For the past several updates, Genshin Impact has built upon its initial success in predictable and sometimes unsatisfying ways. Whether you explored Dragonspine and dealt with the modest annoyance of the bitter cold, or muddled along another story quest over a character you probably won’t obtain, much of the gameplay from past updates has blended together – for better or worse. Then, miHoYo released the Lantern Rite Event, and proved Genshin Impact can be more.
One of the biggest attractors to Genshin Impact is the effortless combat, with some underlying complexities that are built upon by your team composition. Collecting new characters and finding new ways to weave them into new teams is fun, but once you begin to near the maximum Adventure Rank, it’s highly likely that even if you happen to roll those new characters, they don’t outweigh the repetition of elemental reactions and predictable daily or weekly encounters. Breaking up the monotony of Genshin Impact’s events is meant to happen, and has happened ever month, but usually the events are limited to more simplistic combat or fetch quests. Even the Chalk Prince and the Dragon’s only real lasting effect pushes players into another repetitive weekly diversion with Crimson Wishes.
To my surprise, the Lantern Rite Event changed this formula. Sure, the new character Xiao is probably one of the coolest characters we’ve seen in the game, and the standard quests of the Lantern Rite tales are the same humdrum quests we’ve gotten used to, but miHoYo’s addition of the Theater Mechanicus manages to take the combat system we’ve come to know, and twist it just enough, to make a fun and engaging tower defense game. On the surface, the Theater Mechanicus is about as simplistic of a tower defense game as you can get. You build elemental towers or traps, you execute enemies, and you get rewarded for completing achievements that you can later turn in for rewards.
As tower defense goes, understanding how to read the levels and build according to the enemies you face is paramount to survival. It’s completely possible to fail, if too many enemies escape. Each round of Theater Mechanicus also requires that you trade a lantern to participate, and you have to craft these lanterns out of materials earned through mining or killing monsters. Your success also directly correlates to your understanding of how the elements work, and your team build can also sway the outcome substantially if you know what you’re doing.
You also have the opportunity to play the tower defense missions with other players, which only compounds the fun. During these missions you can’t directly deal damage to any of the enemies. Your characters and team compositions need to revolve around characters that can apply elemental reactions, block pathways, or physically move enemies around. With the right series of towers and characters, your eventual successes will allow you to increase the difficulty, level up your towers, unlock new defenses, and earn more rewards.
The Theater Mechanicus isn’t a broad departure from Genshin Impact and its original combat system. What this shows though, is that miHoYo is more than just a standard RPG that flexes heavily on Gacha monetization. The event, even in the basest rudimentary terms of tower defense, is exceedingly fun, and requires no cost either monetarily or through time-accumulated Resin. You can even choose a four-star character as a reward for participating in the event, which is a departure from the usual event rewards. It’s too early to say whether the Theater Mechanicus is here to stay, but leveraging this game mode as an extension of the main gameplay could only benefit Genshin Impact in the long run.
Most importantly, Theater Mechanicus shows me that Genshin is capable of more. We could have seen a level cap increase, another new character, or a forgettable story mission like most of the others that have cropped us in the past few months. Instead, miHoYo set the bar higher. The real question is, can they keep the momentum going? If you’ve been playing Genshin Impact during the Lantern Rites Event, are you enjoying Theater Mechanicus or does Genshin’s tower defense mini-game leave you feeling stone-cold?