Honkai: Star Rail Hands-On Preview – Turn-Based Combat Goodness

Honkai: Star Rail Hands-On Preview – Turn-Based Combat Goodness

Still fresh from the overwhelming success of Genshin Impact, HoYoverse isn’t resting on its laurels and already has two potential blockbusters nearing release. The arcade action delight of Zenless Zone Zero will be left for another time, as we will go through our Honkai: Star Rail hands-on preview right now. Based on the impressions from the final closed beta, we can safely say that this spin-off from the Honkai series has all the elements to turn it into another winner and conquer a community of fans eagerly waiting for the ultimate turn-based combat RPG.

Tackling the crowded turn-based genre isn’t an easy task; with mobile flooded by countless soulless games designed to make a quick buck out of undemanding players, standing out isn’t easy. Still, Honkai: Star Rail is coming and it’s not for Android and iOS only – HoYoverse is developing it for PC as well, and let’s not cut consoles out of the equation just yet, as Genshin Impact has taught us.

All Aboard the Astral Express

Honkai: Star Rail Hands-On Preview character screen

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Still fresh from one of the biggest anime action RPGs in the world, Honkai: Star Rail players will instantly draw comparisons to HoYoverse’s massive hit. Despite the ties to Honkai Impact 3rd being stronger, it’s inevitable to think that a large part of the studio’s fans was caught by Genshin Impact’s amazing open world antics, many of them ignoring – or at least never having played – the aforementioned Honkai chapter, which isn’t even the first in the series. But let’s not get too tangled in a history lesson from the times when HoYoverse was still miHoYo.

The truth is that Honkai: Star Rail is set to deliver on the studio’s recurring ambitions of having a charming and confident roster of protagonists. From their distinguished looks that show some of the best anime sci-fi character art in a videogame, to the flawless and diverse personalities and voice work, it’s impossible to avoid the temptation to collect more and more, expanding the team with the strongest – in theory – but also with the latest faces to grace the banners in the game. It’s a system that works and a fair way to give back a little for the studio’s incredible investment in this vast and gripping universe.

For the sake of change, let’s delve into something that is very different in Honkai: Star Rail when compared to Genshin Impact’s Teyvat: world exploration. In this new game, there’s no such thing as open world, but more of open planets that your crew can visit in the Astral Express. Each planet is home to a host of characters of varying status, some of them primed for becoming part of your team, either by natural story progression or through the summoning feature, here called Warp and using Star Rail Passes.

More linear in nature than the sprawling open fields of Teyvat, Honkai: Star Rail offers a more restrained, corridor-based approach on each region. This is probably meant to keep you on a succession of battles that you would otherwise easily avoid, and the combination of rich lore – one of the studio’s strengths – and intricate turn-based battles is one that works, and that will require some investment and attention, unlike other games that barely put any value into their worlds.

Honkai Star Rail Hands-On Preview

There is no shortage of things to do when you want to stray from the main story, or when you must give your Trailblaze level a little EXP boost (currently at a level 70 cap) to unlock the next parts of the adventure. Similar to the world level in Genshin Impact, we have the Equilibrium level that asks you to clear a Trial of the Equilibrium at level 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and 65 to keep increasing your level. You also get better rewards, but the compromise is that the enemies will also be tougher.

Do the words Spiral Abyss ring a bell? Then you should find a similar challenge mode in this game called Simulated Universe, albeit with visible differences. It’s a virtual world where you’ll face a succession of fights, choose Blessings to buff your team, and occasionally download a support character to give you a push.

Character showcases are also available, allowing you to try familiar and upcoming faces and grab some rewards in the process, always an enticing prospect whenever a new banner is coming.

Anecdotes are another way of leveling up your team. Various characters will reach out to you for a bit of chit-chat or simply to ask you some favors. You’ll go through some quite interesting missions about unrequited love and other stories, always ending up with some rewards for your character. So far, my only regret is that most of these missions are straightforward and don’t really test your skills beyond the battle segments, but hopefully there will be plenty of chances for players to be challenged with puzzles and other tasks that require some thinking.

Turn-Based Combat Delight

Honkai Star Rail Combat System Guide

But the crux of the matter here, the big selling point is the turn-based battle system. It all starts before combat itself, as you approach and attack your enemy with a character sporting an elemental advantage, earning a slight decrease to the enemies’ toughness bar. The opposite may happen too, as you are ambushed by an enemy and this will concede them a starting turn, something that may hold some serious weigh in the outcome of the battle.

In this system, you don’t have to wait for a character’s turn to execute their ultimate skill. Even if it’s the enemy turn, pressing your ultimate will unleash it right next, be it healing a character, buffing your party or a special attack. Needless to say, using these techniques appropriately will be extremely important as you can interrupt the natural turn order and cleverly avoid a massive attack right in time.

Each enemy has two bars above their heads: the toughness/shield bar on top, and the health bar below. You can also spot their elemental weaknesses near the bars, and this is what you must play with the most to win the battles. You should attack them using your characters with the corresponding weakness until you deplete the shield bar, and then it’s easier to hit them for their health. You can still take some health from them without fully depleting the shield bar, but this may prove to be the hardest way to do so. Using a character that has a spread attack skill is very important to hit two or three enemies sporting the same weakness at the same time, so even the positioning of the enemy team will be important for your strategies.

Speeding up a battle or playing in auto are options at your disposal, but you can only use these in normal battles. Anything that looks like a boss battle or a special encounter will deactivate these options, forcing you to logically face the fight using your tactical mastery.

Hopefully this short Honkai: Star Rail combat system guide gave you a taste of what to expect when the game launches in 2023. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this a mere Genshin Impact reskin; while there are visible similarities in UI and art style, this is a turn-based combat game that has a sprawling adventure and fascinating world-building built into it, and it’s going to be a surefire hit for HoYoverse.

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