It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and developer Mihoyo’s upcoming title is about as flattering as games come. In 2019, Genshin Impact made a splash in the video game world with an unveiling that revealed an expansive open-world action-RPG heavily inspired by Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That is not to say it’s a cheap knock off, however. Genshin Impact features numerous unique gameplay systems and charming story beats to set it apart from Zelda and other open-world RPGs. It has a few kinks here and there, but Genshin Impact exudes a surprising amount of polish that makes it easy to pick up and play. Fresh out of a closed beta test, and with a free-to-play launch scheduled for later this year, Genshin Impact is a PC game you’ll want to keep on your radar.
Genshin Impact follows twins cast out into an unknown world after a conflict with a super-powered demigoddess. You select a hero to begin the adventure, and after some story shenanigans, you become separated from your sibling. You spend the rest of the game in the unfamiliar world of Teyvat, as you search for your sibling and meet other heroes throughout the journey.
There’s no denying the visual similarities between Genshin Impact and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Both games feature open-world environments to explore that are jam-packed with treasures to find, walls to scale, and whimsical monsters to battle. Genshin Impact’s archery and swordplay look extremely similar to Nintendo’s offering at first glance, and the colorful cel-shaded anime graphical style is very reminiscent of Zelda’s.
That said, Genshin Impact’s party system immediately sets it apart from Zelda and other open-world RPGs. You actively recruit new playable characters into your group as you progress through the story, and each of them possesses unique attack styles and abilities. There is some overlap to be sure: For example, sword-wielding heroes have unique attack animations, but they all feature the same combat inputs and are functionally similar.
The closed beta featured 18 playable characters, but the game is slated to have 30 at launch. You can have up to four characters in the active party, and while there can only be one character out on the field at any given time, you can swap between party members on the fly, leading to an eye-catching explosion of combo attacks and particle effects.
More Than Meets the Eye
Genshin Impact boasts an expansive and nuanced elemental system, which is tied to the game’s party system. Each character has a designated elemental affinity, be it air, fire, water, lightning, or ice. In addition to their standard melee combo and heavy attack, each character has a special, element-specific attack bound to a short cool-down gauge. These specials include auto-deflecting energy shields, potent counter-stances, spiraling sword formations, simple magical blasts, and area of effect attacks. Effective utilization of these elemental attacks is extremely important, as most enemies have their own affinity attacks and weaknesses that make them tough to deal with if using melee attacks on their own.
Not only does Genshin Impact incorporate elemental magic into its combat, but the game also marries status effects to these systems. The result is a surprising well of depth that adds to the challenge. Every elemental attack afflicts its target with a status effect, as well as the base damage of the attack itself. Fire attacks, for example, leave victims burning for several seconds after the initial attack. Ice attacks slow opponents’ movements.
Once a status has been placed on the target, the foe becomes susceptible to additional elemental attacks that cause a chain reaction. This is what makes Genshin Impact’s combat genuinely interesting. A target that has been drenched freezes solid when hit with an ice attack. An enemy chilled by an ice attack becomes overcharged when hit with lightning, crippling its defense and dealing major damage to nearby targets. There is a multitude of combinations to fool around with as you play, and the thankfully large character list means you can experiment to your heart’s content as you explore the world.
Get Yourself Lost
Naturally, an adventure is only as good as the world you explore. Genshin Impact features a massive, sprawling open world that’s packed with enemies to fight, treasures to find, dungeons to raid, and heights to climb. Like in Breath of the Wild, Genshin Impact’s climbing is surprisingly open-ended, so most surfaces can be scaled, provided you have the stamina to complete your ascent. As in Breath of the Wild, Genshin Impact gives you a glider to slow your descent speed, only in the form of wings, in this case. These wings can be used to ride air currents, reach distant platforms, complete mini-games, and solve puzzles. The gliding wings consume stamina during use, so there is a limit to how far or long you can glide before you tumble out of the air. But thanks to both the free climbing and accessible gliding, Genshin Impact affords a fantastic sense of verticality; I found myself climbing any building, monument, and tree the game would let me for no reason other than because I could.
Genshin Impact incentivizes you to explore as much as you can. The world map is chock full of secrets and treasures to find. For example, you can extend the limits of your stamina by finding and donating magical teardrops to goddess statues. These relics are hidden across the map, often in elevated spots that require you to ride air currents or solve a puzzle. Ghostly sprites hover over landmarks and encourage you to chase them across the field they inhabit for treasure chest rewards. Of course, dungeons are strewn all over the world, which are filled with monsters to slay and puzzles to solve. Genshin Impact’s cooking system lets you combine food items based on recipes you acquire to create meals that heal or temporarily boost attack and defense stats.
The game is much more story-heavy than the Zelda-esque aesthetic would lead you to believe. While you are free to explore the world between narrative beats, there are limits to where you can go right at the start. At first, you are restricted to the regions surrounding Mondstadt, the game’s major city. However, the world opens as you clear story quests, discover landmarks, and solve puzzles. In the closed beta, the Liyue harbor town and region become available once you achieve a level 30 adventure rank. I appreciate Genshin Impact’s open-world design; you can explore and quest without a looming sense of being railroaded by the story, and without feeling too overwhelmed by the size of the full map.
Free To Play Skeleton
As you advance through the story, you encounter new characters who join your team and unlock progressively better gear. Interestingly, Genshin Impact also features a Gacha-style loot system to unlock new weapons and characters. The system has yet to be finalized, but as it is now, you earn a unique currency called Fate by completing quests, improving your adventure rank, and completing in-game achievements. Fate can be spent in the Wish menu, which rewards you with randomized loot and characters. I expect that this currency will be purchasable with real money at launch, and developer Mihoyo will have unique characters and costumes available for purchase at a later date, as one does with V-bucks in Fortnite or Apex Coins in Apex Legends. In the beta, the gear you gain and characters you unlock are not significantly better than what you start with, and much of that same loot can be found as you improve your rank.
Flaws in the Canvas
Visually, Genshin Impact has a bright, colorful aesthetic with cel-shaded modeling and an anime art style. It lacks Breath of The Wild’s distinct art direction, and instead embraces a more generic anime look, particularly with character designs. This is not a bad thing, and there are a few interesting designs, like the eye-patch wearing warrior woman Beidou or the suave frost knight Kaeya. But others can be a bit more forgettable, and I have a hard time telling the cutesy maid-esque fighters apart. The monster design is also colorful and cute, but banal at the same time.
Bouncing elemental balloon monsters and generic masked goblin-like creatures make up the bulk of your opposition. These can be quite tough depending on their level and your party composition, but they aren’t impressive visually. On the flip side, there are a handful of genuinely interesting and impressive enemies you face off against, though not nearly often enough. The dragon you encounter early on has a fantastic design, as do the mechanical golems you occasionally fight. During my adventure, I stumbled across a neat wind elemental monster who summoned tornadoes around itself, and made for a very tough fight. But these designs are rare, and I would have liked to see interesting creatures like these sprinkled more frequently across the world.
Genshin Impact’s earliest dungeons are short, combat-heavy affairs. They aren’t particularly cerebral, so when you’re not fighting you’re platforming, activating switches, or avoiding hazards. I expect that dungeons become much more expansive as you advance the story, especially considering the complexities of the elemental status effect system. With that said, the dungeons are the least-polished game area, by far. They are mechanically sound, but players with a modicum of wanderlust can very easily break out of the developer’s intended boundaries and fall out of the map or through floors not meant to be traveled. In one side dungeon, for example, I rode a wind current to the upper levels of the labyrinth and noticed a gap in the stonework in the previous chamber that led to a seemingly optional room. I cleverly rode the wind back down into said opening, only to find that the detail was cosmetic only, and fell through the floor and back to the entrance. Dungeons tend to look much larger than they are, and this is one of those few instances where I would prefer having invisible boundaries to keep me on the intended path rather than me over-exploring and tumbling into the void.
Beyond basic story dungeons, I noticed some interesting daily and monthly challenge dungeons that can be tackled to keep you engaged when you’re not doing story stuff or goofing off on the map. Spiral Abyss is a multi-floor combat gauntlet that randomizes your party’s strengths and weaknesses, and pits you against waves of enemies for rewards like Fate gems and gold.
Genshin Impact is still in closed beta, but is quite polished. It performed very well on my system with an Nvidia GTX 970 GPU and an Intel i5 4690 CPU. The final game specifications have not been revealed yet, but my gaming desktop ran Genshin Impact at 1080p and 60 frames per second with absolutely no issues. The game has limited graphical settings, but as the game is meant to run on mobile platforms, PS4, and the Nintendo Switch, I suspect it won’t be particularly difficult for a medium- or low-range PC to run the game at launch.
The only genuine gripe I had in regards to settings is the lack of keybinding customization. Genshin Impact plays very intuitively on keyboard and mouse, but I dislike being forced to use my mouse wheel for example, since mine can be a bit finicky. In Genshin Impact, the mouse wheel is used for its detection system, which functions similarly to the Witcher vision in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The detection system isn’t used very often outside of a few key quests, but it was annoying to switch to a gamepad to get it to work correctly. I would have loved to bind that function to another key instead.
A Potentially Winning Formula
Genshin Impact genuinely surprised us with its expansive and well thought out world, smooth performance, clever combat mechanics, and wealth of content. We can’t say for sure whether or not the amount of content will keep players active in the long haul, but we’re eager to learn more in the coming beta tests. Still, if you like open-world adventuring, Genshin Impact should go on your video game wish list.