Hold your hats, as the highly anticipated Honkai: Star Rail is finally here! With over ten million pre-registrations, the game has been making waves before its official release. That’s not all — the game was downloaded over 20 million times on its first day of release, reaching top of the App Store charts within five hours of launch! As a former Genshin Impact player, the game has been on my wish list for quite a while, and I simply couldn't resist the urge to dive right into the game at launch with you guys. After three days of gameplay, let me fill you in on my thoughts of the game after having cleared the prologue and the first world, Jarilo-VI. Don't worry, I won't spoil anything major, so rest assured as you read on!
Themes of main and side stories
The game features the main theme of “galactic adventure", which tells the story of the Trailblazer (you) aboard the Astral Express as you pioneer through countless worlds and civilizations, discovering diverse cultures and companions along the way. In this vast universe, there are also the revered godlike beings called the “Aeons” who embody various philosophical concepts and are worshiped as deities by inhabitants of different worlds. Set against such a backdrop of science fiction and fantasy elements, Star Rail takes you on an unforgettable journey through the cosmos.
The story of the game seamlessly integrates the intricate feelings of human with the grandiose sentiment of “for the greater good”, vividly portraying the characters’ decision-making when faced with these conflicting emotions. Every character would battle for their own beliefs, and there is no clear-cut “hero” or “villains” (well maybe except the Stellarons), making the story all the more engaging. The early stages and side plots also touch upon the thought-provoking concept of "time", from a catastrophic event spanning centuries to a love separated by time dilation. Such themes make Star Rail an irresistible choice for fans of contemplative science fictions, as well as adventure tales that brims with passion and inspiration.
Character classes & Combat systems
After a brief plot introduction, the game takes you through a complete tutorial on its combat system. Dissimilar to miHoYo’s previous hits Honkai Impact 3rd and Genshin Impact, Star Rail boasts a turn-based combat system where each character’s turn is determined by their individual SPD, yet you can still form a team with maximum four characters. This time around, the characters' roles are more clearly defined than in Genshin, with different Paths (classes) providing specific functions in combat. For example, characters of the Destruction and Hunt paths are more focused on damage-dealing, while there is also the tanky and shielding Preservation, as well as the healing Abundance, totalling seven paths.
The game's combat system still shares some similarities with miHoYo's previous games though, as battles are based on Type weaknesses, featuring seven unique Types including the new Physical, Quantum, and Imaginary types. To cruise through combats, you’ll need to bring along characters that counter enemies’ Types, exploiting their weaknesses to deplete their Toughness. When toughness is exhausted, the enemy will enter a Weakness Break state, causing them to take additional damage and delaying their turns.
Tactical preparation & Adaptive decision-making
To enter into combat, simpy launch an attack at enemies in the overworld. If attacks that corresponds to the enemies’ weakness is used to commence battle, then the battle will begin with a preemptive strike from your party, consuming some of the enemies’ Toughness and HP. Each character is equipped with Techniques that can be used to initiate battles or prepare for the next battle, such as Dan Heng's "increased ATK at the start of the next battle" and March 7th "probability of freezing a random enemy at the start of the battle", providing players with more strategic options for pre-battle preparation. During battles, in addition to Talents (passive abilities), Basic ATK, Ultimate, each characters also has Skills that require the use of Skill Points. Skills can only be used during the character's own turn, with the team-wide pool of Skill Points replenishable through performing Basic ATKs, while Ultimates could be used at any time when the character’s Energy is fully charged.
Unlike in real-time action games where battles could be won with slick maneuvers and quick reflexes, in Star Rail, you must carefully plan out your actions, deciding when to use or accumulate Skill Points, all while taking into account your party’s and the enemies’ turn order. With a tactical depth that surpasses that of real-time combat games, Star Rail puts players into situations where they have to make a series of tactical choices that could mean the difference between victory and defeat, such as whether to Break the enemies first, or focus on defense and accumulate Skill Points. Despite the fact that turn-based battles may not offer the same adrenaline rush as real-time combat, the high stakes and thorough planning required to emerge victorious make for an experience that is every bit as thrilling.
Environmental design & Exploration
In terms of environment, Star Rail does not boast a vast open-world map like Genshin Impact. Instead, it features more intricate and finely designed areas with just the right distance from one point to another. Other than the expected sci-fi landscapes such as spaceships and space stations, the game's storyline takes you on a thrilling adventure through various worlds, each with its own unique environment and visual spectacle. Sure, players’ freedom of exploration may be more limited, but the stunning and grandiose backgrounds more than make up for it. In my opinion, unlike other open-world games that feature scaled-down cities in order to control map size, Star Rail's environmental design better showcases the magnificence of each location.
Exploration-wise, Star Rail retains miHoYo's signature treasure hunting elements. Each area has a certain number of treasure chests waiting for players to discover, as well as various puzzle mini-games that add a bit of fun to your journey. Interestingly, there are many interactive props and NPCs in the game, ranging from people with peculiar appearances to seemingly insignificant roadside bins, each with its own unique and almost non-repeating script. For example, there are over a dozen bins in the Jarilo-VI Administration District and Boulder Town, and each interaction would present a different tale, highlighting miHoYo’s incredible attention to detail. Additionally, conversing with NPCs would allow players to gain a deeper understanding of the game's worldview, sometimes even unlock hidden achievements and collectibles such as soundtracks and new crafting recipes. It is evident that miHoYo encourages players to leave their mark in every carefully crafted corner of the game, showcasing their commitment to creating a truly immersive experience not limited to just open-world games.
It also has to be said that the soundtrack of this game is absolutely remarkable. When I first set foot on the Astral Express, the calm and soothing music was much like the tranquility before a storm, preparing me for the epic adventures to come, while at the same time stoking my anticipation towards the unknown. Also, the passionate music that played during the final battle in Jarilo-VI was nothing short of epic. It felt like I was in an intense anime battle, which left a great impression on me as it pumped up my adrenaline.
Given that the art style, character designs, and UI are so similar (after all, it's the same IP series), it's hard for players not to compare the game with Honkai Impact 3rd and Genshin Impact. Fortunately, Honkai: Star Rail maintains the core mechanics of the IP while also adding its own unique features. Building on the success of its predecessors, it features enhanced versions of the IP’s appealing elements, such as more interesting NPC dialogues, more magnificent environmental designs, and simple yet entertaining gameplay. It's worth noting that turn-based combat in this game is extremely friendly towards those with zero mechanics when playing action games, allowing players to focus their attention on the game’s stunning visuals, as well as enjoying the story outside of combat. As a former player of Genshin Impact and a completionist, I also feel lucky that I don't have to spend days hunting for Oculi anymore.
Naturally, every game has its flaws, and this one is no exception. The Ultimate animations are undeniably impressive, but after seeing them repeatedly, they can become a bit tedious, particularly when you can't skip them. Additionally, once you complete a world, you'll unlock more Types and Paths for the Trailblazer, which provides additional options for building your team. However, it can be a bit of a pain to switch between Paths since you must manually change all of your equipment every time. Fortunately, miHoYo takes player feedback seriously and conducts regular surveys to gather input on potential improvements that could enhance players’ experience. Given their dedication to improving the game, I bet we can expect more quality of life updates in the near future.
In a nutshell, I think Honkai: Star Rail is a great game, and considering its theme of "galactic adventure" and its setting of universal exploration, there seems to be limitless possibilities for the game’s future blueprint. It's hard not to feel excited about the potential of where this game can take us next, and the kind of otherworldly explorations we might embark on. But for now, let's take our journey to the world of Xianzhou Luofu and meet its fascinating inhabitants, including Jing Yuan, Bailu, Yanqing, and many more who are awaiting our arrival!
That concludes Lluvia’s early impression of the brand-new Honkai: Star Rail.