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The First Descendant

The First Descendant

Nexon's take on the looter-shooter genre has fully arrived, but does the game stick the landing or leave a lot to be desired.

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The free-to-play model is becoming increasingly difficult to accept and enjoy. It's become a trend for free-to-play to mean a competent and well-refined game matched up with limited content and/or abundant microtransactions to easily fastrack otherwise miserable and tiresome progression. The First Descendant is another offender in this regard.

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Now let me start by just stating that The First Descendant has a few very positive and promising elements. The core gameplay and gunplay is top-notch, with responsive and thrilling action mixed up with fulfilling weapons that truly deliver a power fantasy. The Descendants, which are effectively class types in a manner akin to Warframe, are hugely different, both visually and in a gameplay sense, and each bring something useful and fun to the action to keep things feeling fresh. The buildcrafting is also up there with the best of the looter-shooter genre, with tons of ways to sculpt a character and turn them into something truly special and deadly. The entire game features voiced dialogue, which is a really pleasant way to increase immersion and put emphasis on the narrative, and the cooperative design that makes teaming up with strangers and friends easier than ever is a huge boon too. The point is, Nexon has some fantastic design choices here that should be emphasised and highlighted.

The issue is everything around these elements. Let me start with the campaign. This is around a 20-hour story that is effectively one big tutorial. You are steadily taken through a variety of locations, completing small missions that can largely be attributed to the same quality as a Patrol from Destiny 2 (i.e. kill a few enemies, defend an objective, minor things that can be completed in around five minutes), all as way for Nexon to steadily introduce you to more and more challenging gameplay mechanics that begin popping up in the dungeons and Void Intercept boss encounters. After around five hours with the campaign, it's pretty hard to remain interested and frankly you just want to skip to the end as the narrative doesn't really draw you in either due to menial and quite bland storytelling.

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The endgame, and yes I'm jumping a few points ahead here but there's a good reason for that, isn't much better at the moment, as for the most part you'll find yourself just running the exact same missions and challenges you completed throughout the campaign except on a harder difficulty. Why? For better loot and predominantly one of waaaaaay too many resources and currencies that are used in the crafting/research suite.

The First Descendant has a pretty deep and broad loot system, meaning you're never lacking in exciting and powerful weapons, but if you want the best tools for the job, or want to unlock a new Descendant instead, you'll need to stomach the research system. This is one of the most overwhelming systems I have ever seen in a video game, and frankly if you don't intend to spend a dime on The First Descendant, you better be comfortable with spending tens of hours grinding the same activities in the hope of getting an extremely rare crafting material that you can then use and put towards a part of the research recipe you're after. Once you've spent far too long gathering the right gear, Nexon then makes you sit through one of my least favourite mechanics in the entirety of The First Descendant, an actual research timer, the same kind Clash of Clans and other mobile gamers are probably all too familiar with. So, as a quick recap, you spend tens of hours gathering the required materials all through playing the same activities you spent tens of hours completing in the campaign, all to then have to wait around 16 real hours to unlock the item you have been grinding for... I get this is a free game, but this is abhorrent game design.

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There is a faster way to get around this, and that's where the monetisation comes into the equation. I have no issues with free games monetising things, but Nexon has gone overboard in The First Descendant. Unlocking a new character will cost around £14 (and that's not even for the Ultimate version of the character), and then there are tons of cosmetics on top of that too. Sure, you can buy a typically-priced Battle Pass for some goodies, but if you want other cosmetic items, you better be ready to break the bank. Oh... and while I'm talking about cosmetics, The First Descendant buys into the trend that we often see with games made by developers from Asia, in that the female characters are hugely proactively dressed with disproportionate bodies clearly made to attract a certain audience. We were having this conversation in April with Stellar Blade, and now The First Descendant is here to add fuel to the fire...

I do strongly believe that there are too many systems and currencies available in The First Descendant, but you can learn to understand and become familiar with them. The same can be said too for the UI and HUD, which provides a huge amount of information that more often than not doesn't feel relevant or important. It just doesn't feel intuitive. There's definitely room for improvement and streamlining here that would work wonders for making this title feel more approachable.

What will be more challenging to correct will be the level design and the actual combat mechanics. The gameplay, shooting and running around blowing things up feels great, but there's never much depth in how you do this. Where a lot of other looter-shooters have tons of puzzle-like systems to overcome during combat to keep players on their toes, the best that The First Descendant seems to offer is a shielding system coined by floating orbs above a boss. Destroy these and the shield drops. It's a functioning system that wouldn't be the bane of my existence if it was less common as right now it seems to be the only unique mechanic enemies ever put to use. There needs to be more to keep action fresh, and this is a similar problem with the level design, as the locations you jump between are basically just Destiny 2 locations except without all the secrets and additional goodies and challenges that Bungie hides beneath the surface. The First Descendant feels very one-dimensional at the moment and is crying out for a more complex activity like a raid to push players to their limits.

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Now you might be thinking "surely that's where Void Intercept battles come into the equation?" Yes and no. Void Intercept is an activity that sees a team of players facing off with a massive boss. The idea is to refine your build so that you can survive and take down this boss within 10 minutes. It's usually quite challenging due to the health pools of the bosses, but as for mechanical depth here, there's not much to write home about. There are a few systems and mechanics that impress, but for the most part you're running around a bland arena pumping a big target full of lead. It's not the worst activity The First Descendant offers, by a long shot, but it also doesn't feel like a good example of the potential of this game either.

The First Descendant would benefit from a freer level design too, where you could seamlessly travel between the sub-areas of each location without a loading screen, in the same way that Destiny 2 locations operate, and likewise the ammunition economy is in need of a minor adjustment as right now it doesn't quite feel balanced. Also, the audio mix is a bit out of sorts, with some sounds being way to loud and others a bit quiet, and the voice acting (as brilliant as it is that there's complete VO throughout the game) is overused with certain dialogue sequences lasting for several minutes and some performances feeling a bit cringey (the crazy and unhinged villain is a trope used far too frequently here). But, truth to be told, all of these criticisms are minor and quite irrelevant when stacked up to the performance and optimisation of this game.

I have played a handful of AAA titles in my lifetime that run worse than this game on a regular basis. Be it huge performance and massive frame drops - despite using a PC with hardware way beyond the top system requirements - all the way to stuttering, endless matchmaking queues, certain menu systems not working properly, and frequent server disconnections. I've rebooted the game, redownloaded the game, turned down graphical settings, turned up graphical settings, switched on and off Ray-Tracing, G-Sync, DLSS, and so forth, updated PC and graphics drivers, even reset my broadband connection, and despite all of this, the game only tends to run as expected around 50% of the time. I've tested Destiny 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III, Apex Legends, Counter-Strike 2, Baldur's Gate III, Atomic Heart since, and none of these games gave me even a semblance of a performance problem. The First Descendant is just poorly optimised in its current state.

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Even though The First Descendant has a strange aesthetic that doesn't seem to really know what it wants to be, a strange mash-up of high-fantasy meets gritty sci-fi, there are elements of this game that made me want to keep playing. The gunplay, Descendant options, buildcrafting, visuals and graphics, action, cooperative systems, these all work hand-in-hand to make this an promising experience. It's just hampered in so many other places that make me frustrated and tired of playing. The performance and optimisation issues are a big problem right now, but these can - and likely will be - fixed soon, but the monetisation, the drab enemy and boss design, the flat level and mission structure, the exhausting progression, and the unfulfilling story are the real and core problems that currently hold back The First Descendant and stop me from wanting to spend more time in Nexon's world.

05 Gamereactor UK
5 / 10
+
Great Descendant designs and variety. Tight and thrilling gunplay. Excellent cooperative systems. Stunning presentation. Tons of buildcrafting options.
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Research system is brutal. Monetisation is overwhelming. Limited and flat combat and enemy design. Level design is too basic. Horribly optimised currently.
overall score
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REVIEW. Written by Ben Lyons

Nexon's take on the looter-shooter genre has fully arrived, but does the game stick the landing or leave a lot to be desired.



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