Storybook Brawl

Storybook Brawl is a very solid auto-battler, even though I don’t like how it’s monetized at the moment.

I like Storybook Brawl. There are a few things about it that I find a little annoying, but otherwise I think it’s pretty fun. Oh right, I’m supposed to explain what Storybrook Brawl is: it’s a card-drafting auto battler.

For anyone who read that and went “Okay, cool” you can skip the next few paragraphs. For the other 98% of the population who can’t understand an entire game from 2 jargony phrases, let me explain what “Card Drafting” and “Auto Battling” is, and how they’re used in Storybook Brawl.

“Card Drafting” first. At the start of the game, and after each combat, you’re given some gold to buy with, and a row of several units to buy. If you don’t like any of the units available, you can also spend gold to reroll your shop’s selection. While this does leave you with less gold, since gold doesn’t carry over between rounds, you generally want to spend it all.

As the game goes on, your hero will level up and this center pool will include more powerful units. Generally speaking, you only get one experience point per round, but there a few spells that can accelerate leveling up and being able to buy better units.

Oh, we haven’t talked about spells have we? Unless a spell says otherwise, you can cast one spell per round. They have a variety of effects, from random damage on enemy units, to permanent buffs to your own units. Just like units, you get access to more expensive and powerful spells as your hero levels up.

You’ll have about 60 seconds or so to do all of your drafting. At the start of the game 60 seconds tends to be a lot of time to make your drafting decisions. But by the end of the game, where there are more decisions and choices piling up, you usually need all your time.

After that 60 seconds passes, we get to what an “Auto Battler” is. At this point, whatever lineup you’ve managed to create gets matched up against another player’s lineup, and going from top left to bottom right, your units take turns attacking each other. Whoever runs out of units first is the loser, and takes damage equal to… the opposing player’s current level plus the levels of their units that remain on the board. If your thought is “Huh, that equation doesn’t seem super intuitive,” I’d agree. When you run out of health, you lose, and games continue until only one player is left.

Okay, so I’m running out of energy to write this article, and we still haven’t actually talked about any of the unit cards themselves, or treasure, or tripling, or keywords. So I’m gonna burn through them, and then see if my editor tells me that I haven’t covered the mechanics enough.

First up, units! The game has quite a few. I’m going to talk about just one keyword that units can have as it’s my favorite example of something interesting the game does: Slay. Slay is a triggerable keyword that occurs whenever the unit attacks and kills another unit. The important bit here is “Attacks.” If a unit with slay is attacked, and kills the other unit on the defense, that doesn’t trigger the keyword. Using slay effectively means either gambling that your unit will get the first attack, or buffing it high enough to be able to take a hit, and smash back.

Next up: Tripling. When you draft three copies of a unit, those three copies combine into a higher level version of that unit with better stats, and if that unit has an ability, a stronger version of that ability. This is where another neat part of the game comes into play. When the units combine, any buffs that they had as single units also merge onto the upgraded unit. This means that a unit that was decently statted with a few buffs can suddenly become an absolute powerhouse.

The other big thing that happens when you triple a unit is that you get a treasure. You can have up to three treasures at any given point in time. If you’d get a 4th one, you have to choose between throwing out one of your current ones, or skipping the new one.

There’s one more bit mechanic, so let’s talk about heroes. Choosing a hero is the first thing that happens each round, but I’ve saved it for last because it’s also one of my few big gripes with the game.

At the very start of the game, you’re offered a choice of 4 heroes, of which two will automatically be unlocked, and 2 might be unlocked. How big an impact your chosen hero will have on the game can vary quite heavily. Some, like my personal favorite, Morgan Le Fae have almost no impact on your drafting selections, while others can change the cards you want to draft massively. Peter Pan is biggest offender of the second category.

The issue I have with this system is two-fold. First off, I don’t really like that my strategy for a round can end up feeling defined by hero selection. And secondly, I really don’t like how this ties in with the monetization. Remember when I mentioned that you’ll be given a choice of 4 heroes, but can only pick from two of the four guaranteed? That’s because the last 2 are only selectable if you’ve either spent real money to unlock them, or the in-game currency of dust. So while the game isn’t directly “P2W”, it does end up feeling “Pay for More Options.”

I don’t hate this enough to stop playing but it doesn’t feel good.

And that’s Storybook Brawl! Except I didn’t talk about how the various archetypes work together with each other really smoothly. Or how the Good/Evil keyword is really interesting as a sort of Boolean typing on a given unit that can be on any unit, but can only be in one of the states at once. Or how the prince/princess meta is absolute cancer at the moment and King Arthur needs to be nerfed again.

Winning in Storybook Brawl ends up being a combination of unit placement, drafting ability, and yes, some luck. But it feels less random than other auto battlers I’ve played because there’s more synergy between various archetypes of units present.

The end result is that Storybook Brawl is a very solid auto battler, even though I don’t quite like how it’s monetized at the moment. If any of what I’ve described above sounds interesting, I encourage you to download it here on Steam, and give it a shot.

Pokémon: Unite

You can skip Pokémon: Unite, unless you’re a massive sucker for anything Pokémon related. Like I am.

For me, the ultimate test of any licensed game consists of two very simple questions:

  1. Would I play this game if it didn’t have the licensed branding?

    And
  2. Am I going to play it anyway, because I am a consumer whore?

For the best sort of licensed game, such as something like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, the answer to question 1 is a solid “Yes.” This is something I can say with confidence because I’ve been playing a bunch of Shiren the Wanderer, and it kicks ass. Then we have stuff like Pokken, which is more of a “Sorta,”(but it’s not because the game is bad, just because I don’t really play fighting games).

On the flip side, we have games like Magic: Legends, which gets a solid double “No.”

And then in the middle, we have things like Disgaea: RPG, and, the actual topic of this article, Pokémon: Unite.

I am a sucker for pretty much anything Pokémon. This doesn’t mean I’m 100% “Consume Product,” but if there is something Pokémon related, and it doesn’t cost me money to try it, I probably will.

I’m not sure how long I’ll play Pokémon: Unite for. It honestly might be less than a week. The primary reason to play it over something else is that it’s on the Switch, it’s Pokémon themed… and that’s about it.

The main reason is that while the theming, sound, graphics, etc are charming, the gameplay itself is lacking any incredible moments, and the meta-progression/economy is absolute garbage. Also, I have some problems with its informational display, but at least my UI complaints are correctable.

Let’s start with the gameplay: Pokémon: Unite brings exactly one new interesting idea to the MOBA genre, and that is the victory condition/scoring. Instead of towers or ancients to destroy, there are a series of hoops. You gain score by collecting points, and then convert those points into score by channeling at these hoops. So the basic loop is: build up points by KOing wild Pokémon, go to a hoop, channel and score. It’s an interesting mechanic that leads to some neat tension. And that last sentence right there is a the nicest thing I’m gonna say about the game for the rest of this article.

Okay, this isn’t a great combat screenshot. The UI usually isn’t this busy, but it’s the one I have.

The rest of the game feels fairly standard, like a dumbed down version of Heroes of the Storm. There are a few different maps, with different layouts, but similar objectives. Your hero champion Pokémon have an auto-attack, two specials, an ultimate that takes 8 years to charge, and a summoner spell battle item. In either case, the end result is that in any fight, you have effectively two activatable moves, but I’ve yet to see a situation where it doesn’t feel like I’d want to just spam them. There’s no mana cost to discourage you from doing so, and the cooldowns for the moves are fairly short.

I can’t believe it’s not flash!

The end result is a game that feels bland, to the point that I’m bored with writing about how boring it can be. So let’s move on to the next part of the game that sucks: meta-progression.

Everything about the game’s meta-progression is garbage, and I can summarize why I hate the system in two sentences.

Unless you want to spend real money, unlocking a new character costs between 6000 and 10000 gold. The maximum amount of gold you can earn in a week from winning random battles is 2140.

Yes, you can get more gold from doing quests, and limited time events. Yes, you can get gold by leveling up your trainer level. Yes, you can get gold by finishing the tutorials, or doing some weird slot machine thing. It doesn’t matter. The core point is that the game is designed to be an absolute slog for grinding out the ability to play more characters, leveling up equipment, etc.

The game feels like a cheap mobile game, in the sense that it’s designed to make you log on to do your dailies, to build the habit of playing a few matches, and then leaving. Instead of having you come back for the gameplay, or exciting updates, you’ll come back because if you do for just a few more weeks, you can unlock a new character! Or you could just spend like $10, and get them right now!

Oh, and it has a premium currency, bonus boosters, a battle pass, and just about every other feasible way short of straight up gacha. The game even has a kinda gacha in its energy roulette system, but at least you can’t directly pay money for it.

Oh, and while we’re at it, I have one last big gripe. Keywords, description, functionality and stats. Every attack in the game is something like this:

Secondary gripe: why do I have to confirm moves being upgraded when I get them? Just upgrade them! Don’t make me press buttons twice.

And then we have items in the game that look like this:

40 SPEED UNITS OF SPEED

Do you see it? Or perhaps more specifically, do you not see it? “It” in this case, being any sort of useful information/way to measure the actual numbers/damage/etc that your character can do in a game? Because I sure don’t. At least this one they can probably fix, but why isn’t it there already?

Pokémon: Unite isn’t awful, but it isn’t very good. There are better games to play on the Switch, better MOBAs to play in general, and better Pokémon spinoffs. If for some reason after all this, you still want to play it, it’s Switch exclusive right now, so just go find it on the eShop.

Magic: Legends is Dead After 4 Months

Goodbye, and good riddance.

I don’t think there’s anything positive or noble about kicking dead horses, or beating men while they’re down, unless they’re into that, and you okay it beforehand. That said, I find the state of Magic: Legends so incredibly funny that I’m gonna do both of those things. Hopefully this will get it all out of my system so I stop talking about Magic: Legends over and over to my friends.

So yeah, Magic: Legends is dead. It lasted just about 4 months, and didn’t even make it out of open beta. Also, the studio behind it is apparently laying a bunch of people off, which sucks. But holy shit, 4 months, and not even out of beta? Misbits lasted longer then that. HEX lasted longer then that. This is a multi-system ARPG, licensed off an incredibly successful game for its world, lore and background, and they couldn’t even keep a beta alive?

What the fuck guys.

We could spend a lot of time speculating about why Magic: Legends failed so incredibly hard. I’m sure someone over at Cryptic is doing that right now, in-between shots of vodka and wondering how much they can pawn the office furniture for. It’s way too easy to construct a narrative that you want to believe, and there are so many things that could have caused the game to fail that it’s an exercise in futility. So let’s do it anyway! Here are a few of my favorite pet theories:

  1. If you make a F2P PC/Console ARPG, you are competing with Path of Exile, which is also free, has no P2W mechanics, and has 8 years of lead time on you. Maybe your game should do like… one thing better then them. Just one. And “Having a licensed property” doesn’t fucking count.
  2. Linking the PC release exclusively to Epic Game store for a GAAS release might be a bad idea. Epic has a lower overall player count, and Epic probably isn’t gonna subsidize a freemium game the same way they can for a game that players just buy once.
  3. MTG is a very successful game. It also has lore. Is that lore as important to its players as, say… the actual game mechanics? My guess would be “No.” Pornography also has a plot and lore. I’ve yet to see a successful non-porn offshoot of Lemon Stealing Whores. (SFW)

Of course, it could be all or none of these! So next, I’m just gonna make a list of things I personally thought were shit about the game:

  1. Graphics and performance. It takes a lot to make me care about graphics. Multiwinia is one of my favorite games. I hated how Magic: Legends looked. And ran.
  2. Awful Gameplay Loops. For real though, the core gameplay loop is an ARPG, a genre where getting cool loot is an important part of the feedback loop. The core feedback loop was “Getting more copies of cards you already own, to fuse them into cards you own, and make the cards slightly better” with incremental scaling a la Clash of Clans. It was garbage.
  3. Warp Points. Hey, what if we made it so each area is instanced with other players? And they showed on the map? And if another player was on top of a warp point you wanted to go to, you couldn’t warp to it, because you would click on their name instead? And what if players spawned into maps near the quest givers, and went AFK, every time you wanted to go back and turn in a quest, YOU HAD TO WALK THE ENTIRE FUCKING WAY THERE FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MAP, BECAUSE XX_PLAINWALKERX_XX69 WENT AFK ON THE SPAWN POINT? And before I hear any “It (was) a beta” whining, if they hadtime to release the game with a fully functional cash shop, then they had time to test it with 10 people, and see what happens when one of them disconnects at the starting zone.
  4. The Worst Kind of F2P. Randomized booster packs of what amounted to in-game loot, and extra classes/characters. In a genre of game about building cool characters and acquiring loot. It was as shitty as it sounded.
  5. Capping Farming. I’m running out of steam at this point, but I wanna get a few more jabs in, so what the fuck was with the capped mana system? “You can play this much, but then you have to come back tomorrow, and you can’t get anymore loot until then!” In a genre that often ends up about farming for loot. I’m sure some incredible business genius in the backroom went “Oh, lots of mobile games have daily check-ins or something, lets do something like that!” Well, shit for brains, this game ain’t on mobile. They could have gone the Blizzard route, and added a mana charged buff and then after the cap, drop it way down, but they chose to implement it in the worst way possible.
  6. Gameplay. The gameplay just wasn’t fun. It just wasn’t. The idea of an ARPG with cycling abilities is cool, but it only works if there’s some reason to think about what abilities you’re using. As it was, there was no reason to not just spam everything the moment it was off cooldown and you had mana for it.

    So yeah. RIP In Peace, Magic: Legends. This Frankenstein’s monster attempt of combining an existing genre with some of the shittiest freemium mechanics ever to crawl out of mobile games, and a core game mechanic crippled by the aforementioned freemium bullshit will not be missed.

It should lie in its grave and rot.

Disgaea RPG

I have mixed feelings on Disgaea RPG. The reality of it is that when you strip away much of flavor and art, it’s a fairly bog-standard mobile phone game. On the other hand, it’s also Disgaea flavored which means I’ve been playing it every day more or less non-stop for a week.

Yes, I know. I’m weak.

So, Disgaea RPG. It’s a mobile unit-collection RPG. In practice, this means that you spend most of your time playing the levels you have access to, grinding out the highest content you can when you hit a wall, and waiting for your energy to recharge (or running the item world) when you run out. And saving up as much premium currency as you feasibly can to roll gacha.

In terms of actual gameplay, you build a team of five units, then select and play levels. Units have a basic attack and a few abilities that require SP, which recharges over time…. and that’s pretty much it. There’s no grid system, and you only have a maximum of these five characters in your party.

If it wasn’t for the Disgaea theming, I’m not sure I’d still be playing. But since it is Disgaea themed, the flavor and ability to get a bunch of characters from the other games that I like (such as Valvatorez and Desco) is actually pretty neat. The polish on the art and animations is very solid, and I’d be surprised if the assets weren’t taken directly from the other games. The same is true of the background music, the voice acting, and story elements.

Unfortunately, outside of that, Disgaea RPG doesn’t do too much that most other mobile collection games don’t do already, from what I’ve seen so far. While some elements of the combo system are interesting (such as the way tower attacks are ported over), they aren’t interesting enough to force you to really think about what you’re doing at any given point in time. There have only been 2-3 fights so far that have even made me do anything more complex then “Use best attack I have access to, then keep using it”.

Outside of this though, the aspect of the game I’d say I enjoy the most is the story and character interactions. None of it has quite hit the level of quality I’d expect from a mainline series game, but even if it feels like glorified fanfic, it’s good fanfic. Etna planning on murdering Laharl is still funny, Fuka and Desco’s questionable teamwork is amusing, and Mao cackling maniacally is still fun.

Overall, Disgaea RPG is… fine. I think it’s enjoyable if you’re already a fan of the series, but if you’re not, there isn’t much there for you. It’s definitely carried by the setting and art. But there simply isn’t much mechanically that hasn’t been done in a mobile game before.

Of course, if you’re curious, you can grab it yourself. It’s free on the app store and google play store with in-app purchases. (The ratio of real world money to in-game stuff is pretty garbage in my opinion though.)

Chess Evolved Online

Did you ever look at Chess and think “Wow, I really wish Chess was more complicated, and that you could power up your units?” Well boy do I have the game for you.

I think Chess Evolved Online (or CEO as I’ll abbreviate it) is neat. If you like Chess, it’s worth checking out. If you don’t like Chess, you can save yourself the time of reading this article by closing your web browser and doing something else. Okay, lede dealt with. Time for a diatribe.

I write this blog about games at least in part because I consider myself pretty good at them, though in retrospect, “Experienced” might be a better word. I play a lot of games. There are many things that I’m not very experienced with, and so I don’t really comment on them, such as international relations, and agricultural policy. I still have opinions on them, but I don’t think they’re valuable to share.

I mention all of this because CEO has reminded me of something I forgot: I really, really suck at Chess. Or at least I really suck at it relative to people who play Chess at any level of actual competition or play.

I bring this up because after playing 12 hours of CEO, I couldn’t tell you if the game is balanced, or fair, or a good Chess equivalent or what. I could probably play 100 more hours, and I still wouldn’t have a good idea.

So instead of talking too much about that aspect of the game, I’m just gonna quickly list a few of the mechanical innovations CEO makes vs an ordinary Chess game, talk about the game’s meta progression structure and my thoughts on that, and then wrap up with a link to the game. I’m not gonna talk about balance or fairness, or whatnot, because I don’t think I’ll get any of it right. I’m also going to assume anyone reading this knows how Chess is played, and if you don’t, allow me to link you to the Wikipedia page on the game.

I did not win this.

So, new mechanics. Unlike in Chess, CEO has a different set of win/loss conditions: Morale. Each of your pieces has a value associated with it, which as far as I can tell, generally scales to its power/utility. The queen is worth 21 points, a bishop is worth 12, a rook is worth like 13. You get the idea. When your piece gets taken, you lose that much morale. If your morale hits zero, you lose.

Your king, on the other hand, is special. When your king gets taken, you lose an immediate 25 morale, and then an additional 3 morale per turn. The fairly obvious result of this is that while losing your king will eventually lead to a loss, unlike in standard Chess, it’s not an immediate loss. This has some interesting implications, like being able to trade kings, and also ending up in situations where you have to decide if sacrificing your king might be worth it.

The other special factor controlling the game is “move decay.” After turn 50, each player loses 1 morale at the start of their turn. This effectively puts a cap on how long games can go, and also means that in a game of attrition, whichever player can take a take an early advantage is likely to win. As far as I can tell, there are no draws in CEO.

There’s one last big mechanic in CEO: time. I’m not familiar with professional/semi-pro Chess, but a few quick google searches make it look like the game is limited is to about 90 minutes for your first 40 moves or so.

As you might guess, CEO doesn’t really go in for that. Instead CEO has two formats: CEO Blitz and CEO Standard. Standard gives you 30 seconds a move, after which you have a pool of 4:00 minutes. Blitz gives the same 30 seconds but with a pool of 2:00.

The result of all of these changes, at least to me, is the game feels far faster paced and bloodier than standard Chess. At the same time, the fact that losing your king isn’t a loss means that games can turn into brawls far faster than standard Chess.

So, those are the general changes to the game’s structure. Now let’s talk about the army building. Yes, CEO has army building.

There are a few factors that go into army building. The game has two types of pieces: champions and minions. In general terms, you can only place minions in the front row, and only place champions in the back row. Minions are weaker than champions, and usually (but not always) have a promote ability. This is where another interesting change comes into play: pawns always promote to bishops. This opens up some interesting space for weaker minions with stronger promotions.

Pieces also have a supply cost, and your army has to be under your supply limit. You increase said limit by reaching a higher rank. I don’t love this too much, but I’ll talk about why later.

Everything else about the game feels like a fairly unique attempt to fix some of the problems that Chess has. But how you obtain and upgrade pieces for your army feels fairly standard. Because, of course, pieces can be upgraded.

The game has two currencies, gold and gems. You earn gold by playing games, and you earn more by winning. You get gems by either exchanging gold for gems, completing various objectives, or opening random boxes.

Or spending real money.

And this is why I say it feels standard: The game loop becomes a pattern of grinding for currency to either buy units straight up at a in-game shop, or buy random booster boxes of units in the hopes of getting something you want. At the same time, you use duplicate units to upgrade your existing units.

Tell me this doesn’t look like a mobile game UI.

And this is where the game started to annoy me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not great at Chess, but all of a sudden the game starting feeling like a mobile game. I was no longer logging on to build unique armies or try interesting strategies. I was logging in to open daily boxes, playing ranked for currency to try to grind more boxes, and just generally playing the game solely to get more units. Instead of trying to build unique armies and innovate, I played the standard Chess army because I was more familiar with it, and I cared more about winning than experimenting.

Now, if I was better at Chess, this might not be true. Perhaps if I was a stronger player, I would find it easier to win, and as such be more interested in some of the other systems that make up the game. As it was, though, I ended up feeling like I wasn’t playing for fun, or to use the game’s unique systems, but to just grind to get more pieces. And this is where I stopped playing.

In summary, CEO’s actual gameplay containes a bunch of massive changes to the core structure of Chess, to try to make it more exciting and interesting, while also speeding up the pace of the game. But the meta-progression structure that exists around the gameplay feels like a standard mobile game, and it feels bad. If you end up matched against AI or players with higher ranking than yourself, in addition to likely being better at the game than you, they also have a larger supply pool to pay for their army. Even if you’re both playing identical armies, if they’ve upgraded their pieces, they have access to options and moves you don’t.

And that doesn’t feel great. And while I suspect that the actual mechanics of things like supply/value on units are probably balanced, it still feels bad to get decimated by someone with a unit you just don’t have.

Ed Note: The poster child for this particular experience is the ninja, a unit that feels like a knight on steroids, with the ability to take pieces in all directions that are adjacent, while also having a unblockable jump.

This just feels like bullshit.

Chess Evolved Online is free on Steam, with in-app purchases to buy additional rubies, which in turn get spent on buying units/random booster boxes of units. The game makes a bunch of really interesting mechanical changes to the base game of Chess, but it makes them parallel to a meta-progression structure that, for me, made the game feel like a grind. I still think it’s interesting enough that folks should check it out, but I feel like without a strong interest or background in Chess, you might end up having a similar experience to me.

Super Animal Royale

It’s 2D Fortnite for Furries. If you like any of the words in that sentence, you should probably try it, since it’s free.

Sometimes when I write “reviews” for this blog, I feel obligated to play a given amount of a game, or reach a certain threshold before I give my verdict. Then games come along that remind me that I write these articles because it’s fun, and also because when I’m asked “What do you do for fun?” “I write a blog,” is a more adult answer than ,”I think about Pokemon cards.”

The astute reader may note that for a Gametrodon review, it’s taking me a long time give my thoughts on the game, the mechanics, or if I even like it, but surprise! The actual summary was in the excerpt all along.

Super Animal Royale is 2D Fortnite for Furries. It’s free, you can download it here, it’s on Steam, and it’s generally pretty fun. There’s no pay to win bullshit or gacha, though there are a bunch of cosmetic microtransactions.

Is this enough? Can I now go back to wishing that Champion’s Path boosters were less expensive, and wondering why Shiny Charizard V is $400 dollars?

No? I should talk more about the game? Fine.

Part of the reason I don’t have too much to say on the game is that with a few exceptions, there’s nothing here I haven’t seen before. That shouldn’t take away from the game’s quality and polish, but all in all, you have a tiered weapon rarity system, a battle royale where you drop from a giant flying vehicle, a few different game modes, and a battlepass/exp challenge system that might have been copied straight from Fortnite.

Okay, so outside of all of this, the game does one VERY interesting thing that I haven’t actually seen before, and actually makes me think that more games should steal this system: the way it handles healing/health power ups.

In Super Animal Royale, you have a great big health jug. Instead of having bandages or potions, any health juice you pick up just goes into the jug. When you want to heal, you drink from the jug.

And that’s it! No more having to carry around 100 potions. No more having to figure out if you should carry 5 bandages or one Med kit, because the Medkit heals more, but can only be used once, and the bandages can be used on smaller wounds, but are much slower.

Instead, whenever you run over juice, it gets picked up, and added to your health jug.

I think more games should do this. Screw fiddly potion management. Just let me stuff all the healing items I pick up into my great big heal box, and whenever I need healing, I just take a big sip. It’s like Jungle Juice but for liquid bandaids.

Look, I don’t have too much else to say on the game. It’s free. It’s more or less Fortnite. If the screens looked interesting, or if the game looked fun, just go download it and play it.

PS: We streamed the game a bit. And by we, I mean me and another friend who I work on random projects with. You can watch it here if you want to know more about what the game plays like.

PPS: Oh, and the game has bots, which is something everyone who makes battle royales at this point should just do. Keeps the matchmaking time down, and means that even suckers like myself can get kills.

Genshin Impact

Free to play, more expensive then a trip to Vegas if you actually want to buy anything in game.

I’ve been wanting to write about Genshin Impact, but I’ve had a hard time doing so over the last week. This is because Genshin Impact might be the highest quality free-to-play game ever made, but discussing the game without talking about the monetization model would be crazy. It’s like discussing a tiger, without mentioning the teeth or claws, and just discussing its fluffy-wuffy tail. Let’s start with that fluffy tail though.

Genshin Impact is a free to play RPG for everything except your Nintendo Switch. It has cross-play for pretty much everything, and cross-progression for everything that isn’t a PS4. You can actually close the game on your PC, then open it on your phone, and just… keep playing. The same game. From where you left it on your PC. You can do cross-play between phone, PC and PS4. It’s incredible.

And when I say RPG, I mean RPG. You’re presented with a massive world to wander around, search for treasure and do quests in. There are world bosses, and hidden secrets, and all the good stuff. Mechanically, the game borrows a massive amount from Breath of the Wild. You can just climb up mountains and hills and walls, and you also get a glider fairly early on which lets you drift around.

The combat system is also pretty neat. You build a party of 4 characters, and as long as you aren’t in a Domain (Dungeon) or combat, you can swap characters out as you wish. Each character has a weapon type, basic attack, ability, and ultimate ability, all on separate cooldowns. Each character also has an element, and elements interact in various ways. For example, if you launch an Anemo (wind) character’s ability into an area with fire on it, it will Swirl, and create a fire tornado. Put ice onto a character affected by water, or vice versa, and that character will freeze. There are about seven of these elements, and in addition, things like walking through puddles will make both you and enemies wet.

There is a day night cycle as well.

These abilities can be used outside of combat to light torches, trigger pressure plates, and do other puzzly stuff. You can even use ice attacks to freeze and then cross lakes and oceans. Theres an entire quest line that requires you to take advantage of this to get to a hidden island that doesn’t even show up on the map.

Moments like this are Genshin Impact at its best. When you’re just running around, fighting monsters, climbing terrain, and discovering things, you might even forget you’re playing a free to play game, and if I had any gripes with the game as it is, it would most likely be that the climbing behavior can occasionally be a bit funky. You can climb all over every mountain, and every hill in the game, and there is treasure everywhere. Every mountain top has hidden collectibles, there are puzzles in every cave.

Okay, so now lets talk about the bad part.

If the moment to moment gameplay of Genshin Impact is Breath of the Wild, the meat of the game’s advancement system is classic mobile gacha. If you’ve ever played Puzzles and Dragons, Azur Lane, Fate Grand Order, or Dragalia Lost, you’ve seen this sort of thing before. You have Resin (Energy) which recharges over time and is used to collect treasure from world bosses and dungeons. These include advancement materials that are used to increase the max level of your characters and weapons, books that are used to upgrade their talents, and artifacts that can slotted in to give set bonuses, and extra stats.

You can spend in game currency to refill your energy, and honestly, as frustrated as some people are by Resin, I don’t take too much issue with it.

What I do take issue with is the drop rates and costs of the Wish system, the system by which you get new characters, and most of the higher rarity weapons. I refuse to call these micro-transactions, because there is nothing fucking micro about them.

ONE roll of the Wish system is 160 Primogems/Genesis Crystals. A SINGLE ROLL.

These are the prices, and after you buy the first time bonus, they change to this.

$Primogems / # of Rolls
0.9960 / .33
4.99330 / 1.83
14.991090 / 6.06
29.992240 / 12.44
49.993880 / 21.56
99.998080 / 44.89

So if you’re looking at this, and thinking, “This seems a bit expensive,” then yeah. It fucking is. But here comes the kicker: the drop rates are AWFUL.

The Wish system in Genshin has multiple different tables you can choose to roll against, usually called banners. For the featured character in a banner, the drop rate is 0.6%, or 3/500. The drop rate for an weapon OR character of the highest rarity is 1.6% total, or 2/125.

Ed Note: I think fractions do a better job illustrating how low this is, which is why I’ve included them here.

Keep in mind, a single roll costs $2.20 at its cheapest, if you buy the $100 currency pack. This gets you just over 44 rolls.

There’s also a pity system in place in which if you haven’t gotten a weapon/character of max rarity after 90 rolls, you will be given one. I want to point out that the real money cost of 90 rolls is just under $200. At this point, if you’re rolling on a featured banner, you will have a 50% chance to get the featured character. If you don’t, you’ll be guaranteed to get them at the next pity roll. Which means at this point, you’ll have to have spent over $400.

TLDR: If you want a FEATURED character in Genshin Impact, they can end up costing you $400 for a single copy of the character. In addition, the game has system by which characters are powered up for each duplicate you get of them. So getting a character to their max potential requires you to get receive them 6 times.

So yeah. That’s the state of Genshin Impact as of today, an incredible free to play game that is unmatched by anything on the market, with what I’m going to call “Macro-Transactions” that can easily total the same price of a new PS5 to get a single character. Play it. Enjoy the story, the anime bullshit, and the voice acting. Explore the incredible world, scouring every nook and cranny for treasure, and climbing every mountain.

But please don’t spend money on it.