If there is anywhere that the current semi-lockdown would make us want to escape to, it would be the fantastical free-to-play realms of Genshin Impact; filled with medieval-esque folklore, elemental magic and a sprinkling of charismatic anime characters.
Although it may sound similar to other RPG games, Genshin Impact represents a gateway from healthy screen time use, to having no boundaries at all. The enchanting open world created by the Chinese developer miHoYo lures players’ imaginations with its smooth gameplay, which explains the 10+ million downloads on the Google Play Store, remarkably high ratings across all platforms, and one hundred-million dollar grossing since its recent release on 28 September.
Your journey begins when in the middle of an adventure with your twin, you get attacked by a power-lusting, silver-haired witch who kidnaps your sibling, leaving you in despair, kick-starting the quest for your biological half.
While there is no character customisation, the game progressively allows you to first get a taste of and then incorporate into your team the multiple characters that you encounter on your pathway to liberating your twin. Ranging from a flirty librarian, Lisa, who electrocutes any living being that crosses her path, to the mysterious knight Kaeya, who freezes his enemies, they all add layers of interactivity to a team that’s led by you; an air-bending warrior and a ‘gifted’ local legend that gets to join guilds and knighthoods.
Your adventure just would not be complete without the slightly annoying fairy-like sidekick named Paimon, who you get allocated with and is repeatedly referred to as ‘emergency food’.
Not only can the player glide through the open skies with any character, they also get to experience the seven elements that each of the characters instinctively controls: anemo (wind), geo (earth), electro (lighting), dendro (nature), hydro (water), pyro (fire) and cryo (frost). Knowing how to manipulate elemental reactions is the key to establishing your victory in a fight, which is complimented by your ability to swiftly switch between your teammates in a battle and amplify their attacks. This way, no matter how large, every enemy in the game is defeatable.
While Genshin Impact is a gacha game, it seems to revolutionise the concept, as you never seem to face the dreadful cash wall that urges you to possess ‘X’ characters and ‘Y’ weapons to defeat ‘Z’ enemy. Although it encourages you to level up, this can be easily done by exploiting the expansive locations within the game, where every wall is climbable and every herb is collectible, and can be used as an ingredient in a delicious recipe that you follow to create a hearty meal.
As you scavenge through the hills and forests, you get to unlock chests containing a variety of useful rewards, make use of elemental magic to solve riddles, chase after floating spirits that lead you to hidden prizes and worship ancient statues. However, this doesn’t come without destroying some ugly-looking Hilichurls, the hairy enemy guards, sloppy slimes that block your path as a pack and other eerie enemies. Despite death always lurking around the corner, the varyingly difficult fights only fuel your appetite for the game. These also appear to be enough to acquire the additional experience points to level up while making your way through the seemingly endless game map, the size of which solely depends on how many locations you have unlocked.
Your exploration also grants you Wishes, the central component of the gacha system with which you have the chance to pull highly ranked weapons and additional characters. Even then, weapon duplicates are never wasted, as you can invest them into enhancing the already owned identical objects. When the game treats you so fairly, only your own power of will can prevent you from completely abandoning the gloomy Covid reality.
If you have never played such a game before and are totally unfamiliar with the RPG system, but at the same time are drawn to anime-styled fantasies, deeply intertwined narrative stories, dragons and history, then this game is for you. While any gacha game contains complicated obstacles that are either related to impossible challenges or cash-grabbing traps, I haven’t yet encountered such situations as a level 20 character in Genshin Impact.
My only piece of advice would be to avoid installing this game as a final year student, or as a university student at all, because the idea of switching off from the alluring aesthetic of Genshin Impact to enter the assignment-filled nightmare will quickly begin to revolt you as the time goes on.