Back in September 2021, I told everyone and their dog to try Genshin Impact on the grounds that there's a good reason I've played it literally every single day for *checks notes* more than half a pandemic. To the surprise of no one, I still eagerly log into Genshin daily, and it's only added more reasons to play in the past few months.
Genshin Impact gets easier to recommend with every update, and its recent Enkanomiya patch is particularly engrossing. There's an enchanting subsurface region full of yet more secrets to unearth, story quests which feature new and returning characters in fun ways, and possibly the best music in a soundtrack which has delivered non-stop anthems since day one.
Other than the release of Inazuma, which is still the biggest new area in the game's history, this has probably been Genshin's best update ever, and the weeks ahead look promising. There's never been a bad time to get into Genshin Impact – it is, after all, free and fun – but now's an especially good time to make the plunge because players will get quite a treat soon.
Under the sea
Enkanomiya is the second sub-area to come to Genshin, putting it in the same category as the arctic mountain range of Dragonspine, and it's proof that the game's environments are only getting better. After Dragonspine dropped, I remember wondering if exploration, which is handily my favorite part of Genshin, would eventually get stale. Can I really just hunt for chests and collectibles forever?
Yeah, actually, I can.
It turns out I can happily do exactly that, but only because those chests and collectibles are draped in new mechanics and flanked by spellbinding scenery. There's something powerfully ancient and primordial about Enkanomiya that separates it from the rest of Genshin, and its central quest line has more of a dramatic edge to it than much of the game's main story, perhaps thanks to its Greek inspirations. It's also exciting to see these kinds of sub-areas woven into the main regions in bigger ways, but I won't spoil the connection there.
I have fond memories of stumbling into a bit of sequence-breaking while poking around for side quests when Inazuma came out, and Enkanomiya tactfully set me up for a similarly electrifying revelation. See, I found a locked gate right by the first checkpoint in the new area and made a note of the named key required to open it. (Side note: if I'm writing shit down on an honest-to-god piece of paper, the game is good.) This key surfaced a few hours later while I was rooting around some ruins, so I eagerly made my way back to that gate to pop it open. This being a video game, obviously there was some treasure inside – locked behind more of Enkanomiya's clever day-and-night puzzles – but there was also some art on a wall seemingly depicting a sequence of runes. I couldn't get the runes to do anything, so I just took a screenshot of them and went on my merry way.
Fast forward 10 hours of exploration (spread across two full days) and I've made my way to an old tower with five magic doors, each emblazoned with a different rune. There's an activation sequence scrawled on the floor, and sure enough, touching the doors in the specified order triggers something in the environment. Just as I'm about to leave, I remember the wall art that I screenshotted earlier, which showed a different rune sequence. And what do you know, punching in those runes spawns three big-ol' treasure chests, all for me.
See, these are the little things that actually make me care about a game's world. All of this stuff was both entirely optional and completely off the main path. There were no waypoints telling me where to find that gate or tower, and no tooltips telling me what those runes meant. Too few open-world games are capable of this kind of restraint, of trusting the player to not only figure things out but also enjoy figuring things out. Many games would've left their fingerprints all over the whole process and spoiled the discovery. But not only do I not need you to tell me, video game, I don't want you to tell me.
I happened to find a mysterious 'key' and then, several real days later, I happened to find the 'lock' it goes to. It was exhilarating and organic, and infinitely more meaningful precisely because I easily could've missed it. The fact that I had to refer to my own notes and screenshots just made the process more exciting and the result more rewarding. And you'd better believe that from that moment onward, every nook and cranny in Enkanomiya was like catnip to me. Who knows what I'll find next?
Collect your New Year's money
This kind of experience isn't unique to Enkanomiya; it's one of the core pillars of Genshin's world, and that's probably why I haven't gotten bored of it. And while you can't access Enkanomiya until you finish most of the main quest, this isn't one of those games that gets good after 30 hours. Genshin Impact gets better after 30 hours – and in my experience, is still getting better after hundreds of hours – but it also starts off strong. I'd love to be able to experience the opening regions, Mondstadt and Liyue, with fresh eyes again. New players don't know how good they've got it, said the Genshin boomer, actively disintegrating as he approaches Adventure Rank 59.
Speaking of which: players who start Genshin Impact today, like right the hell now, really don't know how good they've got it. You've got until around February 14 to get in while the gettin's good, but the sooner, the better. We're coming up on Genshin's New Year holiday event, you see. That means fun mini-games, stellar animated scenes, and a boat-load of free resources up for grabs, including Fates and Primogems used to unlock new characters and weapons through the game's gacha system. Not only that, the second half of the current patch will feature some of the best character banners in history.
Ganyu, who's widely regarded as Genshin's DPS queen, is returning with fabulous four-star characters on each arm: Beidou and Xingqiu, who are both among the strongest support units around. I'd be hard-pressed to build a better banner for a new player to spend their first Wishes on. All we're missing is Bennett, but you can get him from the item shop anyway. Not only that, the other banner running alongside Ganyu is Zhongli, the comfiest defensive unit there is.
I'd recommend Ganyu over Zhongli to new players since it's better to secure strong DPS first, but you can't go wrong with either of these powerhouses. And between the new player and New Year bonuses, you've actually got a decent shot at landing one of these five-stars. Your first limited five-star should be someone who'll put you in their backpack and carry you to the finish line, and Ganyu and Zhongli will definitely do that. Hell, Beidou will do that, and she can carry me any day. She can princess carry my ass through the Spiral Abyss for all I care.
I've played and watched a lot of live service games in the past decade, and Genshin Impact's first year and change has been downright enviable by so many metrics. There have been some minor growing pains and content droughts, sure, but nothing that needed a Destiny 2: Forsaken-grade overhaul. Some of its biggest hang-ups are baked into its gacha DNA, but I've learned to love it anyway. It is simply one of the best free games you can play today, and even if it wasn't free, it'd still be one of the best games to start playing this year.
All throughout January, GamesRadar+ is exploring the biggest games of the new year with exclusive interviews, hands-on impressions, and in-depth editorials. We're also checking in on big games from the previous year to see how they're faring in 2022. For more, be sure to follow along with Big in 2022.