Playing Genshin Impact for free almost feels like stealing. I'm not even joking - I've played countless free to play mobile games, and so often I'm bombarded with microtransaction discounts, difficulty walls which would be easier to get around with a few payments, hyper-rare materials that, again, I can easily pay actual money for… I am used to playing free to play games and feeling like the target of spam emails while playing. I am not used to playing what feels like a full-scale AAA game for free.
That said, Genshin Impact is still definitely a gacha game, with all of the trappings you will usually find in those games. A seemingly infinite number of different items required to level up your characters and weapons, there are at least three separate currencies which can be traded for items used for gacha pulls, and if you don't use those level up items wisely you'll probably find yourself overwhelmed by some of the later enemies you encounter, proving you need to be sensible with your early abundance of items and materials if you want to progress at a decent pace.
But all of that is tucked away in the background for much of the time you spend playing, instead, it's all about the game itself, the world you explore, and the combos and elemental reactions you can use to tear enemies apart. And all of that is executed to the highest standard I have ever seen from a mobile gacha game.
Mobile of the Wild
Let's be clear: Genshin Impact is heavily, and obviously, influenced by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In many ways, it feels like a free version of Nintendo's flagship Switch game in the same way that the legions of battle royale games did shortly after the success of PUBG. But just as with games like Fortnite and Apex Legends which managed to carve out their own niche in the genre, Genshin Impact feels like it caters to a slightly different audience, despite the overwhelming similarities.
Though it has to be said, those similarities sometimes feel too on the nose. The stamina bar, the way your character climbs trees and grabs apples, the way you can catch or kill creatures while exploring the overworld, the general world design and art style, all of it feels shockingly reminiscent of Breath of the Wild. There's also a moment where the game pans over a view of a gorgeous world and places a small white game logo in the bottom right of the screen - it feels, without question, frame-for-frame like Breath of the Wild. Sometimes this game goes too far with those similarities or "inspirations," but Breath of the Wild is one of the best-reviewed games of all time, and this game is damn good too.
Genshin Impact differs from Breath of the Wild in the delivery of its story. Instead of intertwining the exploration of the world with your character's progression, you'll be following a much more traditional questing system. You'll be picking up quests in town, clearing them off your list as you level up, taking on a few dungeons, and raising your Adventurer Rank so you can play more advanced story quests, and unlock multiplayer co-op. A benefit to this more regimented progression system is a more linear and cohesive narrative, of course.
The story kicks off with your chosen protagonist and their twin facing off against a mysterious vengeful God that refuses you entry to the afterlife and sends you crashing down into the foreign realm of Teyvat. It's here that we see the graphics look incredible in these cutscenes, and the direction of them isn't anything to sneeze at either. It's really, truly mind-blowing that this free to play anime gacha game which is a fresh IP somehow looks far, far better than a majority of AAA anime titles you'll play on console and PC. It looks detailed and the shading of the characters make them pop and bring them to life. It really does put other anime-styled games on PC, console, and mobile to shame, especially those which are part of world-famous franchises.
Open world gacha
More than anything I hope that Genshin Impact doesn't just usher in a new era of quality anime games, but I also hope it changes the landscape of what we can expect from gacha games, the most popular of which are known to make millions of dollars. It's always felt somewhat like the best-case scenario in gacha games is spending money, getting a good pull, and then simply having a fancy PNG of one of your favourite characters to ogle while playing. Genshin Impact changes that by having every character you pull fully playable, with their own moveset and benefits.
Characters run and climb at different speeds, use different weapons, have different elemental affinities, and definitely look cool in your party. Your primary twin protagonist you select at the beginning of the game will be your main character, but you're free to put anyone in your party, and swap between them at will during battle, allowing you to consistently mix up your playstyle depending on the kinds of enemies you need to fight. It's this gameplay variety that keeps Genshin Impact feeling fresh as you're playing it, and what makes pulling a new character from the Wish summons much more rewarding than most games.
Yes, there are definitely those gacha trappings I mentioned earlier, but unlike so many other gacha games where it feels like I'm nothing more than the target of hostile advertising, Genshin Impact puts everything in the background, and you never need to look at the price of microtransaction bundle unless you want to. That means that instead of trying to take your money early on to introduce that sunk-cost fallacy, Genshin Impact instead gets you invested in actually playing and enjoying the game before you make any decisions about whether you would want to pay money for it.
And as a result, I implore you to play it. Admittedly there have been reports of the game running incredibly poorly on Android devices with 2GB of RAM or less, but if you have a modern gaming-capable Android or iOS device, you're assured to have a lot of fun with this. You don't have to spend a penny, and you will find hours of entertainment at your fingertips. Genshin Impact is the best gacha game I have ever played, and I pray we see more like it in the future.
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