Honkai Star Rail First Anniversary: A Lookback on the Game’s Player-Driven Approach

In Short
  • Honkai Star Rail is celebrating its one year anniversary on April 26, 2024.
  • The game has improved a lot in multiple aspects over the years, from story telling to QoL features.
  • Honkai Star Rail has taken a player-first approach in their first year and it has lead to a solid player base.

Honkai Star Rail’s first year has been nothing short of extraordinary. Their approach to community feedback and implementing required changes with barely any delay consistently over the years, paired with their generous gifts and spectacular improvement over the story, has created one of the most loyal player bases in the gacha gaming space. The QoL features added over the years have made the game much more enjoyable and hassle-free. On the first anniversary of Honkai Star Rail, let’s take a look at their first year’s journey, centered around a player-first approach.

A Mundane Story Transformed into a Masterpiece over a Year

Dan Heng and Dan Feng
Image Courtesy: Honkai Star Rail YouTube

Stories or the main quest line are the essence of all HoYoverse games. They are a way to bring back players with each update, keeping them invested in new characters, and making them play the game. Like all HoYoverse games, Honkai Star Rail did not disappoint in that department at all.

With a colorful and stylish cast of characters, the storytelling of Honkai Star Rail was quirky and fun but lacked the necessary depth initially. The Belobog trailblazing missions although being fun and quirky, felt a bit mundane over the delivery.

The next arc of Xianzhou Luofu was much grander in scale with unexpected twists and turns. However, the pacing felt off in the Xianzhou Luofu missions, but I knew that Honkai Star Rail was moving in the correct direction.

Image Courtesy: In-game Screenshot (Captured by Sanmay Chakrabarti)

And just like that the Penacony arc dropped and so far it has been nothing short of a masterpiece. The Penacony arc arguably has the best pacing coupled with twists and turns at every corner and a multitude of “Important” characters, all sharing the same stage.

If we compare the story progress to Genshin Impact, they were in the Inazuma arc on their first year anniversary, which had good moments, but doesn’t even come close to the Penacony arc so far.

Honkai Star Rail has improved their storytelling in leaps and bounds over the first year, and it is astounding how much they have improved in just a short period. With their tremendous progress, I am excitedly looking forward to the future storylines from Honkai Star Rail.

Moving Away from the Silent Protagonist Trope

One of my favorite things about Honkai Star Rail is that they have moved away from the silent protagonist trope, a big issue for games like Genshin Impact. I don’t want to play an uninteresting protagonist, especially when they are part of a massive storyline.

Image Courtesy: In-game Screenshot (Captured by Sanmay Chakrabarti)

Honkai Star Rail started with the same precedence of a silent protagonist trope, however, they understood the shortcomings of that and slowly changed it over time. They have added so much emotion and voice lines to both Caelus and Stelle over the first year, enhancing their personality and making it enjoyable to play them during the trailblaze missions.

I enjoy listening to the thought process of the Trailblazer, as it gives me an idea of how the character is reacting to the events. This is something I hope Honkai Star Rail continues to work towards, making both Stelle and Caelus feel like a real character instead of a voiceless shell.

Focus on Game Mechanics and End-Game Content: The Key For Player Retention

Image Courtesy: In-game Screenshot (Captured by Sanmay Chakrabarti)

Honkai Star Rail’s approach to adding in-game content in their first year is something every live service game should copy. In just a year, they have added three separate end-game content: Simulated Universe, Forgotten Hall, and Pure Fiction, and they are planning to add more with the version 2.3.

On top of that, Simulated Universe alone has received two new game modes with more additions coming in the 2.3 and near future. And these are not small content. I have put hours into Simulated Universe alone over time and still haven’t finished everything it has to offer.

Image Courtesy: In-game Screenshot (Captured by Sanmay Chakrabarti)

The best part about Simulated Universe is that they have tied in-game lore drops to it. Players can learn so much about the world of Honkai Star Rail by playing the Simulated Universe. It is astounding that no other game in this genre (or at least none I have heard about) does it this way.

Viable end-games make every other aspect of the game better too, especially farming for the best relics. It gives a reason for players to grind for those perfect relics to go through the end-game content easily.

Image Courtesy: In-game Screenshot (Captured by Sanmay Chakrabarti)

I also like the way Honkai Star Rail thinks about the end-game content. They added Pure Fiction to bolster the Erudition path, which was considered the weakest, and most Erudition characters were barely even used. After Pure Fiction, characters like Herta and Himeko, who were barely used previously, quickly became important and usable again.

With future updates, I expect Honkai Star Rail to continue adding more end-game content or at least add more content to our current ones.

QoL Features Focused to Deliver a Pleasant Experience

My favorite part about Honkai Star Rail’s one-year development is the addition of hundreds of QoL features.

The developers not only added the features asked by the HSR community, they even added the features Genshin Impact players were asking for years.

And that’s not where it stops. Honkai Star Rail continues to add QoL changes we didn’t even know we needed, or expected to ever be implemented in a game. The ability to store residual Trailblazing Power, albeit at a much slower rate, is something I never expected to be implemented in a gacha or live service games.

The stamina or power system has been used for ages in such games to increase user playtime. Honkai Star Rail just casually added the feature nonchalantly, reinforcing our trust in the game.

Image Courtesy: In-game Screenshot (Captured by Sanmay Chakrabarti)

Combined with the Archived Events feature you really get the feeling that the HSR devs truly respect your time. They know not everyone can be available to play their events due to various reasons. So they added these features to allow the players to enjoy the game to the maximum when they do get back into it.

Rewarding Loyalty with Relevant Gifts Throughout the Year

“Genshin Could Never” is the tagline we all got familiar with over the last year when Honkai Star Rail kept providing quality rewards. No one can ever criticize Honkai Star Rail for holding back on rewards. Each update they provide a large number of Stellar Jades alongside ten or more Star Rail passes with the Gift of Odyssey.

Image Courtesy: Honkai Star Rail YouTube

However, Honkai Star Rail truly did the unexpected when decided to give away one of the most anticipated 5-star characters, Dr. Ratio, for free. No one expected this from them as it was going to cut a big chunk of their revenue in the 1.6 version, which it did. But what it did more was bring a lot more attention to the game and cement the loyalty of the active player base.

And the best part about giving Dr. Ratio for free was that he is one of the best DPS characters in the game. This was no Aloy of Genshin Impact, it was a genuine character created to drive sales but eventually given as free to reward the players.

Player First Approach: HSR’s Secret Of First Year’s Resounding Success

The first year of Honkai Star Rail has been very strong in my opinion. According to Active Player.io, they have a 5.8 million daily average active players currently, increased from 4.6 million on release. The average player count has also remained stable over the months and with the recent updates and story developments, can be projected to increase.

Their player-first approach to the development process is commendable and has helped them reach resounding success in their first year. But it’s still far from perfect. I expect Honkai Star Rail to improve much more in the coming days, especially with their events. What’s your thought about Honkai Star Rail’s first year? Tell us your opinions in the comment section.

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