You boot up Star Rail for the first time and tell yourself: “It’s just a turn-based RPG, how hard can it be?” “I’m already a seasoned Honkai Impact and Genshin Impact player, surely the combat can’t be that complicated.” That’s wrong. At least, when you first start out.
Looking at the various UI can be daunting to new players and the combat itself has a slightly different feel and different mechanics compared to other turn-based RPGs. And that’s why today I’d like to clear up any confusion you have about Honkai: Star Rail. This guide will cover everything you need to know regarding basic combat mechanics and new in-game terms regarding your characters.
Character Types & Paths
Before you worry about actual battles, there’s a lot of information about your characters that the game sort of throws at you with a bunch of different tabs on the character menu. Let’s introduce some crucial in-game terms that will set you up for success when you start to enter your first battles.
Beginning in the main details tab when you first enter the character menu, you’ll want to pay attention to the area around your character’s name, which outlines their combat type and path if you click on the exclamation point. Each character has a type, which can be Physical, Fire, Ice, Lightning, Wind, Quantum, or Imaginary.
There are no elemental reactions in Honkai: Star Rail, but building a team with the right combination of elements is extremely important due to a mechanic called Weakness Break, which we’ll cover later.
As for combat paths, characters are divided into paths based on what their general role is in battle. The seven different paths include The Hunt, Destruction, Erudition, Harmony, Nihility, Preservation, and Abundance.
The reason why paths are important is because of the second tab in the character menu labeled Light Cones.
Light Cones are the equivalent of weapons in Genshin Impact or Honkai Impact, and are most often obtained through the gacha system. In Star Rail, all Light Cones offer attack, HP, and defense stats regardless of the wielder.
What sets Star Rail’s weapon system apart from Hoyoverse’s other games is that weapons only activate their passives when equipped by a character of a certain path. For example, Himeko’s signature 5-Star Light Cone requires the wielder to be a part of the Erudition path, which means I can equip it on Herta, who also is classified as Erudition.
You’ll know if the effect is active if the text in the Light Cone ability section turns green. If I try to equip the same Light Cone onto Sushang, who specializes in single target damage and is a part of The Hunt path, the passive will not activate and the character only gets the base stats offered by the Light Cone. You’ll see that the Light Cone ability now reads “Character is not of the path of Erudition. Effects cannot be activated” in red text.
In addition to Light Cones, here is also the Relic system, which is very similar to Genshin’s artifact system with 2-set and 4-set bonuses. Relics are also farmed with the game’s stamina system, so these two equippables are your main ways to upgrade your characters stats outside of ascensions.
The third tab to visit is the Traces tab, which is essentially a skill tree similar to many other turn-based RPGs. Here, you can upgrade your character’s talents, unlock bonus effects for your characters, and get slight stat boosts.
The main thing to note for the purpose of this guide is that each character has a basic attack, one skill, one talent, a technique, and their ultimate ability. Basic attacks and ultimates are pretty self explanatory, but you might be wondering: what’s the difference between a skill, talent, and technique?
Simply put, your skill represents your active abilities during your fights, your talent is a passive effect that is usually gated behind a condition in battle, and your technique is an overword ability that you can use when initiating a battle.
Speaking of initiating a battle, that should be everything you need to understand regarding character terms. So, let’s jump into what to expect from actual combat now.
Ambush & Techniques
Before you even enter battle, you can already gain an advantage by ambushing enemies. More often than not, the player will initiate battles themselves by basically attacking an enemy wandering around, instead of waiting for enemies to notice them. You can take this one step further by basically attacking overword enemies with the correct elemental weakness to help you work towards a Weakness Break, which we’ll discuss right after this.
Techniques are your character’s overword ability to give advantages before entering battle. Some characters have buffing techniques that don’t initiate a battle like Bronya who enhances the attack of allies by 15% for the next battle, while other characters have pure damage techniques, like Asta, who can use her technique to initiate battle and deal fire damage to all enemies at the start. These techniques have 3 charges, as you can see with the three purple dots in the UI, and charges are easily replenishable with purple destructible objects around in the overworld.
When you enter battle after ambushing with a basic attack or technique, you’ll be met with an entirely different battle UI.
To start off, the game should give you a tutorial about how the red bar is the enemy’s HP, the white bar is the enemy’s toughness, and the elements above the toughness bar signal which elements the enemies are weak to.
Depleting the white toughness bar requires hitting enemies with the correct elements they are weak to and once the entire toughness bar is depleted, the enemy enters an effect called Weakness Break until they take an action again.
Weakness Break is arguably one of the most important battle mechanics in Star Rail because under the weakness state, enemies will take more damage from any element and will be pushed back in the turn order.
For those who like numbers, the toughness multiplier is 90%, meaning your calculated damage output is multiplied by 0.9 when the enemy isn’t weakness broken. When the enemy is weakness broken, the toughness multiplier turns into 100% and as a result, your calculated damage is not reduced because we’re multiplying by one instead of 0.9.
Since there is no super effective damage or resisted damage like many other turn-based RPGs, depleting enemies’ toughness bars down to 0 is going to be the main way to set up big damage windows for your team.
For example, when I break the toughness of these enemies with March 7th’s ultimate, not only can my Sushang deal more damage but she also gets to move twice before the enemies get one turn and recover their toughness bar. Additionally, depending on which element triggers the Weakness Break, the enemy will have different debuffs.
Again, the various effects will be listed on screen and most of them are pretty self explanatory. The only extra mechanic that I really need to point out with Weakness Break is that for some reason with frozen enemies, when they thaw out of the freeze effect, they actually don’t recover their toughness bar, which gives you more effective turns for your DPS window.
With a turn-based system, your character’s skills can’t be tied to a timer like action-based combat games. Instead, Hoyoverse has decided to limit your skill usage in battle through a skill point system.
Next to the skill and basic attack buttons at the bottom left of the battle UI, your team shares up to a maximum of five skill points. Basic attacking an enemy with any character will restore one of these points and of course using a skill costs one of these points, so it's best to pay attention to who needs to use their skills and who can afford to replenish skill points for the team.
No matter if your character basic attacks or uses their skill, energy can be generated by landing hits on the enemy. I would probably say it’s pretty hard to miss the giant energy sphere next to the portrait of your characters. So, once you notice that this sphere is full, that’s how you’ll know your ultimate is ready.
What makes ultimates so powerful and what makes Star Rail into such a unique turn-based RPG is that ultimates can be used at any time. You can interrupt your teammates or interrupt your enemies and immediately cast your ultimate after the current target finishes their move. This mechanic opens up the floodgates to infinite amounts of strategy when it comes to turn order.
For example, if my Sushang is a fast DPS and my March 7th is a slightly slower support, I can use March 7th’s AoE ultimate to trigger Weakness Break on enemies to set up for Sushang’s turn.
You can also use this mechanic to break the toughness of an enemy that’s about to move to delay their action, only if one of your characters is set to move right after them. You might be able to buy time to heal, setup defensive buffs, or just kill the enemy outright if the next character up has enough damage. If you need to know who moves next to plan out your ultimates, then the left side of your screen will outline the battle’s turn order, where a lower number means that a unit is closer to moving next.
Typically, weakness breaking an enemy increases their turn order value by around the range of 20 to 30, so the enemy has a turn value of 10 and your other characters have turn values of 60, don’t expect to move next despite applying weakness break.
One more thing to note is that if you’re ever confused about what enemies do or you can’t keep track of all the effects that you and the enemies have, you can always click on the character tab at the bottom left of your screen or the enemy tab at the top.
By the way, if you want to experience all 5-Star characters or weapons, then getting Honkai Star Rail Accounts will be your good choice!