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Well, I Finally Played Genshin Impact

Several armed, gaudily dressed anime characters face the camera striking dramatic poses

It felt inevitable.

Here I am, a poor sap who’s favorite game of recent memory is Breath of the Wild (2017). Who indulges in the occasional anime. Who’s sunk countless hours into the gachapon mobile game Fire Emblem: Heroes (2017). I am the target audience of miHoYo’s Genshin Impact (2020).

Still I held out. I could smell something fishy and tried to rise above my baser instincts. But things are rough and I indulged in a guilty pleasure.

It’s just Breath of the Wild but worse

Yeah a real shocker, that. Genshin Impact takes the open-world, climb-anything focus on exploration that Breath of the Wild nailed and makes it…boring. Now in the game’s defense it is not a straight up and down rip off. The game makes an effort to shift focus much more heavily onto plot and character. It also tweaks the elemental system from Zelda, adds a party mechanic, and makes weapon types restricted to specific characters.

Now miHoYo made these changes in good faith. I got the feeling the developer team was really interested in certain aspects of Breath of the Wild that they wanted to focus on in their game—and others they wanted to downplay. The problem is they chose poorly. What I felt playing Genshin Impact was that someone played Breath of the Wild and fundamentally misunderstood why it’s so good.

Sacrificing Subtlety for Spectacle

Say what you will about anime and content that draws inspiration from it, story and writing are rarely their strong suits. The same is true here. Breath of the Wild told its story with a light hand. It was human and emotional, conveyed more by the world you explored than by the game’s few cutscenes. Genshin Impact, on the other hand, uses flashy cutscenes and long dialogues liberally. But neither the writing nor the voice-performances are particularly compelling. Characters feel like generic anime stock characters. I quickly grew bored and wanted to get back to the action.

Except the gameplay isn’t that fun. Characters all move more cumbersomely than Link. Constantly switching between characters just to use different weapon types is a drag compared to the rapid flow of combat in Zelda. And the elemental system, while more robust, feels far less satisfying. In Breath of the Wild players learned quickly, through gameplay, the simple elemental effects and how they interacted with the world and enemies. Genshin Impact belabors the point with endless text-tutorials and complex stacking systems whose effects feel less palpable and comprehensible.

Now in all fairness, I haven’t played for very long but not for want of trying. Just a few hours in and already I was bored and confused. With Breath of the Wild I started having a good time from the moment I booted it up. And of course this is to say nothing of the rather insidious gachapon gambling model the game uses to bleed the player. I’m sure there are folks out there who would get a kick out of Genshin Impact. And if you want to try there’s no harm: the game is free to start. But for my money, I’d just as soon replay Breath of the Wild.

Thumbnail image from NME.

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Written by Mac Riga

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