Last week, the massively anticipated Genshin Impact released, and now it seems to be the only game anyone's talking about. There's a good reason for this, or rather several. It looks great, it's free, and it actually follows through as an experience that takes meaningful inspiration from Breath of the Wild.
In case you're looking at Genshin Impact from the outside wondering if it's all it's cracked up to be, you're in the right place. The short answer is yes, but here's some more things that might inform whether you should dive into the game.
It's a gacha
Gacha games get a bad rap (and deservedly so) for implementing predatory monetization schemes. There's no getting around the fact that Genshin Impact is very much one of these games. At its core, players look to build up a party of four heroes to take on all manner of quests, and the method for getting those heroes is by putting premium currency into a virtual slot machine to see who you get.
Some of these heroes are straight-up better than others, and these better heroes are some of the hardest to get out of the virtual slot machine. Genshin Impact doles out a steady trickle of premium currency that allows players to regularly use this slot machine for free as long as they sink time into the game, but there's also the option to purchase this currency with real money in exchange for more chances at unlocking these characters.
It's truly free-to-play
In Genshin Impact's defense, you can easily play for dozens of hours without engaging with its gacha mechanics at all and make progress. I'm having a great time with the game and haven't had to think too hard about managing currency yet. I don't have the highest tier characters and that hasn't presented a single roadblack so far, which is surprising. As a long-time gacha player of everything from Monster Strike to Dragalia Lost, I was fully expecting to feel the need to grind or spend money to access more satisfying parts of the game, but so far everything I've wanted to do I've been able to do.
I'm sure there will be a time in the not-so-distant future where I wish I had Diluc or some other S-Tier characters, but I've played for a week just fine without them. You make the call about whether that's a good value proposition for a free game. For me, it seems more than reasonable.
It's not a rip-off or a clone
Genshin Impact is an open-world action rpg in a fantasy setting that features cooking, elemental effects, traversal mechanics, and other elements that resemble those of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but don't take that to mean that Genshin Impact is a rip-off of Nintendo's flagship Switch seller. This game definitely has a distinct sense of identity and a world that of magic and mystery that feels completely distinct.
It's clear that Genshin Impact takes direct inspiration from Breath of the Wild. In that sense, it is technically derivative, but what game isn't these days? Immediately after any big new paradigm in game design emerges, everyone wonders and hopes when we might see those ideas emerge elsewhere. It just so happens that Genshin Impact marks the first big game to release that is working off of the groundwork laid by the team that made Breath of the Wild. I'm sure others will follow.
It's not exactly mobile-friendly
Genshin Impact is playable on mobile, PS4, and PC, and is easily the most ambitious experience to be offered on the App Store. The game truly looks and feels like a vast open-world full of possibilities and things to discover, and it's staggering that it can fit onto relatively modest hardware. That said, the mobile experience playing Genshin Impact leaves a little bit to be desired.
While Genshin Impact is pretty good about letting you hop in and out of the game easily (keeping in mind the need to ping a server constantly), it otherwise feels shoehorned onto iOS. The touch controls are virtual buttons, which are workable and fine, but not as ideal as controller support (which currently doesn't exist) or a more touch-centric control scheme. Also you need to be careful not to quit out of the game while in a dungeon, as doing so boots you back outside of it, functionally erasing your progress.
From a technical standpoint, you can ratchet up Genshin Impact's visuals on high-end devices to make it look incredible, but doing so can make them distressingly warm and drain batteries extremely quickly. It's also worth noting that Genshin Impact is a sizeable game, coming in at over seven gigabytes once you've downloaded all of the extra assets for it. This is all to say that Genshin Impact may technically be available for on-the-go play, but it definitely feels more like a game you'll need to dedicate sessions to, even when playing on a mobile device.
Genshin Impact is a truly impressive game and it already feels like its release is a watershed moment for free-to-play and mobile game design. It's also just a fun time, particularly if you like open-world rpgs or want something to scratch that Breath of the Wild itch.
There's no getting around the fact that Genshin Impact is a free-to-play game, though. On the one hand, this means there's little stopping you from trying it for yourself, but on the other it means you have to contend with a business model that is pretty ugly, regardless of how you dress it up.
As someone who has tried and tested my own resolve and patience with countless gacha games already, I feel entirely comfortable playing Genshin Impact and don't think I'll ever develop an overwhelming desire to collect specific characters or min/max the experience (which, by the way, is what all gacha games are tuned to make you want to do). If you aren't sure of your own ability to do this, or find yourself a hopeless collector and unlocker of things in non-free-to-play games, this is not the game for you.
Figuring out your tolerance for this kind of design is the ultimate determining factor in whether you should play Genshin Impact. Of course, it looks nice, is technically impressive, and lots of folks are talking about it on Twitter, but the core of the game isn't so revolutionary that anyone should subject themselves to predatory practices just to see for themselves. Then again, this is what I and many others are doing, and we all seem to be having a pretty good time.