Updated on March 29, 5:01 p.m. (GMT+8): Improved relevancy.
Genshin Impact developer HoYoverse is shooting for the stars with its tactical RPG, Honkai Star Rail.
The latest title in the Honkai franchise, Star Rail steers away from the previous installment’s hack-and-slash gameplay (Honkai Impact 3rd) for turn-based action akin to Persona 5 and Final Fantasy.
A Genshin fan since day one, I had my doubts on whether or not HoYoverse could deliver an even better RPG experience than Genshin’s breathtaking open-world adventure, but I stand corrected.
After participating in the game’s second closed beta test, I can say that Honkai Star Rail looks like the next best game for Genshin players, and here’s why.
Honkai Star Rail’s turn-based gameplay is easy to learn and fun to master
While turn-based mechanics is quite the departure from Genshin’s action RPG elements, Honkai Star Rail flawlessly executes the battle system with flashy character skills and fast-paced action sequences.
You enter fights with a party of up to four characters and take turns attacking the enemy troop. Similar to Genshin Impact, characters can use elemental skills to exploit the weaknesses of certain opponents for extra damage to their health and shield, identified by the red and white bar respectively above their head. If you break the shield of an opponent, the opponent will be stunned, giving you a few extra turns before they recover their shield.
You can also preemptively strike opponents even before the fight begins. If you hit an enemy with their weakness in exploration mode, you can inflict extra damage and even affect them with an elemental status like Burn or Frozen.
Upon executing actions and taking damage from opponents, characters will build their ultimate meter. Once full, you can use the ultimate immediately after the current turn. The game allows you to use up to four ults at once to give you the upper hand in tough battles.
One nice touch is that all players have thrilling ultimate sequences. Since Genshin only gives sequences to 5-star characters, HSR’s detailing for each character’s ultimate adds a bit more personality when you use them in battle.
After you’ve learned the elements and characters’ moves, the game occasionally throws in a significantly harder fight to test your mettle. Deploying multiple enemy waves with some of them having one or no weaknesses, these fights teach you how to plan your attacks out and build the right team composition.
While Honkai Star Rail teaches you to exploit enemy weaknesses, you can find your way around fights by building characters a certain way. I used Dan Heng as a heavy hitter that could deal critical damage and take out enemies without having to break their shields.
Rather than being tedious and unnecessary, Honkai Star Rail’s turn-based gameplay teaches players to take their time analyzing their opponents before even landing a single attack.
If you still think Star Rail’s gameplay is too slow for your liking, HoYoverse also added a 2x option to speed up your fights.
The Honkai universe is filled with likeable characters
Though HoYoverse has spoiled me with Genshin’s evergrowing world of Archons and vast regions, I was impressed to see the developer still go above and beyond for Honkai Star Rail’s sci-fi story and characters.
You start the game by waking up in a space station that’s being invaded by an evil alien coalition. After escaping the invasion, you eventually team up with members of the Astral Express, a train that can travel through space.
While I was only able to get a few hours into the story, I grew fond of the characters that I met on my interstellar journey. Aside from the Astral Express’ tech-savvy crew, I met the people of Belobog who either live in the pristine Overworld or the gritty, yet homey Underworld.
Sure, some things look familiar to Genshin fans — like an archer that literally looks like a Primogem (March 7th) and a little girl who likes blowing things up (Hook), but the character designs are very much unique. One character that I found interesting was Natasha from the Underworld. Despite being introduced as a kind-hearted doctor, she enters battle with an actual grenade launcher.
While you’ll only get to see select parts of every planet you visit, Honkai Star Rail introduces you to a new cast of loveable heroes and heroines that you’ll definitely want in your party.
It’s still a gacha game, but with one big upgrade
Let’s address the huge elephant in the room, the gacha system.
Honkai Star Rail’s gacha system is almost an exact copy of the one in Genshin Impact. Wishes are now Warps that still cost 160 Stellar Jades. You’re guaranteed a 4-star item or character in every ten-pull, but there’s one big difference that could be a game-changer for free-to-play players.
The Beginner Warp guarantees a 5-star character in just 50 pulls, making it infinitely better than its counterpart in Genshin. Judging from the banner mechanics, it looks to be a one-time thing that could be a massive win for players who are looking to try out the game.
Aside from that, I still believe that the gacha system does not get in the way of the Honkai Star Rail experience. Players will still get a handful of free characters and Warp rewards, giving you more than enough to test the gacha system without burning through your wallet.