Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail are two games plucked off the same vine. These two games share DNA as the most popular gacha games from developer HoYoverse. They share similar gameplay mechanics, release schedules, etc. But how does Genshin Impact succeed where Honkai: Star Rail might fail?
Genshin Impact’s biggest success story
As a seasoned veteran of gacha games, I am well aware of how the genre gets you to spend more till you are left with an empty wallet. The designs get more lavish, more mechanics are introduced, but most importantly, the characters get stronger. Not only do the characters get stronger, but the content gets harder, and so not only do you want a better character; you straight up need it.
In general terms, we might call this “power creep.” Power creep is a concept that exists in every live service game. Do you play League of Legends? Compare a champion released today to some of the very first champions in the game. Power creep is a genuine concept that new characters or mechanics outshine older ones, and the older champions are often left in the dust, often in an unusable state.
But here’s my favorite and almost unbelievable aspect about Genshin Impact: power creep…isn’t really a thing. Infamously, fans have noticed a trend of “reverse power creep,” as they like to call it. Newer characters in Genshin Impact aren’t stepping on the toes of older ones. In fact, many new characters in Genshin Impact are straight-up worse than lots of characters at launch.
How Genshin Impact avoids power creep
I don’t necessarily think power creep is a bad thing in a game. It does seem natural for any live service game to introduce shiny new mechanics and gameplay additions. Otherwise, why would you keep playing a year or more after the initial furor? Remarkably, however, Genshin Impact doesn’t really buy into power creep at all. How is that?
For starters, Genshin Impact’s newer characters manage to introduce new mechanics to the game without going overboard with the numbers. Characters like Cyno might deal the same amount of damage as an older 5-star character, but how he deals damage is unique through a special minigame in his Elemental Burst that’s unlike any other character in the game.
It also helps that Genshin Impact’s team building often allows older characters to shine with newer ones. The introduction of the Dendro element, for example, introduced new gameplay mechanics that actually buffed older characters, thanks to increased synergy. Characters that were once perceived as weak received a new second wind, such as Keqing and Kuki Shinobu interacting with Dendro in a positive way. Thoma is another character who became decidedly stronger after Dendro was introduced, after being released as an underwhelming support unit.
But really, I think Genshin Impact has gracefully kept the game accessible to casual players by not ramping up the difficulty of the endgame too hard. Lots of players might complain about how shallow Genshin Impact is once you have a fully decked-out team, with the only endgame to test out your teams being the Spiral Abyss. And I do agree that Genshin Impact could use some more difficult content where I can really take my whaled out Wriothesley to the limit.
But I also appreciate that the Spiral Abyss hasn’t degraded to a disgusting numbers race, where you straight up cannot kill things without summoning the new shiny unit that deals more damage. Genshin Impact keeps their newer characters in check, but they also don’t turn their existing hard content into something that would leave older characters in the dust.
Honkai Star Rail is already falling into this trap
What I appreciate about how Genshin Impact treats its characters is how it minimizes the fear-of-missing-out aspect of a gacha game. In other gacha games, I’d often pull for characters because I was afraid of missing out on some really high damage, or important support mechanics. Say what you want about the gacha genre and how predatory it is, but Genshin Impact does try its hardest to keep a level playing field, so you don’t need to pull any new characters if you can’t afford to.
But playing Honkai: Star Rail alongside Genshin Impact, I can already see the two games differ in this regard. Not even a year after release, characters like Dan Heng Imbibitor Lunae absolutely left characters like Yanqing, Himeko, and Seele in the dust. While these three characters are still viable, it’s a bit concerning to see characters like Dan Heng already push the ceiling so dramatically. It feels like older characters I loved to play, like Jing Yuan and Blade, barely have time to compete against some of the newer monsters releasing right now.
What helps with Genshin Impact is the interactivity of its combat mechanics. It’s not just as simple as bringing a healer and building support around a DPS. The elemental combat system in Genshin Impact allows older characters to stay relevant, as elemental reactions can deal just as much damage as someone who might just dish out some really high raw numbers.
Honkai: Star Rail is not like that. It’s a turn-based game, and the only objective is to lower the HP of your enemies. There’s no mixing elements together to create reactions such as Vaporize or Melt to deal explosive damage. At the end of the day, you’re just dealing damage – and that’s it.
How can Honkai: Star Rail avoid power creep?
Honkai: Star Rail’s classes are currently meaningless. For example, a character in “The Hunt” class supposedly excels at dealing single-target damage. Meanwhile, an “Erudition” character excels at AoE damage. But what’s the point of a Hunt character, when an Erudition character might be able to deal just as much single-target damage as a Hunt character?
Aside from just keeping numbers in check, which I think Honkai: Star Rail isn’t doing nearly as well as way Genshin Impact, I think Honkai can really benefit by giving characters some weaknesses. The recent Huohuo is an excellent healer, but she also can buff allies’ ATK and energy regeneration. Should an Abundance (healer) character be able to buff your allies as well when there’s a class (Harmony) dedicated to buffing allies? Why do I need to pull for Harmony characters when HoYoverse has shown they are willing to let healers buff your team as well?
Honkai: Star Rail is almost as casual as Genshin Impact, arguably more so, with auto battles and shorter daily requirements compared to Genshin. But Honkai is not afraid to amp up its endgame content with even harder battles. The Simulated Universe Swarm is an incredible challenge compared to the Memory of Chaos…which, by the way, is getting even harder in the future with new floors and harder bosses on the way. Is this how Honkai: Star Rail should proceed? Making bosses so hard, that you need the latest unit to succeed? It might not be that way yet, but will it become like that in the future?
I don’t think Honkai: Star Rail is at a point where power creep is a huge issue…yet. Jing Yuan might not hold a candle to Dan Heng Imbibitor Lunae, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t viable for endgame content, such as the Memory of Chaos or Simulated Universe. But as newer characters are already dramatically outshining older ones, I’m sitting here hoping I’ll still be able to use my Jing Yuan a year down the line, the same way I can still pull out my Tartaglia who released near the game’s launch.