Genshin Impact understands the value of taking your time

Genshin Impact's Fischl
(Image credit: MiHoYo)

How often have you had a show recommended to you by a friend, only for them to add "Oh, it gets really good in Season 3 so just skip to that!"? And how many of you have actually taken that advice, and skipped the first few seasons when watching it for the first time? Let's be real—that's just not how watching television works. No matter how many times you tell me season one of Parks & Rec is worth skipping, I’m just going to suffer through it, because it feels wrong to start somewhere in the middle.

Videogames are a lot like this. The equivalent of Parks & Rec Season One might be forcing you to grind for resources or XP. It might be huge empty swathes of map to make your way across or pointless side quests added to a game to make it better 'value'. Grinding through all of this is like getting past season one, into the good stuff in season two and beyond where Adam Scott and Rob Lowe show up. A lot of gacha games never even leave Parks & Rec Season One, perpetually sending you on grind after grind after grind with Paul Schneider by your side. The only escape is the hope that you will save enough virtual currency (or pump in enough real money) to pull Adam Scott (who is, obviously, a 5-star drop).

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That's why I appreciate Genshin Impact so much. Not only is it a real game with gacha mechanics, rather than just a gacha-infused grindfest, it's also deeply appreciative of your time. And it's keen for you not to squander it. This is evident everywhere, from the core design, to the seamless transition from desktop play to mobile play, to the way characters behave.

Levelling up in Genshin Impact takes time, but that doesn't mean you have to grind for it. It provides enough story-based activities for you to climb up the first 10 or so levels without even really noticing, plus you earn XP from travelling around the map during these quests and activating fast travel points or opening chests. Around halfway through the fairly meaty prologue, though, you'll start to notice that the next quest is gated behind a certain level, usually a few levels higher than where you are, meaning you can't just mainline the story.

I'll be honest: at first, this really annoyed me. Even using the free characters the game gives you, I was making mincemeat of my enemies, was starting to get into the plot, and didn't care for Genshin pumping the brakes. The more I played, though, the more I appreciated it.

You can't pay your way through the levels, so this system wasn't put in place to get you to fork over cash. It doesn't really expect you to grind, either; the best way to level up is to complete the daily tasks. These are unique mini quests, which you can only do four of a day, and they take less than an hour in total. Genshin Impact doesn’t demand that you grind from now until Tuesday to level up; it just asks you to wait until Tuesday. It would rather you play little and often than sink seven hours into a search for a mystical mushroom which you can give to a merchant for a measly 100 XP.

Flying in Genshin Impact

(Image credit: MiHoYo)

Where other games demand that you keep playing and playing and playing lest you miss out on the chance for a special sword, Genshin Impact demands that you stop playing just for XP, at least for today. Relax, take a drink of water, talk to your friends, read a book. Watch Parks & Rec. Genshin Impact will still be here tomorrow.

Even if you’re not hunting for XP, the world is so vibrant, so packed with life and color, that exploring and navigating it is a blast, regardless of the minimal effect this has on your rank or level. The two main hubs, Mondstadt and Liyue Harbor, are bursting with life, while the quiet beauty of the wilderness can be found once you start to venture outside of them.

It's a refreshing approach to this kind of game. The way it values its players' time highlights why Genshin Impact is a major evolution in the gacha genre. It doesn't just refrain from encouraging grinding—it makes it almost impossible. There are some tasks aside from the dailies you can do for XP, but these either use a resource which also needs a long cooldown to refresh (like Resin), or offer so little XP that rushing ahead is pointless when tomorrow's tasks are going to bring a much bigger XP boost with them.

It's still a gacha game, and still has plenty of opportunity for you to pour your money into the virtual slot machine, but this is mainly in the hope of getting your favorite characters, not simply progressing. Thanks to it dishing out some currency as levelling rewards and giving away other characters for free, you can build a very strong team for no cost. A lot of spending in gacha games is slightly resentful, with players feeling like their hand has been forced by the deliberately frustrating design. Not here.

Genshin Impact's slow and steady pacing may frustrate some, but you just can’t spend your way around it. Any cash you do splash is to heighten the experience, rather than repair it.

Looking out over the water in Genshin Impact

(Image credit: MiHoYo)

This attitude towards time, this respect for stillness, can be found within the game itself too. There are several spots where you'll find the option to sit: by a lakeside, on an island, at the top of a mountain. Not to recover health, not to charge your powers, not to do anything which will have a tangible influence on your character. Just to sit and drink everything in. In a genre usually so abuzz with tasks and quests and resource gathering, Genshin Impact's willingness to push the pause button so often is refreshing.

It's not entirely without the grind. You need to defeat bosses, often over and over again, in order to level up your best weapons. Domains and Temples can also be repeated for some juicy rewards. But these are in place for players who want that sort of experience with Genshin Impact—they haven't been set up as a core roadblock only the most dedicated players can climb, or the biggest whales can crush.

Genshin Impact reallys feels like a reinvention of what it means to be a free-to-play game, and a bold statement of how to do gacha right. This is no Parks & Rec Season One: Genshin Impact is an experience not to be skipped.