Genshin Impact's multiplayer mode is an enormous missed opportunity. The free-to-play RPG that released last week quickly became a bit of a phenomenon, racking up millions of downloads. It's not your typical JRPG, despite a familiar story and character classes. Like Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you can climb almost anything and use your wing glider to soar across huge canyons. Every little nook and cranny is teeming with little environmental puzzles that reward bits of treasure. Exploring alone is a blast, but Genshin Impact also features co-operative multiplayer where up to three people can join you on all that adventuring.
Too bad it sucks.
Playing with friends in a big open world RPG is so enticing people have spent years modding games like Skyrim just to make that dream a reality. But Genshin Impact's co-op is too restrictive to really be of much use. In the 35 hours I've played over the past few weeks, I've only played co-op a handful of times, and I don't think I'll spend any more time with it. If you have got a few friends who are interested and hoped you could all experience the game together, I've got some bad news. That ain't happening.
Better on your own
The first problem players will run into is that co-op isn't unlocked until way further into the story campaign than it should be. You have to first level up your Adventure Rank to 16. In Genshin Impact, Adventure Rank determines your overall progress through the game and increases bit by bit every time you do anything, from completing quests to simply opening hidden chests. A lot of systems are gated behind your Adventure Rank so as not to overwhelm new players with the surprising number of different systems like daily quests, dungeons, world bosses, and more. But reaching Rank 16 will probably take most players a dozen hours, and that feels like a needless obstacle to co-op.
I pity any friend groups who blitzed through those ranks just to play together, though, because even once you unlock co-op it quickly becomes apparent that it's all but pointless. One player acts as the host and everyone joins their version of the world, and there's a long list of things guest players can no longer interact with to prevent them from "stealing" rewards from the host.
It's a little confusing, but if I join another player's game as a guest, I'm free to run around the open map as much as I please. If I find some apples on a tree, I can take them because those apples will respawn anyway. But if I find a hidden chest, I can't interact with it or get any rewards if the host player opens it. That's because that chest belongs to them in their version of the world. This is true for a variety of exploration-based objectives, like collectible Anemoculi and Geoculi that increase your overall stamina and specific combat challenges. Basically, anything that rewards a chest will benefit no one but the host.
The other big drawback is that the more people you play co-op with, the smaller your individual party size gets. In singleplayer, I get four characters that I can rapidly switch between to tee up explosive elemental damage combos. It's a lot of fun. If just one person joins my game, though, instead of each of us having four characters to swap between, we now only have two. If three people play together, the host gets two characters but the guests each get one. With a full party, everyone is stuck using just one character.
It changes how combat works for the worse. There's a small silver lining in that with four characters on the field at once there are more targets for enemies to attack, so you might take less damage. But it means you'll have to communicate a lot to coordinate your elemental abilities and set up the big combos needed to kill tougher opponents. With a group of friends, that can be a lot of fun, but with random players, there's no way to talk aside from text chat. And, ultimately, I just prefer having my full party all to myself. Selfish, I know.
It gets worse, though. Story quests are put on pause so you can't work through the main campaign together, and most sidequests simply won't even appear on guests' screens (though it seems like the host player can still complete them on their own).
So what's left to do? Well, you can run around helping the host if you're a good samaritan and don't care about getting any rewards (boo). Or you take on different world bosses, daily quests, and Domains—Genshin Impact's version of dungeons. But those all come with their own problems.
In Genshin Impact, you're only as good as the characters in your party. But which ones are the best and which are total duds? Our complete Genshin Impact characters tier list breaks down every character, their abilities, and how they rank against their peers.
While weaker world bosses can be killed any number of times without limit, the ones you actually want to fight are limited by a system called Resin. It's one of the few ways Genshin Impact's roots as a mobile game get in the way, because Resin is basically a glorified stamina system that limits how often you can complete certain activities each day. To get the rewards from a world boss, you have to spend Resin and it takes about 15 hours to fully recharge. Resin also limits the rewards from Domains.
In singleplayer, I don't mind Resin all that much because there's so much to do in Genshin Impact. When I first log in each day, I'll quickly spend all my Resin and then get back to completing story quests or just running around exploring and having fun. But in multiplayer, Resin feels like an enormous burden because you can spend all of it extremely quickly.
You only have a max of 120 at any one time and activities can require anywhere from 20 to 60 of it depending on how rare the rewards are. Because each of these activities takes maybe five minutes to complete (and often much less), you're looking at maybe 30 minutes before you're all spent. So unless 30 minutes is all the time you have with friends, you're going to end up mighty bored playing Genshin Impact together.
It's a shame that Genshin Impact is structured this way, especially because things like sharing loot and completing quests aren't a problem in other games. Instead of either being in your version of the world or another player's, I don't know why Genshin Impact couldn't just take the two different world states and squish them together. It's something that MMOs do all the time. In World of Warcraft, I might be in the midst of saving a village that's burning down while another player in that same area sees the already charred husk because he completed that quest long ago.
It's called phasing, and that same principle could be applied so that if I've already opened a chest in my world, it would appear open in a friend's world—but only for me. My friend could still open that chest and get some loot. It'd make co-op a lot more meaningful if both players could make progress together instead of just the host.
The way it works now, though, co-op only feels worthwhile in one particular case: Using the matchmaking mode to join random players looking to do the same dungeons as you. It works pretty well if you're okay with giving up character swapping. It's a huge waste of potential, and I hope developer MiHoYo might look into how it can expand the system. Because playing with friends in Genshin Impact just isn't worth it right now.