At this point, it feels like a long time ago that Genshin Impact first made its debut in the western gaming consciousness. It…did not go well. The game was widely derided as a knock-off of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with a similar art style, the ability to climb anything in the world limited only by a stamina meter, music that evoked the Legend of Zelda series, and other systems like cooking and fire propagation. Now that the game has arrived, however, the conversation has turned on a dime. Genshin Impact is a fine, well-crafted game, and the world is taking immediate notice.
Despite competing with the US for the title of largest gaming market in the world, Chinese-developed games are viewed with suspicion in the west, and there aren’t a ton of crossover hits. The initial reaction to Genshin Impact shows that happening better than anything: despite the fact that Western games borrow each other’s art styles and gameplay concepts as well, the fact that this game was made by a Chinese developer earned it an uncommon level of hatred.
Now that we’ve moved past that, Genshin Impact feels like a landmark moment for all sorts of different reasons: already it’s the largest Chinese-developed international launch ever, and it doesn’t really show any signs of slowing down. It’s free-to-play and mobile, but it has few of the markers that we associate with other hits in that space, at least in the West: it essentially looks like a traditional single-player console game, just with some optional monetization on top and the ability to play it on a phone. The comparisons to Breath of the Wild may have been derisive at first, but they’ve now become positive: this is a game that legitimately deserved to be compared to one of the best games of the generation, that doesn’t fail to earn its own identity even while borrowing some of Nintendo’s best ideas.
I’ll confess I’m not as well informed about Chinese game development as I could be. There are more than enough Western games to keep up with, and one has to prioritize somewhere. Now, however, I doubt this will be the last Chinese game to earn a place among AAA titles in the West. A few weeks ago, the Internet also fell in love with a gameplay preview of a Chinese indie game called Black Myth: Wukong, based on Journey to the West and looking like a lavish action-RPG with visuals worthy of the Xbox Series X and PS5.
Genshin Impact feels like one of those games we’ll look back on as an industry-shifting moment, increasing the cross-pollination between the Chinese and Western gaming industries and expanding Western notions of what free-to-play and mobile games can look like. I’m only a few hours in, but I’m loving it so far.