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Genshin Impact is the best free to play RPG out there

Genshin Impact Screenshots
(Image credit: miHoYo)

When I first learned that Genshin Impact would be free to play, my excitement plateaued. I’m quite wary when a game is marketed this way, as it typically implies the inclusion of distracting microtransactions and pay-to-win mechanics. My anticipation for the game fell even lower when I learned that miHoYo, the game’s developer, published its previous titles on mobile devices.

However, Genshin Impact has reshaped what I thought a free-to-play experience could accomplish. I don’t necessarily adore the game, but it’s impossible to deny that it offers dozens of hours of high-quality fun. And the icing on the cake is that at no point throughout my journey in the world of Teyvat have I felt ostracized by predatory microtransactions.

To say that this is shocking would be an understatement. Genshin Impact is an in-depth single-player RPG with optional co-op that could have easily been sold for $60 and no one would question it. The game’s quality speaks for itself, providing me with what felt akin to an AAA experience from my first 15 hours with it.

Defying expectations 

As soon as I launched Genshin Impact, I was charmed by its log-in screen. The ethereal visual of a path slowly forming amidst a heavenly city above the clouds is quite beautiful. And when the player begins the game, they’re greeted by a fluid in-engine cinematic where they get to choose between the male or female protagonist.

The high level of presentational quality immediately caught me off guard, and this doesn’t just stop after the intro. Many of the game’s main cutscenes are fully animated and most bits of dialogue are voiced in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. 

Additionally, in my 15 hours with the game, I’ve travelled throughout a handful of unique areas. I’ve explored plains, forests, mountains, farming villages of Chinese architecture and kingdoms inspired by traditional European building design. I’d say I’ve only discovered about 2/5th’s of the map, meaning Genshin Impact could provide anywhere from 30-40 hours to casual players simply seeking to explore the open-world.

Genshin Impact Screenshots

(Image credit: miHoYo)

Genshin Impact’s exploration system is also quite enjoyable, as there are a handful of naturally placed puzzles around environments. These aren’t over-explained and the game allows you to figure things out at your own pace. For example, there are spirit creatures around the world that indicate the existence of a mystery nearby, and if you manage to find all of these spirits and escort them to their torches, you’ll be rewarded with a treasure chest.

Another fun open-world puzzle involves figuring out how to reach the Anemoculus and all its similar elemental collectibles. Typically, this involves finding a high point on the map and gliding all the way down to its location.

Genshin Impact's also feels decent to control, but many encounters are mindless. To win most fights, all the player has to do is spam the attack button. However, I can't deny that the battles which require swift switching between characters and usage of abilities to abuse enemy weaknesses can get pretty intense.

Regardless, the game's combat animations and unique movesets are quite impressive. There are dozens of different characters to acquire, and each one I've tried has enough distinguished traits to make playing them a unique experience.

Genshin Impact Screenshots

(Image credit: miHoYo)

One issue Genshin Impact should fix in an upcoming patch is that you’re currently unable to access the main menu inside dungeons. This means that you can’t use Photo Mode or change any of the game’s settings while exploring these areas. 

Genshin Impact is also surprisingly generous with the amount of in-game items you receive for natural exploration. It wouldn’t have been difficult for miHoYo to heavily limit level-up consumables, food and weapon upgrade materials to coerce the player into purchasing microtransactions. Instead, these items are provided in abundance.

Genshin Impact is very much an anime 

Genshin Impact’s writing is incredibly generic if you’ve seen an anime before. The game starts with players going face to face with some sort of god, and once they lose, they’re immediately sent to a magical realm. Within the medium, this is currently a very popular genre called “isekai.” In anime, it typically refers to a character being inadvertently sent to another world that’s far more fantastical than the one they were in previously.

Genshin Impact Screenshots

(Image credit: miHoYo)

However, I will concede that Genshin Impact does have a bit more mystery to it. The original world the protagonist comes from is at least somewhat magical, but not in the same sense. For example, the main character always seemed to have their powers and abilities, but when they see a dragon for the first time, they’re shocked that such a fantasy creature could exist.

To further solidify the generic anime style, players get a small floating companion, Paimon, who has a piercing high voice and frequently acts as the less intelligent character meant to make the player feel smarter. Additionally, much of the humor is familiar, as when I first met Xiangling, she eyed my floating companion in curiosity, questioning what kind of rare species she was. The game allowed me to respond in a way that implied we could cook Paimon. Jokes like this are the type of thing you’d frequently see in popular anime, and although it’s not my sort of thing, it’ll probably appeal to players who adore the medium.

Genshin Impact Screenshots

(Image credit: miHoYo)

Genshin Impact also boasts plenty of fan service for better or worse. Just about every female character’s breasts jiggle with the slightest motion. Character designs in general are also quite generic, especially Kaeya, who’s just a dude with an eyepatch and overdone cosmetics. I have also unlocked Noelle, a short platinum-haired woman in a maid outfit and Lisa, a seductive witch in revealing clothing.

However, these choices are intentional. Genshin Impact is appealing to an audience that loves anime, making the trope-filled writing and generic designs that pander to a player’s libido an attempt to have players fall in love with these characters and spend lots of money on the game’s microtransactions. 

Genshin Impact’s microtransactions 

Genshin Impact has a popular form of microtransaction called gacha. This functions similarly to loot boxes, giving players the ability to expend a premium currency to gamble for different items. In Genshin Impact, these are called Wishes and depending on the type of Wish, players can either offer up an Acquaint Fate or Intertwined Fate for a chance at earning a weapon or character.

One wish costs 160 Primogems, and a single Primogem can be traded in for a Genesis Crystal. The lowest tier for purchasing this currency with real money is equivalent to 60 Genesis Crystals for $0.99. Other tiers include 300 for $4.99, 980 for $14.99, 1,980 for $29.99, 3,280 for $49.99 and 6,480 for $99.99.

Genshin Impact Screenshots

(Image credit: miHoYo)

Essentially, a single wish will often cost you around $2.50. This may sound fine and dandy, but the possibility of earning a character is incredibly low. There is a 0.6% chance of earning a 5-star reward and a 5.1% chance of earning a 4-star reward. 

Characters are only available at these rarities, meaning there’s around a 6% chance to even possibly get a character with every $2.50 a player spends. Things get worse though, as the Standard Wish category has 19 characters and 31 weapons that are at a rarity for 4-stars or higher. 

This means that even if you get lucky enough to hit that 6%, there’s around a 60% chance that you’ll get a weapon instead of a character. However, all the currently available Wish categories will guarantee a 4-star or higher item with every 10 uses, greatly increasing the chances of receiving rarer items.

Regardless, these chances are all around awful. I genuinely feel bad for anyone that intends to invest into this game. It’s understandable that Genshin Impact would implement a microtransaction system, but it’s easy to imagine that the current one in place could potentially have players spending hundreds of dollars just for that one character they’re trying to unlock.

Genshin Impact Screenshots

(Image credit: miHoYo)

On the other hand, Genshin Impact doesn’t hinder progression with these microtransactions. At no point has the game pressured me into spending money in order to beat an impossibly difficult boss or complete a quest. If you want to be entirely free to play, it doesn’t seem like Genshin Impact intends on holding you back for quite some time.

Genshin Impact is a great game for anime fans 

Genshin Impact largely appeals to an audience that loves anime. Nearly every development decision was made with the interest of pandering to these types of players. For those wanting to collect an arsenal of adorable, cool or attractive playable characters all possessing anime-like designs, this game is for you.

However, Genshin Impact is a solid enough experience that it can appeal beyond fans of the medium. I don’t love anime, but the game’s charming visual style, satisfying open-world exploration and fully free to play systems with no predatory microtransactions makes it a must-try for anyone who’s even a little bit interested.