A free-to-play game has surprised players with not only how much it feels (cough) inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but how good it actually is. Genshin Impact, from Chinese developer miHoYo, feels like it copied Breath of the Wild’s source code and then went to town.
It features an open world that is designed to be explored at your leisure. You can climb anywhere or float down from an outcrop using a glider. It features camps of enemies scattered all over the map, as well as puzzles to stumble across and shrines to uncover. It even has a lot of the same musical cues, with one composition I heard during my playtime almost note-for-note identical to one found in BOTW.
But Genshin Impact isn’t just a copy. I have to give the game credit. It is, in some ways, a significant improvement over the game it draws inspiration from.
A core trait of Breath of the Wild was also its curse. Its story was incredibly simplistic. Link wakes up after 100 years, and must obtain the power of the four divine beasts to rid the land of Calamity Ganon. The player was able to explore and discover Hyrule at their leisure, seeking out the four champions of each tribe in any way they saw fit.
Nintendo gave players freedom, but that also meant the story was the least interesting aspect Breath of the Wild. That game’s best moments didn’t have anything to do with the narrative of Link’s quest to defeat Ganon. Instead, the game’s heart was in the smaller, improvised moments of discovering a new shrine or hidden secret.
Genshin Impact has retained the sense of adventure while also providing a story with more meat on its bone. The player is immediately thrust into a tale about two dimension-hopping siblings. One is then captured by a god of Teyvat, the world where Genshin Impact is set. Playing as the other stranded sibling, you must recruit new companions in the search for your brother (or sister).
Within the first few hours of the game, the player will uncover the city of Mondstadt, and help rid it of a powerful dragon named Stormterror. As the story progresses, it works within similar confines as Breath of the Wild, requiring the player to become more familiar with Teyvat. But it provides more direction and narrative incentive to do so.
The game handles moments of pure exploration well, locking story quests behind “traveler levels” that push the player to delve deeper into Teyvat’s map. Unlike Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which locked missions behind the character’s experience points, traveler levels in Genshin Impact are tracked independently. Discovering a puzzle or a fast travel waypoint will grant the player a small boost to traveler level, while uncovering and completing bigger side quests will lead to bigger gains.
Ultimately, Genshin Impact strikes a balance between its story and its open-world exploration, successfully intertwining the two without feeling light on either.
Teyvat is as expansive as Hyrule, but it always feels like there’s something interesting around the corner. In Breath of the Wild, large chunks of the map feature only a handful of shrines and enemy encampments. Genshin Impact has a similar core design, but there’s more variety to how things are implemented into the world.
It’s the in-between areas is where Genshin Impact really shines. Instead of stumbling across a village or a horse ranch, the game features full-fledged cities. The first one you discover within the opening hour of the game, Mondstadt, is bigger and grander than any of the pockets of civilization Link comes across in Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild is set in a dying, post-apocalyptic world, so there’s narrative reasons as to why it might not be as occupied, but that doesn’t make it any more fun. The more lively world of Genshin Impact is a big improvement.
In Breath of the Wild, Link carried along a Sheikah Slate that granted him four different abilities: Magnetism, bomb creation, freezing, and stopping time. They were intrinsic to exploring the open world, as well as completing its many shrines.
The hook of Genshin Impact is its elemental abilities. The main character at the start of the game accrues wind powers, and adds additional companions throughout their journey that have other elemental abilities — fire, ice, water, shock, and so on. These abilities boost your regular attacks with a melee or ranged weapon, and are often required to complete the puzzles in the game.
The way that elemental abilities work is often more interesting than the capabilities of the Sheikah Slate in Breath of the Wild. In combat, a character can douse enemies in water, and then the player can hot-swap to another character that can then freeze them. A fire character can be chosen to then inflict melt damage by hitting enemies with flaming arrows. Finally, the main character can finish them off by sending a tornado their way, igniting a firenado when it makes contact.
While I certainly miss having lock-on combat like in Breath of the Wild, as well as slo-mo attacks that are awarded for precisely timed dodges, coming up with inventive ways to mix-and-match my party’s elemental abilities in Genshin Impact makes for more interesting combat overall.
Link had some light roleplaying mechanics to play around with in Breath of the Wild, such as different armors that modified certain characteristics. Outfit modification, however, is just a fraction of the RPG elements at work in Genshin Impact.
Characters have experience levels and skill trees. They can improve their weapons from items in the world they pick up, or visit a blacksmith to create new ones. They can equip stat modifiers to make for a more offensive or defensive fighter, tweak their elemental abilities to be stronger, or require faster cooldowns.
Each of these mechanics makes for a more customizable experience that players can tailor to their choice of gameplay, allowing them to adjust the further they progress into it.
There’s also, as mentioned, a broad cast of characters, but you can only choose four to be in your party at any one time. Having a character in your party lets you hot-swap between them instantly. Each character has a different set of skills, and there are fewer characters than there are elemental attack types in the game, so you have to make tough choices when deciding which characters to enhance.
On top of everything mentioned above, Genshin Impact has a myriad of minor adjustments that make for a more streamlined and pleasant experience, the biggest being cooking.
In Breath of the Wild, cooking was based off of the ingredients the player chose, requiring them to memorize recipes if they wanted to make a dish that offered a specific benefit. In Genshin Impact, you create food based off of recipes that show exactly what edible items you are able to craft at any given time. While the former game’s method allowed more experimentation, it was incredibly frustrating when you found yourself in dire need of a specific dish to accomplish a goal, but lacked the means or ingredients to complete the task.
While I never hated the fact that weapons broke over time in Breath of the Wild, having that not happen in Genshin Impact really opened my eyes to how much time I’d waste trying to find a competent tool Link could to fight with. The increased weapon durability is going to please a lot of players.
Breath of the Wild is one of my favorite games of all time and, to me, its little quirks are what made that experience so memorable. Still, like many games that spawn their own subgenre, there will be new options that build off of those foundations and address perceived shortcomings. Genshin Impact doesn’t mimic Breath of the Wild blindly but instead follows its own path in key areas — and it’s a better game for it.
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