Honkai: Star Rail 2.0 – A Dreamy, Meme-y Escape

Honkai: Star Rail 2.0 sees Trailblazers venture into the Land of Dreams – here are our first impressions.
Honkai: Star Rail 2.0

It’s been less than ten months since Honkai: Star Rail released, and Trailblazers around the world first boarded the Astral Express. Hot off the heels of Genshin Impact’s years of success, this turn-based RPG gacha game (also by HoYoverse) has captivated millions, both in terms of player count and revenue.

While these last few months have seen Honkai: Star Rail reap success in the form of numerous Google Play Awards, and even Best Mobile Game at The Game Awards 2023, the initial buzz seems to have worn off for some. Though the number of average daily players remains high at around 4-5 million players, this appears to have stagnated over the last few months – talks among HoYoverse creators and analysts speculate that, despite Honkai: Star Rail gameplay being distinctly different from Genshin Impact, the audience overlap and intense daily commitment that both games require has caused players to choose one over the other.

Version 2.0 marks the first big update to Honkai: Star Rail since game launch and access to the new planet of Penacony. This striking world with its content-forward approach might be Honkai: Star Rail’s biggest chance to get some of its players back – here are our first impressions.

Honkai: Star Rail

Image: Hoyoverse

What is Penacony?

Also known as the “Planet of Festivities”, Penacony is the fourth world the Trailblazer can visit according to Honkai: Star Rail’s story progression. The core of Penacony is its interstellar hotel, a building that commands intense grandeur and reminds me of the kind of hospitality you might receive in a real-world upscale venue in somewhere like Dubai. This exclusive location is where guests can enter the surreal world of the “Land of Dreams”, a place where your every whim and fantasy can be satisfied… If you have the money for it, of course.

Despite its lofty name, HoYoverse has depicted a very specific type of dreamscape that isn’t everyone’s ideal fantasy land. There are a lot of people in the dream, and most of them appear to be eating, shopping or partaking in slot machines. Restaurant and shop signboards are sentient, badgering you with their promotions. To get from place to place, you can opt to get inside a pinball machine where a small minigame of angling platforms will have you ricocheting off to your destination. If this is any person’s dream, it’s someone with a penchant for that one night in Vegas or with a desire to be a guest at one of The Great Gatsby’s parties – and like with any game with a dream motif, something murky does lurk beneath the cotton-candied happiness.

Sweet, Sweet Gameplay

The ridiculousness of Penacony’s setting has given birth to a myriad of mini games, which feels like a love letter to the faction of the Honkai: Star Rail community who have consistently lamented that the overworld format of the game lacked content and replayability. Indeed, actual movement throughout Honkai: Star Rail can feel limited and mechanical, with only two real methods of interaction: Normal Attack and Technique. But with mini games galore, there’s no limit to what you can do. 

A crazy one introduced early on sees the Trailblazer swap bodies with a cartoon character named Hanu – a little guy who can fit into smaller spaces. There’s a specific area you must delve into, changing between Hanu and your main character to reach spaces and clear the objective.

In other areas around Penacony, there are broken clocks which must be fixed through the moving of certain parts and the strategic placement of a mirror. There’s the aforementioned pinball travelling mechanic, plus the task of finding a hidden bird that only you can see, and a heart-bending skill that lets you change the mood of certain NPCs so that they’ll do your bidding. It’s a very long and varied laundry list. 

The fundamental gameplay for Honkai: Star Rail is still the combat, which is impossible to run from. If you’re not a fan of Honkai: Star Rail’s specific blend of turn-based RPG, this update isn’t going to change your mind. However the mini games do shake things up and alleviate that monotonous feel, especially if you’re a player who grinds the game on a daily basis.

Same, Same But Different Characters

Honkai: Star Rail boasts some of the coolest character designs I’ve seen in a while, and 2.0 is no different. The first character banner for this update will introduce Black Swan, a new five star Wind character that walks the path of Nihility. We’ll see how her personality comes through as we play the story, but many will likely find appeal in her mysterious aura. Also on the banner will be four star character Misha, the hotel’s lovable bellboy. In true meme-fashion, his weapon of choice is a mop and his character Ultimate sees him drop a trolley full of guest luggage on your opponents. 

Honkai: Star Rail has also announced several new upcoming playable characters on Twitter, including the kitsune-mask wearing Sparkle, gruff security officer Gallagher and the sly Aventurine. All three already have their place in a story and bring a lot of intrigue – especially as each faction they represent possesses its own agenda. In HoYoverse fashion, the characters really are brought to life through the masterclass that is the voice acting. A special shout out needs to go out to Camden Sutkowski, the voice actor behind Aventurine who has truly captured his equal parts sly and slimy personality. 

Honkai: Star Rail, featuring new character Aventurine.

Image: HoYoverse

It would be remiss to not mention some of the NPCs of the game, especially Clockie, the clock mascot of Penacony. Much of his screen time is comic relief, but he and his cast of animated friends play a role in helping the player understand what’s really behind the smoke and mirrors of the dreams. It’s also precisely this dream motif of Penacony that has enabled Honkai: Star Rail to incorporate what feels like a 1920s Disney mascot with the futuristic anime aesthetic of the game. It’s wacky and meme-y, yet all somehow familiar and fitting.

It feels like we’re just scratching the surface of Penacony. A lot of thought has gone into the development of the planet’s lore, its theme of opulence, and its wondrous setting. With this arc being a key plot point where all of the different factions meet, 2.0 feels like a pivotal point which will greatly advance Honkai: Star Rail’s storyline.

If you’ve previously had gripes with the game’s turn-based formula, Honkai: Star Rail is unlikely to appeal even after it’s been dressed up with Saturday morning cartoons. But if you’re even somewhat interested – or if you’re a former Honkai: Star Rail fan who grew tired of the grind – this is your signal to let you know that there’s never been a better time to fall asleep and enter the dream state of Penacony.

Samantha is a Tokyo-based games writer with a penchant for JRPGs and comfy games. Ask her about Final Fantasy VIII and the giant tattoo on her leg that represents her love for it. Catch her streams on Twitch or her Tweets at @rinoaskyes