It is, without exception, always difficult to pin down a Game of the Year. Each year there are so many quality titles released, and you could make a case for so many of them to be the “Best of the Best.” How the heck do you settle on just one? Well, in the case of Genshin Impact, while I won’t say it was an easy choice to arrive at, I will say that it instantly felt right and deserving of being the Game of the Year for 2020. There is just nothing on mobile that even approaches what Genshin Impact has to offer.
Developer miHoYo’s Genshin Impact is an action adventure game that takes place in a huge open world, and the team behind it has stated that their main source of inspiration was The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild. Indeed, the games look extremely similar at a glance, and there are a number of systems in Genshin Impact that feel maybe a little TOO close to those in Nintendo’s masterpiece. But, the more you play, the more you realize just how different these two games are from each other, despite sharing a lot of similarities mechanically.
The huge fantasy world you get to explore is unrivaled for a mobile game. However, calling this a “mobile game” isn’t really accurate. Genshin Impact is simply a game that exists, and you can play it on mobile, or on PC, or on PlayStation 4/5 (and likely more platforms in the future) and have just about the exact same experience across all of them, with all your progress coming with you for the ride. It’s what I always envisioned video games evolving into: The platform is irrelevant, it’s the game that matters, and you can simply choose where you want to play it.
However, because Genshin Impact IS a game you can play on mobile, we shouldn’t discount just how damn impressive it is at every level within the context of other mobile games. There is no other mobile game with an open world as rich and detailed as this one. You can spend dozens if not hundreds of hours just exploring around, stumbling into your own adventures. Like Breath of the Wild, most of the terrain is climbable, and you have a glider you can use to cruise around in the sky too. And also like in Breath of the Wild, I am constantly getting distracted by something cool off in the distance that I just HAVE to go off and explore right this very minute, current plans be damned. Playing in the world of Genshin Impact just never gets old.
This is all without even mentioning the hours upon hours of pre-designed content that’s there for you to play through. I’m talking about the mainline story quests, the side quests, the random events that pop up on the map, the various trial dungeons, and so much more. There is ALWAYS something to do, and more often than not, there’s more that I want to do than I actually have time for. Then there’s the multiple playable characters which you can switch between on the fly, all with their own progression systems, skill trees, equipment loadouts, weapons, and more. If you’re someone who played Breath of the Wild but wished it had more traditional RPG-like progression systems built in, well, then welcome to flavor country my friends.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Genshin Impact is a free to play game. It has a gacha mechanic where you can spend various resources, which obviously you can buy with real money but are also earned through play, at a chance to unlock additional heroes and items. Generally the characters you have a chance at unlocking are stronger than your standard characters, but in my experience they’re more “cheater” characters and aren’t in any way necessary to play through the game. Personally I’ve never spent any money in Genshin Impact, and I’m still rocking the characters that you unlock for free during the normal progression through the early parts of the game.
There is an extremely deep elemental system in Genshin Impact where different character’s elemental abilities can interact with each other in special ways and do a whole lot more damage. Whenever I’ve lost a battle, I’ve gone back and rethought my strategy based on the characters I have and their elemental abilities, and always come out on top in a subsequent try. Could I have just brute-forced my way through that battle if I had one of those shiny high-level characters from the gacha? Yeah maybe, but where is the fun in that?
Genshin Impact is a game you don’t have to spend money on to be successful, but you DO need to utilize the abilities at your disposal and really think about your strategies. This is a good thing in my book, and what video games are all about, and so despite loving the heck out of this game I’ll likely never spend any money on it because I’m scared it might actually ruin my experience. Do I wish there was no free to play stuff to worry about in Genshin Impact? Well yes, but not because it bothers me personally, but because I know it will be a barrier of entry for many people who hate free to play to even giving the game a shot at all, and that’s an absolute shame.
Like I’ve said, there is nothing else on mobile that can approach the level of what Genshin Impact has to offer. It’s not perfect, and I’ve certainly groaned at some of the writing in the game, and I can’t figure out for the life of me why it doesn’t have controller support on mobile when it does on other platforms, and various other nitpicks I could think of if I really sat down and thought about it. But those are all just tiny specks of dust in the ocean of greatness that is Genshin Impact. This game has given me far more than I ever could have imagined and I don’t hesitate for a second to crown it our Game of the Year for 2020.