Genshin Impact

One of biggest achievements of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was how much freedom it allowed in terrain traversal. In Breath of the Wild, there were no parts of the world that were off limits (within the boundaries of the game world). Is a mountain in your way? Climb over it! Is there something shining off in a distant valley? Use your hang-glider to soar over there quickly and investigate. The only limitation was your stamina meter.

Genshin Impact, the gorgeous free-to-play title from miHoYo, lifts these terrain traversal mechanics wholesale. Yes, you have a hang-glider (given to you when you reach the first city). Yes, you can climb the sides of mountains. Yes, you’re limited by a stamina gauge (though the meter drains slower than the one in Breath of the Wild).

Some folks might be tempted to call this plagiarism. “Why can’t MiHoYo come up with their own traversal system?” these people might ask.

Well, that’s the wrong way to frame this. Breath of the Wild‘s traversal system was so good that it shone a spotlight on the limitations of other open worlds in this regard. I tried to pick up Horizon Zero Dawn immediately after completing Breath of the Wild, and I just couldn’t do it. Every mountain was insurmountable except for the narrow trails so graciously put there by the development team. Standing on a high peak lost a lot of its luster when I was no longer able to jump off and graciously glide off to some distant location.

Breath of the Wild

Game mechanics like the traversal system in Breath of the Wild are innovators. Think of it as something like Super Mario 64‘s camera system. One of the things that made Super Mario 64 stand above similar games that were being developed at the same time is that it gave players control of the camera. In retrospect, it was handled clunkily and awkwardly, but it was groundbreaking at the time. In the two and a half decades since, camera controls were refined to get us to where we are now.

Two decades from now, Breath of the Wild‘s traversal mechanics will probably feel as awkward as Super Mario 64‘s camera controls do now. But that’s only because other developers will come in, borrow this game system, and over time it will be more and more refined.

That’s good for Genshin Impact — it saw the biggest launch of a Chinese video game in history. But that’s also good for video games in general. We need more video games that are willing to innovate in profound, game-changing ways, like Breath of the Wild. But we also need games that recognize that innovation and think about how it impacts what they are trying to do.

Any new innovation is just the first step in the process. Next comes refinement. And with games like Genshin Impact and Craftopia borrowing Breath of the Wild‘s most innovative feature, I do think we’re going to see this feature become more and more refined as the years go on. If you enjoy video games, that’s something to get excited about.

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