The First Descendant could be a winner – with a little work | Final hands-on preview

by on June 26, 2024

Nothing weighs heavier than expectation, and as we finally near the launch of The First Descendant, creators Nexon must be feeling the strain. The free-to-play looter shooter has already been labelled with the usual, predictable guff. It’s the new “Destiny-Killer”, or maybe the game Outriders never quite managed to be – although I think those two are one in the same. Truth is, it doesn’t matter what The First Descendant turns out to be as long as it turns out to be good. And based on my second pre-launch dalliance with it, indicators are… fair.-

Nexon has some work to do though, particularly with the PS5 version if this pre-launch build is anything to go by. There are moments when the game runs like melted butter off the tip of a gun barrel, the AI aligns with the world and the enemies show signs of intelligence, and your special abilities fire off with dizzying spectacle. The grappling hook sings in these moments, as you use it to propel yourself around the battlefield, dodging explosions and enemy fire. But these moments are paid for in sudden plunges of the frame rate, enemies disappearing only to reappear in the air, spinning or teleporting.

The First Descendant

It happens worse when outdoors in the first area – and I should point out that the PC version suffers from none of this. If anything, the PC is almost free of lag, stutter, or struggling frames. It’s also noticeably worse than it was in the previous beta, so I’m hoping it’s something Nexon has sorted in time for the launch – because honestly, despite the performance issues, I’ve still had a blast with The First Descendant.

I had a chance to play two modes: Normal and Boosted. The former starts you off with a choice of three Descendants, which are the playable heroes. There are fourteen altogether, but you can only choose one of an initial three, and then must unlock the others in a manner not too dissimilar to Warframe. You complete missions, pick up rare drops, then use them to create a “code” for the Descendant in question, at which point they become playable. It makes little sense, as the Descendants are already NPCs in the world. Bunny, for example, is the first one you unlock through grinding, and she’s literally with you during the opening mission.

The First Descendant

Regardless, each comes with a suite of powers you unlock and level up. Viessa uses ice attacks, slowing enemies, while Bunny uses electricity, and can shock bad guys or accelerate to crazy speeds over short distances. Freyna, the second Descendant I worked on, has poison abilities to apply damage over time.

You can also customise your guns with skins and mods, or unlock a ton of cosmetic skins for each character. The rub, of course, is that The First Descendant is monetised up the wazoo with skins, emotes, banners, one-use paints (did no one learn anything from Destiny?), and various boosters. It’s not pay-to-win, however, and you can always opt to grind for everything instead, so it’s not totally egregious.

A character modding system borrowed almost wholesale from Warframe makes adjusting your Descendants’ stats and abilities pretty straightforward, as you can opt to auto-assign mods to your limited slots. When you achieve a “Mastery Rank” you’ll often increase your capacity for mods as well as other stats across all your characters. Handily, your loadout will transfer when you swap to a different character, saving you the trouble of moving your best guns back and forth.

The First Descendant

Mission structure seems pretty decent, too. You have to visit the hub city of Albion to change Descendants and level up Mastery, or take quests, visit vendors, and upgrade your gear, but the rest of the game takes place in semi-open world areas full of mission icons and resource chests, pockets of enemies, and side activities to keep you occupied. No one outside of Nexon knows how it’s all going to unfold post-launch, but it looks and feels great in motion.

But what about Boosted Mode? Well, this allowed those in the play test to try out every Descendant, all the guns and powers and most of the mods. Here I tried out scientist Gley, Ajax the tank, and pyromaniac Blair, hopping in and out of random missions or tackling some of the huge bosses. While the guns remain the same and feel most like The Division in terms of feedback and how they chew through enemy health, changing Descendant makes a real difference to how you play

The First Descendant

Viessa is tougher than Bunny but slower, for instance, while Ajax is stronger than both but lacks mobility or utility. You’ll soon unpack your favourites, I’m sure. What I can’t see in either mode is how long it takes to fully unlock certain things without premium currency. Once again though, I’m coming out of a beta for The First Descendant itching to play more. It’s really nothing like Destiny, The Division, Outriders, Anthem, or Warframe, though it borrows certain elements from all of them. It’s not wholly unique either, but presents its world, characters, enemies and progression systems with enthusiasm and care.

Nexon is unlikely to please everyone, but based on my time with two betas, if the team can smooth out some of the performance issues the team at least a chance at making a splash.

The First Descendant is coming to PC, PlayStation, and Xbox on July 2nd.