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What Is ‘Genshin Impact’ and Is It Really Free to Play?

Ayaka from 'Genshin Impact' mid-combat

Genshin Impact was a surprise hit this year, offering an appealing world and fun gameplay while being free to play. Many people jumped at the chance to enjoy this new title, but if you’ve held off or just recently heard of it, let’s go over the basics of what Genshin Impact is—and if it’s as free to play as it claims.

What’s the Game Like?

Genshin Impact is an open-world RPG with a noticeably anime-inspired art style. If you’ve heard about it all, you may have also heard the comparisons to other games in the genre, most notably The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And while Breath of the Wild was a key inspiration for the development team when creating Genshin Impact, it’s no carbon copy. Borrowing elements from other action RPGs (such as Kingdom Hearts III) and JRPGs (such as the Tales of series and Xenoblade Chronicles 2), Genshin Impact brings plenty of new stuff to the table.

Barbara from 'Genshin Impact' exploring the world
Just one example of the beautiful world in Genshin Impact miHoYo

The world is diverse and fantastical, with loads of unique locations to discover, and the combat takes a simple but enjoyable approach to real-time RPG fights. You’ll need to balance an elemental system while playing to maximize your damage, and you can switch between the various characters on the fly—all of whom have wildly different abilities. The heavy use of visual effects makes sure that you feel great while performing every action, even if the combat system is a bit shallow on closer inspection. The elemental system even lets you affect the open world (such as burning plants or freezing over lakes).

When it comes to progression, it’s your standard RPG affair; you level up your character and overall “Adventure Rank” for stat boosts while also picking up new weapons and items for … more stat boosts. There’s not much thrown in to differentiate things, but the game will likely get its teeth in you, as the loop of constantly improving your character is quite addictive—especially when it’s a reward for actively exploring the world or fighting enemies. If you want to see some of this stuff for yourself before jumping in, then this gameplay video from IGN should be enough of a tease without spoiling too much of the game.

While that’s most of what you’ll be doing on the gameplay side of things, Genshin Impact does have a bit more to offer with its story. The game is fully voiced from major story beats to sidequests, and the plot is enjoyable (if nothing special). Steven Messner from PCGamer stated, “It’s cliche and not exactly riveting, but the story is still a lot of fun.” It likely won’t rival the heights of the RPG genre, but it’s commendable for a free-to-play title.

You can also enjoy all this with a few friends. Genshin Impact supports online multiplayer between up to four players at a time, and it’s even cross-play between all platforms—but there is a catch. You can’t just jump into a multiplayer session right off the bat. All players first need to reach Adventure Rank 16. This requires spending a decent amount of time in the game (around ten hours, usually), and even then, not all quests are available for multiplayer. So don’t get all your friends to install the game expecting to play together, as Genshin Impact is designed to be played mostly in single-player (but the multiplayer is a lot of fun regardless).

How Much Does It Really Cost to Play?

If you’re familiar with free-to-play games, it won’t surprise you to learn that Genshin Impact has some egregious in-game purchases or “microtransactions” in play. But to be fair to the game, an impressive amount of content is on display here completely for free. The entire open-world and all quests are available for free, and while you can pay to level up faster through “Resin,” it’s nothing major, and you can easily go without.

Announcement for new "Wish" available in 'Genshin Impact'
One of the various “Wishes” available for purchase miHoYo

So then, what is the worst of Genshin Impact‘s microtransactions? Loot boxes, of course, or “Wishes,” as they’re called in-game. If you’re unfamiliar with loot boxes, it’s basically a system where you can spend money to open a loot box for a random item of varying rarities. In Genshin Impact’s case, that translates to a wide selection of various items and, more critically, unlockable characters. While you unlock all the characters you need through playing the story, additional ones will need to be unlocked through “Wishes.”

This is by no means the worst monetization scheme out there, and in many ways, Genshin Impact is relatively generous. However, the inclusion of loot boxes is particularly irksome due to the randomization-nature of the mechanic. And the odds are most definitely stacked against you, with the rarest characters having a drop rate as low as 0.6%.

You can easily play Genshin Impact without dropping a single cent on the game at the moment, and to be fair to the developers, they’ve actively taken steps to appease some concerns. Assuming that things stay as they are, it’s not too bad, and the game does reward a decent amount of premium currency through normal gameplay. But if you’re chasing a specific character, you’ll certainly wind up pulling out your wallet, unless you’re insanely lucky or patient.

A Work in Progress

One more thing we wanted to quickly note is that Genshin Impact is not a finished game. Currently, only two of seven planned areas are in the game, and the story is also left incomplete because of that. Genshin Impact is planned to be developed over the next several years with loads of updates, so the game could change drastically over time.

Since technical issues are a common occurrence with in-development games, we should mention here that Genshin Impact is great in this regard. The game is stable, with minimal glitches and impressive performance on all platforms.

Should You Play Genshin Impact? 

Amber from 'Genshin Impact' fighting a boss ememy

If you’re looking for a fun game that you can just sit back and relax with, then Genshin Impact is excellent for that. The game’s world is pleasant to drink in and the combat is a nice balance of being involved, while not becoming overly complicated. And critics are in consensus that this is one of the standout titles of the year. Travis Northup from IGN stated, “The excellent combat, addictive exploration, and beautiful world make this one of the most exciting games I’ve played all year.”

While the existence of microtransactions is unfortunate, and it’s something to keep an eye on as the game develops, they are avoidable and shouldn’t spoil the fun too much. You can easily play without spending anything on the game, and the numerous free updates planned make it a much easier pill to swallow.

If you want to try out Genshin Impact, it’s currently available on the PlayStation 4 and 5, PC, Android, and iOS, with a Switch port planned for the future. Cross-saves are available so that you can jump between various platforms, but they’re currently only available on PC and mobile devices. And as previously mentioned, the online co-op features cross-play between all platforms.

Eric Schoon Eric Schoon
Eric Schoon is a writer for Review Geek and has spent most of his life thinking about and analyzing products of all shapes and sizes. From the latest games to the hottest smartphones, he enjoys finding the greatest strengths and weaknesses of everything he gets his hands on and then passing that information on to you. Read Full Bio »