Hey there, my name is Max Blumenthal, aka RinHara5aki. If you haven’t heard of me, I’m an American The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild player that has spent over 2300 hours battling in Hyrule. Gold Lynels are my favorite sparring buddy, and I’ve spent a whole lot of time making combat videos and pioneering several BotW techniques. The Bow Spin, for example, is one of my most notable. With that background, you can imagine that when a game comes along that everyone touts as a “Breath of the Wild clone,” my interest immediately piqued. Naturally, I had to see what it was like for myself.
Since its first reveal, Genshin Impact got both a lot of attention and flak for its BotW-like appearance and gameplay, making people question its originality. They would ask: “Why would I play this game if it’s just a ‘lesser’ version of BotW?” After playing the game for 50+ hours, I can confirm that, yes, it does have similarities to BotW, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play it–there’s a lot of interesting things going on, which I’ll go over. To make this easier to digest, I’ll be splitting this comparison into three main sections of analysis: exploration, combat, and my overall thoughts. And be sure to watch the video version of this feature in the player below for a more visual look at what I mean.
Exploration is where I feel Genshin Impact is the most similar to Breath of the Wild. It’s also what was most often shown in trailers leading up to the game’s release, making people angry to the point of destroying PS4s in protest of its development. Genshin Impact’s similarities to BotW’s navigation techniques are blatant–the gliding mechanics are pretty much the same, and both games have options to climb or jump up most surfaces, jump off walls, attack while falling, use stamina to sprint, and much more.
Genshin Impact feels familiar in that respect, and it’s easy to get accustomed to the exploration when you know exactly what you’re doing. It can sometimes feel alarmingly similar, mainly when you reach parts of the map, such as Mt. Hulao and Cape Oath, which are nearly identical to Satori Mountain and Cape Cales from BotW. Taking inspiration from a game as well-received as BotW is understandable, and honestly, more games should do so. In fact, Ubisoft’s upcoming Immortals: Fenyx Rising bears notable similarities to BotW–much like Genshin Impact.
Genshin Impact even keeps some of BotW’s issues, such as automatically clambering onto objects you didn’t mean to. But, to its credit, Genshin Impact also streamlines things from BotW’s systems, offering a fast swimming option instead of BotW’s swim-dash option, which limits your ability to steer Link. Mercifully, you can also climb in the rain, making it much less stressful to traverse when the weather isn’t ideal, even if that restriction is part of the appeal of BotW’s system.
Even though some people disliked the rain climbing limitations in BotW, difficulties like these did make you think a little more about how to traverse the world and whether there were other ways to get around that weren’t yet available or you hadn’t thought of. In many cases, it pushed players into BotW’s other mechanics, such as camping until the weather clears, using Revali’s Gale, and other unconventional solutions that can present alternative ways to get places. One of the wonders of BotW is its playground-like world, and it’s so engrossing because its multiple tools let you manipulate that world in different ways. While Genshin Impact doesn’t have many of those elements, I still don’t think it’s entirely necessary, as its developer miHoYo seemed focused on making an RPG first, and an open-world adventure game second, and that’s okay.
One thing Genshin Impact does right with its exploration is that, like BotW, its breadcrumb-like open-world design often grabs hold of your curiosity.
One thing Genshin Impact does right with its exploration is that, like BotW, its breadcrumb-like open-world design often grabs hold of your curiosity. The fact that you can get distracted so easily when going from place to place makes the game’s world extremely fun to explore and satisfying to go out of your way to scavenge materials on your way to an objective. And while the “finding a tower to unlock parts of the map” design philosophy is nothing new or exclusive to BotW, it’s an integral part of exploration that also appears in Genshin Impact. It’s certainly welcome, as it makes progression across the map much more visual and rewarding.
So is exploration in Genshin Impact as good as it is in BotW? Not really, it’s perhaps a bit more intuitive, but not as well-considered. Regardless, you will definitely still get lost in Genshin Impact and probably enjoy exploring the vast, colorful world on display. And the fact that you get to have that in a game that can be played for free is a HUGE plus in my book.
My definition of Breath of the Wild’s combat will be completely skewed compared to the average player, so I’ll try to approach this from a more general top-down view. I can safely say that this is where Genshin Impact deviates the most from BotW, and it is immensely fun in its own distinct way. Combat focuses on using and switching between multiple characters to leverage elemental properties during a fight. While BotW also heavily uses elemental properties in its combat, Genshin Impact uses them differently, rewarding you for swapping mid-combat to gain buffs and encouraging you to mix elemental attacks. This is done by tying each character to a specific element, and when combined with weapons and artifact effects, it creates satisfying depth. Genshin Impact’s RPG mechanics shine in this regard and makes your ability to handle the different elements a key component in combat encounters.
The general combat is also somewhat different. Besides one counter-stance character, there is no proper “guarding” or “parry” button, leaving dash as your only defensive maneuver. And while there are falling attacks, you’re unable to do any other actions while jumping, making most advanced air maneuvers like jump cancels relatively useless. In this respect, BotW has the edge in this aspect thanks to more options and versatility of tools, which is what gives BotW its combat more depth and intricacy. The control scheme in Genshin Impact is also completely different, but it still feels good to perfectly dodge an attack, and then blast foes with a mix of elements. Ultimately, both games are fun in their own unique way and have rewarding combat. BotW just has the kind of room for creativity that appeals to combat lab monsters like me.
One of Genshin Impact’s other significant differences comes from the rolling and leveling of multiple characters and the progression of artifacts and weapons–a system that channels its design roots as a gacha game. While acquiring these characters feels pretty unnatural and completely breaks story immersion, it all plays into diversifying the experience. The new characters you obtain are all very distinct, and all can be viable in a team. Seeing this character system in Genshin Impact almost makes me want something similar in BotW’s upcoming sequel. Still, unless Link and Zelda are on-screen at all times, I think it would feel a bit unnatural to switch between them continually. After all, when it comes to the mainline Zelda series, narrative immersion is incredibly important to me.
As I mentioned above, Genshin Impact is an RPG first and an open-world adventure game second. As someone who likes both genres very much, this marriage does work out in Genshin Impact’s case. There are a ton of RPG’s out there that kill the exploration factor for me with limiting design decisions, such as invisible barriers and overly simplistic dungeon crawls, and Genshin Impact doesn’t do any of that. While the story isn’t much to write home about (even when compared to BotW’s light narrative), the pleasant visual aesthetic, involved combat, and bread-crumb exploration really pulls me into what it’s trying to do. And while, yes, Genshin Impact’s BotW inspirations border on imitation, that shouldn’t inspire anger or objections. Why wouldn’t you want more games to take inspiration from one of the greatest games of all time?
And remember, if Genshin Impact’s gacha elements turn you off, this game is entirely free, and it doesn’t require any money to be spent on it, so it’s well worth trying out for a little bit, at least. Whether or not I’ve quelled any doubts you might’ve had jumping into this feature, I cannot deny that Genshin Impact is still an excellent open-world RPG in its own right, and a great way to keep you busy until the Breath of the Wild sequel shows up–whenever that is.