Three and a half years after Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, open world games with the same freedom of traversal are starting to show up. Ubisoft's Immortals Fenyx Rising is very Zelda-esque, with a light dusting of RPG mechanics, but Genshin Impact, out today from Chinese developer Mihoyo, is something different. It's a bigger, more ambitious blend of Zelda's open world, an actiony JRPG, and a mobile "gacha" game, with co-op play tossed in on top. And it's free-to-play.
Genshin Impact seems like it might be the biggest gacha game ever made. Gacha RPGs, popularized on mobile, are built around random draws—you spend currency to buy characters or equipment for those characters, always chasing the high of getting an "S-tier" drop.
Genshin Impact has that core mechanic, but it's barely recognizable next to most gacha games, which have turn-based battles or hands-off autobattles that you toss your characters into. This is a fully 3D open world RPG with fast-paced action-RPG combat. At a glance, it looks a lot like a JRPG like Tales of Zestiria. But instead of the typical half dozen party members you meet along the way, there are way more here. Some you'll recruit throughout the main story, but you'll also be able to expand your party out of characters you unlock through the gacha system, and you can swap control between them during combat.
And then there's the Breath of the Wild influence. Genshin Impact has a strong aesthetic resemblance, and lets you get around the world by climbing and gliding. It's much more open than your typical JRPG, but isn't going to play much like Zelda. It does take a bit of Breath of the Wild's emergent gameplay as inspiration for its elemental combo system, where spells and attacks from you and your party members combine to create new effects.
Expect your time with Genshin Impact to feel more like playing an MMORPG. It's full of the kinds of side activities you'd expect from an MMO: Cooking, item hunts, world puzzles, rotating daily challenges, and ranks to level up beyond just your character level. It's also full of systems designed to get you to spend money or keep playing for a long time. Picture a combination of MMO and mobile gacha game here and you won't be surprised by the dizzying number of currencies, materials, and items there are for unlocking and upgrading characters. It's a lot—a grinder's dream. It isn't massively multiplayer, but once you reach a certain level in the game, you can start inviting friends in for four-player co-op.
After a long period of beta testing, Genshin Impact officially launched Monday with fully voiced English, Japanese and Korean translations. It's out on PC for free with its own launcher (if you're downloading it and experiencing painfully slow speeds, there might be a fix for you). Genshin Impact is also out on PS4 and iOS and Android, with crossplay, and mobile and PC saves are compatible, too. As long as you have an internet connection, you can be on the grind.