I’m Enjoying Genshin Impact More Than I Ever Liked Breath Of The Wild
Let’s be clear and acknowledge right off the bat that I’m not saying Genshin Impact is a better game than Breath of the Wild. I’m just saying I’m having way more fun with it.
I’ve been a Zelda fan since I was five years old, having been gifted a copy of Oracle of Seasons by a family friend. After becoming enamored with Moosh the flying bear, I’ve powered through pretty much every mainline Zelda game to launch since — but try as I might, I’ve never been able to finish Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild is remarkable, and it would be remiss to acknowledge it as anything less than one of the most impressive games ever made. I didn’t try it on ten separate occasions because I thought it was shite — I failed to complete it each time because it was all a bit much for me. But I know that its open world is emphatically open in the most freeing way possible; that the entire landscape is an omni-interactable playground where you can use elemental abilities to manipulate physics and trigger spectacular explosions; and that the story balances a coherent and riveting narrative with just enough ambiguity to make it enticing without sprinkling too much exposition over the top. I love everything about what Breath of the Wild actually is — and believe me, by the end of the year I’ll boot it up for the 11th time. But will I finally beat up Calamity Ganon? I’m going to be honest: I’d bet against myself on that one.
When I saw the Ghibliesque — an overused word, but in this case a strikingly and importantly sharp one — visuals of Genshin Impact, I, like many other people, thought, “That looks like an unapologetically brazen Breath of the Wild rip-off.” Its indulgences in elemental combat, coupled with its style, fantasy world, and straight up Boboklin-likes marked it as something verging on a meme. But I saw that people were playing it, and that it was available to download for free. I was also suffering from a demon hangover, and games I’m generally more invested in were annoying me.
Right from the get-go, Genshin Impact lived up to its anime aesthetic. The story kicked off with a rapturous bang, pitting myself and my twin sister against some sort of morally ambiguous deity with loads of weird, glowing cubes. We’re less than two minutes in, by the way, and my sister has somehow become a large, coagulated wall of code. Now I’m becoming data — wait, what? I’m gone. Oh, I’m back again. How long has it been? No idea. Who’s this person floating beside me? Paimon? Why are you referring to yourself in the third person? There is so much to digest, but it’s all so loud and colourful that it’s paradoxically palatable — which stands in stark contrast to the quiet and majestic sublimity of Breath of the Wild. I’m not standing atop an imposing precipice drinking in the lush scenery of Hyrule — I’m being introduced to a blue dragon called Stormterror who has managed to instigate the biggest ruckus in Mondstadtian history like, seven minutes into the game.
I’m not trying to say noisy games with a penchant for balls to the wall absurdity are superior to everything else. But I am going to note that for every tastefully truncated item description in Bloodborne, there’s a giant, blind spider camping out on a frozen space lake eternally keeping a literal blood moon at bay. Breath of the Wild has some immensely inspired cases of this — Ganon is a literal fog — but it’s the juxtaposition of scale and quietness that always made it hard for me to feel properly invested. It felt like I was playing a version of Shadow of the Colossus filled with Gorons — that, on paper, sounds phenomenal to me. But every time I went to play it… Maybe we’ll get there with attempt 11.
To hearken back to Genshin Impact’s shameless indulgence in noise, I want to reiterate that I think its strongest quality is how brave it is about introducing its world to you in the most outrageously loud way possible. While I can see why it might seem accurate and apt to call it a Breath of the Wild reskin prior to taking it for a spin yourself, I think that claim becomes largely baseless within the first 30 minutes or so of play. It definitely borrows a lot from Breath of the Wild — and “borrow” is an exceptionally generous term — but it is also so emphatically its own thing that you forget about the comparison pretty quickly. It doesn’t feel like you’re playing Breath of the Wild — it feels like you’re playing a mythically medieval RPG released in the era of Breath of the Wild, just like booting up Dragon Age: Inquisition after The Witcher 3 or Divinity: Original Sin 2. The visuals here are far more easily matched, sure — but there’s nothing wrong with visual inspiration. Consider how many games were directly inspired by Ico. Loads of them. One of your favourites probably was.
Genshin Impact’s own unique world and story are at the heart of its being. Sure, there’s gathering, and fishing, and cooking, and hunting — I think it’s worth noting that these systems, although probably closer to Breath of the Wild’s iteration than other RPGs, are not endemic to the influence derived from any single game. In this case, critiques based on cooking meals at campfires are far less weighty than those tied to art, because they are such a minor aspect of what moment-to-moment play actually represents. The same applies to exerting stamina from sprinting, swimming, and climbing — I would imagine the devs knew that scaling a harsh cliff face would cause even the most remarkable athletes to get a bit panty prior to having played Breath of the Wild.
The most important distinction from me is actually visible right at the beginning, but is unfortunately kind of glossed over. In Breath of the Wild, you’re a hero who has just arisen from a 100-year slumber, destined to rebalance the scales of the universe and restore order to the world. In Genshin Impact, you’re a person who flits between worlds with your twin sibling, and as soon as you see shit hit the fan here you try to run away, but can’t. Your reasons for remaining here are selfish — you were about to leave this world to burn until you yourself were caught in the blaze. There is nothing heroic about that.
And the game plays into this idea constantly. When you first arrive at Mondstadt, you’re not greeted with a hero’s welcome. A little kid tells you off for scaring a flock of pigeons, and the blacksmith reckons you’re a waster. Dialogue is actually funny, and the rate at which you’re introduced to new characters superimposes a runway over a factory line.
Breath of the Wild is brilliant because it is bravely ambiguous, and for every Boboklin encounter there are ten delicately crafted sections imbued with a quietly powerful kind of magic. For everything Genshin Impact borrows from it, it actively eschews that very strength for a kind of noise certain people might call less refined — for me, though, it’s what actually makes it work.
Also, no weapon degradation. That’s the real kicker.
Read next: How To Process Ingredients In Genshin Impact
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Cian Maher is an Associate Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. His favourite game of all time is and always will be The Witcher 3, but he also loves The Last Guardian, NieR: Automata, Dishonored, and pretty much every Pokemon game ever released. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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