Two things I try to keep a specific eye out for, and that’s games and content creators that are kid-friendly and yet still interesting to adults. I don’t mind playing something I’m not crazy about if I get to enjoy the experience with the nieces and nephews, but I’m much happier if it’s a game that I can find interesting, as well. The same is true of content creators, though they’re often consumed in the background while I work and have a lot more leeway than games, which I actively participate in.
Stardancer is a Twitch streamer that I found some time back. For those who are looking for a kid-friendly female streamer, she’s one I’ve directed some of my nieces towards. I happened to flip over to Stardancer last week and she was playing a game called Genshin Impact. I found myself becoming interested rather quickly.
This is one of those odd situations where a game passed completely under my radar for a number of reasons, and this is also why I often throw streamers in the background while I work. The game captured my attention after watching for a short time for two reasons. It’s free-to-play and the general system of play is relatively easy. Of course, I later realized that there are layers of complexity to the game that simultaneously allow for the initial level of accessibility needed for younger children while also having the curve of depth required to support the interests of older kids and adults.
Let’s walk through some of the things that I liked about Genshin Impact while we also talk about some of the issues that might prevent some readers from enjoying it. More importantly, we’ll discuss the dichotomy of the game that makes it ideal in many ways for sharing an experience with kids, and I’d argue, that also may even be one of the better gateway games for introducing kids to MMOs.
Some of the characters in Genshin Impact feel right out of my favorite anime and manga.
Depth of Experience
One of the first things to stand out about Genshin Impact is that it’s just a very pretty game with a lot of bright color and rich field of visual interest. The colors from the game being streamed on the monitor to my right popped in my peripheral vision as I was working and I found myself increasingly looking over to see what was happening on the other screen. The color choices and art style directly support the story element of the game by setting a tone and providing a rich experience for the player, or at least that’s how I felt it was impacting me while playing.
Another really great choice was the decision to give characters a bit of an anime look to them, which it appears was a key inspiration for the company’s founders. This immediately made the game interesting to my niece, who has recently been finding things like Sword Art Online more interesting, and that helped to make this an easier pitch when getting her interested enough to try the game out with me. The character movements were equally well executed and also added greatly to the experience of playing the game. It’s a bit more of a button-masher than I’d normally choose to play, but because the animations felt clean, I ended up really enjoying it. I even felt a little like I was watching a good anime with some great fight scenes.
You all know I’m a sucker for a great score, though. The Genshin Impact score is massive, complex, and exceptional with clear multi-cultural inspirations. I haven’t played the game enough to say for sure, but I feel like the combat music is changing from region to region, which is a level of ambition that is just ridiculous. Even from what I’ve heard of the soundtrack so far tells me that composer Yu-Peng Chen stretched successfully to pull motifs and sounds from a diverse set of inspirations to produce what might be the most complex suite of compositions for a single game that I’ve ever found.
Other elements of the sound design were executed with equal skill, as the environmental sound effects constantly paired with the soundtrack to present a uniquely immersive experience. Combat sounds are fun and interesting without being so realistic that they’d be off-putting for kids. Most of all, I loved the voice acting in the game.
There are vistas everywhere you turn, each skillfully crafted and supported through a very solid soundtrack.
The very first character you meet is Paimon, a cute cherubic companion that follows you through the rest of the game, though remains an unplayable character as far as I know. Voiced in English by the masterful talents of Corina Boettger, Paimon is without peer and one of the highlights of the game. I’ll credit the developers with producing one of the funniest characters that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a game, but no small amount of the huge presence created by the tiny character is due to exceptional voice acting. Boettger’s version of the character captures the essences of adorable and impish, bottles the result and presents it with delightful aplomb and timing to the player. I absolutely loved this character. Bravissimo, Maestra Boettger!
Duality of Gameplay
There are some ups and downs when it comes to gameplay and there are some people who will want to give this game a hard pass. Those folks are unlikely to have read this far into the article, but in the interests of fairness, the duality in the game needs to be discussed. The largest issue for most will be the game’s revenue model.
I think there’s an argument to be made for pay-to-win, but only because the time delta between those who are willing to spend money and those who are willing to grind their way through the game have such a gulf between them. In general, I wouldn’t call the game P2W because I’ve seen nothing for sale that you couldn’t get over time through grinding. The problem is that much of the game involves several distinct types of currency that are accrued over time or through play at very slow rates as compared to what can be purchased.
The tangential issue to this is that you don’t really play a single character (and we’ll get more into that shortly), but rather play several characters at a time and have several more in a stable of sorts that you can swap in and out depending on the situation. The moderately difficult part to swallow over this is the delta between characters at higher levels and with unlocked “constellations” and those at lower level and with fewer or no unlocked constellations. That gap makes a dramatic difference in what you can and can’t do in the game, and paying to overcome it just makes it that much easier to get more faster, especially right as you start the game.
There is a flying mechanic in the game, which also contributes to world exploration and several puzzle experiences that I found to be refreshing and fun.
That feels a little extra hard on newer players, and especially players without disposable income. Though to really understand that, we need to talk a little about how this game is different than a traditional MMO or most RPGs, and there’s a bit to unpack in that. For one, it’s more of a single-player game with a shared multiplayer experience, if you choose. There’s a main storyline (that I’ve been enjoying the heck out of) and then there’s a grindy bit that makes up the rest of the game. I find that grindy bit fun, but then you know me and my penchant for zoning out while playing games.
The other big difference is that you have and level up several characters and you can unlock more characters as you go along through the game, or more specifically how you go about doing so. Some of these characters (and possibly all, I’m not sure yet) you can unlock just by playing the game. Others, you have to cash in different types of currency for something similar to a loot box with a chance to randomly unlock gear and characters. Characters then level very slowly through experience, or more quickly through items that can be sacrificed for experience (some of which can also be purchased).
Constellations are special bonuses characters can get, but they come from unlocking duplicate copies of the character. While you slowly accumulate the resources needed to purchase these lootbox-like assets and get chances to get more characters, dropping a little cash dramatically enhances your opportunity to access those characters more quickly and to get the extra copies of them to unlock the constellations.
This is also true of weapons in the game, which come from these lootboxes, or “wishes” as the game calls them. Duplicates can be merged to rank up gear in the same way that characters can be merged to upgrade characters. Because both have such a dramatic impact on the ability to progress quickly through the game, a little cash investment will go a very long way.
The “Q” ability for each character charges up over time and some characters have supporting abilities that make it happen even faster… another layer. It’s like a parfait.
Kids and Adults
Bright colors and complicated revenue models aside, the main thing I wanted to talk about today is the gameplay itself. At a very high-level look at Genshin Impact, it’s just an action combat game with a fun story, and that’s why I think a lot of kids will enjoy the game. Younger ones will enjoy the button-mashing combat that throws characters all over the screen. Older kids will find that there are more layers to the combat that make it more interesting to them, though.
Characters and enemies come in a variety of types with various skills, and even more important elemental alignments. The traditional earth, wind, fire, ice, lightning, and air mix together in fun combinations to add just a touch of strategy to both combat and team composition. At the beginner level, it’s all about fighting mobs with an appropriate counter. You’ll find it hard to crack through that ice shield on the mob with an ice-focused character, for instance.
You can use elements to counter specific effects, water will put out fires, but they also play together for interesting status effects in combat. Using fire on a frozen enemy triggers “melt” for increased damage as an example, or when used against water triggers vaporize for a single shot of additional damage.
Genshin Impact includes plenty of female characters and many in more traditionally male roles, which I think made the game more approachable for one of my nieces.
The combinations and interplays around these elements create a second layer of complexity to the gameplay. Players form teams of four characters that they can switch out through combat and capitalize on the elemental conditions set by each to create effects by others. I often toggle from water to ice for frozen, and then switch to electricity for a combination of electro-charged and superconduct, which sets a damage over time for the one and a combination debuff/AoE damage for the other.
There’s a third layer to the gameplay, however. That’s the specific abilities of each character and how they interact and play between themselves. Some characters have abilities that affect the active character or all characters even when they’re not active themselves. For instance, several characters have healing abilities that can be used while they’re active to heal all the other inactive characters, while others have passive bonuses that they give the entire team whether they’re active or not. Other characters have special attacks or defenses that they can initiate and that will then remain active even when swapped to another character.
All these options are all additionally impacted by character levels, item levels, the many types of item sets that can be equipped in combinations for yet more bonuses, and an array of cooking recipes that provide additional buffs. This provides a lot of room for players to customize, experiment, and tweak their experience in the game, which nets to additional content.
All of that isn’t even taking into consideration the long list of exploration objectives, achievements, and daily quests that provide a fairly sizable catalog of “stuff to do” in the game. Then as if that wasn’t enough, another mechanic stretches that content even more as the world itself has levels and can be ranked up to increase the general difficulty (and thus rewards) of mobs.
I also liked that there are a few references to famous elements of western culture, a nod to some of the inspirations that the writers and artists drew from in creating Genshin Impact.
I have no problem recommending this game because it’s free-to-play and there’s no reason not to give it a shot and see what you think personally. That said, I do think there will be some who really like Genshin Impact and others who will find it much less enjoyable. Frankly, I really would have expected myself to be in the latter category.
It’s such a beautiful game and I’ve enjoyed the characters so much that I’ve really liked the exploration and story elements of the game a lot. I also worked out a combination of characters that I think mesh well together through combat and have been punching above my weight relatively consistently. The combat is fun in a way that I didn’t really expect, and I’ve generally found that I spend a lot more time playing the game that I would have anticipated.
It is a game based heavily on the Asian market and it definitely will not appeal to everyone. I’d stop short of calling it pay-to-win, but there’s a very definite hint of that element there. Additionally, that sense of personal development and growth you’d find in many of the games from the western market is missing as more focus is placed on the world story and more emphasis on the team as the unit of measure rather than the individual. That’ll be a challenge for a lot of folks, but I also think it’s an interesting opportunity to talk with some of our younger gamers about how much the culture we live in has an impact our unconscious view of the world. I personally feel that a deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in cultures help us to both embrace our own with more confidence while enriching our understanding and respect of other cultures at the same time.
For now, I’m enjoying Genshin Impact a great deal and I’m hoping to encourage some of my nephews to join me in playing the game. My hope is that this could be an easy way to introduce the younger ones to some of the basic concepts that might make a transition to MMOs easier later. Either way, I think I’ll get some great family time with the kids, and that has serious value, too. How much time the game will be getting after December 10th is a bit of a question, but then there are games and then there are games.
Take advantage of free and give Genshin Impact a shot. Let me know what you think and if there are any other games that you all feel might have slipped under my radar. There are days I feel like there’s nothing new to be found, but surprise games like this always cheer me up. Thus, I’m always glad to be pointed in cool new directions.