The First Descendant is a new looter-shooter from Nexon, and it could be a great time with friends if our preview is anything to go by.
The last few years are littered with the corpses of loot shooters and “games as a service” titles that failed to find an audience. For every Destiny 2 or Borderlands 3, there’s an Anthem. For every Apex Legends, there are a dozen Babylon’s Falls.
The First Descendant, though, feels like a polished product already, if our brief hands-on is anything to go by. Nexon’s title takes elements from Destiny, Warframe, and even Anthem to make an action RPG/shooter hybrid that’s fun to play but lacking a little in personality.
The First of Many
The First Descendant will launch as a free-to-play title, but it doesn’t leave the greatest of first impressions. It looks great, even at this early stage, and its character models are impressively detailed. It just lacks any real charm — characters are one-note blank slates, and as good as they look they lack any real character.
I was able to go hands-on with three of the playable Descendants, and each feels a little on the dull side, full of one-liners but not a lot else.
Still, it was nice to have at least some dialogue after the half-a-dozen lines I’ve heard from my Destiny Guardian over the last eight years. There’s also a limited color palette of grays, blacks, and browns that can make it feel a little flat to look at, but things do get more vibrant as more areas are unlocked.
With the initial cutscene out of the way and the first of my Descendants selected, things started slowly; third-person combat is snappy and responsive, but it really hit its stride with the addition of a grappling hook.
It’s here that the game starts to grow in confidence, and starts to tease out more of its systems. Combat in looting games, for the most part, has often been a very flat experience. Diablo’s isometric dungeons have staircases, and Destiny uses set-dressing to make many of its Strikes feel more vertical than they actually are, but The First Descendant is the first loot-driven game since EA’s much-maligned Anthem that feels like it wants players to think differently.
It’s worth noting that there’s no flight, but the grappling hook is incredibly liberating nonetheless. Flinging my large, tank-like character, Ajax, up to a ledge before crashing down with a ground pound felt great, and everything feels much more agile than the clunky (but fun) Outriders.
Each Descendant has their own abilities, too, with an ice-wielding mage or a soldier-type with a powerful arm gadget also included in the trifecta of starting options. Still, throwing my huge tank-style character into the fray before backing up to deploy a shield always felt fun, akin to a Destiny Titan or an Outriders Devastator.
Let’s talk about Loot, baby
It’s tough to assess a game of this nature so early on because so much of its development post-launch will be informed by the community it (hopefully) builds. Things like currencies, drop rates, and perks will always be in flux.
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Still, at this early stage, The First Descendant splits its loot into two categories — weapons and runes. The former is straightforward, and as fun, as the gunplay is, there are some things to iron out, namely that sniper rifles lack the kind of impact you’d hope for and can be hard to aim given the kinetic nature of combat. Players also have access to three weapons at a time, but you need to press a button to cycle through all of them — there’s no option (as far as I could tell) to hold the button and switch more quickly.
On the other hand, runes are used to enhance your armor along your journey. They’re fun to build with, with increased fire rate and reload speed ones offering obvious boons, but I’m left hopeful we’ll see more exciting additions in the full game that can really diversify character builds.
On the subject of characters, there are plenty of options, with each offering unique abilities akin to Warframes. Their powers are easy to grasp, and can fulfill almost MMO-like roles such as support, DPS, and the aforementioned tank.
One of The First Descendant’s big selling points is in its boss battles, where up to four players tackle a huge monster. In the beta, at least, the focus is on cooperation (I wasn’t able to tackle one of these behemoths solo), and leaning into those defined roles feels great. It’s certainly a spectacle, but it’s not particularly inspired as it revolves around hitting weak spots.
Between missions, you’ll visit Albion, collecting new quests and tweaking your characters a la Destiny 2’s Tower. You can also venture into more open areas to take on smaller missions out in the field. Some of these involve destroying items, killing a certain number of enemies, or any other standard fare, and while they’re not particularly challenging they are fun to sit back and relax with.
The First Descendant’s setting and structure may feel a little paint-by-numbers, but there’s an awful lot of fun to be had with its classes, weapons, and mobility options.
If Nexon can mix up mission objectives and offer some great loot to chase, I can see it becoming a regular option in my rotation of loot shooters.
The First Descendant’s beta begins on Steam on October 20.