You ever play a game, and within the first few minutes, you start thinking “oh, oh no”. Because you know it’s got you. You know its little tendrils have begun wrapping themselves around your brain, coddling your cortex, forcing you to think of ways to min/max characters, unlock new skins, get the most out of the game? I have, somehow, managed to resist the lure of the HoYoverse until now; the PC/mobile siren call of HoYoverse’s games have fallen on willfully deaf ears, and I’ve been pumping my mobile time into other ventures (hi, Monster Hunter Now).
But, at Gamescom, the canny devs behind Honkai Star Rail, Genshin Impact, and the upcoming Zenless Zone Zero managed to convert me. It felt like some sort of low-key psy-op; I walked into the developer’s booth dubious, immune… yet I came out a complete convert, willing to shout at anyone that will listen about how ‘the interstellar train game is good, actually’.
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In fact, I’d go further than that. I’d say it feels like Honkai Star Rail was made for the PS5. Everything about it – how the UI works, how the pad feels in your hand, how it loads, how it looks – it all just screams “this is the perfect console game”, right from the off. Since my apparent brainwashing, I have booted the game on both mobile and PC, and the PS5 version, despite not being completely released yet (we’ve just had a technical test), is in no way worse.
The fact that the developer has already found a solution to pad-based play on other formats shows how easy to transition to console was. As you’d expect from the PS5 (and even on the PS4, to be honest), loading times are fast and basically instant. The only non-instant transitions were in major zone-to-zone shifts, and even then, the game took merely a few seconds to catch up. It’s better than you’d see on mobile, at any rate.
You get to clock more of the lush scenery on console, too; my Gamescom experience was hooked up to some juicy 4K monitor, and had me gawking at the sci-fi environments and stressing out the poor staffer that had been assigned to watch me play as I spent minutes finding vistas to soak in the vibes. Since playing on mobile, I’ve never quite been as arrested, and that says a lot about the impact this game has, played on a TV that punches.
But the ease of play of a turn-based RPG like this on PS5 goes beyond the technical – beyond the way the pad UI works, or how quick it loads, or how lush it looks. I grew up playing Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei games on the PlayStation, and finding a new, exciting turn-based RPG that I know is going to eat hours of my life working on this format… it’s almost indescribable. It feels at home, here. It feels correct that I’m battering multi-stage fights with living incarnations of God as a cute, antlered ***, or a lion-hearted white-haired high-ranking official.
Of course, Honkai Star Rail is a gacha game – it is free-to-play (and will remain so on PS5), but the whole project is designed to attach a siphon to your wallet. How you feel about these sorts of titles, generally, will affect your enjoyment of this title. But I will say this: though chance has a big role to play in how the gacha system works, there are some neat features that HoYoverse has included to make it all feel a bit more fair. And, of course, Honkai Star Rail codes always help quite a bit.
Both ‘pity’ and ‘guarantee’ systems kick in (once you’ve played enough) and increase the odds you’ll get decent characters once you’ve pumped enough money or time into the game – this means that, yes, you’ll still have to pay to get somewhere, but you’re never going to simply throw money down the drain. You’re always working towards unlocking something you want. And you can complete the whole game without spending a dime, it’ll just be a bit of a grind.
There’s no final release date locked in for Honkai Star Rail on PS5, but I’m very excited about when it finally lands, because I know it’s going to eat away at my spare time in a way that few other games have managed lately. Kudos, HoYoverse, you’re going to ruin my relationships.