‘Genshin Impact’: When Free to Play Isn’t so Free

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Photo Credit: Epic Games

by Lilan Kim, Freelance Writer

“Genshin Impact,” the open-world game that captured hardcore gamers and casual gamers alike. The game follows the Traveler, who has a mission of reuniting with their lost sibling. Along the way, the Traveler meets many people among many nations, dealing with the affairs that come in each nation they visit, while also slowly restoring their former power. 

Despite having only been released in 2020, the game has over 9 million players worldwide; not only consistently listing in the top ten of popular mobile games, but was the winner of the best mobile game in 2021. This game is available on Mihoyo’s sight for PC, the app store for phones to download, and available for those on playstation four and five in the PSN store. 

This game is often advertised for its story and gameplay. However,  there’s another thing that this game is often advertised for. This game is often marketed by the fact that it’s free to play, and there is no lie in that. The game is free across all playable platforms the game supports. It’s arguably one of the reasons the game is praised, such a high quality game for no cost. In my opinion though, this game is far from being free to play.

To say that I don’t play this game often would be an understatement. I’m a huge fan of this game. But when truly looking at how the game works, I cannot agree with the statements and advertisements telling me this game is free to play. 

Rarities

“Genshin Impact” has five different rarities. One star, two star, three star, four star, and five star. As expected, five stars are the highest and rarest quality out of the five rarities an item can be in. They can come as artifacts, weapons, important quest items, upgrade materials, and more. 

The most prominent (and perhaps prized to an extent) types of 5-stars that most care about the most come in the form of characters. They are often significantly stronger than 4-stars, bringing great utility to teams. But how do you get these amazing characters? These characters are only available in what is known as banners

Banners and Primogems

What’s a banner you may ask? They are the heart of what makes “Genshin” so addicting. “Genshin” is a gacha game, a type of game that is best described as the video game equivalent of a toy vending machine. Gacha games use in-game currency to gain random items/characters, and in this game, a currency known as primogems. 

When you spend primogems on these banners, the term for this action in this game is wish/pull. Primogems can be earned both in-game, or in large amounts with real-world money. It’s good that a game that relies heavily on gacha gives the currency in-game. That is, until we look at statistics. 

Going back to banners, the game has three main types of banners, but the two main banners that most are interested in are the character and weapon banners. These different banners use different types of fates (or wishes). Character and weapon uses fates called intertwined fates, while the standard banner uses fates called acquaint fates. But knowing this, let’s dig deeper into the core cause of  the pay to win concerns of “Genshin” players. 

Character Banners

For a game that is free to play, the game gives you six free characters, including the protagonist of “Genshin”, who counts as one of the free six. As stated earlier, characters are split into two rarity categories,  4-star and 5-star. “Genshin” as of Jan. 16, 2022 has a total of 49 playable characters. To unlock the other 43 characters, you will need to wish on banners. Character banners feature one 5-star, with three featured four star characters.

To do a single pull requires 160 primogems. For every ten pulls is a guaranteed four star or five star. If you do the math, a ten pull is 1,600 primogems. While getting a four star is guaranteed for every ten pulls, a 5-stars chance is only 0.6%, that number only going a little bit up for every pull. Pity as “Genshin” players call it, is a system where the more pulls you do, the higher the chance of getting a 5-star is. At ninety pity(or nine ten pulls)you’ll be rewarded with a 5-star. But then comes the system that haunts and traumatizes players, the 50/50 system. 

Whenever you get a character on the character banner, there’s a 50% chance it will be the character featured on the banner, but also a 50% chance it will be a non-banner five star. Non-banner 5-star characters are characters you can get from the standard banner, which is basically like a banner where you can get both characters and weapons.  The game has five non-banner 5-star characters, and whenever you get one of the  5-star characters on a character banner, that is referred to as losing the 50/50.

 After losing a 50/50, the next 5-star you get is guaranteed to be the featured character. Despite having a guaranteed character at the next 5-star, pity is reset after getting a 5-star, regardless of winning or losing the 50/50. The amount of pulls it takes to get a guaranteed character banner 5-star varies from person to person, worst case scenario needing to do another 90 pulls to get the guaranteed character. 

Knowing this, let’s do some math. A single pull is 160 primogems. To get a guaranteed four star is ten pulls, or 1,600 primogems. Ninety pulls is a guaranteed 5-star, which is 14,400 primogems. If you lose your 50/50, the worst case scenario is needing to have a whopping 28,800 primogems! That is a lot of primogems. 

The situation is arguably worse if you are aiming towards getting one of the 4-stars featured. While you can get any featured four stars through the standard banner, there are twenty four 4-star characters,  characters you could possibly get from the standard banner. That makes it better to wish for a 4-star when they appear on a character banner, as those featured have a greatly increased chance of being pulled than four star characters not featured. Unlike the featured five star, you are never guaranteed to get the four star you want. You could easily go through thousands of primogems and not get a single copy of the four star you want. In that way, it is arguably harder to get a 4-star than getting a featured five star. 

What makes this money dumping system even more frustrating is the fact that character constellations exist. Constellations are basically character upgrades that can easily break a character. Both five and four star characters have six constellations, each constellation making the character stronger than before. While it isn’t impossible to get all six constellations with a four star, getting a constellation six 5-star is virtually impossible without spending real money. If you want to get a six constellation 5-star as a free to play, expect to have to save for at least a year and a half with hard grinding. If you choose to use real money, to get all constellations for a 5-star takes an average of $2145, let that number just think in. 

If you thought the character banners were bad, sadly it doesn’t get any better when talking about the other primary banner of “Genshin”.

Weapon Banners

The weapon banner, the banner many players of the game have called a scam and pay-to-win catered. In-game, the game has weapons that you can craft. While those weapons are decent, to get the best weapons in the game, you’ll have to wish on a banner known as the weapon banner. The weapon banner has all types of weapons, bows, catalysts(spell books), swords, greatswords, and polearms, weapons for all the playable weapon class types. Similarly, the banner featured a 5-star and three featured 4-stars. Also similar to the character banner, there are 5-star weapons, but rather than having to pull 90 for a guaranteed 5-star, you only need to pull 80 times. Along with that, the chances of getting a featured weapon over a non-banner weapon is 75/25 rather than 50/50. 

On paper that sounds great and a better deal than the character banner right? Why are people calling it a scam? While the weapon banner takes ten less pulls along with the higher chance of not getting a non-banner item, there’s another system that makes this banner so infuriating for many free to play players and pay to win players alike.

Unlike the character banner, which only features one five star, weapon banners feature two different five stars. When getting a five star on the weapon banner, those two weapons are part of the 75% chance. This is fine if you’re ok with getting either one weapon, but it’s terrible when someone is wanting one weapon over the other. 

Even with getting a featured weapon, you are not guaranteed one featured weapon over the other. Unlike the character banner, you are never guaranteed the specific thing you want, only a guaranteed featured weapon after getting a non-banner 5-star weapon. That means you could go through several pulls and not get the weapon you want. In an infamous video of popular “Genshin” Youtuber Tectone, he spent $1000 in primogems to wish on the weapon banner attempting to get a polearm. The result? Tectone didn’t get a single copy of the polearm he wanted. 

Seeing how the weapon banner was unfair, Mihoyo released a new pity system for the weapon banner in update 2.0 known as the Epitomized Path. The new system was made to help people get a specific featured weapon they want after losing a 50/50. Players would select the feature weapon they wanted, and would be able to have a guaranteed weapon they want without having to go through the same situation that Tectone went through. 

While this path is a huge improvement from the previous never guaranteed weapon, the system still has problems. Despite being able to get a guaranteed feature weapon that you choose on the Epitomized Path after losing a 50/50, you have to lose two 50/50s to get that guaranteed weapon you want. That means you could end up having to pull up to 240 times to get the weapon you want. When converted to primogems, 240 pulls is equal to 384,000 primogems! If that wasn’t bad enough, the Epitomized Path resets whenever a new banner comes out. If you have a guaranteed weapon in the Epitomized Path, better use it before it goes to waste. 

Along with the fact that many could easily go through thousands of primogems not getting what they want, it’s important to bring up a major factor into why so many resort to buying primogems (if not full on whaling).

FOMO, Limited Currency, and the Meta

If there’s one thing that gacha games like to do, it’s pull the heartstrings of “Genshin” players with FOMO, or fear of missing out. Now you may be wondering how “Genshin” implements FOMO. Remember when I referred to a new banner when talking about the weapon banner? It’s not just with the weapon banner.  

With character and weapon banners, they will rotate every three weeks, each banner bringing a total different featured five star and three four stars. While you could just save and hoard primo gems for a character you want, every new update, “Genshin” releases a new character, enticing many to want to pull for them. It doesn’t help the fact that “Genshin” gives primogems out in-game in a very sparing way. 

In-game story quests are arguably the best way for players to get primogems.  Each main story quest can reward a max of 60 primogems upon completion. Once those are completed though, people have to look towards other ways to get primogems with the use of money. After completing all story quests, players can get primogems in many different ways. In “Genshin,” there are four prominent ways to get primogems. Daily commissions, spiral abyss, limited events, and achievements. Let’s break them down into how the four listed above work.

Daily commissions are basically bounties, do a task and be given a reward. Commissions reset daily at 4 a.m. Successfully completing a bounty gives ten primogems, with 20 primogems given after completing all four, making daily commissions give a total of 60 primogems daily.  That isn’t a lot when it takes 160 for a single pull and 1600 for a ten pull. As of the latest update, doing commissions for a whole month can get you 2,590 primogems. It’s quite a small amount when you take into consideration that it takes 14,400 primogems for a guaranteed five star. It doesn’t help that banners rotate every three weeks, one week less than a month. 

A harder but somewhat more rewarding way of getting primogems would be through what is infamously known in “Genshin” as the spiral abyss. What is the spiral abyss you may ask? To put it simply, it’s an enemy dungeon composed of 12 floors and 36 sublevels in each floor. The goal is simple, defeat the given enemies without dying, each floor making enemies more tough. What makes the spiral abyss so infamously hard is not the enemies, but rather,  the very strict time limits. While given a generous amount of time to beat the floor, to actually get any rewards you must defeat the enemies in smaller time increments. A given example may help you understand. 

You’re in a dungeon. You are given enemies to beat and a nine minute time limit to defeat them. To get rewards for completing the floor, you must complete the floor with at least two minutes left, with seven minutes remaining to get the maximum rewards. These time limits are neatly presented in the form of stars, with three different time limits/stars being in each sublevel, with a total of nine stars being given per floor. 

If there’s one thing that gives more bragging rights than having a character in “Genshin” it’s completing the spiral abyss. It’s not that simple though. To be able to unlock the next floor after completing one, you must get at least three stars in the previous floor. This is easy, until the abyss starts giving you enemies ten levels above your character levels. While you could level up your characters, the max character level is 90, with the final floor giving enemies at level 95 and 100 even! Hence, players must build and get very strong characters through banners. 

Whether players want to accept it or not, “Genshin” does have a meta when it comes to both characters and weapons. With the meta, players put pressure on HoyoVerse to release stronger and stronger units as time goes on. As the spiral abyss updates floors 9-12 with newer and harder enemies, the meta will change with it. It’s certainly more than just coincidental that whenever “Genshin” updates the abyss with a harder enemy, the newest released character happens to be an amazing counter to that enemy. With the fact that Hoyoverse changes the enemies in the abyss, players often can’t help but feel fear at missing out on a meta character that could help them beat the abyss. 

With a change of banner around every three weeks, people could easily have to wait another four-six months before they have a chance to get a character once they miss it, a character’s rerun getting less likely the older the unit. An infamous example of many missing out on an extremely meta character would be Kazuha. Kazuha is a character in “Genshin” that had his first banner in Version 1.6. Up until the current version of the game, he has not had a single rerun. The sales for his banner were very low on his release, meaning many have been waiting for over a year to get him. Kazuha is easily the most anticipated character that players want

Even with banners giving major FOMO for players, the game frequently offers limited events that offer something all players alike want, primogems. Every time a new banner comes out, so do two limited events come. They’re limited, and often won’t come out. Not doing an event is often a miss out on a free 420 primogems, it’s a lot when considering the meager amounts of primogems we get for free in-game. Players feel trapped, unable to put the game down and stop grinding for a bit as a result of fomo, whether it be missing out on gems for not having enough gems for the next meta character. 

Should You Play?

Despite everything said above, many could still find enjoyment in “Genshin” without putting a penny into it. Being free to play myself, the story and lore built around the game is very interesting, composing new teams with the characters available that I have. Getting a five star feels so much more rewarding when you grind hard for it, something you may be unable to feel when you put money into “Genshin”. In a way, despite free to play having disadvantages, the challenge it brings almost encourages you to get more creative rather than following the meta. I would easily recommend this game to anyone, hardcore and casual players alike. The main problem is people advertising this game as free to play when it really isn’t. This could go for any gacha game. Enjoy “Genshin”, but remember, gacha games are never catered towards free to play.