Yesterday, I booted up Monster Train, Yakuza Kiwami 2, Pokemon Platinum, Outriders, and Overwatch all within about an hour of each other and played approximately none of them. It was just one of those days where I knew I wanted to play something, but nothing was clicking. Maybe it was because I’d had a few beers the night before, or maybe it was that feeling of, “Damn, the weekend is over already?!” Fortunately, before I could even begin to think about what the problem was, I found the solution: Genshin Impact.
I sweated Genshin Impact out at launch, meaning I sunk at least 50 hours into it within its first month on the market. Bear in mind that I need to play lots of different games for work, so playing something for 50 hours outside of existing commitments is a huge deal – I was spending basically all of my free time wandering around Teyvat, beating up Hilichurls and asking Zhongli to please, just one time, pay his own way for something. That earring looks valuable, just use that to buy dinner, thanks.
Anyway, life caught up with me around November. My leveling slowed right down and before I knew it I wasn’t at the minimum required Adventure Rank for the latest content. I managed to grind and complete most of it, mind – this was back at Genshin 1.2 – but it was the beginning of an unfortunate trend. I’m now nine levels off the max rank story content available to me, which is a pretty daunting figure to look at. Nine levels in Genshin Impact? That’s… so many hours.
But the best thing about Genshin Impact is that, while its storytelling is excellent, it’s not necessarily important to any individual play session. Take yesterday, for example – I spent two or three hours just tidying up some Dragonspine stuff I forgot to do a couple of months ago and felt as if that alone was a completely fulfilling experience. I learned absolutely nothing about any Archons and spent less than ten minutes total in Liyue Harbor. Instead, I simply used Diluc’s claymore to hurl massive fiery phoenixes at a big Frostarm Lawachurl called Ukko. I also polished off my daily commissions, did a side quest or two, and rounded out the session nicely by gaining an Adventure Rank and collecting some Primogems from Katheryne.
That’s when it hit me. When I went up to Katheryne, she told me about some Geovishap sightings in Liyue – not hatchlings, full-grown Geovishaps. She pulled up a map not unlike the one you use to send your characters on regular resource expeditions, and so I put together some tight-knit investigation squads and sent them on their way. I quickly realized that each expedition plays out in real time, and so I’d need to wait between eight and 12 hours to see how my teams had fared – and so, I had already inadvertently roped myself into playing again today, because there were rewards to collect. I got 50 Primogems for absolutely nothing as soon as I logged in this morning and sent the characters out again – because I did it early enough, I’ll be able to collect my spoils before bed and send them out again for tomorrow morning, and so on.
This structure, where you wait real hours for characters to do things in a video game, isn’t very complex or even new. The reason I’m talking about it here isn’t because it makes Genshin Impact special – on the contrary, it is such a minor aspect of this game that I can’t believe the rewards are so good. It requires no effort other than logging in and taking ten seconds to click character portraits, and yet you can earn up to 120 Primogems a day doing it, if you’re clever with your time. Combined with the 40 Primogems you get from completing four daily commissions, that’s a free Wish every single day – and that’s not even including other ways of earning currency.
This is what I mean when I say it’s amazing to see such a minor thing being made genuinely significant. This is the kind of minigame you could find in a standard game from the early 2000s, and aside from a smooth frame rate and modern art style, it’s not very different at all. When you consider the fact that Genshin Impact takes place in an enormous and still-growing world, with a grandiose overarching narrative peppered with small and focused stories throughout, tiny features like this should be almost invisible… and yet they’re not. Their ephemeral nature as timed events further accentuates this – if you’re a player who logs in once every couple of weeks, there’s always something new, but it’s never too complex to dive into. It’s a perfect balance of new content being both dynamic and digestible regardless of how often you play or what level you are. Yeah, I want to catch up with the main story eventually, but right now I’m just vibing with all of the weird limited-time stuff. Who knows – maybe if I pull Hu Tao I’ll sink another 50 hours into Genshin in March.
All in all, Genshin Impact is the ultimate game to jump into when nothing else is clicking. Its gorgeous world is equal parts tranquil and raucous, meaning you can just meander about quietly or take on mahoosive dragons in aerial combat at the top of a dilapidated ancient tower, depending on your mood. Whether you need something to concentrate on or something to switch off to, Genshin Impact is the perfect game for any situation in which other games aren’t doing it for you. For that reason alone, I don’t think I’ll ever truly stop playing it. Sure, I go through bursts where I play 20 hours in one week and then hardly touch it for a month – at the end of the day, though, I’ll always be doing one of those two things. I can’t see a scenario in which I ever uninstall it.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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