There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding a game called Genshin Impact ever since it was revealed back in June 2019, and not because it looks fantastically original; quite to opposite in fact. It didn’t take long for fans to see similarities between Genshin Impact and the latest mainline entry in the popular Zelda series, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Well, the game’s actually out now on PS4, PC, and mobile devices, and we’ve spent a good ol’ amount of time on it to see what exactly it is about the game that draws such conclusions. We’ll likely be taking an even closer look at the game when it eventually comes to Switch, but for now this’ll do.
If you’re wondering if it falls under the banner of being an out-and-out clone of Nintendo’s open world extravaganza, then we can say with conviction that it isn’t – you only need look at the combat to know that – but the “inspiration” from Breath of the Wild is definitely here all right.
Let’s go over some of the game’s features. You have a big, cel-shaded open world to explore in which you can just walk, or you can sprint, swim, free-climb, and use a glider to soar through the air, all of which drain your stamina meter. In an older trailer, you could even light grass on fire and use the updraft it creates as a means of gaining crazy height using your glider, and although grass is still absolutely flammable in the final version, this mechanic seems to no longer be present.
As you explore the world you come across camps of enemies who attack you on sight. Defeating all the enemies in an area often rewards you with a chest containing weapons and other goodies. These enemies consist largely of bipedal semi human-like creatures called Hilichurls with (as the game describes it) limited mental capacity; they often use wooden shields and clubs that you can burn with fire attacks if you wish to disarm them. If you’re too far away from them to get a good whack on you – and they’re not armed with bows – they can dig small stones out of the ground to inflict you with some hitstun and potentially break your rhythm as you try and kill their chums.
There are also larger Hilichurls called Mitachurls that are brutish, more difficult, and use more distinct tactics in order to take you down. Other enemies include small jelly-like creatures called Slimes that can harbour various magic elements, and come in both large and small variants. Mitachurls can also rip these Slimes out of the ground and throw them at you, causing their friend-com-projectile to damage you and itself. There are also Abyss Mages, strange cloaked creatures with indistinct faces that cast magic at you from a distance using their wands.
If you’re low on health at any point you can find a cooking pot to rustle up some of the many ingredients you’ll find throughout the world such as fruit from trees, vegetables from the ground, or you can hunt wild animals for their meat, in the form of red meat and poultry. There are various recipes you can use to create meals which have significantly better healing effects than the raw ingredients, although you can eat these as well if you’re in a pinch. These ingredients and other items can also be found in wooden crates that can be broken open with an attack or burnt with fire.
You’ll also come across mysterious stone doorways that open up to small, enclosed ruins that task you with completing various challenges and reaching the end. These seem to be leftover from a previous, ancient civilisation with technology so advanced that no one from the current period is able to properly understand or harness it, so these ruins remain largely untouched except for the inexplicable presence of random Hilichurls and Slimes. Occasionally these ruins are guarded by large, mechanical enemies designed to keep intruders away. Their weakness is their single glowing eye. Yeah.
We think it’s safe to say that whilst none of these mechanics are necessarily 100% unique ideas that have never been seen before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, having all of these ideas and elements in one place is definitely eyebrow-raising. There is more to this game that certainly differentiates it from Nintendo’s offering, such as the combat being far closer to something like Hyrule Warriors than the free-form and experimental physics fun of Breath of the Wild. The story, the RPG elements, the more restrictive nature of the world and level-walling, the fact that it’s online, the ability to switch characters on the fly even if it does completely and utterly destroy the narrative, it’s certainly not a direct copy of everything that makes Breath of the Wild what it is… but perhaps saying it used Zelda merely as an ‘inspiration’ is slightly underselling things.
What’s even more interesting is that many of the game’s differences feel highly polished, but the more Zelda-like elements don’t seem to have that same level of care. Crates can be burnt with fire, but not all crates, even if they can be destroyed by other means. The animations for climbing and gliding feel oddly stiff and basic compared to what you see from characters in combat, and there’s no inertia from updrafts or when cancelling your glide. The ruins that you fight through feel samey and often copy-pasted from one another, and frequently end with a large room that’s completely empty save for some power stone thing that you can destroy with a few hits, and thus completing the stage.
It’s purely speculative but it feels like the Zelda-like mechanics were potentially introduced later in development, and as such not given the attention or care required in order to make it gel with the rest of the far more polished areas. Again, this is purely speculative, but in our time playing the game that’s the feeling we were left with.
So is Genshin Impact a clone of Breath of the Wild? In short, no, but it is clearly ripping DNA from Nintendo’s efforts and not always successfully. Games have always taken inspiration from other titles, that’s how ideas and mechanics evolve after all, but at what point does it stop being inspiration and start being plagiarism? Let us know with a comment below.