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Dragonspine is a Preview of Genshin Impact’s Promising Future

The first new zone added to Teyvat is a roaring success.

by Brandon Adams

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Genshin Impact launched a few months ago, surprising many with just how damned good it was. By all accounts Genshin Impact shouldn’t be as fantastic as it is: the game initially appeared to be a shameless Breath of the Wild clone (albeit with a starker anime aesthetic) with gacha elements (which are infamous for prioritizing profit over gameplay). Turns out Genshin Impact was more an earnest homage to Nintendo’s instant-classic than it was a soulless homunculus, and the gacha elements didn’t impede or detract from the solid core gameplay loop. To call Genshin Impact a simple surprise undersells just how impactful (ahem) the game was at launch.

Fast-forward a couple of months, however, and the appeal for Genshin has waned a bit. Not enough to stall it’s astronomical cash flow, but the events added in lieu of new areas to explore, and the stingy gacha grind made it difficult for more mainstream and casual fans to hold on. Genshin remained popular with the gacha crowd, but there were many of us who fell in love with it due to its masterful world design and enticing exploration. We didn’t necessarily want new characters to gamble on or events that drained us of our Resin; we wanted more of Teyvat to explore and plunder.

Genshin Impact Version 1.2 introduced the first new zone added to Teyvat since the game released, and the sole frigid peak of Dragonspine is an absolute delight that hints at Genshin Impact’s promising future. Forget Wishes; forget grinding Domains for weeks on end for the perfect Artifact roll; Dragonspine reminds us of what makes Genshin Impact great.

Dragonspine hints at Genshin Impact’s bright future.

The frosty mountain of Dragonspine rests between the nations of Liyue and Mondstadt, dominating the horizon of each. While there’s a decent story here that introduces you to expert alchemist and totally-a-human Albedo, it’s the world design that’s the true star of the show in Version 1.2. Dragonspine is perhaps one-third the size of Liyue, but it makes up for the lack of horizontal real-estate by being dense with secrets. Dragonspine is a vertical zone, one packed silly with hidden treasures, cryptic puzzles, and suspicious hidey-holes. Dragonspine may be smaller than Liyue and Mondstadt, but it feels more inspired and creative than either.

There’s also a Sheer Cold mechanic that makes traversing the zone a bit of a logistical challenge. If you have a pyro character that’s all caught-up and decently equipped then Sheer Cold isn’t much to fear. Just light one of the many, many torches or campfires scattered about and remove the encroaching debuff. Without a pyro in your lineup things become a touch more dire in Dragonspine, but there’s an abundance of warming Ruin Braziers and orange seelies to stave off the cold. Sheer Cold is a nice extra mechanic that makes exploration more thrilling, though it can prove annoying at times.

Dragonspine may be smaller than Liyue and Mondstadt, but it feels more inspired and creative than either.

Then there’s the various puzzles scattered about. You can’t ascend to the peak until you’ve cracked open three orbs frozen in permafrost. There are eight Ancient Carvings scattered around the mountain that lead to a decent claymore. Eighty Crimson Agates are tucked away within Dragonspine, acting as the zone’s version of Anemoculus/Geoculus. Instead of redeeming these at a Statue of the Seven, players have to “donate” them to a withered old corrupted tree, and instead of stamina they are awarded various recipes and items, much like reputation rewards.

There’s so much more to find and discover, and I found myself spending more time darting about Dragonspine than I have both Liyue and Mondstadt. When I returned to Genshin Impact after a month hiatus I found I had only “discovered” half of Liyue and two-thirds of Mondstadt. I love exploring in Genshin Impact, but it’s clear I hit a bit of burnout towards the end of October. Dragonspine though? It’s been a week and I only have four-percent left to uncover. It’s managed to pull me back in a way I didn’t expect (the abundance of Precious chests has probably helped). If Inazuma and the other upcoming zones are as well-executed as Dragonspine then it’s safe to say Genshin Impact has a long and bright future ahead of it, assuming the gacha half of the game doesn’t interfere.

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The new event that launched alongside Dragonspine in the Version 1.2 update has left me optimistic this won’t be the case. Granted, the gacha grind in Genshin Impact remains super stingy, and I fear Genshin’s success means we’ll see publishers and developers adopting the wrong lessons. That fear aside, The Chalk Prince and the Dragon event, alongside the Zhongli buffs show miHoYo’s slowly learning traditional gacha systems don’t holistically match-up with Genshin Impact’s gameplay design.

The event is simple in execution, and not a single drop of Resin (Genshin’s time-gating resource) is required. The first stage was basic enough: kill enemies in Dragonspine and collect an event specific item from them. Whether you start the event or not you collect these items, so I was essentially done with Act I by the time I started the actual event quest. The last three Acts are just as easy, at least conceptually: kill enemies and defend Ruin Braziers, kill enemies and escort a seelie, and kill one giant boss enemy without dying yourself. The boss in Act IV can prove tricky, but all said these are quick activities to farm.

Each Act has its own reward currency and segment in the event shop, and the rewards are all items you’d usually have to spend Resin to farm. Because of this, myself and others have been able to spend our Resin farming items we need to ascend our characters and weapons more easily, without stressing over whether we have enough money or experience to level anything. The event rewards are limited in number, but they’ve been a pleasant shortcut around Genshin’s more obnoxious gacha elements. There’s even a super-powerful sword that’s easy to power-level during the event, which is a handy catch-up mechanic in its own right.

The small wealth of Primogems players earn from both exploring Dragonspine and completing the event objectives aren’t shabby either. My abundance of free wishes prior to the update triggered the pity mechanic and I pulled Albedo almost immediately after Version 1.2 went live. Thanks to all the Primogems I’ve collected since that pull I’ll be able to take advantage of yet another pity pull come Ganyu’s banner in a couple weeks.

Genshin has not been this generous in any of the events leading up to Dragonspine, and I hope The Chalk Prince and the Dragon event is a turning-point for the game. I know miHoYo is committed to their gacha – they make far too much money to drop it for a less shitty monetization model – but they can make it more agreeable. The new event shows they are on the right path, and I hope events only become more player-friendly from here.

Between the great new zone and vastly improved event rewards, the Dragonspine update to Genshin Impact is proof enough the game is here to stay. As a more casual, free player I’m absolutely over-the-moon with anticipation to see what the other several major zones have in-store. Throw in whatever smaller, Dragonspine-esque zones will appear along the way, and it’s clear Genshin Impact may become the densest free-to-play game on the market. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like to jump in as a new player a year, two years, even three years from now, and The Chalk Prince and the Dragon event has me believing the game will get that far. Only time will tell how things ultimately go for Genshin Impact, but if there was any doubt before Dragonspine has obliterated them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some exploring to do.

- This article was updated on:December 31st, 2020

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