Genshin Impact was definitely not a game in which I expected to find great roguelike gameplay. Its open world design (which was frequently compared to Breath of the Wild at launch) seemed antithetical to the restrictive conditions of an interesting roguelike. I’m glad to find that I was very, very wrong. The new “Labyrinth Warriors” event puts a unique Genshin spin on the roguelike formula, giving players a challenging change of pace from the cyclical weekly boss grinds.
Like many a good roguelike, the event forces players to navigate a series of random rooms, clearing them of enemies and being rewarded with power-ups. And the more you risk by selecting harder difficulties, the more you stand to gain. Labyrinth Warriors takes place in a special domain (that’s a dungeon to y’all non-Genshin players) filled with traps and hazards that can debuff your characters if you don’t watch where you’re going. While the domain randomizes a power-up for each room that you clear, every buff has a small chance of containing a debilitating debuff. To even your odds, the event allows you to bring three limited-use talismans with powerful effects.
While the novelty undoubtedly lies in the fact that players can challenge a roguelike dungeon using their favorite characters, the gameplay appeal lies in how Labyrinth Warriors disrupts typical combat strategies. In fact, my coworker Renata argues that combat experimentation is what essentially defines a roguelike. This was definitely an event that forced me to think about non-conventional strategies.
See, in Genshin, different elemental attacks have special reactions with each other. Skilled players utilize a strategy that’s commonly called a “combat rotation,” stacking character attacks in an optimal order to take maximum advantage of these reactions. The combat in Genshin Impact rewards focusing all of your support abilities on a single damage dealer, rather than covering all of your bases like in a standard JRPG.
For example, in typical Genshin Impact combat, I often activate Zhongli’s shield first to reduce damage and lower enemy defenses. Then I activate Raiden Shogun’s storm eye to inflict extra damage on every attack. I then switch to Xiao, using his special Yaksha form to cause massive damage to all enemies in his vicinity, with all of his attacks benefitting from the previous two buffs. Finally, I rotate to my healer Barbara, since Xiao’s special attack causes him to suffer significant recoil damage. My entire team was built around allowing Xiao to deal the maximum amount of damage for as long as possible. I didn’t care for team flexibility when I could watch big numbers go brr.
Unfortunately, this tried-and-true strategy doesn’t always work so well in Labyrinth Warriors. At one point, I accidentally stumbled on a trap that prevented Xiao from being healed during the challenge. That would have been fine, except that internet lag caused him to die before I could get Zhongli’s shield up. This meant that I had no main damage dealer except Raiden Shogun. When I encountered enemies that had immunity to her elemental damage, I had no choice but to rely on my support characters’ offensive skills. And the dungeon doesn’t allow for any healing, so I had to chip away at enemies very slowly. The loss of even one character, a fairly minor problem in standard Genshin combat, had completely disrupted my entire team strategy. I would have revived Xiao in one of the healing rooms, except I was gunning for the “no-heal” challenge rewards. And when I was asked to set the difficulty of the challenge rooms, I always picked “dire” so that I could get better power-ups.
As you can imagine, I was much more careful about suspicious floor tiles on my next run. Roguelikes are a genre that both rewards and punishes hubris. While the levels themselves weren’t hard, I had become a victim of my own self-confidence. I had to pick the hardest challenges. I refrained from using my powerful talismans in order to get an event achievement. I definitely wanted to enter a challenge room instead of going for the safe treasure rooms. And like in any solid roguelike game, I’d gladly do it again.
The event is already delivering a serious challenge, and there are still more levels that the developers haven’t yet unlocked, with only three of the five dungeons available so far. I found the second dungeon to be significantly more difficult than the first. It won’t be long before the final room wipes the floor with all of us. Personally, I’m looking forward to it.