Genshin Impact is not the game I thought it would be. I'd written it off as nothing more than a crappy, money-fuelled attempt to emulate The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I off-handedly referred to it as "Breath of the Weeb" whenever it came up in conversation. But underneath that Hyrule-dappled exterior is a stupidly fun RPG with a compelling cast of characters and a combat system that easily rivals the one in Nintendo's game.
Though I gave it a quick shot when it was released in 2020, it wasn't until the 2.0 update landed in July that I became fully immersed in the world of Teyvat, journeying through its major nations with my annoying fairy sidekick/emergency food supply, Paimon. Genshin's early game did a great job of making me forget I was sinking my time into a free-to-play gacha and not a paid RPG.
There's so much to do in Genshin's sprawling map, which patches are still gradually revealing. Boss fights, challenges, puzzles, just sweeping up some trash mobs for a chest or two. It's easy to lose hours running around and exploring all its nooks and crannies, harvesting all the foliage and fruits you find as you go. It's even more fun if you manage to rope a friend or two into the fray—organising your team composition together and tackling challenges in co-op is one of my favourite parts. The story has no right being so good, and MiHoYo manages to flesh out each major character you encounter.
It makes it all the more enticing when that character receives their own banner—limited-time opportunities to recruit them into your party. For a price, of course.
I've played my fair share of gacha games over the years, so I'm no stranger to the cycle of grinding gems for months in anticipation of my favourite character receiving a banner, then blowing the whole stash in mere minutes before going again. It's no different in Genshin—you slowly earn Primogems through playing every day or buy them with real money. When your favourite character comes along on a banner, pray to the RNG overlords that they "come home." It's what I had been hoping to do with Baal, the electro Archon of Teyvat and certified badass shogun.
By this point I'd done all of Genshin's main story quests, so I spent the next few weeks grinding overworld bosses and doing sidequests with a friend to save up a decent number of Primogems. I was also trying to level up my main team as I noticed the power gap between my lagging party and even the most pitiful of trash mobs as my gear fell behind and the enemy levels increased. Genshin had also started to become increasingly repetitive—log on, spend my Resin on bosses, do some dailies, and then struggle to find other ways of staying engaged.
Patch 2.1 dropped, and the Baal banner was here. I did my nonsensical prepull rituals with my friend and got ready to go.
I didn't get her. Genshin Impact has a pity system, where you're guaranteed a 5-star character after so many pulls. If you save enough to hit pity twice, you're guaranteed the banner character. I'd only managed to save enough to hit pity once, so I was out of luck. My friend got Baal, which was great, and I ended up with another character I'd been wanting to add to my team. Not a complete victory, but I was still satisfied. But not for long.
One of Genshin's biggest downfalls, and the thing that eventually turned me away from it, is how goddamn difficult it is to experiment. The combat focuses on mixing different character elements together to create reactions. It's a bit like Pokémon in some ways—fire characters will have a better time against ice enemies, but a worse time against water-aspects. Send an electro character against water foes, though, and their health will melt away.
The further you get into the game, the harder it is to introduce new characters into your composition. I'd spent the majority of my time running with Fischl, Barbara, Chongyun, and Xiangling. I wanted to try integrating Sucrose, a wind-based support character, into my party. But having pumped all my money, time, and resources into keeping my main party from falling behind, I had nothing to level her up with. It would take me roughly a week and a half to get Sucrose matched up to the rest of my team, and that was just to see if she was a good fit in my composition.
Genshin does a great job of hooking you early on, but things start to come apart the deeper you get—especially if you're not coughing up cash. It's somehow a game that simultaneously respects and disrespects your time. You can jump in, do your dailies, and be out within 30 minutes. But as soon as you want to change things up or try something new, it's a gargantuan task. It makes an already paltry endgame feel incredibly stagnant.
I loved my time with Genshin Impact and came away from it spending mercifully little money. I played every day for over two months and enjoyed every moment, but I wish MiHoYo did a better job of keeping its late-game players engaged. When there's more story, I'll likely return to it.
But for now, I'll be observing Teyvat from afar.