Article written by guest writer, J.Hill
I often find myself not knowing quite how to feel about mobile games. While capable of providing cheap thrills and alleviating temporary boredom, they generally don’t possess the sort of staying power more robust console and PC titles do. The endless match-three puzzlers, hero collectors, and town builders don’t necessarily challenge or titillate so much as ask you to spend money on power-ups that will help pass levels that otherwise would be rather rng based to pass. Or nudge you to recover your depleted energy so you can stay on top of your hard earned progress! in PvP ladders that can be done for free… but doing so will cap how high and fast you can climb.
While most games operate off an expected profit; which helps decide their budget, mobile games tend to go a different way. Instead of telling a story, waiting to see if audience reaction dictates a sequel, mobile games try to be in the public consciousness as long as possible, making as much money as they can along the way. Some of these are short lived. Others, such as Candy Crush, or Angry Birds, far exceed what anyone thought they could be.
Mobile games are essentially time-wasters, and crafty individuals have thrown a number of ways out there to try and monetize your excess time, usually in the guise of addictive, yet simple gameplay. Or they appeal to our collector nature. Our need to have all of a ‘set’. Kids used to collect baseball cards; now they collect virtual figures, animals, costumes and the like.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I finally gave in to the numerous ads that popped up on my computer and phone, and downloaded Genshin Impact. I expected it to be like the countless other hero collectors I’ve played. A bit addictive, but ultimately too basic and simplistic to hold my attention. After all, a majority of these games are built solely around addiction, with very little gameplay involved. The people with the highest level of that addiction, and extra income, are called ‘Whales’. Its where a majority of these games get their money from.
So, outside the ads, I knew next to nothing about the game. Almost immediately I learned it has full PS4 and PC support. This is becoming more common with mobile games; Nintendo Switch after all is built entirely around the concept of being able to take your home game with you on the go, so it’s only natural this would be reverse-engineered. Now you can play your mobile games at home!
I decided to play it on PC. The review, therefore, is for that version.
I was struck almost immediately by the artwork and music on the game’s loading screen. The art is cel shaded, an aesthetic I’ve always found agreeable, with bright colors and cartoony lines. Many will naturally draw comparisons to Breath of the Wild, but as that is a title I have not played, I can only use the personal experience of games such as Gravity Rush and older jrpg titles I’ve played.
The game's opening screen takes you through a series of columns high in the clouds, set to a score reminiscent of older Final Fantasy titles.
You are immediately launched into a rather engaging, and exciting anime cut-scene. It reminded me initially of the first .Hack series, but after that first scene this comparison was quickly dropped. You get to choose your main character from one of two twins; a boy or girl, and are plunked unceremoniously into the world of Teyvat.
While the first several minutes are your typical how to move, how to access this and that tutorial, I was impressed by the beauty of the world, the quality of the voice acting (I notoriously turn off all English VA almost immediately in these types of games, but in Genshin Impact, while they are very cartoony, I actually found the voice acting quite good), and by the animations. This… felt different from other ‘mobile’ games I’ve tried.
But, after a brief and rather simplistic battle tutorial, my reservations continued fully intact. If the combat is that simplistic, surely the game can’t be that interesting, right?
What occurred to me slowly in those first few hours, that has only grown in recognition over time, is that this game isn’t built around combat. It’s not an mmo, as I initially thought, it has no PvP (there is a co-op function you can unlock later in the game, which I have not reached yet) the core purpose of the game really, is exploration. And Teyvat is a wonderful world that is honestly a joy to explore.
While I wish the walking animation was a bit faster, you are not limited by walls and mountains, or obstacles in your path. You can climb anything, provided you have enough stamina (it’s pretty identical to what I know of BotW).
Your ability to go anywhere reminds me of Gravity Rush, though getting there isn’t quite as dynamic as that title.
Once you reach dizzying heights, the game early on introduces you to its glider mechanic. Like all the systems in the game, there is nothing very complex about any of it, but I have always found aerial mobility very pleasing in games, and Genshin Impact’s is no different. Its fun seeing how far you can go before you have to land, or what sorts of secrets you can find tucked away amongst the spires of building and nooks of cliff-faces. Just… don’t land in the middle of the water. Your stamina will probably run out before you reach shore (though death has very marginal consequences, if any, in this game).
After climbing around for a bit, I ran into the game’s first quest, and my second character. This one is an archer, which I liked better than the default sword-wielder, as I’ve always found ranged attacks and kiting more fun. Say hello to Amber:
Character switching is as easy as hitting the 1-4 keys. You can only have 4 people in a party at a time, and have to swap someone out to add a new character in. They don’t all fight together; every battle is a solo effort, but you can switch on the fly mid-battle, and the game does a good job of actually making that necessary at times.
This is because of the game’s again, rudimentary, yet well executed element system. Every character has an innate element (Amber’s above is fire) that’ll help you get advantages in battle, solve element-specific puzzles sprinkled throughout the world, or better counter an enemy’s element (Amber’s fire damage, for example, does nothing against fire enemies).
Dungeons also require that you have a well-filled out team, as you never know what elemental traps will be inside, or what sort of elemental attack you’ll need to get to certain chests. There are seven elements in all; Wind, Frost, Nature, Lightning, Earth, Water, Fire (the game uses its own names for them).
Thankfully, the game gives you four characters free, and a fifth you can get by ‘purchasing’ the beginner pack, which the game gives you enough currency to do so. Each of these characters has a different innate element, which leaves only two uncovered. As far as I know this won’t hinder the main story, only prevent you from unlocking extra discoveries out in the world.
Lisa is the game’s free Lightning hero. Her attacks are a bit slow for me, but she’s been useful on a few occasions.
While still early in my progress through the game, nothing I’ve come across so far indicates you will need to pay for anything at any point. However, the game is enjoyable enough that I wouldn’t mind throwing some money their way, if not for one, unfortunate issue; the game’s gacha system.
Free games need to make money somehow. Sadly, Genshin Impact has chosen the poorest (in my opinion) way to do this: Gacha. For those who don’t know, gacha is an rng based gamble. You spend money on something, but you’re not sure what you’re going to get. In most these games, the developers entice you to buy ten of these transactions at once, with the guarantee that’ll you get a high-tier someone! You don’t know who, but it’ll be high tier!
While I would much rather be able to buy directly the hero I want, I have spent money on such systems in the past, because the rng rates weren’t that unfavorable. In Genshin Impact, however, they are absolutely horrible. Perhaps the worst I’ve ever seen. Even on a 10-draw, you have a 94% chance to get 9 middle tier items. The last one is guaranteed to be a higher tier, but it is not guaranteed to be another Hero. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game like this where it’s highly likely you’ll get nothing but items repeatedly, no matter how much you spend. I have read there is a safety-net measure possibly coming in a future patch where after so many ‘misses’ you’ll guaranteed get a hero.
Still, this system seems designed for Genshin Impact to exclusively make their money off whales. Those more inclined to spend a bit here and there (called dolphins in mobile gaming language) will likely give up quickly or not even take a dip, seeing the rng rates. For as flawed and consumer unfriendly as this system is, the game is good enough for this to be forgiven, provided the gacha never infringes on your ability to play the game. Typically, in later levels the content becomes such that you have to have the best heroes, at their best strength to compete. A lot of titles thrust this need in the PvP realm only, allowing free players to enjoy PvE, but as stated Impact does not have a PvP. Further enjoyment of the title hinges a lot on how intrusive or not intrusive the gacha system becomes.
It is possible that as more heroes are released, these rates will improve. They could also try their hand at making money in other ways, such as costumes (the character models are honestly really good, and costumes would be a good fit) pets, etc. For a free to play title, I am absolutely thoroughly impressed with what Genshin has delivered. It feels like an AAA title, that is never too demanding, but always leaving you wondering why lies just a bit further on the map. I give it a very cautious 7/10, a number which could swing in either direction depending on how hard the game pushes its gacha system.
Cooking is another basic, but enjoyable system the game offers.
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In Control, you take on the character of Jesse Faden, a no-nonsense redhead out to discover the whereabouts of her missing brother. She tracks a lead, or rather her intuition leads her outside the doors of a semi-secret government organization known as the Federal Bureau of Control.
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