Following the global success of Genshin Impact, Chinese game developer HoYoverse published new title Honkai: Star Rail on April 26. The game is an anime-styled science-fiction gacha title. Players of gacha games, a reference to Japanese toy vending machines, use in-game currency to purchase virtual boxes that contain a randomized selection of characters, weapons, and other rewards. 

Honkai: Star Rail is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, iOS, and Android devices. In this new title, HoYoverse blends open-world and turn-based mechanics to create a different type of anime game to its famous predecessor. At first glance, Genshin Impact players might find some familiarity due to style and user interface, but a deeper exploration of Honkai shows it offers a genuinely alternative experience. 

An unskippable storyline

Honkai: Star Rail is the fourth instalment of the Honkai series, drawing on characters from Honkai Impact 3rd and Tears of Themis, and gameplay elements from Genshin Impact. New players who are not familiar with the previous titles in the series might be a bit overwhelmed to start, with novices needing some time to digest wordings and worldview settings. But the game’s narrative becomes simpler after the prologue, as the story transitions into the stage of planetary adventures.

The game is set in a fantasy universe where humanity follows in the paths of godlike beings called “Aeons,” in an attempt to stop a pervasive corrupting force, the “Fragmentum.” In the game, players take on the role of “Trailblazers,” waking up without memory aboard a space station. You discover your body contains a destructive matter called “Stellaron” and join a band of adventurers, traveling between planets aboard the “Astral Express,” a space-train.

The game’s characters have distinct personalities and the main story is fast-paced. Humor is a key feature of HoYoverse’s game, with NPCs messaging you to lighten the mood while the main storyline unfolds. Some players may feel like the asides, seen in props and messages, waste time or aren’t especially funny, preferring pure combat. Others will enjoy chatting to NPCs to deepen the sense of immersion.

The game’s plot and script have room for improvement. Not being able to skip along in the plot and having to wait for a character’s action to finish before clicking on the next line of dialogue can be frustrating. Additionally, players can only obtain the first accessory character gifted by the system after several hours of story, by which time an impatient beginner may have abandoned the game due to perceived lack of progress. 

An array of gacha characters

Honkai: Star Rail currently offers 28 characters, categorized in the following seven elements: lightning, ice, fire, wind, imaginary, quantum, and physical. Thus, players have plenty of choice when it comes to building a team. 

Desired characters and weapons acquired through the gacha system are called Warps, and you need to spend specific types of in-game currency to get a Star Rail Pass. With this, players can unlock four or five star characters. In-game lolly accumulates the more you play, or you can choose to accelerate the process with fiat currency.

It’s possible to complete the entire game without spending a cent, but it’s hard to ignore the temptation of in-game purchases. It is especially difficult to resist the urge to buy Star Rail Passes if you’re obsessed with character collection or weapons upgrading.

The alternative is putting in long hours and putting up with a degree of drag in the story. 

Strategy over action

The major difference between Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail is how combat works. Genshin Impact is a third-person real-time action game, whereas Honkai is a turn-based strategy game. Players build up and control a team of four characters in turn-based combat. 

When in combat, you take turns attacking each character and performing actions one by one. The same rules apply to your enemies. You therefore have to rely more on strategy to win your battles. Different character skills, elements, and order of play may have a different impact. The battle scenes are compelling, but there’s also an option for double-speed and automatic mode for these scenes, enabling you to speed the battles along if you want.

Players can move around various locations to explore tasks, but it is not a fully open-world game. There are various locations where you can teleport from one region to another but they are not interconnected.

Stunning visuals

The aesthetics and immersive worlds that HoYoverse has previously built have been major factors in the company’s  success. Like Genshin Impact, Honkai has stunning graphics, with detailed character designs and lush environments, making it a treat for the eyes. The exquisite surroundings and backgrounds keep you engaged in the anime sci-fi world. 

Each location is markedly different from the others, again keeping exploration enticing. The treasure chests in the anime world are abundant as well, continuously motivating you to find out more. 


Overall, Honkai: Star Rail has done its makers proud, meeting the high standards set by Genshin Impact. With an intriguing sci-fi narrative, high-quality visuals and an addictive gameplay system, its players should be satisfied for some time to come. In terms of content optimization, HoYoverse needs to put its mind to work if the company wants to emulate its most famous title’s popularity and keep active players hooked for the foreseeable future.

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Jessie Wu

Jessie Wu is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. She covers consumer electronics, semiconductor, and the gaming industry for TechNode. Connect with her via e-mail: