Image via Nexon

Hands-on: The First Descendant feels like a flashback, and not in a good way

Not a great first impression.

The First Descendant feels like a callback to the Xbox 360 and PS3 era. There are hordes of enemies to defeat with your friends as you level up your character and guns. You’re eliminating many surrounding enemies and protecting points of interest. For some folks, that might sound great! As for me, I went back to my bed and fell asleep (literally) after playing an hour or two of The First Descendant. I’m over it. But…there’s an intriguing [good] Genshin-like aspect that might draw me in.

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The First Descendant gameplay is lacking at best.
Screenshot by Destructoid

The First Descendant is derivative of past games and lacks personality

Shooting foes in the face and getting loot from them is nothing new, and unfortunately, The First Descendant doesn’t do a great job of bringing something new to the table. There are some cool abilities like casting ice spells and being able to whip yourself up to a higher platform, but other than that, I truly felt bored with the concept of this game. You’re defeating waves of hordes that act as bullet sponges and require little strategy to remove. There’s one enemy that has a shield, and you need ice to freeze them in place so they’re open. Other than that, there’s nothing exceptional in terms of its game design from the two or three hours I’ve played of The First Descendant. 

The guns you collect also don’t feel unique. In the modern shooter landscape (take Borderlands for example), guns often feel different from one another. The First Descendant lacks any personality when it comes to its weapons at this early point in the game. I’ve felt like I’ve played this game 10 times already in titles like Destiny, Outridersand other shooters of this type. However, if you’re missing a game like this, I could see you dropping in with your friends over crossplay for something nostalgic.

The weapons are lacking

Later on in The First Descendant, you can build special weapons like the Thunder Cage and The Last Dagger, but with so many materials needed for both of them, it may take you a while to acquire these in your arsenal. I was able to check them out in this preview build as a level 40 character and to be honest, they are a little underwhelming. I’d be annoyed if I spent so much time trying to get these weapons and then getting disappointed.

Something that adds something new to the formula, however, is the module system. You can add upgrades to your guns and your character like increased defense or better weakpoint damage against foes. Hopefully, Nexon gets creative with these modules as the game progresses like Nier Automata‘s Plug-In Chip system.

The First Descendant's Valby is an unlockable character with water powers
Screenshot by Destructoid

A third-person shooter that’s like Genshin?

As you play through the game, you can unlock new characters to play as. Each descendant has their own abilities to offer to the table. Valby, for example, can hover around the battlefield with her water skills and can entrap enemies into bubbles. Meanwhile, Bunny zips around at lightning speed and can fire a streaming laser of electric chaos. The first few descendants available to players seem to be fairly dull to play as, unfortunately. The unlockable descendants you play as seem to make up for the lack of creativity within the weapons.

I liked the personalities of Valby and Bunny, similar to Genshin Impact‘s Venti and Kazuha. This whole aspect of the game has potential.

Even though the guns aren’t that impressive, the actual feel of the gameplay is stellar, and it runs smooth like butter in Unreal Engine 5. The environments and characters look clean, and shooting down waves of enemies does look fantastic on screen. Aiming down sights is agile, and I felt like I was in control at all times. The art design is a bit too basic for my liking and perhaps should have gone in a more daring direction like another Unreal Engine 5-powered game Immortals of Aveumwhich had levels at a grander scale. Fighting on a moving mech was so awesome, and you don’t get that thrill in this shooter The First Descendant, at least in this preview build so far.

I wanted to skip the cutscenes

While I dug a lot of the character work, the lore is so dreadfully dull. The explanation of what’s happening in this world in the first 20 minutes of this game is excruciating, and there are a lot of wooden performances that should have been re-recorded. I truly just didn’t care about the story in any inkling and wanted to skip the cutscenes so badly.

In addition, the audio was hard to listen to. The gunfire is extremely loud and off-balanced, causing me to miss some of the dialogue. I’ve set the audio effects to 3 while every other audio setting is at 5 or 6, and it’s still too abrasive for my ears.  I’ll need to lower it even further.

The First Descendant Valby has water powers
Screenshot by Destructoid

The First Descendant needs work

As The First Descendant hasn’t been fully released yet, I hope there’s still time to tweak the game. More intriguing loot would be a stellar addition, and the performances during cutscenes can be vastly improved. Most importantly, the gunplay could certainly be more creative as well if Nexon wants players to be invested in getting the best loot in the game.

On the other hand, there’s a solid foundation. The visuals look tremendous with a smooth frame rate, and shooting at enemies, however basic they are, feels satisfying. Each of the unlockable characters also provides new abilities to tinker with. I’ll check this game’s official release to see if it lives up to its potential. The First Descendant will be released as a free-to-play game on PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and PC with cross-play functionality.

[This writer was provided with a PC preview code by the publisher]

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Image of Chris Penwell
Chris Penwell
Chris is a writer for multiple outlets, including Destructoid! He loves narrative games like Kingdom Hearts, Life is Strange, and Beyond Good & Evil. However, he does enjoy Fortnite and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from time to time.