Genshin Impact gets a lot of rightful public flak for its gambling mechanics, but only endgame players know about the luck-based grind of rolling for the best character equipment. While these “artifacts” don’t cost any real money, their luck-based randomization almost makes me wish that they did. Almost. This endgame equipment RNG is a key reason why building the strongest characters in Genshin Impact is a process that can take several months.
While Genshin players can gain stat boosts upon level-up like in most RPGs, the vast majority of their stats actually come from the equipment (“artifacts”) they wear. There are five artifact slots for each character: flower, plume, hourglass, goblet, and circlet. Most of them have a randomized main stat and up to four random substats. If you don multiple items from the same set, additional beneficial effects kick in. As a result, two instances of the same character can play very differently depending on which artifacts they have equipped.
At first this might seem like a fun system to experiment with, but it’s a huge pain for players who enjoy optimizing maximum damage numbers. See, many characters have abilities that scale off a specific stat. Zhongli and Noelle both have the ability to create shields, but Zhongli’s shield bonus scales off of his maximum health, while Noelle’s scales off of her defense. So even characters with similar abilities want gear that boosts a specific stat, rather than just any stat.
The best artifacts can be found in dungeons called “domains,” and it costs resin (energy points) to collect rewards after a domain challenge. If you get an artifact that doesn’t fit the character that you’re trying to build, then you have to fight a room filled with enemies for another shot at spending your resin. Each domain has pieces from two different artifact sets. Some sets are damage focused, some are defense focused, and others are energy focused. This means that you’re also rolling the dice on whether or not you get the correct piece from a pool of ten potential pieces. That’s before you even dig into their stat breakdown. I’ve spent a month just trying to get a solid set of decent artifacts for Zhongli. I’m not even aiming for optimal gear, and still, a solid set of five has eluded me. At this rate, I think it’s going to take another year for me to build him half-decently.
Am I going to spend another year fruitlessly trying to build the ultimate ultbot? You bet I am. Unlike the pitiful rates of rolling gacha, artifact domains lure me into thinking that I have a reasonable chance of improving the performance of my favorite characters. It doesn’t cost me money to challenge domains, as resin regenerates every day. So even though I know that the RNG is completely bullshit, there’s always the nagging voice in the back of my head, saying “my favorite character deserves to nuke every enemy in one blow.” Damn right he does. And thus I resign myself to the artifact mines.
Randomizing rewards—standard, of course, in games from Diablo to Destiny—isn’t unique to Genshin among gacha games, either. Arknights is another gacha game that also randomizes reward drops, but there’s not an optimization meta in that game. Arknights also allows you to trade upgrade drops. While Genshin allows you to trade some of the artifacts, some of the best artifacts in the game can only be obtained through farming domains. There’s no shortcut to greatness, or a six-figure damage number.
No matter how powerful my murder children become, I always feel the pull to make them a tiny bit better still, day by day. The optimization meta becomes another gameplay layer of trying to “raise” my characters—a fact that Genshin seems to be aware of, since it features child characters who have captured the protective instincts of the fandom. With the game’s focus on incremental improvement, there’s not much difference between trying to optimize your Genshin fighters and playing a gardening game, or raising cats in the mobile game Neko Atsume. Since I can use non-optimal artifacts as experience material on better artifacts, I’m seeing constant improvements every day. So no matter how disappointing my results are, I don’t feel rushed to acquire the most powerful character right this second. As the game likes to remind me, it’s not about the destination. It’s about the many, many frustrating journeys along the way. I’m still going to complain every time the game gives me a piece from the “Maiden Beloved” set, though.