Posted on December 04 2020 by Michaela El-Ters
When Genshin Impact first started making the rounds on the Internet as the “Breath of the Wild clone,” I can’t say I was surprised or even mad. After all, Breath of the Wild was critically acclaimed when it came out in 2017. Why wouldn’t other game developers want to capitalize on its success by using the same formula? Genshin Impact does have many undeniable similarities to Breath of the Wild, but to its credit, the game does a great job of forging its own identity early on.
A Story With Anime Gods & A Diverse Cast of Characters
Genshin Impact doesn’t waste any time throwing you into the world of Teyvat. After a somewhat disorienting, very anime battle with a god (or something? I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting a crazy battle in the first two seconds) and picking your character, you’re free to explore. The story goes that you’re trying to find your twin and The Seven while helping the denizens of Teyvat along the way. The first major story arc deals with Stormterror wreaking havoc on Mondstadt, and…it’s fine? I will say that, on paper, the story isn’t anything to write about (gee, Venti is the spitting image of the god in the prologue, I wonder if they’re the same person?!). But the game’s approach to telling the story chronologically and showing a clear progression is a smart move.
I enjoy Breath of the Wild a lot, but I was disappointed when I realized that those jaw-dropping scenes from the trailer were memories, and not events told in any sort of chronology. The fact that you can restore the memories in any order doesn’t help, and it creates a rather disjointed experience that you feel separate from. Instead of feeling deeply invested in the story and how things have changed, it was almost distracting just how much so many of those events don’t matter in the present. Some of the narrative beats that should have hit close to home just don’t as a result. So while the story of Genshin Impact isn’t the most amazing thing I’ve ever encountered, I do appreciate how the story has both taken its time to unfold while still creating a sense of narrative drama and urgency through a linear progression. Honestly, I should know more about the details except that I’m progressing at a glacially slow pace because I keep distracted exploring the gorgeous landscapes. And the exploration is very fun and engaging, but the features that have really drawn me in are the team building and JRPG mechanics.
The most unique feature of Genshin Impact is that you can recruit characters to join your team and have four active party members. Building my team is my favorite thing to do in RPGs, so I really enjoy recruiting as many different characters as I can. Not only are the team building mechanics fun, but the characters have distinctive and memorable designs and combat utility. Some fighting animations overlap, but every character brings a unique ability to the table. My personal favorite is Razor, an orphan raised by wolves who decimates his enemies with powerful strikes, devastating lightning blasts, and a giant electric wolf…ghost? Details aside, each character has a unique aesthetic complemented with a fitting backstory that makes me want to collect every character I can.
You can switch between characters at the press of a button, during combat or exploration. Characters have different elemental affinities; for example, Amber uses fire (aka Pyro) while Kaeya wields ice (aka Cryo) and so on. Some puzzles scattered throughout each region require certain elements to be completed, so it’s encouraged to have one of each type on your team. In battle, enemies also have elemental affinities, so combat is built around exploiting their weaknesses. The ability to switch between characters quickly and easily results in a very fluid battle system that requires strategy — you won’t win battles just by button mashing. For example, if you’re fighting near a lake, luring enemies into the water and making them wet boosts electric attacks while allowing ice moves to freeze your opponents, and it can turn the tide of battle to your favor. It’s also worth noting that the enemy AI is pretty smart and they can dish out the same weaknesses on you as well, so it makes for a satisfying challenge. I’ve definitely encountered some tough battles where I had no business being there and probably shouldn’t have been able to win (particularly in the Liyue region, the difficulty ramps up a bit), but through some elemental exploits, I was able to come out on top. Combat may not be as tense as Breath of the Wild (timing the perfect Flurry Rush on a Lynel is never not epic), but it’s still very enjoyable.
An Open-World Setting With Engaging JRPG Features
Another feature that helps Genshin Impact stand apart is the Adventurer’s Guild. As you complete missions and increase your Adventure Rank, you unlock new features and mechanics in the game. With each mission you complete, you receive various rewards ranging from books that level up your characters to Artifacts that boost stats and grant unique traits (such as restoring HP when opening treasure chests or boosting the power of Elemental Bursts, etc.). Excess equipment and items found in chests can be used to enhance your equipment and Artifacts. The system is pretty simple on paper, but these JRPG mechanics work really well together in practice. There’s a lot of synergy in the system, and it encourages exploration as the primary means of attaining more weapons and Artifacts (and as an added bonus, weapons don’t break! Gone are the days of hoarding ten ice spears and twenty iron swords). I’ve spent the majority of my playtime climbing the highest peaks and scouring the land in search of treasure to enhance my equipment and optimize my character’s traits.
Much like Breath of the Wild, there are several “domains” or dungeons scattered throughout Teyvat which are unlocked based on your Adventure Rank. These feature a combination of pretty simplistic puzzles and a few battles before a boss fight at the end. The domains are probably the weakest aspect of the game — if you’re looking for deep and complex puzzles that force you to really rack your brains and use all the tools at your disposal, you won’t get that here. On the plus side, though, they are quick and easy to complete. I have found myself blitzing through domains as quickly as possible to get the rewards and get back to exploration. There’s so much to do in Genshin Impact, and I’m barely able to scratch the surface of it all; from collecting Anemoculus and Geomoculus to cooking, to alchemy and forging weapons, players can always find something to do each day.
Genshin Impact’s World Building and Soundtrack Strengths
The towns and lore are one of the strongest qualities of Genshin Impact. Cities and towns are lively and bustling, and the worldbuilding takes cues from Eastern mythos and culture to create a unique and well-crafted setting. The sidequests are also well done. Sometimes the NPC’s can get a little long-winded, but overall, the sidequests do a good job of reinforcing the lore of the world. One of the sidequests that sticks out to me involves searching the ruins of a camp for a missing scholar. I didn’t doubt that we would eventually find them, but I was still invested in learning more about what happened and solving the mystery. The map is large and expansive (with new regions on the way, from what I’ve heard), but it’s easy to read and mark as needed. The art style is bright and colorful, and each area is unique and distinct. Also, shout out to the gorgeous hand-drawn cutscenes. The story of the birds that learned to fly because of their courage hit me in a way that I was unprepared for.
I’m going to be honest, but with the exception of the excellent “Hyrule Castle” and a few town themes, Breath of the Wild‘s soundtrack…leaves a lot to be desired. The overworld theme is ambient and quiet, and I totally get why Nintendo made that decision. But it’s not enjoyable to listen to in-game. If you weren’t a fan of Breath of the Wild‘s soundtrack, this is one aspect of Genshin Impact that is definitely superior. Genshin Impact‘s soundtrack is lovely and distinct. Battle themes are exciting and memorable, and the overworld theme has a beautiful melody and motifs that reappear as you explore each region. There have been a couple of times where I’ve stopped exploring just to soak in the scenery and music. It’s great.
The Trappings of Mobile Game Mechanics and Brutal RNG
The only real downside of Genshin Impact is that it is a gacha game, so similar to mobile games like Fire Emblem Heroes, you can spend in-game currency to try and pull powerful allies for your team. Characters all have skill trees called Constellations that can be expanded on by acquiring your characters’ duplicates in pulls. Therefore, it’s encouraged to acquire duplicate characters to unlock the Constellation skills, but pulling duplicates isn’t an easy task and it’s completely random. And if you’re hoping to get 5-star characters, the draw rates are pretty abysmal. Of course, players can spend real money to get more in-game currency, but you can get by with the free 4-star characters and you’re by no means forced to get the 5-star characters to progress the game. For my part, the game is free to play, so I don’t plan on spending any money on it any time soon. I’d love to get a 5-star character or two so I can complete some of the more challenging boss battles and have better Elemental coverage, but for now my current team is getting the job done.
Explore and Play With Friends
My favorite aspect of Genshin Impact, by far, is the co-op mode. You can play with up to four friends, and it’s a blast. You can explore, fight powerful enemies, and clear domains together. It’s not a perfect system, but the fact that we can do co-op in a game like this is so appreciated that I’m willing to ignore some of those nitpicky details. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I do. I usually enjoy solo game experiences, and I thought more of the same open-world exploration on my own would still be just as magical as it was with Breath of the Wild. For the most part, it still is, but the added experience of working together and just having fun playing such an expansive game with my friends has made me hopeful that Breath of the Wild 2 will have a co-op mode as well. I think there’s something special about being able to play with friends, whether you’re across the country or in the same city, and having the opportunity to do that has been really great.
Does Genshin Impact Stand On Its Own?
When Genshin Impact was first announced, it was easy to decry it as a blatant Breath of the Wild rip-off. And while there are some undeniable similarities, the JRPG elements work together to create a similar, but still unique, experience. The story is simple on paper, but it benefits from being linear and fairly long to complete. Exploration is a core part of the experience, but the varying collectibles and co-op mode prevents it from becoming stale or old, and the prospect of new content and areas to be adds to the play value. With more and more games resembling Breath of the Wild in open-world exploration and features, Genshin Impact is notable for its character recruitment, team building, and world-building with an Eastern aesthetic.
Is Genshin Impact better than Breath of the Wild? No, I don’t think so. But is it more of what made Breath of the Wild beloved, and then some? Yes. If you enjoyed exploration in Breath of the Wild, Genshin Impact supplies more of the same awe and wonder with each new region you unlock. It’s free to play now on Windows, Android, iOS, and Playstation 4, and will be available on Nintendo Switch sometime next year. Give it a whirl if you’re interested! It’s a fun time.
That’s a wrap for this months return to the world of Zelda like games! Make sure you turn in two weeks from now as we turn return to the world of Blossom Tales, and in a months time, get ready to dive into a Zelda Inspired game so tough it will break your soul!
Michaela El-Ters is an Associate Editor at Zelda Dungeon. She loves the franchise and can’t wait for Breath of the Wild 2, and when she isn’t gushing over the series, is an avid collector of pins and keychains. If you want to enjoy more of her video game and anime content, check out objectionnetwork.com.