GameSpot may receive revenue from affiliate and advertising partnerships for sharing this content and from purchases through links.

Why Honkai: Star Rail Players Have Stuck With The Game For A Year--And What Needs To Change

HoYoverse's turn-based RPG proves that even an award-winning formula has room to grow.


Honkai Star Rail is celebrating its one-year anniversary today, April 26, 2024. Below, we look back at the RPGs first year through the eyes of fans who are still playing--what they love, and what they'd still like to see improve.

Some see Honkai: Star Rail as just another gacha. To me, it’s an evolving free-to-play RPG with more self-awareness than the average release. Right away, it sets up the intriguing mystery behind the Trailblazer and the nuclear-level object inside their body called the Stellaron, and showcases flashy, effective turn-based combat that emphasizes elemental weaknesses to break enemy toughness bars. Long after I wrapped up my review, its strengths kept me coming back as a regular player, despite complaints like power creep from new units.

I’m not alone in this sentiment. Despite earning over an 80% score on our sister site, Metacritic, HoYoverse has continued to polish its turn-based space adventure in its regular updates. Fans who have kept up with Star Rail over the past year say it's grown sweeter, but admit it still has a few flaws that tarnish an overall winning formula. GameSpot asked fans and community leaders about their thoughts on Star Rail over the past year, most of which centered around their enjoyment despite the drawbacks.

Storytelling and convenience

HoYoverse emphasizes Honkai: Star Rail's story with its cinematic cutscenes, character development, and flashy animations. Even NPCs with non-changing facial expressions have more expressive voice acting than the typical stock character. Candy, a casual player who shares the hobby with her husband, says she was hooked from the beginning thanks to Star Rail's killer intro.

"From the moment it began with Kafka and the classical/instrumental music, I was blown away. I still feel it has one of the best openings stylistically. I had to see where it would go and how they would top the opening and I haven't been disappointed in pivotal moments and fights," she told GameSpot via Twitter DM. "From little tidbits such as why [one character's] name is March 7th to larger acts of rebellion and hope, the story has yet to bore me. In fact I struggle with not rushing through the story because I want to savor it all as it comes. It also feels dark but real and touches upon themes in a way that feels approachable without being over the top and too preachy."

Matthew Arcilla, another player, stayed for the pretty graphics and audiovisual presentation, and praised the localization for entertaining him throughout. "There's a lot of humor and irreverence that I've heard is really in the game's original text and appears to have been preserved by strong localization," he said, referring to the Chinese source material, "The humor and the visual flair really goes a long way with me."

He continued: "New characters, new story beats (with new jokes) and an abundance of things to do makes it feel like one of the most generous free-to-play experiences. The gacha temptation is minimal, to boot."

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Sam, another player who started the game at a whim at launch, cited the weaker Xianzhou Luofu arc--widely considered one of the least popular story arcs so far--as a concern but noted how it improved with the latest story arc introduced in the planet of Penacony.

"Honkai Star Rail surprises me because whenever I have a complaint about the game, it gets resolved very quickly. They've been very proactive about iterating on the endgame before it gets stale and great about [quality of life]," Sam says. "I had serious concerns with the writing of the Xianzhou story which started off strong but then abandoned its intrigue to end up completely all over the place but the writing in Penacony, 2.1 in particular, has been leagues above anything else Mihoyo has ever written. It's surprisingly mature and does a good job of fleshing out its cast."

Besides the ongoing story, HoYo also puts effort into making Star Rail easy to keep up with in the long run. Many Star Rail players praise the auto-battle feature because of how it enables them to automatically farm materials without needing to constantly pay attention.

In Genshin Impact, you at least need to watch where you're landing attacks and switching characters in and out at the right times. There isn't an auto-battle that will strategize for you. Meanwhile, Star Rail's auto-battle generally heals, buffs, and attacks well enough to breeze through low-level challenges just for farming. For higher-level challenges like certain boss battles, it might be better to strategize on your own to avoid auto-battle pitfalls.

Amirul Adlan admitted he started playing to get Kafka, one of the mysterious Stellaron Hunters that appears at the start of the game. However, even after getting her, he has stuck with Star Rail because of how structures like auto-battle make it easy to stay updated. "It helps that by being turn based it's actually playable since I can farm at work too. It's a big part of why it's the only HoYo game I regularly keep up with," he says.

HoYoverse has also added features like Reserve Trailblaze Power, which gives you currency to claim leveling materials, even when your regular Trailblaze Power gauge is full and you’ve been offline for over two weeks. Meanwhile, in another gacha game like Genshin Impact, you wouldn’t receive additional currency at all. "Stuff like overflow for the Trailblaze power is a godsend, and the Penacony Arc is hands down one of the best stories I've seen in a mobile game," he adds.

Andrew Coulombe, who plays Star Rail as part of his daily routine, points out that HoYoverse's openness toward beginners also makes it easy to get into compared to other mobile games he played like Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and Fire Emblem Heroes.

"HSR and Genshin both are new player and end-game friendly as you're able to enjoy the bulk of content without needing to be invested in the end-game, but for end-game players you're not nearly as heavily punished if you disappear for months like I did with Genshin," he explains. "I skip probably ~3 banner cycles in a row on average and that doesn't stop me from clearing the current endgame content, which means someone could just disappear for the same time period and still be in position to be relevant."

This stability makes it possible to keep coming back to Star Rail, whereas other mobile games might make it difficult to return if you've put them down for too long.

"When I say 'stable,' what I mean is they don't feel the need to constantly shake things up to make the game feel fresh," Coulombe said. "You're not forced to play every day or pull for new units, which I feel like a lot of other gachas do because they need that power-creep to get people spending to be able to enjoy the new content."

Growing pains and power creep

Honkai: Star Rail introduces new events every few weeks, but not all of them receive a warm welcome from players. Understandably, these events are meant to be temporary experiences and not permanent story quests. Some players enjoy the events because of the entertaining worldbuilding and easy ways to earn Stellar Jade to use on character banners. Others force themselves through lengthy quests, even though they feel like they take too much time, because the rewards are too much to ignore, especially for free-to-play players.

"They feel like they're testing beds for games that aren't directly linked to the core gameplay of HSR," says Coulombe. "Which is clever game design when you're trying to see what does [or] doesn't work to determine what you should spend your development time on improving, but some events don't work for me and it feels like an absolute drag to go through them during the limited time given for the bonus rewards."

Even I dismissed the Everwinter City Museum Ledger of Curiosities event as a storyline of back-to-back fetch quests, but others appreciated the museum simulator minigame that gave them a break from the typical grind. Coulombe in particular had an issue with the recent Hanu event that required out-of-combat gameplay that wasn't very mobile-friendly, and the current mixing event where you click objects in a certain order.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Another pain point is the inconvenience of raising characters you might get without being caught up on the story. In the beginning, nearly all leveling materials were available because the starting characters came from the planets available at launch. Now, things are starting to look different for players not caught up to Penacony.

Alvin Arquisola, who has one main account and two free-to-play (F2P) accounts that he uses for fun, points out the downsides to newbies pulling for new characters.

"Depending on who you pull (and this technically can be a criticism for anyone getting into any gacha that's been out for awhile), it makes it almost impossible to build. For example, on one of my F2P accounts, I pulled Black Swan on the last day of her banner. I have NO WAY to build her efficiently since a lot of her dungeons are locked until later in the game."

Similar to Arquisola’s case, I recall helping my partner with a similar issue because he pulled for Sparkle when he hadn't even completed the Belobog arc. The materials you need to level her up are locked behind Penacony, the planet where she first appeared in the story.

For better or worse, Honkai: Star Rail has a large community interested in min-maxing teams to be as strong as possible. Like its sibling Genshin Impact, players relish in picking the best Light Cones, team comps, and relics to make sure their characters hit as hard as possible. It's especially relevant for challenges like the Forgotten Hall and Pure Fiction, which give you rewards for completing challenges under certain conditions. That said, players like Arquisola don't think that HoYo has done enough to make other team comps more viable.

"I can't imagine any new player getting into [the Forgotten Hall] until about six or seven months from now, which unfortunately may introduce obstacles meant for future characters like Boothill or Robin," Arquisola said.

Gacha Gamer, a YouTuber who regularly covers Honkai: Star Rail, also commented on the lack of strategy that ultimately comes into play based on the combat system.

"To me, it still feels like the variety of teams you can build is a bit restrictive and it mostly has to do with the whole Element Weakness type where you want to build teams that can quickly reduce the enemy's toughness bar. There's a reason why a lot of people talk about Mono Quantum with Silver Wolf since that helps you ignore those weakness types and just always provides an answer to deal with that problem," Gacha Gamer said. "Also, it seems like sometimes, some featured five-star characters' potential is locked behind their signature Light Cone, but perhaps this will change with time as we get more four-star gacha and F2P Light Cone options."

Mono Quantum is a team full of all Quantum-type characters. Limiting the entire team to Quantum only guarantees that Silver Wolf's ability will implant a Quantum weakness on enemies, making it easier to defeat them.
Mono Quantum is a team full of all Quantum-type characters. Limiting the entire team to Quantum only guarantees that Silver Wolf's ability will implant a Quantum weakness on enemies, making it easier to defeat them.

Daniel Smith, who enjoys gacha games as a timesink, appreciated the initial burst of content at launch and the minimal daily maintenance to keep your account running. However, he has complaints about the team variety. "Enemies have weaknesses, but generally, if your team is doing powerful things you can mostly ignore those, there's no true elemental system like Genshin or other gachas, so people are encouraged to just gravitate towards whatever the four most powerful units are at the time," he says.

"At a macro level I don't love that the power creep of banners seems to impact content. Power creep is inevitable in these sorts of games, but usually it either exists for whales to flex or they give you a way to bring your existing characters up to the 'new' standard. HSR seems to introduce powerful units like [Dan Heng IL] and then, in parallel release content, that is a real uphill battle unless you have that unit. Even now, I'm finding the 2.0 content I have played a little challenging, which is wild because I was one-shotting things left and right at the end of Version 1."

Star Rail shares some unpopular mechanics with Genshin Impact, too. Star Rail's Relics, which level up specific substats based on RNG, copy its sibling's unpopular Artifact system. When first asked about Star Rail's flaws, Adlan said, "I think I'm legally obligated to mention that relic farming is not very fun. I don't even fuss about substats and rerolling, and even then I still find it's like pulling teeth."

Honkai: Star Rail's Relics, gear that you can equip to trigger bonuses like higher attack or crit rate, have randomized substats. Each one has a main stat that levels up with the Relic and four possible substats, which level up at random every four levels. Even if you manage to snag a Relic with an ideal main stat that will guarantee a raise every time you level it up, the worst substats could still become a priority in luck's draw. Genshin Impact has similar equipment called Artifacts, which fans have also complained about since release.

As Star Rail grew in size, so did the quality-of-life features that make the experience even more enjoyable. By design I wouldn't play as much without the reserve Trailblaze Power because there wouldn't be anything to use to claim rewards or even notice the drawbacks like the team varieties. While HoYo seems to improve based on player feedback, such as adding quality-of-life features and telling a more compelling story in Penacony versus its previous arcs, it'll have to prove if it's a continuing success past a praiseworthy first year.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email

Join the conversation
There are 1 comments about this story