Now, there’s one comment which I’ve seen that holds a pretty strong argument against the main draw of Genshin Impact, which is essentially, exploration is a one-time joy.
That’s partially true. You can’t really regain the joy discovery combing over places you’ve been before, but that being said, learning Genshin Impact’s world has its use. Or, alternatively, you can just use “outside sources,” (there’s a rather excellent map here which I firmly recommend), but even then, learning the world yourself has its own value.
All in all, though, the exploration of the world, its story, and characters is definitely the strongest point of the game. There’s some things about traversal which might be lacking, but it’s not horrendous, it’s just… Slow. Really, really slow.
But the world is amazing, most of the characters are interesting enough, and the story is actually not bad. Maybe it’s that I’m coming from being continually disappointed by Destiny and other titles, but at the very least, Genshin Impact has done a pretty damn good job across the board. If there’s one particular flaw, it’s that there’s clearly an out-of-order presentation going on.
What’s interesting, though, is that in some cases the developers account for the way the story might be presented out of order, but in other cases, usually the occasional one-off dialogue line presented play the player character as knowing things they haven’t yet learned. Largely, I’ll admit, because as of this writing certain things like the character Sucrose, or more specifically, her profession of bio-alchemy come up, but there’s no pertinent quests for the player to do involving the character Sucrose which detail her specifically – and therefore little reason why the player character should have such knowledge.
Genshin Impact does, actually, do a decent job storytelling. It’s not amazing, real cutscenes are pretty sparing (although, when they show up, they’re usually well done and/or over-the-top in a good way), and for the most part it’s done with sparing animations, dialogue, and characters standing around or sitting between the player being given various tasks: go there, kill this, cook that, gather those, protect these, so on and so forth.
The writing is not bad. It’s actually good. My quibbles with it are incredibly minor. In fact, I can get them out of the way post-haste: for using the Ars Goetia as a point of reference, the usage falls under the typical way I’ve seen the material used, weird-to-borderline-incorrect uses of names in places that don’t really fit or simply don’t make sense. Genshin Impact isn’t the first bit of media to do this and it’s sure as hell not going to be the last, that does not, however, make it any less frustrating. It simply takes away from the experience for anyone who has the knowledge, or the interest, to look into the subject.
In Genshin Impact, the god of Liyue is called Morax. One of this god’s abilities (or, perhaps, one of their roles) is to, essentially, mint coins known as Mora in-game. That would likely be more Zagan’s domain than Morax’s.
The other small issue I take with it is largely with characters who are designed to be annoying on purpose. Paimon (another daemon…) is your guide, a small, toddler-shaped humanoid creature that floats around and, hey, I guess does actually provide you with excellent familiars if you count the abstraction of the Wish system, but ‘provides good familiars’ was probably one of the qualifications to get Goetia’d to begin with.
Fortunately, Paimon’s main role (and the real sore point of this issue) in the early parts of the story seems to be going to the wayside, as at the end of the 1.1 story content, the main character actually does speak, but this hasn’t continued into 1.2. At least, somewhat, Paimon is less speaking for the character and player. Somewhat.
So couple that with the fact that the game’s occasional jokes are mostly well-timed and all in all, it’s honestly aiming – and succeeding – at telling a decent story. I can’t really say it’s amazing, yet, but honestly, certain elements like how Liyue blatantly foreshadows the anti-climax of its arc is nothing short of good storytelling through the medium of a video game, plain and simple. Yes, there’s better, yes, it was kind of blatant and obvious, especially after the formula established in Monstadt, but you know?
There’s nothing wrong with a good formula, and so far even if there’s growing pains, I think it’s more or less getting figured out. Now, one can fault them that a certain portion of the writing for the game is nothing short of a good part cliché, that the jokes largely are more self-awareness, and that there’s probably a dash or two too much tragedy here and there, which I think that would be a fair criticism, but in large part all these elements are often executed with decent timing:
The game knows when to punch you in the gut with feelings: it’s when you’re not expecting it. It knows that when a character can be a bit much, it’s a decent time to have a laugh at their expense. That at the very least, when you know where things are going, they get there when they should and that the payout – at least, in terms of a story’s fulfillment – is a good one. And hey, listen, it might be Pavlov’s Detailed Character that let’s you know someone’s important, or if it’s just straight bull.
They know it as much as you.
At the very least, it’s this self-awareness which makes Genshin Impact’s story telling good. The only problem I might have with it is that it’s trickle-feed, and every now and then, while the objectives for certain quests decently align
The world is, quite obviously, Genshin Impact’s strongest point. Overall, the aesthetics are, quite simply, on point. Unfortunately, traversal does suffer as the essentially 1:1 rip of Breath of the Wild doesn’t necessarily do the game too many favors.
Hell, about the only real changes to Genshin Impact’s world traversal is the fact that rain doesn’t completely prevent climbing, there is no mount system, and there’s no shield surfing. Oh, there’s none of those Breath of the Wild chronostasis shenanigans but let’s be honest, that one might not even make Breath of the Wild’s sequel.
There’s a pretty easy fix for this. Having two Anemo (wind) characters in your party increases your movement speed by 10% and decreases your stamina consumption by 15%. Stamina does exactly what you would expect coming from Breath of the Wild: you use it while sprinting, moving during a climb, swimming, and gliding. The caveat to this easy fix is that pretty much every movement speed increasing ability that doesn’t go across the board in any game usually just sucks when you have to make a trade-off between getting around decently or huffing it at even slower pace.
Putting aside how you traverse it, of course, the world is simply gorgeous. Whether it’s the admittedly simplistic appeal of Monstadt to the more intricate and complicated nature of Liyue, the game’s current environment is quite wonderful. In fact, if anything, I would say the most exciting part of this being a game with games-as-a-service styling is the fact this world is going to be expanded upon as the game grows.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that regardless of whether or not the style appeals to one’s taste, this is probably the best looking Unity game to exist currently.
Now, there are some aspects of it that I find a little eh. Coming from War Thunder, I know that you can definitely make terrain that is visibly interesting from both a perspective both on the ground and in the air, whereas on occasion, it seems to be there’s a matter of preference towards one over the other.
Monstadt, for example, has a lot more appeal from the air. Or, at least, it’s gentle, plain features are decent while you’re high above them. Liyue seems like it was largely looked at from the ground with the exception of the Juyeun Karst area.
But apart from that, the world itself does tell a bit of a story. The game acknowledge’s the past of the land, and does so in interesting ways. Given that gods exist in Teyvat, their power can, according to some bits of lore, be seen in the way the very world is shaped, and in other places, we can see remnants from the past that the game does absolutely reference like the area in which the climax of Monstadt’s story arc takes place.
Exploration and knowledge of the world is fairly integral, as while you could just go ahead and cheat, knowing where the best locations are to get different materials and engage in some of the more interesting fights can significantly improve your experience. It’s one of those knowing is half the battle things. There is, for better in this case, although worse in others, a long list of materials you’ll need to find in the world, and knowing where to get them in the most efficient fashion is a life saver for obvious reasons.
There’s one caveat to this that’s rather frustrating and it gets back to hardware: render distance is decently high for most things in Genshin Impact: you can see the materials you’ll need to find from a long, long ways away. Enemies, however, start to render (or in some cases, straight up spawn) at significantly lower distances. This can make it kinda hard if you’re looking for a fight.
As mentioned prior, though, there’s no real ‘fast’ way to get a round being that there are no mounts, and no characters (so far) that surf, and the best semi-permanent movement buff is at best 10% speed. Overall, this really hurts Genshin Impact significantly, as moving around simply is not that fun. It’s not bad, of course. There’s games I’ve played where things are significantly clunkier. It’s just not that fun, given that usually, faster is fun.
Although it’s not something I want to discuss in detail here, looking at the city of Monstadt is an location purely because of the way the city is set up: the whole place is ready to do any number of your typical scenes in most any anime. It wouldn’t take but a little bit of movie magic to construct almost any sort of scene MiHoYo might want to play out and could even present the illusion of a significantly larger city.
That doesn’t really add or subtract to the game (as of yet), but maybe it’s all those years of being a crusty nerd that just makes certain parts of the city scream, “They’re gonna use this for that, that for this, and over there is probably for one of those,” and it can’t be unseen.
“Exploration is Only Fun Once”
If Genshin’s world is truly its strongest part, well, the above is probably its greatest weakness. In order for exploration to maintain interest, there needs to be a constant stream of content to explore. This means that update cycles that don’t feature new places to go probably are going to feel a little bit flatter than updates which do, and simultaneously, you could say the same thing goes for a smaller area versus a larger area being introduced.
I don’t think the statement is completely true. Sometimes, it’s all about seeing something from the right angle as you’re passing through and rediscovering it all again, but in large part, the world is essentially static: some enemy spawns do move around a little, your daily quests change, but all in all the way the world is with gameplay, you really only see small changes.
But it does certainly hold some truth. So the real question ends up being, what will be done with this beautiful world? Admittedly, so far, it feels like it’s not much.
Where the entertainment from exploring the world ends, one does still have the combat system, however…