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Genshin Impact publisher HoYoverse is currently in the final stages of preparing Honkai Star Rail, a game that at first sight looks a hell of a lot like Genshin Impact, for launch. Though an official release date is not yet announced, an ongoing beta test has been dubbed the final closed beta, with a pre-registration campaign underway too.

It’s easy to imagine that launch could be close at hand: Honkai Star Rail is very polished. I haven’t encountered a single bug or glitch in my time with the game so far, which is a very good sign. This polish, together with the game’s graphics, UI, general gameplay, and progression systems, will be very familiar to anyone who's played Genshin Impact or another HoYoverse title. It’s like coming home, but everything has slightly different colors and names, which makes it very easy to pick up and navigate. The team has really used what they learned in their previous games here, even adding some things I wish their flagship game would have.

Honkai Star Rail also uses the same gacha system as Genshin Impact (similar currencies, store offers, banner types) which gives you new characters and weapons on a random basis if you feed it tickets. It’s comparatively fair for a gacha system, but you should still tread carefully and only spend what you’re willing to lose – and given that there’s no way to cash out, you do always technically lose.

However, Honkai Star Rail is not simply Genshin Impact in space. It’s not an open-world action RPG in the classic sense, using a turn-based JRPG-style combat system instead of Genshin Impact’s real-time button mashing. You still build teams out of four characters, which all have different damage types and abilities, but the team building process is a bit more strategic. As a side note, you can also build and save more than four teams here – a quality-of-life improvement that would be more than welcome in Genshin Impact as well.

Honkai Star Rail team with four characters.

Honkai Star Rail's combat is based on four-person teams.

Damage types don’t actually matter all that much in Genshin Impact’s open world. In Honkai Star Rail, though, every enemy has a toughness bar and a HP bar. While you only need to deplete the HP bar to defeat it, this takes a long time when using “neutral” damage. If you use an enemy’s elemental weakness against it by attacking with that element, however, you can deplete the toughness bar and “break” the enemy. This will make it vulnerable to status effects and deal a whole lot of damage in one go, so this is the bar you want to target primarily for the most devastating effects.

As you roam the game’s world, you are able to identify an enemy group’s weaknesses from afar, which helps you prepare the right composition before engaging. You can also get an advantage by using your characters’ overworld abilities to provide buffs to your own team and debuffs to the enemy, or even inflict a bunch of initial damage. Characters act based on their Speed and can use a normal attack, a special attack, or their ultimate – if they have the energy. Special attacks require one of five charges, which can be replenished by normal attacks and are shared by the entire team, adding some resource management to the equation.

Though the combat is turn-based, there are plenty of characters with the ability to perform follow-up attacks out of turn for powerful combos, and ultimates can be triggered any time, acting as interrupts, so overall battles don’t actually feel static at all. It’s very satisfying to break one opponent, triggering a combo of follow-up attacks and opportunities to cast a few ultimates, annihilating your adversaries in one big chain reaction.

Ultimate animations are over-the-top cool and well-made, as you’d expect from anything coming out of HoYoverse. There is a robot girl named Herta, who wields a giant hammer and throws a huge diamond into the air during her ultimate, bashing it down onto the enemies. Himeko, an elegant and well-endowed lady, sips a cup of tea while she fires off a Death Star-esque super laser. HoYoverse sticks to its anime-loving roots, be it with these animations or the fan-service.

Honkai Star Rail character fights a monster.

Visually, Honkai Star Rail is "very anime", which is typical for HoYoverse's style.

Oh, while we’re on the topic of animations: characters’ mouths are actually properly synced up to what they’re saying, which is another marked improvement over Genshin Impact.

Parts of the soundtrack really stand out, which – again – is something HoYoverse is known for. Personally, I’m really digging the groovy Herta Space Station tracks and the music of a certain underground town on Jarilo-VI, which has a bit of a space western feel going on.

Here’s something I didn’t expect when playing Honkai Star Rail: I had to laugh a lot, because it’s genuinely funny. There are jokes about the metaverse and game development, plenty of snarky references to Genshin Impact, and a ton of straight-up silly dialog options and environment interactions. In the city of Belobog, you can interact with a bunch of trash cans. Not only is there meta-commentary about how this is such a video game thing, but there’s also some new interactive stuff going on for every trash can you find. In your hotel room, you can hide in the closet and let some hilarity ensue, which I won’t spoil here. But the game is full of these little details that make discovering the world really funny and rewarding.

Another thing I was not prepared for: HoYoverse built a whole roguelike game mode into Honkai Star Rail that’s basically turn-based Hades – you progress through a bunch of different levels, fighting enemies and getting to choose randomized blessings from god-like Aeons after each battle, unlocking more and more as time goes by. It’s a permanent mode, too, essentially taking the place of Genshin Impact’s Abyss. It’s a fun addition, as strong combos of blessings make you feel especially powerful and get you to try out new playstyles.

As far as first impressions go, Honkai Star Rail is making a good one. For someone like me, who’s not super well-versed in JRPGs, it’s very accessible and easy to get into. Of course, there is no telling right now if the game holds up in the later stages and can provide enough depth to keep players engaged and entertained with its combat long-term.

If you’re looking for a well-polished turn-based JRPG you can play for free on PC, Android, or iOS, this is definitely a title you should keep your eyes on.