Over the last few years, I’ve really tried to take onboard the concept of “not yucking someone else’s yum”. That is to say, respecting that not everything in the arts is going to cater to my particular tastes, and allowing others to enjoy whatever it is they’re into.
I’ve gotten better at it, tactfully biting my tongue whenever something I dislike is brought up in conversation. Much like Elden Ring last year, however, the issue grows in size when a product is shoved down my throat with reckless abandon, and in 2023, I choose to bite my tongue no longer when that subject matter is Genshin Impact.
I’d rather bite Paimon’s tongue, and spit it to the ground in a defiant show of rage.
I recall with whatever the antonym for fondness is, the day I first laid eyes upon Genshin Impact. My stance echoed the popular consensus at the time; that this was a shameless Breath of the Wild clone — so blatant in the way it hawked Nintendo’s aesthetics and design philosophy, you half-expected Blight Ganon to descend from a nearby tower.
In a bootlicking interview conducted by FreeMMOStation on the subject shortly before its release, miHoYo’s development team explained, “In a post that our team circulated to players last year, we mentioned that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of our inspirations for creating Genshin Impact as an open-world action RPG. That said, it is important to note that once you actually pick up the game, you will find the experience of Genshin Impact to be very different from that of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
“Genshin Impact features a fully original story and characters, and the core gameplay revolves around assembling a party of multiple characters and engaging in a combat system based on interactions between different elements. As we go from closed beta to official release, players will soon be able to discover the unique features and joy that Genshin Impact delivers.”
Though I remain resolute that the intention was absolutely to ape Breath of the Wild’s looks and mechanics in an effort to hastily place themselves in the public spotlight, having actually played Genshin Impact, I can confirm that the experience is indeed very different.
More specifically, it fucking sucks.
Within moments of commencing Genshin Impact, you are introduced to Paimon, the requisite “talking tutorial thing” that will flit about the screen, explaining every rudimentary feature you will ever encounter.
“Climb this wall to proceed!”
“Attack enemies to deplete their health!”
“Give me your credit card details now to save time later!”
She is a lamentable, abhorrent pox upon this realm, and had I not been streaming my gameplay at the time, I likely would have quit playing there and then.
I won’t labour over my detestation for Paimon too extensively however, as Nintendo themselves have a spotty history in the annoying character front. Conventional wisdom would suggest I’m throwing elbows in the direction of Fi from Skyward Sword, whereas in actual fact I am referring very specifically to goddamn Nia, whose grating advice gave me the powerful urge to commit violent crimes.
After a brief hike, Paimon and I found ourselves standing on a cliff face overlooking a lush forest. A cutscene indicated our destination, which most stunningly was right before us, before the pixie dithered towards a path on the right. Sensing an opportunity to distance myself from her constant nattering, I opted to jump off the cliff, sustaining heavy damage upon landing that was in no way indicated by any kind of animation or visual aid other than my HP bar depleting rapidly.
Whatever. I’m sure there will be some kind of health item nearby that Paimon can needlessly elucidate me about. So my protagonist — whom I had named AlaskaMartha, should you be curious — pressed onwards a few steps until the accursed wretch shouted from afar, “Don’t stray too far from Paimon!”
An instruction appeared onscreen, demanding that I enter the keyboard command to “return to quest point”. Upon doing so, I was whisked back to where I had started, forced to review the cutscene again before very specifically having to follow in Paimon’s footsteps while she blurted exposition at me.
This, for all intents and purposes, is what Genshin Impact is all about: setting dull and rigid tasks before you, and punishing anyone who makes even a cursory attempt at being curious or exploratory. miHoYo didn’t bother accounting for intrigue, after all, so you’d better not: the longer it takes for you to finish the tutorial, the longer until they can gouge you in the store!
When it feels as though it has a story to tell, it will force you to walk short distances in order to trigger its cutscenes. The payoff, if I might be so bold, is little beyond agony, populated by vapid characters doing disinteresting things. At one point, there was a prompt for me to select a response to a question. My choice was to either introduce myself and state my name, or… nothing. There was no other option available.
Across your travels, you will assemble a party of various other heroes; ostensibly the reason why people obsess over this miserable fucking game. They all look very pretty and marketable, and come with one of three character traits: aloof, annoying, or devoid of a personality whatsoever.
Early on, several characters gathered to have an important discussion that I chose to ignore. One of these participants happened to be Amber, a member of my active roster, who now waited idle in front of me. Out of curiosity, I pressed the key to swap from AlaskaMartha to the mundane archer herself, and lo and behold, I did so unimpeded. Now, there was simply two Ambers, each seeming completely ambivalent to the doppelgänger that stood before her. Nobody else in the room blinked an eye, as though this was a normal occurrence that happened frequently.
The madness proceeded into a dungeon where Amber was inexplicably assigned the task of explaining the basic mechanics, effectively dictating advice to herself as she went. In another instance, a missed jump led me to attempt gliding to a platform in the distance, only to clip through it because it was apparently not part of the intended level design and therefore devoid of collision detection. Like, what in the fuck is this, even? Are we so addicted to this gacha nonsense that we will blissfully ignore fundamental flaws that a teenager studying their first semester of game design should have caught?
Again, I circle back to my original point; people have every right to enjoy Genshin Impact for whatever reasons they might have. Maybe they find the gameplay and story compelling. Perhaps they’re entranced by its colourful world and the denizens within. Possibly, they’ve just got a gambling addiction and the notion of landing a rare and overly talkative fictional child sounds appealing to them.
I just cannot abide the notion that this shallow, transparently exploitative piece of tripe garners accolades such as the publicly elected Players’ Voice at the 2022 Game Awards. For their efforts, players were awarded in-game currency, and I’m sure that didn’t influence anyone’s votes whatsoever.
If this was nothing more than an obscure Zelda wannabe, I would be unfazed. Lord knows there are hundreds of those sleazing around Steam storefronts as it is. But no, we are dealing with an empire that ended 2022 with over $4 billion in lifetime mobile revenue earnings.
Whatever your stance is on the morality of its drops — serving as a timely reminder that ultimately, people who are spending money even for the wrong reasons are doing so at their own volition — my lasting opinion is that it’s just a really shitty game to begin with, driving yet another nail into the coffin that explains why I lost my passion for this industry years ago.
I would love to have presented some kind of convincing, fact-based argument beyond my own experiences, but ultimately I am aware that opinions will never be swayed one way or the other. Genshin has its claws dug deep into the gaming zeitgeist, with no end in sight. Quite the contrary, it is merely adding another talon to its arsenal with the impending release of miHoYo’s next title: Honky Tonk Railroad, or whatever the fuck it’s called.
Escape is impossible. I can only hope to deter anyone not already indoctrinated from ever making the same mistake. In short, Paimon is Satan incarnate, so I beg you, play Breath of the Wild instead. Or nothing at all? I’m just laying out some better alternatives here, and unlike Genshin Impact, I have at least offered you more than one.