Image via Nexon

Review: The First Descendant

Pretty and predatory.

The looter shooter genre is fraught with difficulties. Titles like Anthem and Outriders show promise and nab an audience, but quickly die off, whereas others like Destiny 2 and Warframe are generally positively received with some caveats. It seems like the formula is so obvious and a studio only needs to reach out and grab it. Could Nexon pull off the impossible with The First Descendant?

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The First Descendant (PC [Reviewed], PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S)
Developer: Nexon Games Co., Ltd.
Publisher: Nexon
Released: June 30, 2024
MSRP: Free-to-play

I’m going to be blunt with this: The First Descendant‘s story is largely irrelevant. Like a kaiju film, NPC dialogue only exists to move us to the next encounter. Standouts like the villain Greg and slimy weasel Jeremy stick out due to their out-of-place names alone. It’s like when the transfer student showed up at my high school and introduced himself as Zebulon. Equally tragic, said school was not in Tokyo-3, and there were no ensuing kaiju battles to offset the day’s doldrum.

Unlike the ho-hum story, The First Descendant goes all out in design and presentation. The characters and environments are simply astounding to look at thanks to the blend of futuristic technology, surreal and desolate landscapes, and encroaching divine elements. It doesn’t hurt there’s a solid roster of hotties to play as.

The First Descendant isn’t so much inspired by other media as it directly lifts from them. The character Bunny is a mixture of Overwatch‘s Tracer, in terms of personality and abilities, and D.Va in terms of design, while her Ultimate outfit bears a striking resemblance to Major Motoko’s from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Then there’s the litany of Destiny 2 “inspirations,” from icons to the Different Dream sniper rifle being easily recognizable as an IKELOS weapon.

These possible infringement lawsuits waiting to happen have me taking a step back and really looking at The First Descendant. It doesn’t do anything original, and is more a potluck of other ideas and properties than anything else. That being said, this is the finest-looking potluck I’ve partaken in. The plating on this spiraled ham is superb.

Image via Nexon

Unfortunately, these exquisitely rendered latex-clad butts and luscious landscapes aren’t presented without issue. When playing on my desktop or laptop, both of which are plenty beefy and have a wired connection, there are a concerning number of random framerate drops. No amount of settings adjustments alleviates the problem and there are numerous posts across social media from PlayStation 5 players reporting an even worse experience.

The performance issues don’t stop there as server stability is another large concern. The First Descendant was effectively down for the entirety of its second day and issues like rubber banding, input delay, and disconnects are a regular occurrence right now. It’s to the point where when the screen freezes, I know it’s one of two lag spikes and I’ll have to wait five seconds to see where my character has ended up.

It’s incredibly frustrating when running more difficult content where there’s a large number of enemies or attacks happening at once, or when doing an activity like a Void Intercept where a single death can ruin a run. Failure to get on top of these issues quickly has the potential to do irreparable harm. Player patience might evaporate quicker with a free-to-play title as there was no initial investment on their part. Combined with other, intentional decisions, these could quickly turn away potential players.

Image via nexon

Dragging me out of my despair is The First Descendant‘s gameplay. When it’s running without issue, it’s nothing short of amazing, and why I’m rooting so hard for this wonky looter shooter. It’s an engrossing blend of gunplay and power usage with a build-crafting system that has me obsessing about the possibilities and gnawing away at the puzzles laid before me in the Colossus battles.

The core gameplay loop is: start in an area, do two to five open-world missions, run a dungeon, fight a literal Colossus, and repeat. Each part is a lot of fun and can be tackled differently according to your Descendant’s kit. The open-world missions often pit you against swarms of hyper-aggressive enemies, dungeons almost always end in a fight where you must decipher the puzzle of the orbs in a Sisyphean battle, and the Colossi are the big show. Once you’ve cracked the code on beating the likes of the Dead Bride or Pyromaniac, it’s easy to forget the issues The First Descendant has.

Well, that is until you contend with the overly convoluted crafting system and over-the-top number of materials, accrual methods, and time gates standing between you and putting together a build. Item descriptions are anything but helpful and the game is misleading in how it wants you to approach some content.

At several points, notably the Dead Bride and Pyromaniac fights, there are strict DPS checks that must be beaten. It’s not a matter of playing better, avoiding team wipes, or persistence. You’re on the clock, and if you can’t melt the boss in that time, the run is over.

Due to the expensive nature of putting together a build to try, experimentation is limited unless you have plenty of time or cash to burn. For me, the game came to a complete standstill when I encountered the Pyromaniac. The only way I could beat it was by purchasing a new character, grinding them to max level, grinding out resources to put together a new build, and then putting together a team through a Discord server, as in-game matchmaking wasn’t ever going to get it done.

I was stuck for days and it can’t help but feel intentional as, at that level, there’s only one viable character to use, as Pyromaniac is nigh invincible against guns and non-ice powers. Everything I had been doing up to that point was entirely useless.

Image via Nexon

It’s these nudges and design choices that make The First Descendant feel like Nexon is milking players for everything it can. From the aforementioned crafting system to forcing players to buy recolored alternate outfits just to unlock the ability to customize the colors by buying dyes, it feels scummy. Worse, should you grind out a new Descendant to use, you need to shell out some cash for another character slot or delete one of your existing Descendants to make room. Throw in some Ultimate Descendant bundles that retail for $100 and it really feels like Nexon is in the business of whaling.

I am nothing but conflicted regarding The First Descendant. It’s a Modern Prometheus of parts and ideas that looks and plays wonderfully when it works. However, the Dr. Frankenstein who assembled it is clearly profit-driven and has a bit of a reputation for its microtransactions. Throw in the equivalent of a Dell Dimension 8400 for a server and things look grim. I don’t expect The First Descendant to get a lot of support in the time it’s around, and I’ll enjoy it for what it is, but I won’t make the mistake of believing it will hold much attention outside of a small, dedicated player base.

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.

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Christian Dawson
Christian has been playing games since he could hold a controller in the late 80s. He's been writing about them for nearly 15 years for both personal and professional outlets. Now he calls Destructoid home where he covers all manner of nonsense.