Honkai: Star Rail – First Impressions

For reference purposes, this comes from someone who has not seen any of the Beta footage, has not played the other Honkai game, and has just finished the full Snowy Planet story. While I will try to not be super specific, there may still be some spoilers.

To be honest, I hadn’t actually planned to check the game out. I’m not really into turn-based combat, with Pokemon generally being the one exception for reasons we’ll get to later, and generally find most games that involve them I prefer watching over actually playing. I think Paper Mario would be the only one where I DID play to some extent over solely watching, but it was still more enjoyable in the latter category any time I actually had to fight.

If it wasn’t for the game’s Auto Mode, I probably still wouldn’t fully manage to tough it out. And of course, the auto mode can’t always be used– big story bosses have it disabled which I have mixed feelings on because honestly, the Auto plays better than I ever would. I would say the only time I felt Auto was a detriment was against one specific enemy we’ve ended up having to deal with that spawns two or more robots that will detonate on your team in two turns if you don’t defeat them first. While I’m pretty sure what the best strategy is here (kill the enemies first to explode on the enemy side), actually managing to do so is rough when:
1. I do not currently have/use characters that they are weak against
2. The big enemy has a “Taunt” attack that makes it so characters will only focus on him so unless you have an AOE attack, you will not be able to attack them (and depending on where the little Detonation bots are placed, you may only be able to hit one of them, if any). While it doesn’t always affect your entire team, I’ve found it usually ends up affecting the majority of them more often than not.

And thus, I’m usually just doing my best to keep my team alive during the blasts instead. It’s not a fun boss and, not really being a “unique” type of character, also one I don’t see us being able to just… never see again. It’s kind of how I feel every time I run into a Cryo Abyss Mage or Cryo Slimes because my team is built on Freezing enemies and both of those are immune (well, the former only while its shield is up, but). I don’t have a Pyro character I really enjoy playing as so switching isn’t fun, but it also just takes… way too long otherwise, especially when it’s mostly just me trying to not do my usual strategies with Ayaka to keep her damage physical instead of Cryo as she’s my strongest character, even with the downgrade of having to go with a different damage.

I bring this up because I feel the main difference, and I suppose what leads to my biggest worry with Star Rail, is that outside of time trials, I generally feel like I can get through a fight eventually in Genshin. It may not be fun. It may take way too long. But it’s not necessarily impossible and past AR 16, I can have someone come help with most situations.

Meanwhile, in Star Rail, I don’t feel that same comfort. A turn-based system puts you partially at the liberty of what attack(s) the enemy decides to do, what buffs and debuffs it may get off, and adds an element to luck at times on top of it feeling like it matters a lot more who you’re using. Fighting Cryo stuff as Ayaka may suck, but it doesn’t feel impossible, versus how some of the fights I had here where getting through them just felt like I was very lucky over any kind of actual skill. I’m not saying there isn’t a level of strategy involved, but I am saying that luck always feels a part of it.

My reflex to these types of situations is to overlevel as much as possible, a feeling that started back when I played Pokemon Blue and had Charmander and had to fight Brock. It was a tough fight. Unfortunately, overleveling is not an option here. For those who have not played Genshin or Star Rail, they essentially have a system that makes it so enemies will generally stay pretty close to your level. You do “ascension”-type quests which allow you to up your overall level (World Level in Genshin, Equilibrium in Star Rail) which causes enemies to increase in level.

Personally, I’d probably never do these (or keep my overall level as low as possible), but the problem is that many things are locked behind those levels. Story Quests, Side Quests, your Character’s maximum level and skill growth, levels of anything else you can level, etc. For example, your character’s max out at 30– you can get them to 40 after unlocking the next ascension tier. And then 50, which will be what I unlock next in Star Rail once I do the second Equilibrium quest.

But this specific issue is what makes the fact that this is another Gachapon game kind of off-putting. That isn’t to say I’m surprised it is or think it doesn’t have a lot of merit, but I feel like having a strong team matters a lot more here while in Genshin, I think you can get through a lot with either persistence or help from a friend. And if worse comes to worse, I suppose there’s turning your world level down (I don’t know if that is an option here for Star Rail, but honestly, I’m not completely sure it’d always be helpful either een if there is). Here, I genuinely feel like there will be a point where I may just not have the right characters to get through a fight and may just… be stuck until I pull someone better.

Yes, Star Rail has a Support System where you can call in a Friend’s Support character to help out. This replaces your 4th team member (which is my healer spot no less), but only a small selection of modes actually currently use the Support system and so it feels a lot less flexible. The other situation is, which anyone who may be familiar with how I play, I actually hate switching out characters. I really like to have one Team and that’s it.

With Pokemon, I would usually circumvent any kind of typing issue by using my Pokemon’s moves to help cover as many types as possible. Most of the time, this works really well and usually helps me cover almost everything. I think the only time I had a problem was in Sword/Shield where a lot of the new Pokemon just had some of the worst possible movesets and it was… rough to say the least. Obviously, Star Rail has one set of Moves and well, you got to work with them, so when I’m going into a Battle currently with three characters of the exact same “element” so to speak, it’s… not great. While you do seem to unlock other options for your MC later on, similar to how you get new Element options for your character in Genshin, the skill sets do change.

I’ve been using the new one my MC has now because the Fire element choice has helped a lot (and the skillset does help with the awful Robot I mentioned earlier), but I don’t know how long it’ll fully work with the Team. Pretty much my constant saving grace though has been Clara, who I was luckily enough to pull as my Discounted guaranteed 5* and also happened to be the character I wanted most in the first place after briefly looking everyone up. I know Seele is apparently pretty good, but I find her attacks actually kind of painful so I don’t plan to try for her. Based off the Characters themselves, even if I don’t know if I’d use them, I’d maybe like to get Gepard and/or Bronya. Team Building-wise, supposedly Baizhu is quite good and a 5* Healer so I guess one of those three are who I’m hoping to pull yet.

Regardless, my general point here is that I do have some concerns of this came possibly hitting more of a “Pay to Win/Complete” feeling than Genshin (where its main issue is that they keep putting big story and character lore in limited time events v-v; ) and it’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on and hope maybe gets addressed in some way in the future (or maybe it works okay and I’m stressing for no reason).

What I think really grabs people though is the story and writing thus far. There’s a lot of silly weird moments, but also clearly a lot of heart. That said, the game has a tendency to just… randomly slip in extra devastating trivia out of nowhere. It feels like things either get very weird and silly or very sad and depressing with very little inbetween. One moment I’m just minding my own business investigating every Trash Can until I somehow am rewarded an avatar to turn myself into Trash and the next I’m talking to an NPC who tells me how they lost everyone they love. It’s very much a whiplash of emotions.

I also think, if anyone has played any of Hoyoverse’s previous games, it’s clearly evident that they took a lot of feedback to heart as this game features many systems from some of their other games and elevates them.

One example, which I did not expect at all, is a phone system where each day, you’ll get a Daily Call from a Character. Characters can also give you quests through this system or it can even be Quest/Story important. I actually really adore this feature a lot and love interacting with Characters like this.

In Tears of Themis, the phone feature is a lot simpler, only really being used if:
-An Event story requires it
-For special holiday/event stuff (usually a message left by one of the LIs or a short conversation prelude)
-An ending conversation to a card story

It’s not a daily moment of interaction. But one thing where I feel that Tears of Themis does better with this system is it lets you preview what will be sent before you send it. Like in ToT, the choices shown are often just a part of what will be said/a summary of what could be said and aren’t always the best at accurately portraying what your MC will write after picking. Unfortunately, once you pick, it’s submitted which really stinks. I feel like this could be an easy thing to adjust so I hope that happens in the future or they just… make the actual choices more clear in the first place.

Meanwhile, from Genshin, the game makes grinding a lot less of a slog. The Auto mode is such a blessing, you can speed up battle time, and even alchemize most items into other items of the same grade. No hunting down the same enemies and searching for the same items over and over again.

It’s definitely not perfect, and the way materials from Weekly Bosses works is more or less the same (but it’s at least just ONE type and not three), but it feels a lot less taxing. Apparently, you can even personally customize your 5* Relics (this game’s version of the Artifact system) at a later point, though, I haven’t personally gotten to that so I’m not sure how it all works.

This really makes me hope we could see adjustments for Genshin in the future. Another adjustment I’m really hoping for is more dialogue for Lumine and Aether. Stelle and Caelus, the official names of the Star Rail MCs, have multiple moments where their inner dialogue is actually voiced which is really nice. That said, I don’t feel I can often relate as much to Stelle who feels a lot more sarcastic regardless of choices.

Dailies are also faily more contained with just the one daily being a general story quest and not a “hey, defeat 5 enemies in area” thing. I’m not sure how this may change in the future, but for once, I actually look forward to each one and haven’t had anything repeat. Even ones of the same name are generally continuations and not a repeat of the quest I did originally.

What would be closest to Commissions is now its own little daily task thing that I can usually knock out 3-4/5 pretty easily just playing normally. It’s a nice feeling for once versus going out of my way to do something super annoying.

Exploring also feels a lot more relaxing as things are more contained even if each map is still pretty large. I also love that we can see how many chests are on a map? But I kind of wish it only showed how many were accessible initially and then went up as you can earn more as often some will be connected to a quest you need to unlock and there isn’t any kind of notification on that.

So, I would say, while I do have concerns, I’m already pretty taken in with the story and even have some theories on things. I like how much easier it is to get some of the more tedious things out of the way. Also, if an official Junjun plush is not made (preferably of the same material the official Guoba plush is), I will be very sad. .