Much has been said about Genshin Impact’s visual similarities to Breath of the Wild, its many waifus and husbandos, and its addicting role-playing game systems. What I didn’t expect, however, was to spend so much time talking to its NPCs. So far, after a couple of weeks of playtime, I’ve found that absolutely everyone I’ve met in Genshin Impact has something to say — and it’s not filler.
In most open-world games of this size, there’s never a shortage of people to enliven virtual cities — but many games present these townsfolk less like actual humans with interior lives and more like scenery on your grand adventure. You can’t always talk to everyone, and if the option is there, rank-and-file NPCs will say usually only something quick and forgettable. Background characters will start blurring into one another, especially as lines of dialogue are repeated.
Genshin Impact isn’t like that at all. Everyone I’ve met so far has a name, and maybe that seems like an insignificant detail, but it’s not! The names I’ve spotted while playing Genshin Impact make it clear that the localizers had a lot of fun with what they were doing. Some of my favorites so far include Ella Musk, a young girl studying Hilichurlian linguistics, and six-fingered Jose, an incapacitated bard.
lol @ this family #PS4share pic.twitter.com/ZTsCOw8mnW— Patricia Hernandez (@xpatriciah) October 7, 2020
When I first met Jose, he couldn’t play a song for me. While it was amusing to see an NPC in a fantasy game break out some Spanish, after speaking to him, I put him out of my mind and went about my day. Hours later, I started a completely unrelated quest to earn my glider license. After finishing the quest, I was given a manual with cautionary tales of gliding incidents. Here, I learned that Jose at one point tried a wind gliding lyre stunt that ended up with him flying head first into a wishing well. Jose got his license revoked for years. Suddenly his inability to play a tune started making a lot more sense.
This, I’m coming to find, is pretty typical for Genshin Impact. Characters will reference other characters in different cities or parts of the map. They’ll talk about actual places you can visit and the wider lore. They’ll have a whole thing going on, even if they seem like nothing more than bit characters.
One of the earliest people I met in Genshin Impact was Timmie, a little boy standing on a bridge to town. When I walked toward him, there were a group of pigeons loitering nearby, which dispersed as soon as I got close. Timmie becomes pissed, and tells you as much. The exchange was cute enough to be memorable, but it didn’t stop there. Many hours later, when I started looking into daily commissions, a request comes in from none other than Timmie.
Guess what? Timmie hasn’t forgotten what I did. To atone for my sins, Timmie wants me to go and find some wheat so you can feed the nearby birds. The whole thing wasn’t some world-altering quest with great loot. Really, it was a small detail — but it made the larger world feel more connected and alive. NPCs aren’t just background actors you can forget as soon as they stop being useful to you.
I’ve also been impressed by how funny Genshin Impact is, and a lot of that comes out while talking with NPCs. One time, I was surprised to meet a cynical bard who had clearly gotten her heart broken. Now she was singing songs about how stupid love is, including a tune titled “Love Turns You into an Unthinking Vegetable.”
Another time, I met Ulfr, a man standing by a beach who told me he had built all the nearby boats for someone. They kept sinking, because in a genius move meant to showcase his love and affection, he kept making the boats out of dandelions. It got bad enough that Ulfr ended up with “several crabs” pinching his eyelids, he told me.
“Well, that’s wacky,” I thought. Then Ulfr concluded his elaborate tale by gifting me some eyelid crabs to cook. I couldn’t believe it.
The amount of great ambient dialogue Genshin Impact has is almost overwhelming. If you’re not careful, you can spend a lot of time on your way somewhere learning about some rando NPC’s elaborate backstory. Some folks I know have started avoiding conversations in Genshin Impact because it can be so time-consuming. I haven’t quite gotten to that point yet. But I have noticed that I don’t automatically speak to every stranger in the hopes they’ll tell me or do something useful.
But I kind of like that, too. Genshin Impact has broken me free from the compulsion to treat every NPC as a means to an end — whether that’s lore, quests, or loot — and has instead taught me that if I don’t have space to truly consider another human being, maybe I shouldn’t be taking their time at all.