Go! Go! GOTY! 2020: Game 10: Genshin Impact

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Mento

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I'll preface this final entry in this year's Go! Go! GOTY! with two facts that everyone who's booted up this game on a whim already knows: Genshin Impact is both a lot, and it is far from finished. That isn't to say that it's filled with bugs or is terribly unstable (though it can be a bit frame-y on a core PS4), just that the developers have big plans for the rest of the game's content that will take a long time - and many microtransactions from a dedicated fanbase - to transpire. Right now, the game has two of what appears to be seven planned landmasses: the vaguely medieval European nation of Mondstadt, which focuses on the Wind element; and the more explicitly Chinese region of Liyue, which uses the Geo (or Earth) element. The other five nations will presumably all have their own elemental focus as well, and there's been a few hints via lore references and foreign NPCs as to what may lie in store. Despite being only 2/7ths done as of writing, what currently exists in the game still presents a significant amount of content: easily 50-100 hours of exploration and tailored missions, not including the daily tasks and dungeon instances. I've spent the better part of the last week just futzing around Mondstadt and completing its storyline. (Liyue may have to wait until next year, as I've still got one more 2020 game I want to fit in before Jan 1st.)

I should first assuage those concerned about the game's F2P and "gacha" aspects, as I was (and am): the game doesn't require that you engage with any of it at all, or at least during the first "chapter" set in Mondstadt. The purpose of the game's gacha system is to earn additional characters for your party, ideally those that have elemental coverage you're currently lacking (as intimated above, there are seven types in total, and many are used for puzzles in addition to being effective against certain foes or in certain environments). However, you are given three extra characters in addition to your player-named avatar as part of the story early on, giving you a team capable of wind, ice, fire, and electricity. The introductory gacha bundle guarantees you a geo character also, and you'll be given so much premium currency for free as part of the game's progression that you'll get more than a few gachapon rolls "on the house." The five-star characters and gear will of course require more luck and investment, either gleaned from a lot of grinding or a transfusion of real money, but they aren't strictly necessary except perhaps for the truly high-level stuff. I've been able to make consistent progress without these "pay-to-win" boons, though it took some figuring out of the game's unusual systems to get there.

Oh, we'll get to this thing.
Oh, we'll get to this thing.

There's two major aspects to how Genshin Impact's progression operates that I needed to suss out before the game started to click. The first is how experience works, which is applied to character growth as well as growth of weapons and accessories (you have five types of the latter to equip, so it's an involved system). Instead of earning a lot of XP from quests and killing monsters - you earn peanuts from both, in fact - you acquire plenty of XP-boosting items as rewards. The idea here, I believe, is that it gives players full control over who and what they want to prioritize the development thereof: if you've just picked up a rare piece of equipment, or an interesting new character you're motivated to use, you can save all these XP-boosters to catch them up to your current party quickly rather than be forced to drag them into high-level areas so they can siphon the needed XP from extended grinding sessions. Weaker items can be consumed as XP too, and identical weapon drops can be used to "refine" your current gear: this improves the weapon's passive bonus, such as a boost to elemental damage. (If you get an extra version of a character from the gacha system, meanwhile, you'll earn rare items that unlock new skills for them as well as some premium currency back.) This approach to XP is not an intuitive system, but it's one that now makes a lot of sense in retrospect.

The other major aspect is the game's "Adventure Rank": this works similar to Warframe's Mastery Rank, in that it's a gauge of the player's progress themselves rather than any single character's, and that progression not only leads to rewards for every new tier reached but occasionally whole new features will open up. The game's daily challenges, its timer-based "expedition" mode, or its multiplayer co-op system, for instance, all first require a relatively high Adventure Rank to access. Adventure Rank also unlocks new items in stores, new cooking and alchemy recipes to learn, new dungeons to tackle, new story missions to pursue, and eventually improves "World Rank": a system whereby all the world's monsters and treasures level up to be more competitive to your higher level party. If the game felt a bit rudimentary from the offset, it's only because it was waiting to mete out many of its features until I was ready.

Since this game came out in September, I've seen people tweeting their luckiest gacha rolls. A single four-star character in a pack of ten is the best I ever got though (and Noelle here is the guaranteed Geo I talked about earlier).
Since this game came out in September, I've seen people tweeting their luckiest gacha rolls. A single four-star character in a pack of ten is the best I ever got though (and Noelle here is the guaranteed Geo I talked about earlier).

The only information I knew about Genshin Impact going in was that it had a F2P economy - being free was a major part of my decision to include it here, after all - and it cribbed a lot of its mechanics from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. To that second point, the game is flagrant in its borrowing; really the only BotW traits not to carry over are the more controversial aspects, like weapon degradation and weather effects having detrimental effects to climbing and walking around wearing metal (though it may just be a matter of time until all that's included too, since the game is being updated constantly). Your character can climb almost any surface, though not when indoors, and the overworld is filled with incidental collectibles and treasures, many of which require a little environmental puzzle to solve or judicious use of "Wind Gliders" from a higher elevation to reach. Combat is similar enough also: it's all real-time and the environment plays a role via the game's elemental system - if you hit enemies with electricity magic while they're standing in water, for instance, it does more damage and spreads around to nearby foes. It feels a bit like a combination of BotW's use of the environment and the more in-depth manner that elements and the environment combine in tactical RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin or Final Fantasy Tactics. I've had to get used to quickly switching between characters to apply combined elemental effects: they tend to do a lot more damage in tandem than individually.

I feel like I could expatiate on this game's mechanics all day, as it is surprisingly elaborate for a free action-RPG, but I should probably get around to whether or not I actually like the game. I do. I think it's fantastic, one of the most confident action-RPGs to show up in a long while (since maybe Ys VIII and Xenoblade 2 from 2017) and it's ludicrous how much of its vast content can be accessed almost immediately, without engaging with its F2P economy or a huge amount of grinding and wait times for things to be built. I can just run around the world solving puzzles to find treasure chests, or reaching floating collectibles that can be exchanged for a boost to stamina (still very important, as it was in BotW), or diving into one of the game's many dungeons each with their own battles and puzzles to overcome, or tinker around in the menus to power up my gear and customize my growing team of heroes. I eventually hit a cash-related wall in Warframe despite enjoying its faster-paced mobility and character variety, and so I'm still anxiously anticipating that other shoe to drop in Genshin Impact also, but for now I'm having a grand old time just indulging in open-world collectathon nonsense and slowly figuring out its quirks and systems. I even don't mind Paimon too much, mostly. (And for whatever it's worth, Lisa's my current favorite. Early days yet though.)

Can't go wrong with lazy bisexual lightning librarians. Excellent crowd control to boot.
Can't go wrong with lazy bisexual lightning librarians. Excellent crowd control to boot.

GOTY Verdict: Hard to say. It's not finished yet, and I'm not inclined to evaluate a game until it is, but it deserves some sort of special credit since it's one of the best games I've played this year.

(LAST MINUTE EDIT: Typically, they're adding the third landmass in a matter of hours, just as I put a cap on the playthrough and this review. Huh. It looks kinda snowy?)

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spiketail

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If by third landmass, you mean the 3rd country/nation to be introduced, looks like it is just a new area. The storyline in Liyue does point out the possible 3rd big place GI will go to, but not just yet. I am still getting through the event related to the new area. The 1.2 release leads to interesting possibilities for future areas/ideas/releases. Also cut any spoiler-ish sentences as I have no idea how you wish to ingest/surprise yourself with the future stuff you may eventually wander through.

Feel free to take your time getting through it all! Mihoyo has been releasing just enough stuff to keep me engaged with the story and events/new content often enough that I'm still regularly playing it over the past 3 months.

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Nodima

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#2  Edited By Nodima

Adventure Rank 30 is when the game's progression slows to a crawl if you're a more casual player. At that point you've got to decide if you want to play this game like Destiny, mindlessly checking off the big important tasks that reset daily/weekly, or just kind of pop in every once in a while to listen to a podcast and slap some baddies around. I got to Rank 30 in about two weeks...and I've progressed to Rank 35 since then.

I'm also not totally enthused by the new area, but I've never been enthralled by weather effects basically acting as artificial timers to push your pace through an area. The better parts of this game are stumbling into new environments and taking your time to get to know them, while the new area is all about scrambling from flame to flame so you don't die in the cold. Meh.

Lastly, some quick thoughts on all the characters I've got so far related to PC Gamer's tier rankings (and to be clear, I put some money into the first Battle Pass as a sort of tip jar but otherwise haven't spent a dime on this game, so while I understand the drop rates are pretty abysmal on paper they haven't played out that way in my time with the game, though my weapon situation isn't the most enviable):

Fischl (S): This character is an example of how the tier system can't always be trusted, as she's a four-star pull but damn near the best character in the game. The bow characters are all kind of pointless as primary DPS units but they're great for the statue puzzles, and since every other electric character I've drawn uses books as weapons she's invaluable. But more importantly, her R2 attack interacts with every other R2 attack, making her a given support in pretty much every scenario except electric boss battles.

Qiqi (S): Quickly became my go-to exploration avatar once I pulled her. I play in the Chinese language and her barks are a perfect mix of goofy and sing-songy that they often sound like weird, English phrases. Someone should sample her for a Megan Thee Stallion beat. She's also pretty great in a fight as her R2 attack is a swirling ice ball that does three cool things: freezes wet enemies, deals damage over time and heals your entire party over time. Having to drop her for another character is always obviated pretty quickly because I'm suddenly in my bag for food a lot: I like to think of Qiqi as activating God Mode.

Tartaglia (Childe) (S): Honestly this character doesn't make a ton of sense to me, though it is cool he has both a bow and a sword, and that his water elemental like Qiqi's deals damage over time (and thus when paired freezes enemies repeatedly). I keep him around because water+ice+electricity is about as devastating in Genshin as it is in Real Life, but there are other characters I've enjoyed more.

Bennett (A): I just pulled him a couple days ago and don't have any XP materials so I have no idea how useful he is, but his elemental attack sounds like it'll make him the go-to for swapping Qiqi in non-Cryo builds so I'm definitely excited about him.

Barbara (A): Initially I thought I'd get a lot of use out of her since she was my first water character and had a heal tied to her R2...until I pulled Qiqi shortly after and immediately sidelined her. I really enjoy the way the Chinese voice actors say "Barbara", though.

Xiangling (A): My actual favorite character to use thanks to her Triangle attack which deals insane damage (I've somehow pulled three duplicates of her so her baseline stats are pretty juiced) over time, plus her spear attacks are the most unique animations. Unfortunately, keeping a steady rotation of Fischl-Childe-Qiqi-Traveller R2s popping off seems to be the quickest way to clear most mobs so she spends way more time on the bench than I'd like.

Xinyan (A): She's also new to me but I could see pairing her up with Xiang being pretty brutal on Cryo bosses - plus, her Triangle has her pull out a guitar and light off an arena pyrotechnics display so that's fucking rad!

Xinqiu (B): I probably shouldn't have dumped so many XP materials into this guy because he just seems pointless with Childe on the squad.

Traveller (B): I think tiers slot the main character so low because his Geo abilities seem absolutely pointless, but I admit I just haven't understood Geo in general during character trials either so maybe that's just me. Anemo is pretty necessary I find for, uh, traveling around and maximizing DPS on my best characters' R2 attacks, though, so I almost always have him around.

Kaeya (C): I like how fast his ice-blast pops, but Qiqi renders him absolutely pointless (to be fair, she renders most every character either pointless or redundant).

Lisa (C): Without Fischl she'd get some play time here and there, but her R2 attack is too easy for enemies to interrupt and her Triangle is basically Fischl's R2 on a longer cooldown. Whack.

Beidou (C): The best run-around-and-smash-rocks character, and somewhat useful in combat too. Claymore characters have mostly stunk for me so far so if anything she stands out for being perfectly average.

Noelle (C): My original rund-around-and-smash-rocks character, she's very pointless otherwise.

Amber (F): Weird character so I get it, though her bow is so vital to most of the game's puzzles that she's also weirdly essential - I wonder how much of that is tied to her being the first character that joins you and the only guaranteed range cohort. I'd guess a lot. Also, her weird bear-bomb-thing can be used to activate platforms that require two people though it's kind of an unreliable toss so I only try two or three times before moving on.

...Damn, I spent way more time on this post than I expected! Just like Genshin Impact in general...

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#3 Mento  Moderator

@nodima: I've had little luck with the gachas, and the resources to make them happen are starting to get thin on the ground. I've just hit AR25 myself, since I wanted to get to the casual playstyle you're talking about - drop in briefly every so often for dailies and weeklies until I feel like focusing on it again and/or a big new content update hits - and unlocking the whole bounty/request/reputation system seemed like a good destination to hit. Plus I've noticed you get a bunch of collectible-hunter gizmos that way and I'm weirdly into running around open-world maps looking for icons. I've already found all the Anemoculi, so I'm about ready to hit Liyue when I have time.

My draws so far (besides story characters, and Noelle since she's a freebie): Xiangling, who I was almost about ready to go fetch from the Spiral Pit anyway; Bennett; Sucrose; and Ningguang. The problem with those four is that they're fire, fire, wind, and earth respectively, and I'm good for all of those: Amber's my only archer so she's stuck in my party, the Traveller is Anemo (and will eventually be Geo), and Noelle's Geo too and my only claymore user for those pesky ores. Haven't really used any of these random draws much as a result, but I might boost them to 20ish (should do that anyway for the free wish materials) and take them out on the commissions to see what they're like. At least Bennett's good for expeditions?

@spiketail: Yeah, I underestimated the size of the content they were about to add (like you said, I didn't want to spoil myself with too many emerging details). Then again, there's so much in Genshin already and I've yet to hit the major part of the game (Liyue) so I'm not exactly lacking for anything to do.

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laetic

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@spiketail: This! I've fallen into the dungeon grind trap here and there but my favorite parts of Genshin are exploring the new areas (very nice looking) and hunting around for treasure puzzles. Play at whatever pace you like! But.. maybe log in here and there to collect those free primogems...

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