| Tags: Reviews
| Author Timo Reinecke
Honkai Star Rail review – My Favourite Rpg in 2023 (So Far)
Honkai: Star Rail has been out for a quick minute. But we don't think anyone had it penciled in as one of the best releases in such a stacked year. Here are our extended thoughts!
At this point, it is almost unfair how effortlessly miHoYo manages to capture the conversation whenever their new release rolls around the corner.
The new free-to-play titles managed to crack 20 million downloads within days of their release and that is before they even hit the major consoles.
That's almost double the downloads the studio's previous release, Genshin Impact reached within the same timeframe. And it is quickly on the way to being the biggest release of the year.
And to anyone who followed Genshin Impact's success story, this comes as little surprise. But did miHoYo do it again?
Short answer? Yes. If you have any love for character-based RPGs and can put up with its free-2-play constraints, you might have a new addiction on your hand.
But read all about it here in our Honkai Star Rail review.
Take to the Stars
Honkai: Star Rail is the latest game in the Honkai series of games of miHoYo's extended HoYoverse. Confused yet? Don't worry, you will be.
The game's premise is relatively simple in a ‘lose' sequel to the mobile action game, Honkai Third Impact. Some of the characters make an appearance and the setting is largely the same.
Honkai: Star Rail is an intergalactic space odyssey where your protagonist after waking up without any memories is thrust into adventure.
If you have played Genshin Impact before, the overall set up setup and structure might be familiar to you already.
You follow a big main quest that'll take you to new places and introduces you to all kinds of colorful characters. Only that instead of playing an open-world action title, you're playing a fairly linear RPG.
If you want buzzwords, then Honkai: Star Rail is probably best described as a mix of Final Fantasy X, Phantasy Star, and the Tales Series.
Compared to Genshin, there is a noticeable difference in tone. Sure, you have your light-hearted anime antics and sense of adventure but there is a certain kind of melancholy underneath it all.
There is also a much larger focus on the story here, but everything else is very similar to Genshin's basic gameplay loop.
Exploring the Universe
Honkai: Star Rail wears its influences proudly on its chest. It wants to be a PlayStation 2/ PlayStation 3 Era Japanese RPG. And that is not just its turn-based combat but also the way you explore its worlds.
They are glorious messes of corridors that somehow combine into very logical level layouts. If you're familiar with some of the older Tales games you'll feel right at home.
Linear sections weave back into hubs and combine into a very coherent if gamey-feeling world.
The art direction and level design really does the heavy lifting here.
The first zone you'll explore is a space station and despite most assets being shared across all floors, most of them have their own visual identity. So it is really hard to get lost.
Especially since you get the ability to fast travel between checkpoints and points of interest from the start, it never feels like you're backtracking or walking down the same patch too many times.
While exploration suffers a little but someone at miHoYo was wise enough to decide less it more, optional chests and item pick-ups feel like a little detour instead of journeys into the unknown.
What makes Honkai: Star Rail special is the sense of place every level and subsection conveys.
A sprawling city, an underground shanty town, and the massive space station feel like living in places and not just where the game happens.
The reason for that is simple; you're going to come back to these places a lot by doing sidequests or some of the grindable instances. And you're gonna fight, a lot.
Those Who Continue to Attack
So let's talk combat. If you've played any kind of mobile game with turned-based combat, you're probably familiar with the general setup of things.
You control 4 characters, each with a normal, a special, and ultimate action. This can be anything from simple attacks to buffs, debuffs, or character-specific skills.
On top of that, every character is aligned with an element, this will determine status effects and their damage type.
And hitting enemies with the right kind of attack will break their toughness meter, breaking it will open them up to take more damage and can also cancel them casting special attacks.
It's very simple on the surface, but combat offers a lot of variables that reward putting together a team that compliments each other so much fun.
And it goes beyond the usual, having a healer, a tank, and two damage dealer setups you'd usually see in this kind of game.
Sometimes, however, you will get into situations where your team doesn't deal any damage to the toughness meter and combat becomes a war of attrition.
And I wouldn't be cross about it if you had the ability to use items in combat. Sadly, you can only apply their buffs and heals outside of combat.
The remedy here is that you can see what kind of damage an enemy is weak to before you enter combat, and you can plan and buff accordingly to still get a leg up.
The term Gacha makes people's skin crawl. It is usually associated with unfair business practices, pay-to-win mechanics, and gross monetization. I would like you to keep these terms in mind when Diablo 4 comes out.
But generally speaking, the big and popular games like Genshin Impact or Arknights are known to be “fair”. That means you're usually spending money to grind less or get that character you want faster.
And Honkai: Star Rail also falls into that category, spending money just gives you faster access to stuff you could just earn by playing the game more.
This sounds bad on paper, but the way the game is balanced, you'll just spend money to be able to grind at the maximum level of efficiency.
You don't have to spend any money to enjoy Honkai: Star Rail. That being said the character current banner character you can pull, Seele is really broken and I am very upset that she's not on my team. Yet.
But once you get over the FOMO and feeling of inadequacy, it's fine. Honestly, I find these kinds of games more enjoyable when you try to make the best with the characters you have rather than playing the meta.
Sure, there is an allure to play the most meta build possible and breeze through challenges. But I don't hate myself enough yet, to dump a lot of money into the game.
Crazy spending is usually something you see in power users or those with a loose finger on the credit card trigger.
What I still say on the subject is the way Honkai: Star Rail makes use of monetization is never heinous.
The game is never in your face about it, you just gotta make the choice if you want to earn to pay for your upgrade materials.
Characters and Progression
If you've played Genshin Impact, much of what Honkai: Star Rail does will seem familiar, it is just put into the context of a turn-based RPG.
Every character comes with their own unique set of skills, abilities, and animations. Some of them even have their own little gameplay gimmicks attached to their character.
From a presentation standpoint, there is really little to complain about. Characters pose, say their one-liners and tend to be really expressive.
The only thing that is kinda weird, is drawing a character or having them on your team, only to meet them a couple of hours later. But most of the characters you meet are playable or will be playable in the near future.
What about upgrading them though? It is one of the most important aspects of the RPG, isn't it?
Again it is very similar to Genshin Impact, only that all the terms have been changed around.
You level up your character by giving them level-up material and at certain milestones, you have to Ascend them for the next level cap.
Then there a Light Cones, accessories that give your character a stat boost and a special ability attached to it.
Once again you can level these up with materials or other Light Cones and you can even increase their special effects when combining them with other Light Cones of the same variant.
Important to note is that characters can only use Light Cones that match their type. But it is left to be seen how this will play into balance later.
Characters also come with their own little skill tree, that you fill out with, you guessed it money and more upgrade materials. But you can unlock even more of those skills and passive boni by Eidolon.
Eidolons are unlocked via a special material for your character, the protagonist by various means, for other characters you need to draw or earn them multiple times. They also add small passive bonuses to your character.
Now how good or bad this is, I can't say. So far, playing up to level 25 and most of the available story, this had little weight. But it'll most certainly play a bigger role in the Simulated World.
Content Galore, Grinding Galore
For a game that is free to play, Honkai: Star Rail featured a baffling amount of content. The current main story will probably take you 20 – 30 hours to beat.
And this story will be continuously upgraded till eternity and beyond if miHoYo feels like it.
In between main missions, you can do sidequests, daily quests, grind various activities and challenges, or dungeon crawl in a rogue-lite mode called the Simulated World.
It's so much it is almost overwhelming and if I tried to cover it here, we'll be here all day. So let's talk about the highlights instead.
The sidequests are universally well-written and fun to do for the stories they tell alone. You get to go on various hijinks and little side adventures with named characters or various NPCs.
The character-specific quests that involve members of the cast are genuinely some of the best content in the game. Sure most of it is just go there, fight some enemies and maybe solve a riddle but they never feel bothersome.
But we're going to get into the writing last.
The Simulated World is great grindable content, and the solution miHoYo has for absent-minded grinding is adding the ever-popular rogue-like elements into the mix.
So you'll revisit small chunks of areas you've visited before and fight against stronger and stronger enemies. In between fights, you earn special little buffs and you have to manage your team's health till the end.
Some of the later encounters here are a little tough and require you to level up alternative characters and also switch out your team between stages. It's generally a good time and a more enjoyable way to grind materials.
The rest is really, if you've played Genshin you know what you're getting into. Little challenges that disperse resources in exchange for your daily energy currency and a battle pass.
Or to put it in easy terms, Honkai: Star Rail gives you a lot to do, daily, monthly and I guess also over the course of a season.
But progression never comes to a full halt. You always have something to work towards and small and long-term goals always seem achievable, even as a free-to-play player.
Trailblazing Across the Stars
The Story of Honkai: Star Rail starts strong with a mystery. Someone, Honkai Third Impact players will certainly know plops your character into existence and you're left to your own devices.
You are quickly picked up and adopted by the crew of the Astral Express, a train that rides on the light of the stars between worlds. The crew is a ragtag group of people from all walks of life.
And it was only after the prologue it really hit me. This unique tone of not really knowing who you are in a fast universe, and you're on a train with people who seem to be just as lost as you are.
Sure, there is a grand adventure and saving people from gods and mystical weapons of mass destruction, but Star Rail just has a spark that is hard to ignore.
Be it your character having endless internal dialogue whenever coming across a trashcan, the wild text messages you get, or even the outlandish scenarios you find yourself in.
Honkai: Star Rail has a lot of heart. Something you wouldn't really expect from a dorky free-to-play title that is said to be some kind of heartless money funnel.
Some of the people you meet such as March 7 or the overpowered Seele are very charming and there were already a few moments that tugged on my heartstrings.
And you get to explore their relationships with each other or their environment over the course of your journey. You're just a visitor, taking in the sights and getting wrapped up in the turmoil of a stranger's life.
It is really hard for me to put into words. But that cutscene after the prologue, when your character is looking out the Astral Express without knowing where the journey is going and a somber song in the background.
That hit me. And the chapter afterward kept that momentum going. By telling the story of a people split into two, both so busy with their own problems that they are unaware of the doom slowly creeping up on them.
It's nothing new by any means, but Honkai: Star Rail really takes its time to establish its setting, characters, and the kind of journey it wants to take you on. And I really did not expect to find that here.
But I'm told that Honkai Third Impact players are already gearing up for another round of emotional abuse by their miHoYo overlords. And I'm here for it.
Honkai Star Rail review – 8.5/10
Honkai: Star Rail is one of those games I picked up, not really having any expectations. I knew from playing Genshin that I'd at least get a very polished, fun game with lots of mechanics to mess around with.
I didn't expect the amount of heart and soul I found here. But I should've because Genshin also had a lot of playful detail and love put into it. But all of it hits differently in a more curated, linear experience.
While the way progression is set up will eventually be really grindy, it hasn't worn off yet. That is thanks to a simple but really functional and fun combat system. Even after 30ish hours, it didn't get old.
The challenge for miHoYo going forward is now delivering content at a steady pace.
It took a while for Genshin Impact to get the ball rolling, but I hope the smaller, more compact format of Star Rail allows them to push out new chapters at a steady pace.
There really is not much I want to complain about here, at worst some of the game's more grindy aspects are inoffensive.
If you're just looking for something to play idly on the side or an RPG to be obsessed with, Honkai: Star Rail is probably your best choice.
Honkai Star Rail is available for free on PC and Android and iOS, you can register a new account here.
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