Before I joined its final closed beta, I knew very little about Genshin Impact, the new game from Honkai Impact 3rd developer miHoYo, other than that Chinese gamers were mad at it. At Chinajoy 2019, an angry fan of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild publicly destroyed a PS4 console, accusing miHoYo of copying mechanics and features from the landmark Nintendo release.
Now, after having experienced the game for myself and spent a few hours in Mondstadt and Liyue Harbor, I partially–just partially—-have to agree with the angry fan. It really feels like miHoYo did copy Breath of the Wild. Except, I’m not mad at all about that. I’m having a great time because, as it turns out, cribbing key features and structural elements from one of the the best open-world games released in years is sometimes a good move. And while miHoYo itself has been quite public about its appreciation for Breath of the Wild, the level of inspiration in Genshin Impact borders on brazen.
Genshin Impact‘s massive, brightly colored environments and constantly windblown grass is one thing, but the most apparent similarity leaps out when you climb up a vertical surface, your endurance limited by your stamina, and upon reaching the top, leap off and deploy your glider. Other possible callbacks abound, from unmarked environmental puzzles to one of the most common enemies being a scattered tribe of cheeky, goblin-like baddies. Nintendo should be flattered.
But Genshin Impact, thankfully, is no mere clone. While its surface-level similarities are impossible to ignore, deep down it’s quite a different game. For one, it’s got a lot more story. Where Breath of the Wild generally kept things low-key, thriving on an atmosphere of solitude, Genshin Impact packs in plenty of NPCs, dialogue, cutscenes, and story quests. Every playable character has their own bespoke storylines, separate from the main narrative and featuring different activities. One quest had me searching for buried treasure around the map based on clues from an old document. Another involved an aerial checkpoint race. A main story mission even surfaced a brief on-rails shooting sequence for an early encounter.
And where Breath of the Wild revels in its free-form, sandbox nature and physics playground, Genshin Impact founds its moment-to-moment play on wide exploration and combat. Every character plays differently, and players can assemble a party of up to four, with each accessible at any time. You can mix and match characters’ elemental affinities for bonuses, and elemental interactions are a major part of dealing with various enemies. Are those monsters standing in a pool of water? Try using lightning witch Lisa’s electric bolts, which will cause damaging sparks to arc between them. The ice-element swordsman Kaeya can also use his cone of cold to temporarily freeze water, allowing you to stand for a few seconds on the surface. Much like Honkai Impact 3rd, swapping between characters to change up their attacks quickly becomes second nature, and keeps the combat from getting old. My current favorite character is the Monstadt Knight Amber, who can snipe with her fire bow and summon a cute, dancing, exploding bunny doll.
Genshin Impact is also much less shy about leaning into RPG-like progression systems. You can upgrade your weapons, accessories, character stats, and talents using a number of resources acquired from the world. Enemies show their level and a large level difference between you and your foe will make for a difficult (or impossible fight). There are even multiple kinds of leveling progression. Character levels are restricted to individual characters, adventurer levels unlock quests and perks, and world levels scale up the enemies and combat encounters.
That might sound like a grind, but keeping in mind that Genshin Impact is currently slated to debut as a free-to-play title, it feels like par for the course. miHoYo’s experience running a successful F2P experience filters directly into the structure of the game. Daily login rewards, checkbox-style “achievements”, and the rhythm of making a little bit of progress every day undergirded my time in Tevyat. Most activities (even reading the tutorial popups!) reward a trickle of “Primogems”, which I can only assume corresponds to a premium currency (the Closed Beta currently does not allow any microtransactions). There’s even a gacha “Wish” system, which allows players to roll on summoning banners for new characters and weapons. For what it’s worth, in my brief time with Genshin Impact so far, I didn’t feel any pressure to roll, outside of curiosity. The characters I received by default seemed powerful enough as long as I kept them and their gear within the recommended level range of the content. I imagine I might want to try out new characters over time, though, and there’s no telling how future additions to the game will tempt players to shell out.
Some issues still remain to justify Genshin Impact keeping its “beta” status on. Even playing on a PS4 Pro, there was noticeable slowdown in the framerate in some more crowded areas (though it never affected input or the play experience). Loading times were also rather long, even when moving between fast-travel waypoints. There was a noticeable delay between arriving at a location and having textures, and even characters and buildings stream in. The game also booted me out of the session and even outright crashed a few times. miHoYo has acknowledged the issues that PS4 players are facing (previous Betas were PC-exclusive) and is working on updates.
Whatever the hiccups, Genshin Impact makes a truly impressive first impression. It remains to be seen how things will shake out after release and over the long term, but there’s plenty to get excited about as a full release draws closer.
Genshin Impact is currently in closed beta, and will be available on PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS.