So…Natlan Is A Disappointment

It’s been almost two years since the release of Sumeru in Genshin Impact Version 3.0, two years since the last time that Genshin faced a sizable backlash from players over the pervasive issue of racism and colorism in the game’s character design, two years during which the developers have been hard at work on Natlan, the Nation of War, set to release about a month from now in Version 5.0 – and in those two years, Genshin Impact has not gotten better in this regard…if possible, it’s actually gotten worse somehow. Because while there is no one in Natlan (yet) with a design as blatantly offensive as Sumeru’s Dori, for which I suppose I should be grateful, there is also no one whose design bears out the idea, put forward by the music, environment design, architecture, and the characters’ names, that this region is inspired by the cultures and mythologies of pre-colonial North, Central, and South America, Polynesia, and West Africa.

The character of Kinich from the region of Natlan in Genshin Impact, swinging through a canyon. He has shaggy dark-blue hair with blue-green highlights, and green eyes. He is wearing a black short-sleeved shirt under a black sleeveless vest with gold and blue geometric motifs on the front. He has large earrings, and a green-and-gold headband. He is holding an orange-and-purple ball. Beside him flies a dragon rendered in 8-bit animation for no discernible reason, bright orange with green scales and wearing sunglasses.
Kinich (based on the Mayan sun god Kinich Ahau) | youtube.com

Is this exactly shocking, after the Sumeru debacle? Well, no. To be honest, my expectations for Natlan were already extremely low, and had been ever since Sumeru. But I was still holding out hope that something would have changed, and I can’t help but be disappointed to learn that HoYoverse doesn’t care how many surveys you send back with complaints about the game’s lack of diversity in skin-tones, or about viral tweets and petitions. They make too much money off of Genshin as it stands for them to have to care, and unless players stop spending exorbitant amounts of money on this game every month to get six copies of every new character and five copies of their signature weapon, frankly, change isn’t happening. If Genshin can get away with not including Black and brown playable characters in a region inspired by majority Black and brown cultures, they’re not going to suddenly start in the next region, Shezhnaya, inspired by Tzarist Russia.

Some context on Natlan: it’s the sixth region players will visit on their journey across the world of Teyvat, after Mondstadt (probably still the region with the least culture, but just enough to tell that it’s supposed to evoke Germany, anytime between the Renaissance to the 1800’s), Liyue (rooted in a rich and beautiful depiction of late Qing Dynasty China, with subareas representing various Chinese subcultures; no surprise there, seeing as Genshin Impact is a Chinese game), Inazuma (unmistakably inspired by Meiji Restoration-era Japan, with specific islands aligning closely to Hokkaido and Okinawa), Sumeru (a messy assortment of disparate cultural references, from Algeria through ancient Egypt and Abbasid-era Iraq all the way to Iran and India), and Fontaine (grounded in 18th to 19th Century France, but built on the ruins of an older, Celtic civilization and a Roman Atlantis). Four of the five regions in the game to date are based in a pretty specific period of time in one specific real-world region’s history (and Shezhnaya, as mentioned, seems likely to continue that trend). Sumeru and now Natlan are the odd ones out. No bonus points for guessing what else they have in common.

With Natlan, the vibe Genshin seems to have been going for is “what if all the Indigenous peoples in the Global South had formed an intercontinental, pre-colonial utopia…with dragons”, which is an intriguing premise, even if Genshin‘s writers probably aren’t the best people to pull it off. But somewhere along the line, and maybe I’m naive for believing it was relatively late in the development process because of how the character designs all look so much more cohesive with darker skin, as though the colors of their clothes and hair were deliberately chosen to complement darker skin-tones, I have no doubt that someone higher-up demanded that the characters’ skin be lightened…a little more….and then a little more…until what was meant to be a pre-colonial utopia came out looking distinctly post-colonial in the final product because almost everyone was now white.

I’m not absolving the character designers themselves of all fault, however, because I have issues with the playable cast of Natlan that go beyond their skin-tones and are baked into their designs at a fundamental level. To start with, all of Genshin Impact‘s 84 playable characters (95 if we include the eleven revealed in the Natlan teaser trailer) use one of just five basic models (tall female/male; short female/male; and child-height female) with hardly any variation in facial features apart from eye color and the occasional mole or marking. Natlan didn’t need to break the mold to still do a good job, but it’s a missed opportunity to give characters body-types, facial features, and hair textures that diverge from the Eurocentric beauty standards that Genshin‘s characters currently adhere to almost by default.

The character of Citlali from the region of Natlan. She has purple eyes and long violet hair, loose in the back with pig-tails in the front, and a headdress of purple feathers. She is wearing a dark purple sleeveless top with fabric gauntlets on her arms and gold bracelets. She is holding an orange and purple ball in her hands.
Citlali (the Nahuatl word for “star”) | youtube.com

But while that would have been a nice touch, it was not nearly as imperative as simply getting the designs right. Clothes, accessories, and hairstyles make up each character’s distinctive and highly individual silhouette, allowing you to identify each character’s cultural background at a glance. Fantastical elements are to be expected in a fantasy game – there are characters with animal ears, antlers, wings, and tails, sometimes multiple tails – but most of these characters are based in the mythological creatures or native wildlife of their home region’s real-world equivalent. Ganyu, from Liyue, is part-Qilin, a horned beast in Chinese folklore. Gorou, from Inazuma, has the ears and tail of a Shiba Inu, a Japanese dog breed. And their outfits, apart from being a bit more revealing than historical clothing, are still very clearly Chinese and Japanese, respectively. The same largely holds true for Mondstadt and Fontaine.

Genshin Impact, in the past, has even boasted of its commitment to historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity, releasing a twenty-minute long video breaking down the development process for the character of Yun Jin, an opera singer from Liyue who is based in traditional Chinese opera culture, in which the developers speak of their extensive research, of how they tried to reference the costumes used for historical Chinese heroines in Yun Jin’s design, how they landed upon the concept of “striking a pose” as a key element in her combat animations, how they went out of their way to hire an opera professional to be the character’s singing voice. They did something very similar with the character of Furina in Fontaine, with a video describing how the original song “la vaguelette” came to be, and how the decision made upfront to write the song’s lyrics in French for the purposes of authenticity posed a challenge for the team until they got into contact with a French opera singer. HoYoverse is not incapable of accuracy; they make it a priority and use it to their advantage when it suits them.

Not in Natlan, though. If you run down the list of newly revealed characters, you’ll quickly discover that everyone is named after a deity or historical figure – Mualani, after a Hawaiian princess; Kachina, after an entire category of spirits in the beliefs of the Pueblo Native Americans; Kinich, after the Mayan sun god Kinich Ahau, and so on. A few are conspicuous misspelled in English, perhaps in an attempt to make the appropriation less egregious – but Ororon can only be in reference to Ọlọrun, the Supreme Deity of the Yoruba religion, and Mavuika, the name of the Pyro Archon, is a very slight variation on Mahuika, a Māori goddess of fire. You wouldn’t be able to guess any of their backgrounds from their designs, however, without squinting (and even then, I think, you’d have a hard time of it).

The character of Ororon from Natlan in Genshin Impact, standing against a dark background. He has shaggy dark-blue hair and heterochromatic eyes, one blue and the other pink. He is wearing a blue-and-purple scarf with a half-hood over a black leather sleeveless vest, with black fingerless gloves and gray skintight pants. He has a tattered black cloak. His face, shoulders, and forearms are heavily tattooed.
Ororon (a misspelling of Ọlọrun, the Supreme Deity of the Yoruba) | br.ign.com

Ororon is probably the best/worst example of this, as his design is not only isolated from cultural context but downright boring – a blue-green scarf the only pop of color in an outfit comprised of a black leather sleeveless vest and ripped-up skintight jeans with fingerless gloves. I have not seen anyone point out so much as a single cultural reference on his person, and I am highly doubtful that any will be found. The rest are not much better, to be honest. Kinich appears to wield an oversized macuahuitl (a bladed wooden club used by Aztecs and Mayan warriors), which is something, and I suppose there are some vaguely Mesoamerican-ish motifs in Mavuika’s jewelry and the patterning on her…black leather zip-up bodysuit.

Now, in a world where knights in armor and rock’n’roll musicians exist simultaneously, anachronistic clothing choices are pretty much inevitable, but with that said, I do think it’s worth examining why every other region’s fashion is (for the most part) historical with some modernizations, while Natlan’s is the exact opposite: modern clothing – including puffer-jackets, short-shorts, vests with zippers, and visors – with a few scattered and debatable references to traditional Indigenous clothing and patterns. I would not be surprised to learn that this choice was made to avoid having to use actual traditional clothing almost entirely.

Almost, I say, because there is one character in the trailer wearing non-modern (not necessarily historically accurate) clothing; Iansan, named after the Candomblé goddess Iansã, one of the very first characters revealed back in 2020, and still the only character in Natlan with brown(er than the rest) skin. She is one of the very few characters I can see myself pulling for in the upcoming patches, on account of her having darker skin, though I’m not sure what to make of Natlan’s darkest-skinned character being the only one wearing non-modern clothing, with a skull (originally thought by some to be the skull of a water buffalo, sacred to Iansã, now very clearly a cartoonish dragon skull) as a headdress and a necklace of dragon teeth. They already have a habit of casually referring to the brown-skinned Eremites of Sumeru as “barbarians”, and anyone who’s played the Dirge of Bilqis world quest remembers how aggravating it was to have the game force you to stand aside and say nothing while Liloupar, the spirit of a slave-owner, heaped shockingly racist vitriol on Jeht, an Eremite NPC and a friend of the player character’s, so I’m nervous to see how Iansan especially is handled.

The character of Iansan from the region of Natlan, walking determinedly through a forest underneath a waterfall. She has short shaggy white hair with a black, yellow and purple headband, to which a dragon skull headdress is attached. She has long, elf-like ears and bright green eyes. She is wearing an orange and purple tunic with detached black sleeves and a fur collar, with a necklace of what look like dragon teeth and a large circular medallion.
Iansan (based on the Candomblé goddess Iansã) | youtube.com

So…Natlan is a disappointment. I’ll be honest with you, I have very little hope left that HoYoverse will make any changes to the existing characters’ designs or skin-tones at this point. I appreciate that several of the game’s English voice-actors have put their jobs on the line to publicly call out the company, and that some high-profile content creators have done the same, but as I said earlier, unless players rally to make sure that Genshin Impact suffers a financial loss, by not spending money on the game, I do not believe they will pay attention. Now, just to be clear, I don’t think anyone’s necessarily a bad person for continuing to spend money on Genshin, and if you’re from any of the cultures represented in Natlan and having a certain character means something to you, I understand that…but this is where we’re at. Two years since Sumeru, and the conversation hasn’t changed because HoYoverse hasn’t changed; and I don’t know if they ever will on their own.

Everything New In The Genshin Impact Version 4.7 Special Program

With the third and final expansion to the region of Fontaine behind us and travelers gearing up for the next leg of their voyage across the world of Teyvat, there’s still a few things left to do before Genshin Impact Version 5.0, and one of those is our annual encounter with the enigmatic Khaenri’ahn knight Dainsleif, who usually shows up soon after we’ve completed a region’s three-act Archon Quest to take us sightseeing around some underground ruins infested with Abyss creatures, drop some massive lore-bomb about our protagonist’s sibling, or about the Cataclysm, or both, and then leave. The Traveler is better than me, because if I were given the option, at this point I would gladly beat the living daylights out of Dainsleif until he would just tell me what else he knows that he thinks we’re not worthy of learning yet or something, but that’s why the protagonist is not a self-insert.

Close-up screenshot of Clorinde in Genshin Impact, surrounded by crackling purple lightning as she holds her sword, glowing purple, up in front of her face. She has short dark purple hair, a tricorn hat, and golden epaulets on a purple uniform with white gloves.
Clorinde | dexerto.com

But I think everyone has a bone to pick with Dainsleif this year, because he’s late by a whole patch or two, and the last time we saw him, we accidentally got trapped in one of our sibling’s memories from hundreds of years prior (long story), which revealed to us that they played a key role in the foundation of the Abyss Order when they helped a Khaenri’ahn survivor of the Cataclysm named Chlothar heal his son Caribert, who was cursed to devolve into a Hilichurl along with most of the population of Khaenri’ah (another long story), using Abyssal power obtained from a not-at-all-creepy, sentient, talking, chained-up purple crystal suspended over a void simply called “The Sinner”, who was somehow gone when they went back to talk to him but is now worshipped as a god by the Abyss Order. Dainsleif seems to have a guess as to the Sinner’s true identity, but of course won’t tell us anything, except to say that it can see through space and time and, uh, definitely knows now that we know, bye! All of that, coupled with the fact that we found the skeletal remains of Chlothar but not Caribert, means that Travelers have a lot of questions for Dainsleif the next time we run into him.

And that day fast approaches, because the trailer for Version 4.7 prominently features Dainsleif, as well as the Traveler’s rarely-seen sibling, colloquially known as the Abyss Sibling, because, yes, at some point, after traveling the world with Dainsleif for a while, they went back to Chlothar and joined his fledgling Abyss Order of their own free will, apparently as a result of some terrible, mind-blowing truth they had learned on their adventures, something they are certain we too will come to accept. Well, we’re officially over halfway through Genshin Impact’s overarching storyline, with just two regions left to explore (plus Khaenri’ah), and I still don’t know what that “something” is, but theorists smarter than myself have some good guesses, that it has to do with the gods in Celestia, who may or may not be alien invaders, and would explain why they keep randomly dropping enormous spikes into the planet, annihilating entire civilizations. The Abyss Order’s plan to overthrow Celestia is titled the “Loom of Fate”, and Chlothar called Caribert the “Loom of Fate”, implying that Caribert would be able to weave his own destiny, but in the new trailer it’s said that the “Loom of Fate” is now complete, so it’s also a plan, and…I’m confused, quite frankly. I’m just gonna wait for Dainsleif to explain it to me.

So if the Abyss Sibling could maybe not kill him, as it’s implied she will attempt by the shot of her coming up behind Dainsleif with her sword drawn (because even though it’s not technically canon that the female twin is the Abyss Sibling and her brother is the Traveler, and plenty of players experience the story the other way around, I can’t recall the last time HoYoverse used the male Abyss Sibling in promo, if ever), that would be great! I mean, I know she won’t, but I am interested to learn how things get to the point where she might try. Until now, she’s been content to watch us from afar, confident that we’ll see her side of things and join her, but I could see where Dainsleif might start to pose a problem. It’s not like he’s a completely objective documentarian – he seems to believe Khaenri’ah was playing with fire, and that the Abyss Order is following in its footsteps by trying to revive the fallen kingdom. Maybe the Abyss Sibling is tired of having their side of the story recounted to us by someone who views her with a sort of condescending pity.

I have no idea what to expect from this confrontation, but HoYoverse is definitely hyping it up – even using today’s Special Program to premiere an animated short which beautifully summarizes the Traveler and the Abyss Sibling’s parallel journeys across Teyvat. I’m not sure if we should regard this as a teaser for the Genshin Impact anime that was announced well over a year ago, or something entirely separate, but the animation style and quality is exactly what I’m hoping for from the series, whatever topic it covers. Also, as a side-note, it’s really impactful to see certain moments between the siblings that the game has never shown us brought to life in such vivid detail, even something as seemingly mundane as Lumine, before she was “The Abyss Sibling”, braiding her brother’s hair, or of the two of them goofing around. It strengthens our emotional investment in what is truly the protagonist’s one goal.

But if the Traveler’s story doesn’t interest you (what are you, heartless?), there’s a lot of other cool stuff to do and explore in Version 4.7 – a surprising amount, actually, given that Version 4.8 immediately afterwards will be bringing us the year’s summer event and the closer on Fontaine, and before that there’s usually a bit of a dry spell in Genshin (I guess we already had that with Version 4.5, which I didn’t even cover). For starters, three characters are joining the game’s roster – two of them, Clorinde, a five-star Electro sword-user, and Sigewinne, a five-star Hydro bow-user, have been in the game since Version 4.0 and Version 4.1 respectively, while players only recently met Sethos, a new four-star Electro bow-user, in Cyno’s second Story Quest.

To break down all their kits in full would be exhausting, because to be honest, I still don’t entirely understand how the Bond of Life mechanic works. I just got Arlecchino because I think she’s neat, not because I have any idea how to use her properly. Clorinde applies a Bond of Life to herself when she uses her Elemental Burst, its value based on her max HP. Using her Elemental Skill, she enters the Night Vigil state, during which her normal attacks are infused with Electro, and using her Elemental Skill again causes her to lunge. In each of these different states, she gains different effects depending on the value of her Bond of Life – so for example, if you perform a lunging attack while Clorinde’s Bond of Life is less than 100% of her max HP, she will be healed based on her Bond of Life value, and her DMG and AoE will both be increased. Did you get all that? I hope so, because I sure as hell didn’t.

In the foreground stands Dainsleif, a tall man with shaggy blond hair and a dark blue mask covering one half of his face, wearing black with a high collar. Behind him stands the Traveler, with Paimon floating alongside him.
(left to right) Traveler, Paimon, and Dainsleif | gamertweak.com

Sigewinne’s Bond of Life is applied after she casts her Elemental Skill, which also causes a Bolstering Bubblebalm to bounce across the battlefield (the alliteration!), dealing Hydro DMG and restoring HP to all party members except Sigewinne herself upon impact with enemies (pressing and holding her Skill creates a larger bubble that will gradually reduce in size with each bounce, and these bubbles can even immobilize small opponents). When Sigewinne casts her Skill, two Sourcewater Droplets will be left behind, and picking these up gives her a Bond of Life worth 10% of her max HP, while clearing the Bond of Life restores energy. Her Burst seems fairly simple, a Hydro DMG cannon like Neuvillette’s, but because she’s a doctor, it’s a comically oversized syringe.

Last and unfortunately least, Sethos. He’s a charged attack-reliant four-star main DPS, and to make matters worse, his charged attacks are unusually slow and consume energy – and of course, because he’s a four-star, whatever increase in DMG you get from fully charging his Shadowpiercing Shot will likely be dwarfed by what any five-star bow user can accomplish in less time and without wasting energy. His Skill is a battery, recovering more energy when it triggers pretty much any Electro reaction, and his Burst converts his normal attacks into Electro. It’s not a great kit, which is sad, because I want him nonetheless for his design and personality, but I know in my heart I’ll take him out for one joyride and then never use him again.

Clorinde’s debut banner will run alongside Alhaitham in the first half of Version 4.7, featuring Sethos, while Sigewinne will arrive in the second half alongside a Furina rerun. Additionally, both Clorinde and Sigewinne will receive Story Quests, with Clorinde’s showing us a softer, possibly nerdier side of the stoic duelist, as an avid TTRPG (table-top role-playing game) fan, and Sigewinne’s giving us some insight into how the vastly different worlds of Melusines and humans have come to overlap in Fontaine. Cool, very cool, but now can we talk about the Imaginarium Theater?

Players of Genshin Impact have been asking for new endgame content since…well, forever. Don’t get me wrong, the Spiral Abyss is definitely still challenging in my opinion as somebody who has never fully cleared it, but it’s also really repetitive after a while, and outside of that, domains, and bosses, there’s been nowhere that players can really test their characters’ limits or their own strategizing skills. Until now, that is. Imaginarium Theater is set up so that players accustomed to breezing through every challenge the game throws at them with the same couple of characters will be forced to think long and hard about who to choose from a limited pool of characters. For instance, in Version 4.7, you can only choose Anemo, Electro, and Pyro characters – which all synergize pretty well anyway, so if anyone complains about this restriction I’d point out to them that it could be much worse, we could be forced to pick Anemo, Dendro, and Geo characters. Think about it, absolutely no Reactions. It would be infuriating.

With that said, up to four characters who don’t meet the season’s requirements can be chosen as “Special Guest Stars”, so again, there’s no reason to complain. If you don’t have enough characters to fill out your team, several Trial Characters equipped with flawless Artifacts will be provided, and players can even borrow or lend out their own characters for others to use, which sounds fun but also mortifying, because even my best characters are not where I want them to be and I would hate for someone to take my Lvl. 90 Dehya (hypothetically), only to discover that she’s been using an unleveled ATK goblet since I first got her because I could not – and cannot, try as I might! – obtain a Pyro DMG Bonus goblet from the Crimson Witch of Flames domain. These characters-for-hire are referred to as your “Supporting Cast”, not to be confused with your “Alternate Cast”, more of whom will gradually become available each time you complete a challenge in the Imaginarium Theater (keep in mind that your Supporting and Alternate Casts must meet the actual requirements of the season). Even as characters join your team, however, others will become unavailable. You can also trigger events inside the Theater, either randomly or by using Fantasia Flowers, and some of these will allow you to add more characters to your party while others will throw you into an unexpected battle and completely mess up your strategies.

The characters you choose to form your initial party, your “Principal Cast”, will all receive Fantastical Buffs, not only within the Theater but also outside of it, in the open-world, for the duration of the season. That means if I choose Dehya as part of my Principal Cast in Version 4.7, which I probably will, my Dehya’s max HP, ATK and DEF will increase by 20% until the Theater closes (temporarily: Imaginarium Theater and Spiral Abyss will alternate each month from now on). And there will be plenty of rewards, including Primogems, Original Resin, forging billets, and Toy Medals, the latter of which can be exchanged with the Theater’s concierge to obtain iconic poses for your characters, so that when taking photos, you don’t have to wait around for them to cycle through all their other idle animations and then frantically snap a dozen more pictures than necessary in the hopes of getting the one you wanted….which is an experience I’m sure we can all relate to. That totally isn’t just a me thing….right?

Version 4.7 will also see the return of a cute and fun minigame from way back in Version 3.8, the Spinoblaster, as well as a few other Events – Mutual Security Enhancing Simulation, in which players will take control of various monsters and maneuver them into battle against each other, for a chance to obtain the new four-star bow Cloudforged; Record of Reflective Writing, a platformer game where the objective is to collect coins and evade traps; and Endless Forms Most Martial, a classic combat challenge. Nothing too extravagant, but nothing there that sounds boring, either. If nothing else, it’s a few more Primogems ahead of Natlan’s release.

An aquatic Saurian swimming through a river of molten lava in Genshin Impact, orange streaked with vivid turquoise.
A Saurian in Natlan | youtube.com

I’ve saved our discussion of the upcoming region for last because that’s how they went about it on the Special Program, but of course it was all that anyone could talk about afterwards – our very first glimpse of a land we’ve only heard about from a handful of NPCs scattered around Teyvat, who have spoken highly of its hot springs and graffiti-artists, and described it as a colorful place with fashionable people. It’s hard to form a first impression of Natlan from the teaser because it doesn’t show us the culture, which I find curious and potentially worrying given that Natlan is or was supposed to be based on Mesoamerica, parts of Africa, and also…Spain (knowing HoYoverse, they threw Spain into the mix so they would have an excuse for when 90% of the playable characters and NPCs alike are white). The teaser is Saurian-centric, highlighting three of the different species of adorable dragons that players can apparently shapeshift into in Natlan, including one that burrows into the earth and speeds along the sides of graffiti-streaked canyon walls, one that can swim through rivers of lava, and one that uses its extremely long tongue to grab objects and propel itself through the air. It’s very much giving Dinotopia, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but was exactly what I was afraid of when Neuvillette first mentioned that the people of Natlan live alongside dragons, because it feels like another excuse to steer into full-on fantasy and abruptly away from the real-world cultures that informed everything from the architecture down to the literature of Mondstadt, Liyue, Inazuma, and Fontaine. In Sumeru, those influences are filtered through a layer of orientalism and exoticism so thick as to be almost impenetrable, and I fear something similar will occur in Natlan.

But maybe that’s just me being cynical. What do you think? As always, share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Everything We Learned From The Genshin Impact Version 4.4 Special Program

Of all the reoccurring events in Genshin Impact (and there are many), none is more hotly-anticipated by players than the annual Lantern Rite Festival that coincides with and reflects the celebration of the Chinese New Year. Set in the nation of Liyue, itself a patchwork of references taken from various different periods in ancient Chinese history and several distinct Chinese subcultures, the event nonetheless typically features characters from all across the world of Teyvat, and allows for some truly unexpected but delightful interactions. In the case of this year’s Lantern Rite, set to be the crowning event of Version 4.4, the former Hydro Archon Furina will make an appearance, her first in an event held outside Fontaine, which is a pretty big deal given that she’ll be in close proximity to the Geo Archon Zhongli and the two might drop some juicy tidbits of lore in their conversations – but for all that Furina usually commands the spotlight, one must first turn one’s attention to the long-awaited debut of the aloof adeptus Cloud Retainer as a playable character.

Xianyun, a tall woman with long black hair pulled into a ponytail with a hairpin shaped like a feather holding it in places, standing on a mountaintop with her arms crossed. She is wearing a black bodysuit with gauzy turquoise and pale blue ribbons forming a cape around her, and red spectacles.
Xianyun | destructoid.com

Genshin Impact‘s first five-star female Anemo character since Jean in Version 1.0, Cloud Retainer – or “Xianyun” – was described during the Special Program for Version 4.4 as a dedicated support for Plunge Attacks, the relatively little-used Normal Attacks that all characters in the game can perform when jumping or falling from a height. For most characters, gaining the height needed to perform a Plunge Attack in the first place is more of a hassle than it’s worth, because many battlefields – including almost all Domains, Boss Battle arenas, and the Spiral Abyss – are completely flat surfaces. A number of Anemo characters like Xiao, Venti, Wanderer, and Kazuha can propel themselves into the air, and Keqing and Alhaitham have similar abilities, but in all these cases the effect is limited to the character responsible for triggering it. Xianyun removes that obstacle: casting her Elemental Burst imbues every character in your party with a temporary jumping boost, meaning that anyone can perform Plunge Attacks, no matter the terrain. Of course, the characters who currently make the most of Plunge Attacks are the ones already most likely to be capable of performing them on their own, like Xiao, but Xianyun is only an asset to him. Additionally, every Plunge Attack performed while Xianyun’s Burst is active deals AoE Anemo DMG on top of the character’s own DMG, meaning that Catalyst characters (whose Plunge Attacks deal Elemental DMG by default) and characters with Elemental infusions on their weapons will be able to trigger the Swirl reaction more consistently. And as if that’s not enough, her Burst also heals your active character.

Her Elemental Skill allows Xianyun herself to perform three consecutive jumps high into the air, with the option to perform a Plunge Attack that will target nearby opponents and deal AoE Anemo DMG upon impact. From my (admittedly only partial) understanding, Xianyun’s Skill isn’t a necessary investment unless you’re building her to be an on-field DMG dealer. However, for players who enjoy climbing to the highest spots in Teyvat to take in the game’s breathtaking scenery or who struggle to harvest hard-to-reach local resources and always seem to find themselves running out of stamina while trying to maneuver around some slight overhang in a cliffside, Xianyun can be added to the list of (almost exclusively Anemo) characters who make world exploration effortless. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she has a beautiful design, with her Signature Weapon, a Catalyst shaped like a fan, being one of the game’s most exquisitely detailed, coupled with an endearing curmudgeonly personality.

Xianyun will be available during the first half of Version 4.4 alongside Nahida (and followed in the second half by Xiao, her best teammate, and Yae Miko), with the new four-star Pyro Claymore user Gaming featured on both their banners, and as a free reward of choice during the Lantern Rite Festival. Before we go any further, because Gaming’s name has unfortunately been turned into a joke, mostly amongst English-speakers, because “haha, video game character is named Gaming”, let’s get this out of the way right upfront – Gaming is an actual Cantonese name, and in Cantonese it is pronounced as “Gaa-Ming”, not “Gay-Ming”, and we can debate over whether Genshin Impact‘s English localization team could or should have added a hyphen or a space or a second “a” to his name to make it easier, but I’m just gonna point out that there’s a character in this game named Wriothesley. If you can manage that, Gaming should be no problem.

Anyway, Gaming has a very unique playstyle based around the energetic dance-moves of Chinese Southern or Cantonese Lion Dance, one of the two main forms of Chinese Lion Dance, whose performers wear large, brightly-colored lion masks and costumes. Because lions are not native to China, the dance is believed to have possibly originated in Southern or Central Asia, and that is reflected in Genshin Impact, where the dance is said to come from Chenyu Vale between Liyue and the South Asian-inspired region of Sumeru, furthermore being inspired by legends of lion-dragon hybrids living in the mountains, called “suanni” (an obsolete Chinese word for creatures of a similar nature, with roots in Central Asia). The largest of these beasts, the Solitary Suanni, will be a new Daily Boss in Version 4.4, and will likely drop Ascension Materials for both Xianyun and Gaming.

Gaming from Genshin Impact, crouching on top of a spectral golden cylinder on the wharf, holding a glowing neon-gold grinning lion mask over his head. He has short dark brown hair, and is wearing a long-sleeved dark green and black jacket over a red shirt with black trousers.
Gaming | oficinadanet.com.br

Back to Gaming, his kit is Plunge Attack-dependent, and he synergizes well with Xianyun. His Elemental Skill launches him into the air, allowing him to deal a powerful Pyro-infused Plunge Attack at the cost of a portion of his HP, while his Burst summons an adorable suanni sidekick named Man Chai to provide healing and accelerate his Skill’s cooldown. I don’t know how strong he is, but he’s cute, and he’s a Pyro Claymore, so I feel like I have to get him. I own all three Pyro Claymore-users released thus far, and use two of them for nearly every scenario in the game, hence why they’re both currently at Lvl. 90, outfitted with some of the best weapons and Artifacts I’ve got, and with Talents nearly maxed out (hint: Diluc isn’t one of them). Gaming could be my next obsession. And I have a feeling that I’m gonna be throwing all of my Primogems at Xianyun’s banner (as if I have any chance of getting her this soon after Navia), so there’s a good chance I’ll obtain at least one or two copies of him in the process.

I’ve already mentioned Chenyu Vale in passing, but there’s much more to be said about this next major expansion to the map of Teyvat, a subsection of Liyue best known in the present day for its high quality tea and optimal location at the intersection of three nations, and in the past for being the abode of many powerful and revered adepti who rivaled even Rex Lapis himself, including the Golden Carp, Fujin, who is still worshipped by the people of Chenyu Vale (and, rather curiously, goes by the name of a Japanese, rather than Chinese, deity), and the White Snake (whom we don’t know much about, but I’ll eat my metaphorical hat if they aren’t either related to, or one and the same as the other magical white snake from Chenyu Vale, Changsheng). The region is said to be rich with history and lore, its mountains dotted by the ancient ruins of adeptal mansions and structures dating back to before the Archon War, and I for one can’t wait to explore all of it. It’s also stunning. Like, genuinely some of the best environment design I’ve seen from Genshin Impact to date.

As for Events, well, obviously, there’s Lantern Rite, and all that that entails – various creative and charming minigames, mostly. In one, players can team up in Co-Op Mode to perform a lion dance, one in which you can dress up as a giant lion and fling your teammates into the air as you barrel around the arena picking up coins, though the developers stressed that the aim here is not to cause chaos, and that working together is essential to complete various stages of the game. In another challenge, similar to something I remember from last year’s Lantern Rite, players will have to navigate through a vibrant fireworks display, though the catch here is that you’re playing as a flying golden carp. And there’s a really cute, straightforward enough boardgame involving Xiangling and Yao Yao’s animal familiars, Guoba and Yuegui, where you have to guide them through the forest on a search for ingredients. Players will be rewarded for their participation with a new skin for the four-star Hydro sword-user Xingqiu that appears to be heavily inspired by Furina’s outfit – like, it’s literally just genderbent Furina cosplay, minus the hat and a few other details? I mean, I’m still gonna add it to my collection, because it’s free, but it’s not at all on the same level as free skins that have been released for Kaeya and Lisa, among others, and of course it doesn’t hold a candle to the new skins for five-star Cryo characters Ganyu and Shenhe.

Yilong Wharf in Genshin Impact, a village of white-walled buildings with black-tiled roofs at  the base of a waterfall in the mountains, with a massive white tower built into the falls, connecting the settlements above and below. There are ships in both harbors.
Yilong Wharf | multiplayer.it

A lot of players have been begging for the return of the addictive Of Drink A-Dreaming Event from Version 2.5 (one of the first Events in which I participated, soon after I started playing Genshin Impact), and at long last it is returning, though with a slight makeover. Rather than brewing cocktails at the Angel’s Share in Mondstadt, players will instead find themselves temporarily taking over the duties of the head chef at Wangshu Inn in Liyue and plating delectable dishes for playable characters in Receiver Of Friends From Afar. Timing and precision are of the essence in this game. In Journey Through Hilinigmatic Terrain, players will have to possess the bodies of hilichurls to investigate strange occurrences in Dadaupa Gorge, before unlocking a Domain where they can fight a giant Samachurl with a bunch of different Elemental abilities. And finally, in Triumphant Frenzy, a standard combat Domain gets a bit more challenging with the player being limited to using random trial characters in each round (I’m hoping that some of the bizarre team-comps to come out of this turn out to be weirdly good).

And that’s Genshin Impact Version 4.4 in a nutshell! What are you excited for? Who do you plan on pulling for? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Everything We Learned From The Genshin Impact Version 3.8 Special Program

Before Genshin Impact players leave behind the golden sands of Sumeru for the fjords of Fontaine, HoYoverse has prepared one last desert adventure for the Traveler to undertake in Version 3.8, meaning that this year there will be no sojourn to the Golden Apple Archipelago that has traditionally brought players so much joy every summer since the game’s launch. Still, we’ll have a new map to explore for a limited time that will provide rich rewards ahead of Fontaine’s release, a grandly whimsical Event Storyline which we can safely assume will segue into the upcoming nation’s Archon Quest, a main cast of four seemingly random characters with entire chapters worth of hidden lore between them, and a voice cameo from the Hexenzirkel’s mysterious leader, Alice. So it’s basically the Golden Apple Archipelago, in all but name and aesthetic.

A screenshot from Genshin Impact Version 3.8. A small wooden vessel, shaped vaguely like a boat with helicopter blades on top, propels itself forward along a slender wooden track suspended in mid-air above a jungle.
Adventures in Bottleland | gematsu.com

“Bottleland” is perhaps not the cleverest name for the setting of this summer’s cornerstone Event, whose participants have been personally selected by Alice to fill the roles of archetypal characters in an in-game series of short plays collectively titled The Magic Bottle, but the area itself is visually distinct, an emerald-hued oasis encircled by the desert, where an abandoned theater and carnival rides in various stages of dilapidation are linked by the circuitous track of a treacherous roller-coaster that I can’t wait to climb onboard. The Traveler has appropriately been cast in the prominent role of the “Adventurer” seeking the Magic Bottle of legend, with Paimon, Collei, Eula, and Sangonomiya Kokomi joining the ensemble in bit-parts, but the stars of the show are Alice’s own daughter, Klee, playing the “Little Mage”, and Kaeya, the “Dagger Thief”, who are also the only two actors who have made any effort to get into-character with new outfits, soon to be available as alternate skins (Klee’s can be purchased in the shop for roughly $30, while Kaeya’s is a reward for collecting tokens scattered throughout Bottleland).

Other activities in Bottleland include minigames galore, and if tons of easily obtainable Primogems aren’t incentive enough for you to shoot balloons with a water-cannon, dance in the spotlight to burn up enemies on the theater’s stage, or play pinball with finches (I didn’t fully understand that last one, either, it’s not just you), then a free copy of Layla might sweeten the deal. No new characters will join Genshin Impact‘s roster in Version 3.8, but players will have the extremely rare chance to pick up Cryo claymore-user Eula, who holds the record for the fewest reruns of any five-star character (exactly one, over five-hundred days ago) in a game that has the ability to rotate character banners either more frequently, or consistently, but won’t, for whatever reason. If you don’t pull on Eula’s banner now, there’s no knowing when she’ll come back, if ever, but is it worth it when Fontaine is right around the corner and even in Version 3.8, other tantalizing options include Sangonomiya Kokomi, who synergizes beautifully with Bloom-reaction based teams, Wanderer, an exceptional Anemo unit, and Klee, who is not great but might see more use with her new alternate skin coming out?

Version 3.8 will wind down with a couple of smaller-scale Events – Shared Sight, in which players will use an experimental device to locate animals by seeing through their eyes; Perilous Expedition, a classic combat Domain; and a rerun of Adventurer’s Trials, a really fun Event where specific characters’ special abilities must be utilized to complete challenges tailored just for them (for instance, using Heizou’s unique combination of punches and high kicks to play soccer with Slimes). Additionally, a Hangout Event for Kaeya was announced, but very little of the story was teased. It’s not much, but there’s never much to do in the last few weeks before a major update, which I figure is intentional as it encourages players who didn’t speed-run an entire nation upon release to go back and finish up outstanding quests.

A screenshot from Genshin Impact. Melusine, a diminutive pink creature wearing a blue police uniform, strolls down a wide boulevard between rows of tall, elegant buildings advertising, among other things, fine clothes and whimsical mechanical toys. Outside the stores, colorfully-dressed aristocrats are window-shopping, small dogs wearing wigs and hats wait for their owners, and golden robots trudge along carrying heavy bags for their owners. The atmosphere is one of lazy opulence.
Fontaine | Twitter @GenshinImpact

But I can’t blame any player for having their sights set on Fontaine, to the exclusion of all else, especially today, following our first (official) look at the upcoming Nation of Justice, where colorfully-dressed ladies and gentlemen waited on by servient automatons flaunt their exorbitant wealth on the wide, straight, boulevards and in the plazas, for the most part blissfully unaware or deliberately ignorant to the fact that their pride and joy, their beautiful, modern capital city, stands precariously poised above a seething crowd of lower-class laborers who make their cushy lifestyle possible, but are forced to live in the sewers that sunlight does not breach. Why does the Hydro Archon allow the scales of justice to be unbalanced, and who does she serve; her people or the gods who reside above Fontaine? Perhaps she is to them what her nation’s poor and oppressed are to her, barely of note? Whatever’s going on, one thing is for certain: Fontaine’s glittery façade hides ever-widening cracks in the nation’s foundations that could swallow all of its people, rich and poor, gods and mortals alike.

Also, mermaids. Fontaine has mermaids. Specifically melusine, a lesser-known sea-spirit from Western European folklore that has as much in common with descriptions of dragons as with mermaids, typically being depicted as a woman with a fish’s tail and wings, often with the ability to shapeshift. The Melusine of Fontaine are a diminutive species like the Aranara and Pari of Sumeru, not particularly humanoid but fully integrated into human society and working alongside them, and I can’t wait to find out how that came to pass, and whether the connections between the French melusine and dragons implies a similar link between the Melusine of Fontaine and the dragons that once ruled Teyvat.

Screenshot from Genshin Impact. Melusine, a diminutive pink creature in a blue police uniform, creeps through the dimly-lit sewers of Fontaine, where underpaid laborers in aprons toil away at dangerous jobs. In the distance, a circular window lets in a little natural light.
Sewers of Fontaine | Twitter @GenshinImpact

But now you know what I think, I want to hear what excites you about Version 3.8 and about Fontaine, as well as what worries you, like the possibility of some infuriating oxygen mechanic hindering endless underwater exploration, or of squid enemies that hit you with ink and leave you blinded, hopelessly disoriented, in the dark (can you tell I have thalassophobia, a fear of the deep ocean, and teuthiphobia, a fear of squid?) As always, I’ll ask you to refrain from discussing leaks regarding unreleased content, but feel free to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!