Feature, Gaming

Nextrift’s Game of the Year 2023: Honkai: Star Rail

There are plenty of amazing games that were released in 2023. From PlayStation exclusive titles like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy XVI to highly anticipated games such as Baldur’s Gate 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, picking our winner for 2023’s game of the year is tough.

But as much as we enjoyed playing these titles, there is one game that we have consistently played since its release in April 2023: Honkai: Star Rail. Not only does Hoyoverse’s latest game offers the same excellent storytelling found on its other titles, Star Rail also has a sophisticated, complex gameplay with many well-developed characters.

For these reasons (and more), Star Rail is our game of the year. It’s no surprise that the game is awarded the best mobile game of 2023 by other parties too, including The Game Awards, Apple, and Google.

Hoyoverse knows how to tell a good story, and this remains true with Honkai: Star Rail. Just like how it is with Genshin Impact, I look forward to the main storyline (dubbed Trailblaze Missions) of Star Rail whenever it’s available. Granted, I still find the overarching plot of Genshin Impact more entertaining, though it hasn’t even been a year since Star Rail was released; it still has plenty of lore to explore.

But as much as we enjoy the main storyline of Star Rail, we don’t share the same sentiment with the Trailblaze Continuance side missions, which are tied to in-game events. While these missions do expand upon the featured characters’ background and personality, the content can feel repetitive and grindy.

Some of the plot points with these side missions feel needlessly long too, and they can be removed without impacting the overall storyline of said missions.

Nonetheless, there’s no denying that Star Rail has very well-developed characters with unique personalities and quirks. Each character in the game has their own appeal, whether it’s in terms of gameplay, utility, power level, or character design.

Of course, it makes sense for Hoyoverse to properly flesh out these characters, since Star Rail is still inherently a gacha game that require players to spend premium currency dubbed Stellar Jade – which can also be purchased with real money – for a chance to add these characters to their roster.

On the brightside, at least Hoyoverse is quite generous with the amount of Stellar Jades that it gives players through login rewards and in-game events.

Graphically, Star Rail looks good on every platform it’s offered. These include PC, PS5, and even on mobile, though the latter does depend on the specifications of the device. The different environments of the game are rendered beautifully, and the character models are also very detailed with lifelike facial expressions.

And then there’s the gameplay of Star Rail. While the turn-based combat system is relatively easy to get into, each character has their own unique abilities that add complexity to it. To beat the game’s hardest content, it’s necessary to tune a team of four with specific equipment and stats.

Once you’ve got a properly tuned team, it’s possible to clear even the hardest battles with Star Rail’s auto-battle feature. We really appreciate this feature, as it makes clearing daily activities much easier.

That is a good segue to the quality of life improvements that Star Rail have over Genshin Impact. While the latter has steadily improved, it is still much easier to do many things in Star Rail. For example, upgrading a character’s abilities or gathering material to level up Light Cones – weapons, basically – can be done seamlessly in Star Rail.

In Genshin Impact, you still need to go to the open world to gather specific items for the upgrade and wait for specific days for the right level up material to be available. Whenever we switch between Genshin Impact and Star Rail, this disparity in quality of life is very noticeable to the point that we actually prefer spending more time in Star Rail.

Anyway, on a lighter note, we very much appreciate Star Rail’s cross-platform progression. Whether we’re playing on an iPhone, Android device, PC, or PS5, all of our progress is tracked across these different platforms, which is fantastic. I can just do my dailies on my phone when I’m out and about, and fire up the game on the PS5 when I’m home to play on a bigger screen without missing a beat.

If you’re not a fan of gacha games or the idea of having to log into the game on a daily basis – if you want to playing optimally – then Honkai: Star Rail probably isn’t for you. In that case, perhaps other titles will be more suitable as your pick for the year’s best game.

Yes, there are certainly games with better graphics, gameplay, or replay value than Star Rail. But given that it is the game that we have spent countless hours on since its release in April this year, it is easily our pick for 2023’s game of the year. Star Rail’s nature as a live service game also means that more content will be added consistently, and Hoyoverse does have a good track record of doing so for many, many years to come.

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