Review: Genshin Impact (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Genshin Impact
Format: PSN (11.28 GB)
Release Date: September 28, 2020
Publisher: miHoYo
Developer: miHoYo
Original MSRP: Free to play
ESRB Rating: T
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Genshin Impact hit the scene in a big way earlier this year and I, like many others, got sucked into it. While a review of a free-to-play game isn’t strictly needed (after all, you can just go try it now yourself), I figured I would still offer one up thanks to my experience reaching the ‘end game’ and having sunk a significant amount of time into the game. Essentially, this is more a review of whether Genshin Impact is worth your time rather than if it’s worth your money; though, obviously, there are plenty of monetary schemes in the game too and I will comment on those.

The story in Genshin starts out following the protagonist and their sibling during a battle with some unknown adversary. You, as the player, get to decide to play either the female or male one, and after doing so, the other one gets captured by the adversary before they defeat you. Sometime later, you awaken and set out in search of your sibling, with the help of a floating person/creature/emergency food named Paimon.

From there, the story continues, as you seek out the gods of the world. Each of the seven nations of the world is governed by one of the seven gods, and Paimon believes seeking an audience with them will be key to finding your sibling. Of course, you quickly find yourself embroiled in the politics and troubles of the locals.

I can’t really comment too much on the story because, as with many live-service/gatcha games, the story is still ongoing. As of this writing, the game contains three ‘parts’ of the first chapter, comprising the first two nations and their respective gods, without reaching an actual conclusion beyond the end of each smaller arc. But, I guess in that respect, I’d say the story probably won’t be the main draw for most players.

Even at the most optimistic, I wouldn’t expect the main story to resolve within the next year, and the developers may well want to drag it out even longer to maintain updates depending on the success of the game. In fact, I would say this model for games is unlikely to produce a full story. Either the game flops and the story is never resolved, or the game is successful and the devs extend things out indefinitely. That said, the individual chapters do have their own arc, and at least those can have a proper story structure.

Gameplay is probably where Genshin Impact shines the most, especially in comparison to its peers. As it was advertised as a free-to-play gatcha game, I think most people expected it to play like the many mobile gatcha games, such as Fate/Grand Order or Granblue Fantasy. Not that those games play poorly, but they’re clearly simple gameplay styles that serve mostly as a conduit to sell randomized jpgs. Genshin, on the other hand, feels like a console/PC quality game in the gameplay department.

In fact, many a comparison has been made to Breath of the Wild and that’s a high praise. There are certainly some similarities: open world, stamina system, third-person combat. But Genshin does set itself apart by still having a lot of focus on raising and customizing characters to your liking and on its elemental interactions.

I would even say that Genshin Impact compares favorably to many full priced console games. The combat is more fluid and fun than, for example, Sword Art Online Aliciazation Lycoris, and there’s more to do than in Marvel’s Avengers, both of which cost a full price and have additional monetization on top of that.

Even without comparisons, Genshin Impact just plays well. The open world especially is pretty well designed, with a lot of detail put into it. Thanks to the BotW climbing mechanic, there’s a lot to explore, and the developers seemed to realize that exploration is enhanced when there’s a lot to actually find, so the world is rife with little puzzles or discoverable locations. Climb a mountain and you might find a tablet that instructs you to activate statues on nearby peaks, which then turns on an air current to take you to a hidden sky island. Or, you may find a ruin that has a bunch of pillars with cryptic hints towards something they might be hiding.

In the end, most of the things you can find amount to just a treasure chest with some money and some throwaway equipment, but the act of getting the chest to show up is actually pretty engaging most of the time. It’s rare that I turned a corner and didn’t find something worth chasing or some puzzle that needed solving.

Fighting in the game is a little more standard; just a pretty basic third-person action game. However, as you dig deeper, it does begin to show a lot more depth than is apparent at first blush. This is particularly due to the elemental system and the ways they interact. Hit any enemy with fire (pyro) after they’ve been hit with ice (cryo) and you’ll trigger a ‘melt.’ Or hit them with an air (anemo) attack after the ice and you’ll trigger a swirl of ice.

Every combination of the game’s seven (though currently only really six, as one element hasn’t had any characters yet to my knowledge) elements produces some kind of result. This is not your typical “water beats fire” elemental system. Sure, some elements do work better than others, but there’s always some way to activate some kind of special effect.

So, the basics are covered, but how does the game fare over the long run? That’s where things get a little more dicey. While the game plays like a solid console-quality game, it feels like there was a second team at odds with the first that was trying to make this a typical mobile phone game.

Even without going into the monetization yet (I will, don’t worry), there just seems to be a lot of roadblocks in the game meant to slow the player’s progress and keep them playing longer. Whether that’s the story being locked away every so often until you rank up enough, or weapon upgrades requiring materials that are only available two and a half days each week, or characters needing lots and lots of enemy drops to ascend, many of these things slow you down as you stop to grind out ranks/materials/etc.

On the plus side though, the grind has kept me engaged enough to keep playing daily. The array of daily quests isn’t mind-blowing, but there’s enough to do that I turned it into part of my daily routine. There are some minor issues, but they’ve slowly been addressing them in patches. I do see myself slowly becoming disillusioned with the daily grind, so that patch may have to breathe a little more life in before I get distracted by something else new and shiny (*cough* PS5).

The monetization is probably where I draw the most umbrage with the game. Obviously rolling for characters is where Genshin Impact expects its players to spend most of their money, but frankly I find it rather unexciting. For one, I rarely get enough materials to pull for new stuff, especially after the early game when the game slows down on giving out the semi-premium currency.

On top of that, the pulls themselves are pretty lackluster in many cases. The drop rates for high end things are fairly low: less than 1% for five-star characters and around 5% for four-star. Like many gatcha games, they offer guarantees to get higher rarity pulls if you go in bulk: in this case, a guaranteed four-star for every ten pulls. But that means that I’m usually pretty confident that my rolls of ten will be nine pieces of fodder and only one thing I might possibly care about.

Even with the few other methods to prevent bad luck from being too bad, I just never found myself wanting to spend money for the rolls. At roughly $2 per pull, a full ten pull costs around $20. (And that of course assumes you’re buying the most cost effective $100 packs.) Now you can get by as a free-to-play player; Genshin does fill you up with a full party eventually, and has done a few events to get some free characters, plus you can get lucky with the limited pulls you do get. But if you want the best ones, or any specific ones, be prepared to drop some cash. I’ve already heard some horror stories. Oh, and if you want to fully unlock a character, you have to get them seven times… And of course, Genshin also has a season pass, though it’s more focused on giving upgrade materials than characters.

Visuals:
I really like the way Genshin Impact looks. If you told me this was a mobile game, I really would not expect this level of polish or fidelity, even for the console version. It’s a very anime-inspired look, with cel-shaded characters and a cartoony aesthetic, but the effects and costumes and such are all very well done. I think a big part of why the exploration works for me is that the game is a joy to look at.

That said, you can see the seams occasionally. Loading into or out of a dungeon will sometimes show a lower quality character model for a short time before the better one pops in. And I have seen plenty of cases of framerate slow-down, which is saying something because I don’t usually notice those kinds of things. Certain areas seem to be worse than others, or getting lots of special effects, weather conditions, or enemies.

I have now had the chance to play the game on a PS5 and it actually makes a big difference. Most of the framerate issues are gone. The lower quality models don’t seem to show up as often (even with me running the game off an external non-SDD hard drive) and even switching between menus is a lot snappier. The game is playable on PS4 but playing on a PS5 is a markedly better experience in just about every way.

Audio:
Surprisingly, Genshin Impact not only offers an impressive suite of voice acting, it has voices in several languages including English and several other languages. The downside is that Paimon, the character with the most voicework by far, has an English voice that most people seem to think is in the range of “tolerable” to “actively annoying.” They tried to give her a cutesy, talks-in-the-third-person thing that probably only adds to some of the disparaging opinions.

The soundtrack for the game is solid as well, with both decent individual music and a nice breadth of variety to keep things fresh as you explore different areas. I wouldn’t say that it is the best video game music I’ve heard, but it’s good enough that I’ve considered buying the soundtrack or listening to it on Spotify outside the game.

Online/Multiplayer:
There is online coop play in Genshin Impact, though you wouldn’t know it for the first few hours of the game. Kind of like with the recent Sword Art Online game I reviewed, Genshin locks the multiplayer away during the initial parts of the story, finally unlocking it after a little while. I still think this is an odd choice, as it’s an extra barrier to entry for those who want to play with friends, but fortunately Genshin is pretty well featured once you can play together.

Jumping in with friends is fairly easy and the game is cross-play with other versions of the game (PC for sure, not sure about mobile). Playing with random other players is a little more mixed, as the game’s dungeons all feature an easy call-for-coop option, but recruiting help for bosses is harder. For the former, it’s as easy as finding what you want to do and just jumping in, but for the latter there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get help. You can just join up in other player’s games from a list of players, and likewise you can receive random requests to join, but I would have liked an easier way to tell the game when you actively want others to join you.

Conclusion:
Overall, I’d come out on the positive for Genshin Impact. The exploration is probably the most fun part of the game, with some decent combat and a passable story to back it up. The gatcha systems and monetization feel a little scummy but do currently seem pretty perfunctory if you choose not to interact with them. I guess the slow grind might get to some players and try to turn them from players in to payers but I’ve managed to mostly avoid that urge so far.

Based on the first few months, the developers do seem ready to keep the game going. I’ll admit I’ve been at the cusp of “maybe I’ll stop playing Genshin and move on to something else”, but the slow and steady drip of limited events and new content has so far kept me engaged. The current success certainly bodes well for the long-term health of the game too, and I’m interested to see where it will go. So yeah, I would say Genshin Impact is worth your time. There’s a solid couple dozen hours at the start, and at that point you can reassess and determine if playing into the constant drip-feed is worth it to you.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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