Cel-shaded graphics, hang gliders, cooking and open world environments are some of the many elements that warrant comparisons between developer miHoYo’s upcoming JRPG Genshin Impact and 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. One can’t blame him or herself for dismissing the game as a clone, as it did make headlines last year after ChinaJoy 2019 attendees deemed it a “shameless” attempt on Sony’s part to plagiarize Nintendo. While the similarities between the two titles are uncanny on the surface, what lies inside seems to be a thoughtfully crafted homage to classic Japanese franchises like Pokemon. Suffice it to say, Genshin Impact is shaping up to be more than what meets the eye.
During my brief hands-on time with the game at PAX East 2020, I discovered Genshin Impact‘s most noteworthy feature: the ability to rotate between four distinct party members on the fly. Similarly to Pokemon, each character has an elemental typing that grants certain advantages on the battlefield. I was told, for example, that characters with ice abilities will be able to freeze pools of water and walk across them. Similarly, fire-based characters can remove obstacles like bushes and tall grass by setting them ablaze.
Of course, the ability to rotate protagonists instantaneously means that players will be able to chain abilities together. For instance, one character can set a meadow ablaze with a slash of his or her sword while another quickly follows up with a gust of wind. The result is a vicious fire tornado capable of inflicting significantly more damage than anything a character can produce on their own. Considering how there will be up to 30 characters to play as when the title launches later this year, there’s a good chance there’ll be a variety of elemental combinations to experiment with from the get-go.
Genshin Impact seems to reward curiosity outside of combat, too. When I wasn’t fighting gelatinous creatures, I was free to climb cliffs, open chests and talk to travelers that passed me by. The dialogue options presented to me in the latter case may indicate branching side quests, though this has yet to be confirmed. In any case, it’s clear that a core element of the title will be exploration. It remains to be seen if this sense of wonder will be cut short by monotonous level grinding or pay walls (the title will be free-to-play, after all). For now, miHoYo seems to have its priorities straight.
It’s worth noting that the game will include co-op functionality at some point, meaning players will be able to chain elemental combos as a group rather than switch between characters on their own. Executing and tinkering with new attacks will undoubtedly be more fun with a partner, so long as the game’s servers are able to keep up with the action.
Genshin Impact may not be able shake its likeness to Breath of the Wild anytime soon, but that shouldn’t make it less worthwhile in the eyes of the JRPG community. Though my time with the title was short, its varied gameplay and emphasis on exploration have potential to appease naysayers and Breath of the Wild fans alike. While a lot is still unknown, particularly when it comes to the game’s free-to-play model, Genshin Impact seems like it’ll have a lot more than pretty waifus to ogle at when it releases later this year for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC.