, the artifact rewards are generally useless (see the Artifacts section), and the Ley Lines give pittances of materials. The best use of resin is talent books — which drop at pathetically low rates — but character EXP limitations (see the next section) prevents you from levelling characters enough for talent upgrades to be enabled on most of them. As a result, even though it is possible to refresh your resin a limited number of times per day using premium currency, you get very little out of doing that (and you should use the premium currency on gacha instead, right?)
Until about a week ago, players were complaining at length about the resin system, claiming that it was holding back the game by preventing people from doing anything once they’d completed the story quests. This clamor has declined a little probably because players realized that resin doesn’t block anything interesting, or anything that they’d actually want to do for very long if resin didn’t exist. The only thing resin gates is mundane farming with specialized rewards. The problem with Genshin’s endgame is more generally that there’s nothing interesting to do while you wait for the next update, but the devs still want you to log in every day for daily quests and resin-gated farming.
Even though resin is a boring and generally unrewarding system, it’s not something you can just avoid using, because spending resin is one of the few ways to increase your account level (see the Adventure Rank section). Since you always need a higher account level, you always need to clear out your resin.
What’s actually severely restricted in Genshin — and a lot of the the community is only realizing this now — is character levelling. As mentioned before, defeating enemies gives approximately zero character experience points in Genshin. To level up characters, you instead have to use EXP items on them (and, since this is a gacha game, using an EXP item also requires gold). You can level a full team of four, and maybe even an extra fifth, without too much trouble through level 40 or so. But after that, the amount of EXP items you get simply does not keep up with the increased rate at which characters consume them, and you’ll be whittled down to three or maybe even only two characters that you can level. By the time your account level (character-independent level, see Adventure Rank section) hits 40, you might have completely run out of EXP items altogether.
This is, anyways, the situation I am in. With an account level of 41, I have a character at 71 and two characters at 70 (out of a level cap of 80), and I have no more EXP items. What makes this even worse is that I recently got a hero that I’d like to try using, but I don’t have the EXP items to level her up to a point where she would actually do any significant damage. Genshin also added a new character recently, and if I were to spend $400 on the gacha to pull her, then she would be too weak to use for some months while I collect EXP items (at the expense of my main characters, which are currently underlevelled) to level her up.
What makes this even worse is that your account level increases the levels of all the monsters in the open world, so as you progress further in the game, not only does it become progressively harder to collect the materials necessary to level up new characters, you also run out of places to test them against weak enemies. (Not that you could have done any grinding anyways — remember that monsters give effectively zero experience!)
Mihoyo have created a confounding system where spending money on their primary monetization scheme, the gacha, is a bad idea because you can’t even use the characters you pull. There are not really any in-game remedies for this. You can farm Ley Lines for EXP items and gold, but they give so few materials that you’ll be repeating them for weeks before you have enough. You can farm chests with the help of a chest map, but you’ll get a trivial number of EXP items. Alternatively, you can buy the Battle Pass (see the Battle Pass section), which should give you enough extra EXP items to level up one character to 70 (every eight weeks). That’s it, really. All the other characters in your party are going to rot, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
On a design level, there is an easy solution for this. Get rid of character levels. In team-based games with large rosters, character levels do nothing when implemented correctly and destroy balance when done like Genshin. Furthermore, there’s already a levelling system in place, in the form of account level. Of course, Mihoyo wouldn’t do this, since it would reduce the amount of unnecessary grinding and resource squeeze required of players, and a live service game requires making players do unnecessary things for no other reason than to keep them busy while the next fragments of content are being prepared.
Each character has three active skills (normal attack, elemental skill, elemental burst), and each of these can be upgraded in the “Talents” menu. To upgrade a skill, you need some gold, some common upgrade materials from standard enemies, and “talent books”. There are six different talent books, and with the exception of the main character, each character requires a single talent book type for all of their upgrades. The talent domains drop a unique talent book type every day (except Sunday). You get talent books primarily from the talent domains, but you may also find a few in treasure chests here and there.
Upgrading skills is rewarding early on, but gets progressively more annoying as you get further into the game. This is due to three causes:
- The number of talent books required keeps increasing, so that by level 5 (out of 12) you’ll have to spend almost an entire day of farming to level one talent once,
- The amount of common upgrade materials required keeps increasing, and there’s no easy way to farm them short of teleporting around to every enemy spawn spot in the game,
- At level 6, talents start requiring random rare item drops from the two once-weekly bosses to level up, so you are basically timewalled and dicewalled at this point.
There isn’t much else to say on talents. You spend a lot of time farming the same two-minute talent domain battles for them, and they get progressively more boring and time-consuming as you progress through the game.
Each artifact has a main stat and up to four secondary stats. Each time you level up the artifact, the main stat increases, and if the level is a multiple of four, then either one new secondary stat is added or (if there are already four) one random existing secondary stat is buffed. The max level for an artifact depends on the rarity, but 5-star artifacts can be levelled up to 20. The possible main stats are limited by the artifact type (recall that there are five artifact slots each for a different artifact type). Most importantly, flower artifacts always buff HP, and feather artifacts always buff attack. The other three types are mostly random.
Furthermore, almost all artifacts (all the artifacts you’ll want to use, anyways) are part of sets, and you get special bonuses for equipping two or four pieces of a set.
The major issue with artifacts is that there’s a lot of RNG. Depending on your build, you’ll either be targeting a specific four-piece set or two specific two-piece sets for at least all your main damage dealers. Then, you keep running artifact domains until:
- you get an artifact in the correct set (that’s not a duplicate artifact type!),
- that’s also legendary (~30% chance of dropping per artifact domain run at account level 40),
- that has the correct main stat (usually you want either ATK% or a specific element damage boost, so you’re looking at roughly a 20% chance),
- that has a good first secondary stat,
- that has a good second secondary stat,
- that has a good third secondary stat,
- that has a good fourth secondary stat (or if it doesn’t have a fourth stat at all, you level it to 4 and hope you randomly get a good one),
- then you upgrade it and hope that, if you have even a single questionable secondary stat, it doesn’t get randomly selected to be upgraded.
Genshin is an offensive game, so HP/DEF/healing secondary stats are garbage on most characters. As a result, each secondary stat has a roughly 50% chance of being good for a standard damage build.
Basically, the amount of grinding you need to do to build artifact sets is nightmarish (and, of course, it’s resin-gated). Rumors say that you can get a guaranteed one legendary artifact per domain when you reach account level 45, but all the other layers of RNG aren’t going anywhere — and neither is the resin cap. As it stands, most artifacts you get from artifact domains will be utterly worthless.
Furthermore, artifacts require a lot of gold to upgrade. A 5-star artifact requires over 250,000 gold to upgrade to level 20, and you’re going to want five of these on each of your damage dealers. Combine this with the gold you need to level up characters, upgrade talents, and upgrade weapons — and you’re in a bit of debt.
I have mentioned several times so far an “account level”. This is Adventure Rank (AR). While you give each character levels by feeding them EXP items, AR EXP is gained by the following:
- Doing quests (including daily quests)
- Opening treasure chests
- Spending resin
- Discovering areas on the map
There isn’t anything wrong with this system on the face of it; it’s perfectly natural that you would gain AR primarily through quests and exploration. The problem is in the execution. Once you get to AR 16 or so (fairly early on in the story), you’ll have run out of sidequests to do and map areas to explore, and the next story quest will require 1 or 2 more AR than you currently have. Unless you plan to wait through several days of mundane daily quests between each story quest, you’ll have to start crawling for treasure chests in the open world, in addition to whatever exploration you’re already doing. Initially, this isn’t that bad. But it gets worse. By the time you’re AR 25, you’ll be going through upwards of hundreds of treasure chests between story quests. By the time you’re AR 30, at which point the only remaining quests are one each at AR 32, AR 34, AR 36, and AR 38, you’ll probably just have to give up on treasure chests and start waiting out the daily quests instead.
For some reason (a fairly obvious one, in fact), Mihoyo is insistent on you not playing the core game content too quickly. Instead, they want you to spend hours in rote daily resource grinds between story quests. In game design, we call this “wasting the player’s time”. It’s especially hostile to people who prefer to play games over shorter periods of time (such as myself), since grinding chests is the only way to farm AR endgame that isn’t timewalled.
The reason Genshin does this is because it’s a live service game and a mobile-style game, so the design goal is not to have you enjoy the game so much as to force you to spend as long a span of time as possible playing the game while you enjoy it at least a little. If you could just play through the ten hours or so of proper story content in ten to fifteen hours, then, well, that’s not much time for them to snag you on the daily rewards or monetization systems. But if it takes you an extra fifteen hours of scrounging the map for treasure chests, or an extra two weeks of waiting for dailies, then that’s much more time for them to get you, even if the experience is much less enjoyable for you.
As mentioned, AR is primarily responsible for restricting which quests you have access to. It also has one more function. When you level your AR to certain thresholds, all the enemies in the open world become stronger, and you unlock harder versions of domains. At the same time, your characters and weapons are level-capped, and these caps are raised at the same thresholds. In effect, the game is asking you to level your characters in accordance with the AR cap, and a team near the AR cap will be able to engage fairly with most challenges in the open world.
However, as we mentioned, you don’t have enough resources to level a diverse array of characters this far, so you’ll largely be locked into your choice of team and have no choice but to upgrade the same characters every time the cap rises. AR renders character levels superfluous, and they already limit team building possibilities. Why artificially restrict individual characters for the sake of creating an RPG levelling system when an RPG levelling system already exists in your game? And, somehow, with two RPG levelling systems implemented, neither of them are affected by defeating enemies!
Overall, AR is not problematic as a concept, but its execution is questionable, especially with how it sets up unnecessary grindwalls to prevent you from playing the story. And, based on the existing content gaps between story quests, it’s likely that the story quests to follow will be five or more AR ranks apart. Some people have recommended just dropping the game between story patches, but based on the hand Mihoyo has shown so far, the story quests won’t be a system where you can log in to play the new chapter and log off for the next six weeks — to even have access to the story quests, you’ll need to be grinding dailies in the time between to raise your AR.
Also, here’s a nice video of what endgame AR farming is like.
The dollar cost of one gacha roll is $2.00-$2.50 depending on which in-game currency pack you buy.
The pull rates vary slightly by banner, but they are effectively 1.6% for a 5-star weapon or character and 13% for a 4-star weapon or character. There are no 3-star characters, and all 3-star pulls are worthless garbage.
This means we can place monetary values on the effective cost of “a random 4-star weapon or character”, which is $16 at best, and “a random 5-star weapon or character”, which is $125 at best.
Of course, these are for random results, as in, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a character or weapon you want, or even that you won’t just get a duplicate of something you already have (see the Constellations section). Rolling a specific 4-star character on the standard banner will take 200–250 rolls ($400-$500+), and rolling a specific 5-star character on the standard banner will take around 700 rolls ($1400+). However, there are also “rate up” banners, where one 5-star and three 4-stars will have their relative pull rates increased. Under these banners, rolling one of the rate up 4-stars takes around 40 rolls ($80+), and rolling the rate-up 5-star takes around 100 rolls ($200+).
While you should easily be able to put this into perspective yourself, let me say that the standard price for triple-A games right now in the closing days of 2020 (and probably the closing days of much else!) is still $60, significantly less than the expected cost of even the most convenient setup for the lowest-rarity heroes. I have never really understood the mindset of gamblers, but these costs seem ten to a hundred times too high for the reality that they are basically randomized character DLCs.
Genshin has a battle pass system where you can get some rewards by doing some standardized tasks that grant BPXP. You can get up to BP Level 50, each level taking 1000 BPXP, within the eight-week period, and each level gives you rewards. To make it even better, if you reach BP 30, you get to choose one of five powerful four-star weapons as a reward.
However, free-to-play players only get a small amount of the total rewards, and they don’t get the weapon reward. To really get anything out of the battle pass, you need to cough up $10 for the “Gnostic Hymn” version.
For a lot of players, the weapon is likely the key point in their decision to buy the premium battle pass. You get to choose the weapon you want instead of subjecting yourself to the mercy of the diceroll, and since Mihoyo is incentivized to make the weapons actually good, it’s unlikely that you wouldn’t be able to put at least one of them to good use in your team comp.
We discussed earlier how there aren’t enough EXP items in the game to level up more than a few characters late-game, and how there isn’t enough gold to do much of anything late-game. The premium battle pass is also an attractive purchase because it offers to, at least temporarily, relieve this pain points by granting a large number of EXP items and other resources. However, at the end of the day, it’s only enough to level one character to 70 — per eight weeks, this is less than the number of new characters being released!
I don’t have too much to say about the BPXP tasks — they’re mostly inoffensive stuff like “do your daily quests” or “defeat the weekly bosses” — but two of them are particularly notable. There are daily tasks, weekly tasks, and a few tasks that span the entire battle pass. One of the daily tasks is to use up 150 resin. However, the resin cap is only 120, even if you get 180 per day — meaning that you have to log in twice a day to do mundane tasks in order to complete this. One of the weekly quests also required using 1600 resin. Even if you log in twice a day and use 180 resin every day, you’d only reach a total of 1260 resin. To bridge the gap, you’d either need to spend premium currency on resin refreshes, or use extremely rare “Fragile Resin” items to refresh your resin. Supposedly, Mihoyo will change this in version 1.1, but the psychological manipulation here is so thick you can nearly taste it.
Constellations and Refinement
The part of the game with the most hostile design is undoubtedly the duplicates system. This system is designed to suck as much money as possible out of whales who want to get the most out of their characters, but also holds back character builds behind duplicates.
First, let’s discuss the weapon duplicates system, because it’s comparatively uninsulting. Each weapon has a unique secondary effect, which is the most critical aspect to choosing a weapon to build. For example, the secondary effect for the bow “Sharpshooter’s Oath” is:
Increases DMG against weak spots by 24%.
However, by “refining” the weapon up to four times, you can make the effect more powerful. When this bow is maxed out, the bonus is 48%, which is twice as much as its initial value.
How do you refine a weapon? You pull duplicates.
Obviously, it’s incredibly difficult to pull duplicates of any gacha-exclusive weapon. There are a few good craftable weapons, and there are one or two good weapons that you’ll commonly laying around in treasure chests, and these can reasonably be refined, but you’d need to invest an absurd amount of money into the gacha to refine a 5-star gacha weapon.
The reason that this system is “comparatively uninsulting” is because it’s not that important. The marginal effects of one refinement do not make or break weapons. Now, let’s talk about constellations.
Each hero has six ordered special passive skills called “constellations”. These usually make the hero more powerful in some way. For example, Diluc’s first constellation is as follows:
Diluc deals 15% more DMG to enemies whose HP is above 50%.
The difference between constellations and refinements is that constellations give massive power spikes to certain heroes. For example, here is Fischl’s sixth and final constellation:
Increases the duration of Oz's summoning by 2s. Additionally, Oz attacks with the current character when present, dealing 30% of Fischl's ATK as Electro DMG.
The damage boost is one of the strongest damage effects in the game and can double Fischl’s utility as a support. Full-constellation Fischl is incomparably stronger than even five-constellation Fischl.
Noelle is a hero whose special abilities scale off defense (though her normal attacks scale off attack). However, her ultimate ability “Sweeping Time” boosts her attack by about 50% of her defense. This means you can build her with all defense stats, then still do massive amounts of damage with normal attacks while her ultimate ability buff is active. Considering that, here is Noelle’s sixth constellation:
Sweeping Time increases Noelle's ATK by an additional 50% of her DEF.
Additionally, every enemy defeated during the skill's duration adds 1s to the duration, up to 10s.
This can double her damage output.
There are several healers in Genshin Impact, but none of them have a revive skill. There are revive items, but they have long cooldowns and you can’t use them in the Spiral Abyss, which is the hardest content in the game. Considering that, here is Barbara’s sixth constellation:
When Barbara is not on the field, and the character in play falls:
-Automatically revives this character.
-Fully regenerates this characters HP by 100%.
This effect can only occur once every 15 mins.
I think we have sufficiently proven the almost absurd power of constellations. Now, how do you acquire constellations? You pull duplicates. To get six constellations, you need to pull a total of seven copies of that character.
It’s already difficult enough to pull single characters, so pulling six duplicates on top of that is basically impossible unless you dump thousands of dollars into the gacha system. Of course, this will only get even harder as more champions and weapons dilute the pool in the future. In a lot of ways, the constellation system is a blatant middle finger to everybody playing the game — even the paying players! — because it’s a set of massive character improvements locked behind an absurd random paywall.
Let’s review the system from beginning to end:
- Acquiring characters is locked behind extremely expensive gacha systems with basically zero ability to target specific characters.
- Acquiring weapons is locked behind extremely expensive gacha systems with basically zero ability to target specific weapons.
- Levelling up characters is locked behind artificial resource walls, where there are simply not enough materials to level up more than two or three characters. Defeating enemies gives effectively zero experience.
- Levelling up character talents is locked behind artificial resource walls which require multiple days of grinding at the same resin domains, as well as random legendary drops from once-per-week bosses.
- Levelling up character constellations is locked behind an absurdly hostile duplicates system which requires pulling a character seven times from the gacha to get the most out of it. Even for common heroes, the expected cost of doing this runs in the thousands of dollars. Doing it on a rate-up 5* will cost about $1500, and doing it on any other 5* should not be attempted.
- Refining weapons is locked behind an absurdly hostile duplicates system which requires acquiring a weapon five times to optimize its secondary effect. This is doable for craftable weapons, but the cost will likewise run in the thousands of dollars for gacha weapons. However, the effects are not as significant as for constellations.
- All character upgrade related activity, including levelling up characters, weapons, and especially artifacts, is severely limited by a lack of in-game gold, which is required in large sums for all upgrades.
- Adventure Rank, which blocks all upgrade activity as well as main story participation, is locked behind increasingly painful grindwalls that mostly require doing silly daily quests for days on end between pieces of story content.
What makes this game so dangerous, as I propose in the title, is that it has taken these systems with the design sense of a cartoon villain and packaged them all under the surface of an otherwise inoffensive open-world RPG. Genshin, as a fundamental game concept, is not vapid as is almost every other gacha. While I myself would not compare it to Breath of the Wild, the fact remains that one could compare it to BotW — but one cannot compare it to FGO — in terms of its basic gameplay, and so none of us are really prepared for it to be designed with the same kind of absolute hostility as FGO.
This may sound like a strange thing to say, but Genshin is a bloated game, or at the least an imbalanced game. There is too much of customizable characters or repetitive content and too little of meaningful playable content. Once you reach AR30, there is almost no meaningful playable content remaining, but there will be at least fifteen heroes you haven’t yet touched and thirty weapons you haven’t even looked at. This misalignment — along with the daily quests, resin-gated farming, and periodic events that are, all said, fairly boring— keeps you playing the game long past when anything is left to be played.
Genshin Impact should have been a game more like Ys8 (my comparison of choice), or XCX, or really any team-based JRPG out there. The character roster should have been smaller — about half of the current roster is anyways characters that have zero or superfluous involvement in the story — and instead of including in the roster every character whose name appears in an obscure dialogue option, they should have made the roster more story-based, like any normal team-based game out there. The developers should have either more densely packed the world with quests, or reduced the amount of excess “open world” space in the two regions if necessary, in order to arrive at a more complete story. Resin should have been abolished completely, along with most of the content linked to resin, which is anyways all artificial gating.
These are not recommendations for things I want Genshin to do in version 1.1 — they are a vision of a different game, one which I could have bought for $60, then played over a few weekends and exhausted, as I played FF7R a few months ago. Genshin is a live service game and a gacha game, which necessitates the meaningless grinding, unnecessary content gating, and opaque whale-harpooning systems we’ve reviewed here. There’s no escaping that. You will never see the kind of content depth persistent in a live-service game that you find in a standard single-player game, because it’s physically impossible to churn out content at an adequate rate. Looking forward, Mihoyo has stated they plan to have significant patch updates every six weeks — so the density of meaningful content in the game will probably stay somewhere around five hours per six weeks after you play through the existing story. What has to take up the rest of your time is meaningless rote grinding — this is the nature of live service games.
Admittedly, there are some things that can be improved. For example, it’s likely that the developers believed that providing insufficient amounts of character upgrade resources would incentivize people to buy the Battle Pass, but they seem to have not realized that even with the Battle Pass there still aren’t enough resources. Thus, they may consider making the Battle Pass rewards scale by level, to make it reasonably possible to level up a handful of characters every month or so. In doing so, they’ll allow players to actually play the excessive number of characters the game provides.
What we have to look forward to, now that this game has been released, is increasing amounts of formerly offline single-player games bloating themselves with unnecessary content to then be locked behind artificial gates and live service/ gacha mechanics.
Imagine, for a moment, that the remaining parts of FF7R are released like Genshin: a handful of quests every several weeks, between which you are expected to do meaningless daily grinds in order to adequately upgrade your characters to prepare for the upcoming content. Of course, to sweeten this otherwise unattractive deal, you will now have the opportunity to recruit characters like the motorcycle man and the graveyard ghost, as well as drastically boost the power of your existing characters, by dumping hundreds of dollars into a gacha system with a price tag of “$20 for something random that’s probably not literal garbage”.
While I don’t think this is going to happen to FF7R, I do expect it to happen to AAA games made or published by companies that have already shown themselves to be disposed to more primitive forms of monetization such as lootboxes and microtransactions. Genshin Impact’s meteoric popularity has proven that the stigma around predatory monetization can be avoided with a thick enough veneer of being “free-to-play”, and that the lucrative whale-harpooning business so far limited to Japanese and Chinese mobile games can be exported to first-class gaming consoles for broader release in the rest of the world.
What does this mean for us video game players? Well, I don’t have much of a solution to offer, other than support indie devs and don’t play gacha games.
Final score: In view of the amount of damage Genshin Impact might do to games as a medium by normalizing the most absurd of mobile gaming practices in otherwise good single-player games, I give it a score of -2147483648 (for those of you unfamiliar with mathematics, this is the smallest number that exists in the real world). I don’t regret playing it, but I do regret enjoying it — as weird as that sounds — because the only thing that has held me back from quitting the mundane slog of daily quests and resin-farming is that I once enjoyed it. I would really have liked to pay $60 for this game, without all the unnecessary fluff, and had Mihoyo sold it as such I would easily have been willing to call it game of the year.
Thanks for reading.
Note from future me: After almost a year with this game (which yes, I still play), I can say that there are a few points in this article that are inaccurate, whether because I originally analyzed them incorrectly or because things have since changed on the development side. I am planning a follow-up article, which will hopefully be done before the anniversary. Also, Kujou Sara is a queen.