I’ve been playing Genshin Impact, a new game from China which apparently has made $100 million in a few weeks. This is quite a trick as it’s free.
It’s also extremely pretty:
If you know me, you’ll expect the straight dope on the name, so here it is: Genshin is the Japanese reading of the Chinese name, which is 原神 Yuánshén ‘The Original Gods’. (The developers are in Shanghai, so I suspect they name it in Wu instead, but I don’t have any Wu resources.)
The world of the game is called Teyvat. I would have expected the Chinese to mean something, but it doesn’t– it’s 提瓦特 Tíwǎtè. This could mean “hold pottery special”, but probably doesn’t. If anyone has any insight into the name, I’d like to know it!
There are two nations available so far. Mondstadt is 蒙德 Méngdé, which could be translated Mongol German. So, Foreignerland. The country is kind of para-Germanic, and Mondstadt means “moon city” in German. The other country is para-China, and is called 璃月 Líyuè, which translates to “glass moon”. Is it meaningful that moons are involved in both names, in different languages? Probably not, since the theme of the game is “elements”, not celestial bodies. Mondstadt’s is wind and Liyue’s is earth.
The plot is completely bananas, so I won’t bother to go over it. It gives you an excuse to explore the world, which is huge, and packed with things to do.
I’ll give you the standard worrying, which is that the game has microtransactions. However, you can play for free, and the game never nags you to buy anything– which is more than I can say for Dragon Age Origins, which literally put a salesman for paid DLC into your camp.
There are 24 characters you can get. So far the game has been quite generous with these. E.g. from this list of characters by tier, I have two of the four top-tier characters, after playing for only a couple days. You get characters by “wishes”, which uses special tokens called Acquaint Fate. And those in turn you can get by playing, or as quest rewards, or you can convert them from the far more common tokens you get all over the game, “primogems”.
It’s probably some kind of evil that there are at least half a dozen types of currency, and level advancement is absurdly complicated. Again, this is no worse than Destiny 2. And the game seems generous with its tokens. E.g. to “ascend” past level 20, your characters need more damn special objects. But, eh, I got the objects I needed to ascend two characters just by doing a few quests, and you can also buy most of the items with in-game currency.
Anyway! What do you actually do? Well, talk to people, then take on their various errands, which mostly but not always involve murdering monsters. It actually reminds me a lot of Oblivion, only with pretty 2020 graphics and anime characters.
You have a party of four, probably your favorites among the characters you’ve acquired. Curiously, you move around and fight with only one at a time– but you switch between them by the number keys. This is actually the key to combat, because each character has an element, and elements combine in combat. So e.g. you can catch someone in a whirlwind with your wind character, then switch to your fire character and set the tornado on fire. There are names for all the interactions, which I haven’t memorized, but suffice it to say: you want to switch characters a lot to mix up their abilities.
Combat is not too hard, but enemies can have shields, and outnumber you, so you do have to be careful. Most of them telegraph their moves, which can be dodged, so if you’re clever you can avoid most damage. I am only sometimes clever. Things are much easier once you realize that you can eat (restoring health) during battle, and eating pauses the combat. It seems to be essential to have at least one ranged-attack character, since some enemies have an annoying tendency to fly just out of melee range.
I often don’t like mega-open-world games, because the number of things to do gets overwhelming. I don’t feel that way here, I think because the activity count is out of control, which means I don’t feel I have to do everything. Tonight I traveled for the first time to Liyue, and it took forever just because there was so much to do along the way. There are markers on the map, but they don’t show everything; you mostly have to poke around and look at interesting things. Plus there’s daily quests, and resource collection, and gliding, and special dungeons…
If you do give it a try, I advise sticking with it at least till you can travel to Liyue. I’ve enjoyed Fake Fantasy China, like Jade Empire, but Chinese people are obviously better at creating Fantasy China than Westerners will be. It’s nice, for instance, that everyone in Liyue has proper pinyin names. Mondstadt is pretty, but not very different from every other Fantasy Medieval European country; Liyue is more interesting.
I do have a few complaints, but they’re minor. I wish you could run faster and glide longer. There’s a gliding mission I keep failing because the controls aren’t well enough explained. Also the game crashes on me, though it may be that my PC is getting too old.
The character design is pretty darn anime. It’s actually pretty amazing technically, because the characters are 3-D modeled, but shaded to look like cartoons, and it all works seamlessly even if your camera is moving.
Some people seem to dislike this, but some people should maybe worry about the beams in their own eyes before complaining of the motes in other cultures’. I have to point out that the character above is a badass warrior, expert with a sword and wind magic. Her costume is kind of absurd, but probably less absurd than the American convention of basing superhero attire on circus strongmen.
I’m only a few days in, so I don’t know how the later game holds up. But it’s relaxing fun so far.