Yes, Genshin Impact controls my life, but it’s consensual

Logging in Genshin ImpactI immediately return to my fallback activity of picking flowers. To do that, I choose my anime-esque character with his black-and-teal-colored hair, and we fast-travel to the sheer, jutting peaks of the mystical region of Jueyun Karst. I glide down the slopes while the sounds of a stringed instruments accompany my platforming. I pick up a Qingxin (white flower) from the top a neighboring rock.

The moment seems calm and peaceful on screen. But, as I pick out the flowers, my mind races. My Qingxin collection will be 45 flowers, so I can level-up my character. At this point, I should shift gears towards collecting a completely different set of materials that can be used for specific attacks. At That point, I should check in and see if I’ll have enough money to actually use the materials. But then I notice a friend is online, so I should see if they can run the weekly boss that I’m not quite strong enough to beat yet. An otherwise beautiful moment becomes suffocating with anxiety. Genshin Impact’s never-ending to-do list.

Genshin Impact It is not a flower picking simulation. It’s an open-world free-to-play game created by the Shanghai-based studio Hoyoverse (previously known as Mihoyo). Hoyoverse released the first version. Genshin Impact two years ago, and while the core of the game remains the same — you explore, pursue quests, and collect materials to improve characters — it has received several additions of varying sizes. The game features almost any type of gameplay as of the 3.1 patch: four huge regions to explore, an entire world dedicated to decorating, a constant churning of minigames and dozens long story quests. It is huge in both its scope and the amount of storage it takes up. huge game.

There are so many beautiful nooks and crannies. Genshin Impact.
Image: Hoyoverse via Polygon

Hoyoverse’s dedication to the game has transformed it into a global success, and a touchstone in a new generation of players. The game was discontinued in May 2022. surpassed $3 billion in revenue It has become the most downloaded mobile gacha game worldwide, and is now available on mobile devices. It also became the most talked-about game Twitter in the first six months of 2022 Developers announced that in September Genshin You could even get an anime spinoff. Demon Slayer studio Ufotable. All of this being said, I decided that it was time to review the game again in celebration of its second anniversary.

Genshin Impact The action takes place in the fantasy world of Teyvat. You will encounter dragons and magical knights as well as elemental gods of the goddesses. However, each region is loosely inspired by a real world counterpart. The Traveler (the protagonist) and Paimon (the floating fairy mascot) are in search of the Traveler’s lost twin. The two travel far and wide, helping each region’s people navigate their internal struggles. The stories depict political strife and dangerous ancient monsters as well as diabolical plots by foreign adversaries.

These stories have not captured my attention for the past two years. However, Genshin leans hard on its myriad characters, and it’s here where the narrative has reeled me in. There are many reasons to love every one of the playable explorers in the game’s cast. Whether it’s the elegant sashes and pink hair of Yae Miko, or Arataki Itto’s rambunctious personality, the game features gorgeous aesthetic designs and lovable antics across the entire cast.

arataki itto smiling with his eyes closed in genshin impact

Image: Hoyoverse

All that is left to say is that while Genshin does have a mainline quest, it’s on the periphery of the central narrative that it shines. You can choose to explore. You can devote your sessions to creating stronger characters. You can spend all of your time decorating and designing your own region. No matter what you do, it’s all set in one of the most scenically stunning games I’ve ever played. Every region sparkles in its own unique way, from the warm golden pools at Liyue to Sumeru’s towering trees to Inazuma’s electric lands. What’s more, it all unfolds to one of the best video game scores that I have ever heard.

Genshin Impact as an hobby

There is so much to see, so many recurring tasks you can complete, and so many characters that you can collect and improve. Genshin Impact It can be a hobby as well as a game. Its platforming and combat are quite simple on a mechanical level. However, its chores and systems are as varied as the games themselves. Everything, from leveling up characters and saving enough currency for unlocking them, is rooted within a daily rhythm that requires ongoing investments.

There is a snowball effect that happens over time: The more you do, it becomes easier to do your day-to-day tasks. A boss fight that once took 15 minutes can now be completed at a much higher level in under a minute — and it will grant more rewards. It can feel like a series of tasks that lead to five more. For example, after I had finished leveling up Pyro Xiangling’s attacks and weapons, I needed to think about building three other characters to create a balanced team.

As I play GenshinI can switch between four characters at will. I can swing my sword and poke at enemies, yes — but for the most part, the bulk of damage is going to come from special attacks called Elemental Skills and Elemental Bursts. Once I had a well-oiled team, and I alchemized their individual elements, fighting became much more enjoyable. My bursts are fast and can charge up quickly. This allows me to unleash an endless chain of Elemental Skills as well as Bursts, while switching between characters.

Xinqiu from Genshin Impact fighting the Cryo Regisvine. There is an aura of maple leaves encircling the enemy, as well as flaming wheels, and watery swords hovering around him. All of it is doing damage to the boss laying in front of it.

Image: Hoyoverse via Polygon

Elemental Bursts are used by characters like Xiangling to encircle them in searing flames. Others, like Xingqiu release water-like needles with pinpoint accuracy that tacks on damage after a regular assault. My characters quickly become ornamented in animations that show their stat boosts, healing effect, or shield bonuses. Visually it can be a bit crowded, but it’s relatively easy to stick to the right rotation of attacks, and it’s entrancing to see the damage numbers skyrocket.

Genshin’s character-building system is among my favorites in an RPG. Understanding where to go and when can be a tedious task. It is deep, complicated, and scratches an itch that I haven’t really felt relieved since I was a young child who trained to get a level 100 Pokémon for the first time. Building one character that’s strong enough to defeat a boss is satisfying. It is thrilling to build an entire team of fighters.

Of course, there is the ever-present caveat of live service games and of Genshin Impact especially, is the fact that there’s always more content on the way. Even though I try to complete every item on my to-do-list, there’s always more to come. Keeping up Genshin ImpacWhile it can be fun, it can also be mentally exhausting.

While patch content will vary in size, these events tend to have new events that include time-restricted minigames as well as miscellaneous quests. At points, I do wish I could spend more time running around, exploring certain regions and meeting new NPCs — but I so frequently feel beholden to interact with new content, whether it’s because people are talking about it online or I want a certain item as a reward. Sometimes, I’ll focus more on the podcast playing in my ear than on the actual plot unfolding in Genshin. It’s a shame, because there are some genuinely good character quests in here — they’re just so closely associated with draining busywork that they end up feeling like a burden.

Dealing with content churn

With so many tasks and frequent, polished updates, the question now is not whether Genshin It is a great game. (It is.) Rather, the question has become “Can I even keep up with it?” With so much game, it’s no wonder that the fandom constantly brings up the language of burnout When it comes down to Genshin. It feels like I’m plugged into a never-ending cycle of content goals.

I think Genshin It’s most enjoyable when it allows me to go at my own pace. It’s my way of saying that I get the best out of it when it is done on my terms. If I have a new Archon quest to complete, I may allow myself to skip dailies for several days or just ignore the battle pass for the entire patch. Maybe I’ll let myself watch TikToks during cutscenes. The moment I feel coerced into something is when the game stops feeling enjoyable.

On the surface it sounds easy: Just only play the game when it’s fun and rewarding. There is so much to it. Genshin feels like it’s designed to exploit my human tendencies. You know that itch that won’t go away when you see a red circle on the corner of a phone app? Genshin feels just like that — day after day after day.

Engage fully with Genshin’s gacha mechanics means pursuing a currency called Primogems, a star-shaped crystal that buys another item called an Acquaint Fate, which can then be used to make “Wishes.” When you “Wish,” you gamble for a shot at getting a specific character or weapon, most of which are more powerful than free characters. Certain characters, such the once-desired bard Venti can get boosted drop rate for a specific period of time. But then they’re wrenched away. The wishing system works just like a loot box; I’ve seen people develop what they have described as serious gambling addictions While playing Genshin.

If you want to gamble and you don’t have the money to, well, then you feel like you have to log on, every day, and do All The tasks and beat All The events. And while the better characters aren’t necessary to play the game, they are Very, very nice — I can’t imagine a game in which I don’t get to play as Xiao. Some of them offer great utility to my roster, sure — but I’ve grown attached to others just through the sheer amount of time I’ve spent with them.

An image of the opening screen of Genshin Impact. It looks like an stone doorway in a celestial wonderland filled with other towering classic architecture set against a blue sky.

Image: Hoyoverse via Polygon

It’s an open-world game, but it’s also a gacha game. How and when you play will be determined by the currency, daily and weekly requirements, as well as the luck of each draw. I can’t cram all my bosses or domains into one day of playing because of arbitrary caps the developers put in place. I can’t go pick all the flowers I want because some will only respawn every two days; like the inner machinations of its ever-looming systems, that serenity I found on the mountaintop is also dictated by the grind.

And so, while there are a lot of ways to play, the game isn’t truly open — I can’t always do what I want, when I want. I love the world, but I always feel like there’s a tension between loving the world and exploring it, but always feeling like there’s an invisible hand, which is not completely free of insidious intentions, guiding my habits.

So I keep at it and push against it wherever I can. I will allow myself the freedom to grind, but I will also listen to podcasts during the most difficult moments. I won’t feel bad about getting every Primogem. I will accept that my brain might feel an itch for a while, because I simply will not get to that “one world quest” for a week, and my log might be more clogged than I’d like it to be. Instead of worrying, my first instinct is to close the game and forget all about it for a few weeks. Then, on Saturday morning, I will return back to the beautiful world and discover that my flowers have regrown.

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