In celebration of Honkai: Star Rail's first anniversary, here are the game's 5 biggest highlights in its first year

From gripping storylines, engaging game modes, to a free character coming out of nowhere, here are our biggest highlights of Honkai: Star Rail's first year.

With Honkai: Star Rail celebrating its first anniversary, let's look back at the five biggest highlights the game had in its successful first year. (Photo: HoYoverse)
With Honkai: Star Rail celebrating its first anniversary, let's look back at the five biggest highlights the game had in its successful first year. (Photo: HoYoverse)

Happy first anniversary, Trailblazers! It has now been a year since Honkai: Star Rail was released and what a journey it has been so far. But as we look ahead to more adventures in the game's second year, it's always good to look back on all the milestones and moments we went through in the past year.

With that in mind, read on as we list down the five biggest highlights for Honkai: Star Rail in its colourful and successful first year:

Every great adventure has to have a great start and Honkai: Star Rail had exactly that in the Belobog arc.

Okay, technically the first 'world' in the Trailblazer's journey is the Herta Space Station, but it's more of a tutorial than the game's first real 'level'. After all, players are still presented with the choice of joining the Astral Express or staying in the Herta Space Station after helping to repel the Antimatter Legion invasion.

While most players were quick to hop on the Astral Express, some still chose to ignore the call to Trailblaze and live a comfortable life in the Herta Space Station. Choosing this secret ending of sorts reveals that both the Astral Express Crew and the Stellaron Hunters met their end while the Trailblazer lived an idle life, wondering if they could have made a difference if they didn't stay...

Even if this secret ending so early into the game is just a neat little detail, it's still part of the reason why Honkai: Star Rail's story has been so engaging. The player's choices feel like they actually make a difference to the wider universe of the game. But enough about that, let's get to Belobog.

As the first real world in the Trailblazer's journey across the cosmos, Belobog had to make a good impression in order to hook in players. And boy did HoYoverse deliver.

Jarilo-VI is a world turned almost entirely into a frozen wasteland by a Stellaron, where the Trailblazer and Astral Express Crew had to help resolve a crisis in the planet's last remaining bastion of civilisation, Belobog, in order to continue their journey.

There, we met familiar faces to Honkai Impact 3rd players like Bronya, Seele, and Natasha to all-new characters in the likes of Clara, Svarog, Serval, Gepard, and Sampo. We worked to secure their allegiances in order to reunite Belobog's disparate overworld and underworld societies and prevent the reigning Supreme Guardian Cocolia from wreaking further disaster with the full might of the Stellaron.

Our journey through Belobog featured plenty of battles against the Fragmentum, emotional moments with the likes of Bronya, Seele, and Serval, and even hijinks as the Trailblazer showcased his love for fiddling through trashcans. But what really makes the Belobog arc so good is our climactic final battle with Cocolia.

That showdown with Cocolia had everything. The stakes were high as Bronya had to rebel against her adoptive mother for the sake of her people and the Trailblazer seemingly dying before coming back to life with a new power courtesy of Qlipoth the Aeon of Preservation's gaze.

Hands-down the hypest moment of the Belobog arc has to be when Cocolia transformed into her boss battle's second phase form and unleashed her ultimate attack, hurling a whole meteor at us right as the vocals for Wildfire hit... That right there is peak fiction.

With such a banger of a first world, many thought Honkai: Star Rail would be able to follow it up. And while the Xianzhou Luofu arc was more of a slow burn, HoYoverse would eventually surpass themselves with...

...Penacony! We were promised a "positive and wholesome" adventure as the Astral Express Crew went to the Planet of Festivities for what looked to be a nice vacation. Instead, we got a wild rollercoaster of emotions with plenty of drama, mysteries, and twists. We're not even through with the main story yet as of version 2.1 but we're confident most players would say the Penacony arc is the game's best so far.

Just like in the Belobog arc, Penacony introduced players to familiar faces like Acheron and to all-new characters like Firefly, Black Swan, Aventurine, Sparkle, Robin, Sunday, and more. With many of these characters having their own agendas in the Planet of Festivities, players were treated to many exciting encounters and interactions.

But what makes the Penacony characters really stand out has been how the planet's storyline showcased how well-written their personal narratives are.

No one embodies this better than Aventurine, who was the emotional heart of the version 2.1 storyline and is definitely one of the game's best-written characters so far. Personally, I didn't really like Aventurine when he was first revealed as he came off as an arrogant gambler with a playboy vibe. But man, my opinion of him really did a 180-degree turn after version 2.1. I think it's safe to say that Aventurine is one of the most beloved characters in the entire game right now, and for good reason.

And, of course, we can't talk about Penacony without discussing all the twists and turns the story made us go through so far. From the forgetful Galaxy Ranger Acheron actually turning out to be an Emanator of Nihility, the seemingly sweet and innocent Firefly actually being the fearsome Stellaron Hunter SAM, and more, Penacony has taken players on a wild ride that we don't want to get off of.

What's even better is that we're far from being done yet. There's still plenty of mysteries to be uncovered, twists to be revealed, drama to be had, and battles to be fought. I'm sure that I'm not alone when saying that I can't wait for what Penacony has in store for us in future versions.

The best gifts are always those that you never expected. And Honkai: Star Rail players got that just before last Christmas during the version 1.6 livestream when HoYoverse revealed all players will be given the 5-star character Dr. Ratio for free!

HoYoverse gave players a free limited 5-star character as thanks for the many awards that the game amassed at the end of last year, which included the Best Mobile Game award at The Game Awards. Oh, and that was just the cherry on top of a cake made of plenty of Stellar Jade too.

While gacha games giving players free rare characters certainly isn't new, it is a rarity for HoYoverse. After all, the overwhelming success of Genshin Impact meant that the developers didn't need to hand out shiny freebies to entire more players (though I do wish they would still do that). That only added to the surprise and to the subsequent praise heaped on Honkai: Star Rail.

What's even better is that Dr. Ratio is a really, really good character, something you don't exactly expect from someone given away for free. As someone who wields the Imaginary element and follows the Path of the Hunt, Dr. Ratio has crazy single-target damage output and has been a mainstay for many players as soon as they got him.

Here's to hoping that Honkai: Star Rail enjoys even more success so we can get more free 5-star characters!

While a game's main story will always be a big factor in its success, it also needs plenty of replayability in order to sustain that. This is especially true for live-service gacha games, as players will need a lot of content to keep them busy while they're waiting for the next update.

Honkai: Star Rail's endgame has been excellent in that regard. It started with the Forgotten Hall's Memory of Chaos and the Simulated Universe, both of which presented players who were quick to finish the main story at launch plenty to sink their teeth into.

The base Simulated Universe experience has been particularly great. Not only did it give players a new and dynamic way to farm up relics, it also made them look forward to each Monday and the reset for the weekly Simulated Universe rewards (which included Stellar Jade and a Star Rail Pass).

But as good as Memory of Chaos and the Simulated Universe were, HoYoverse were quick to expand Honkai: Star Rail's endgame with the Memory of Chaos alternative in Pure Fiction and the Simulated Universe expansions in the Swarm Disaster and Gold and Gears.

Pure Fiction was a notably welcome addition as its gameplay was geared more towards Erudition characters and their area-of-effect damage focus, giving more characters a chance to shine.

The Simulated Universe expansions also presented escalating challenges that have been keeping players busy even now after multiple versions since they were released. I'm sure there are plenty of players out there still grinding out the hardest difficulties of Swarm Disaster and Gold and Gears using different Paths to test their mettle.

Not only that, HoYoverse announced even more endgame content coming up in the form of the Divergent Universe and Apocalyptic Shadow being released in version 2.3. Yep, Honkai: Star Rail players will only continue to eat real good.

Just as HoYoverse have been delivering when it comes to Honkai: Star Rail's in-game content, they've also been knocking it out of the park out of it too. While the version and character trailers have been excellent as one would expect from a HoYoverse game, it has been the animated shorts and Myriad Celestia Trailers that have really taken the spotlight.

Our pick for the best one yet has to be the "Rondo Across Countless Kalpas" short featuring Black Swan and Acheron. From the beautiful animation, the palpable sexual tension between the two, to the downright horrific twist towards the end, this one had everything and made us wish there was a Honkai: Star Rail anime of this quality. But with the Genshin Impact one still just officially a trailer right now, we have to keep ourselves content with just animated shorts for now. Don't get it twisted though, I'm not complaining.

But instead of droning on and on about how good the Honkai: Star Rail animated shorts and Myriad Celestia Trailers have been, I'll just list my favourite ones and let them do the talking for me. In no particular order, "The Jepella Rebellion — Scene 47", "A Night of Ever-Flame: Scene 33", "A Flash", "Fables About the Stars", "Ichor of Two Dragons", and "Harmony Greets the New Year".

Honkai: Star Rail is currently in version 2.1, which saw the release of three new characters in Acheron, Aventurine, and Gallagher, reruns for Luocha and Jingliu, and two new areas in Penacony. Not only that, version 2.1 is also Honkai: Star Rail's first-year anniversary patch and as such will give players tons of rewards!

If you're still torn on whether you should pull for Aventurine or Jingliu in the second half's banners, then we can help you decide.

After version 2.1 comes version 2.2 in May, featuring two new 5-star characters in Robin and Boothill. And after version 2.2 will be version 2.3 in June, with two more 5-star characters in Firefly and Jade making their debuts.

Yan Ku is a full-time dog parent, part-time (gacha) gamer, and part-time writer.

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