Genshin Impact is a game with an identity crisis. It wants to be both a singleplayer RPG and a free-to-play, live service game. For the most part, it balances both ambitions pretty well. Despite having much in common with the exploitive breed of "gacha" RPGs prevalent on phones, Genshin Impact is mostly devoid of microtransactions that actually prevent me from enjoying the game. Its enormous and captivating open world is mine to explore all I want, and it's generous enough with its premium currency that I've been able to buy dozens of lootboxes just by playing, earning me some powerful new characters.
I've immensely enjoyed the 40 hours I've played since it launched a few weeks ago, but now that I'm firmly into Genshin Impact's endgame, one small feature is putting the free-to-play bullshit front and center and killing my motivation to keep playing.
Hitting the wall
The problem is entirely to do with one resource called Resin. If you've played mobile games before, you'll immediately recognize it as a kind of stamina system that gates how much you can do each day—but the way it works in Genshin Impact is a little more nuanced.
Like a lot of open world RPGs, in Genshin Impact you slowly accrue a lot of materials that are used for upgrading different aspects of your characters or their gear. Random quests, chests, and bosses found in the open world will often hand out experience cards, for example, that can be spent leveling up the characters in your party. But at levels 20, 40, and 60, those characters will need extra rare resources earned from specific activities in order to "ascend" and keep on leveling past that threshold. The same goes for weapons, too.
This is all heavily restricted by Resin. Like the aforementioned stamina systems of mobile games, Resin is a kind of regenerating resource that you have to spend before earning lucrative rewards from dungeons, Elite bosses, and a few other things. If I kill the dragon boss Dvalin, for example, I have to spend 60 Resin before I can open the chest that he drops to see what I got. You can only have 120 Resin at one time and it takes 16 hours to fully regenerate. Aside from these few activities, nothing else in Genshin Impact is gated by Resin.
Early on, Resin hardly bothered me because it was such a tiny piece in a much bigger ecosystem of exploration and story quests. I'd spend my daily allotment of Resin just to get it out of the way so I could go back to doing more story quests or continue exploring the wonderful zones of Liyue and Mondstadt. Running out didn't feel like an obstacle because I still had so much to do, anyway.
But 40 hours in, that's no longer the case. While I haven't turned over every rock, I've explored a hefty chunk of the map and done a large portion of the quests. My focus has now shifted towards powering up my characters, optimizing their builds, and taking on extremely tough challenges like the Spiral Abyss—a special kind of dungeon that gets harder the further in you go.
In order to do that, I need experience cards to level up my characters, a ton of upgrade materials, and a lot of mora, the in-game currency spent each time you level up characters or upgrade their gear. The problem is that all of those things require grinding certain activities that also cost Resin, and there's no way to reliably increase how much Resin I have or how quickly I get it.
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Unlike proper MMOs, where dungeons can take 30 minutes to an hour, most of the Resin-related activities take at most five minutes. The associated Resin cost scales with the reward, so if I want to complete the quick combat encounters found by doing a Ley Line Outcrop to earn some money, that'll cost me 20 Resin, whereas Weekly Bosses cost a whopping 60 Resin. But the issue is that no matter how I spend my Resin, I can blast through my stockpile in well under 20 minutes. And once it's gone, I have nothing else to do until it recharges.
It's a gradual change, but in a matter of days I went from playing for hours every evening to logging on once or twice for 15 minutes each day to spend my Resin and maybe do whatever daily quests or weekly quests are available.
What's frustrating is that I want to keep playing Genshin Impact, but Resin actively stops me from enjoying the game. I could pay to top up my Resin, but the cost scales with each subsequent purchase and quickly adds up. If I were to buy the maximum amount of Resin each day, I'd be spending almost $10 a day—and that's just for the chance at getting the loot I want. Standard RPG rules still apply, and I might kill a boss only for it to drop nothing of value to me. It's such a baffling awful way to spend money.
I'm the type of person that likes to spend money on free-to-play games that I enjoy, but this kind of microtransaction has absolutely no interest to me because it's so ephemeral. I'm not buying a cool new skin (or even the chance to get one from a lootbox) or a permanent upgrade, just a slight shortcut to something I'll obtain eventually anyway. I wish there was a way I could support Genshin Impact's ongoing development without funneling money into such impractical microtransactions.
It all just feels so unnecessary. Because Genshin Impact isn't a real MMO, I don't see why its endgame grind has to be so regulated. Practically everything else in the game let me approach it at my own pace, and I fail to see the benefit of forcing players into a rhythm of quick, 15-minute play sessions every day instead of being able to continue playing however they please.
I don't think the solution is to throw the Resin out entirely—even World of Warcraft places some limits on how quickly players earn loot. But I wish I had a way to expand the system with a little bit of time and energy. Free-to-play MMO Black Desert Online also has a similar kind of stamina system except players can increase the cap in a bunch of different ways just by playing (or paying), turning it into another kind of meaningful progression system.
But if MiHoYo doesn't make some major adjustments to how Resin works, I can't imagine I'll continue playing Genshin Impact for much longer. Instead of being able to play it on my terms, I'm now being forced into this unusual pattern of needing to log in first thing in the morning and spend all my Resin and then login later in the evening to do it all over again or risk losing out. And while I love Genshin Impact, the last thing I need in my life is another game that feels like an obligation.
If you're reading this and haven't already started playing Genshin Impact, don't let my complaints stop you from trying it. It's still one of 2020's biggest and best surprises. Just beware that you'll hit a tipping point where its endgame grind becomes too arduous and annoying to be worthwhile.