The First Descendant review: 'We have Destiny at home'

Nexon's sci-fi shooter is a bit too familiar and lacks a strong identity.

2

Let me start by acknowledging that headline seems a bit harsh, but developer Nexon goes out of its way in The First Descendant’s opening hours to make sure you know how much Bungie’s FPS game Destiny 2 inspired it. The architecture, the general setup, heck, even the way your mysterious Guide talks to you – it’s all very deliberately Destiny-like, with a bit of Halo thrown in. Taking inspiration is fine, but the problem with The First Descendant is that it just highlights how much weaker Nexon’s FPS currently is compared to Destiny.

Who are you people

The First Descendant's three playable characters

The First Descendant starts with a lengthy opening about humans fighting creatures called the Vulgus. There’s an evil enemy commander, multiple dimensions, and so on and so forth, and there’s also a selection of people called Descendants. These folks bear the DNA of ancient ancestors and can use special technology that might eventually save the universe, if the bad guys don’t get it first. They have a Guide, who’s like a cross between your Ghost in Destiny and Cortana in Halo, and some special skills in combat.

It’s a generic setup, and the lack of strong personalities – and writing – doesn’t do it any favors. I don’t know these people, and The First Descendant doesn’t give me time to even try. Bunny, your initial comrade, is bubbly and fun, so I’m meant to like her automatically even though there’s little value in most of her lines. Alpha, your commander, is the one who’s serious to a fault, but will, presumably, grow into someone whose love and concern for his team becomes a defining trait. 

Maybe. That’s how these characters usually end up, but one thing that sets The First Descendant apart from Destiny 2 so far is that Descendant seems unconcerned with actual character development. Most of its cutscenes and conversations feel laborious, as they drag out basic points endlessly, speak without properly saying anything, and come up with some bizarre takes that feel like they were included just for the sake of moving things along. The story starts in media rez, but Descendant is more concerned with shallow plot setup filled with proper nouns than it is with actually trying to craft a narrative.

Too much familiarity

The First Descendant's Guide giving the player character a mission

So, the story is definitely not the main attraction here, but gameplay could be. The First Descendant plays a lot like Destiny 2 as well, with a few key differences that might eventually help give Descendant a stronger identity. You have a basic weapon with infinite ammo, a rifle, and a strong weapon, and the latter two use “special ammo” to encourage you to plan carefully how you use them, which is very Destiny 2-inspired. You also get a grappling hook that any class can use in and out of combat. Traversal with the hook is convenient, but its function in battle is more interesting. The First Descendant is mobile and expects you to move out frequently, either to get a good position for handling threats or to reach out-of-sight enemies that are harassing you. The grappling hook lets you zip around battle arenas quickly and makes fairly rote encounters - which describes most battles outside boss fights - a bit more interesting than they'd otherwise be.

Region design is mostly standard sci-fi, ranging from grand ruins of old civilizations to harsh, metal fortresses, and war-torn cities seemingly inspired by quaint European towns. Yeah, that’s a lot like Destiny too, as is the hub region, which is just the Tower under a different name. 

Anyway, you’re sent to various locations fighting back the Vulgus menace, and your objectives include infiltration missions to retrieve intel, combat challenges, and all the usual kinds of things you do in games like this. Enemy variety is a bit limited in the opening hours, with a small handful of Vulgus types that all mostly just wait around and occasionally attack you. Their lack of aggression was a bit disappointing, but using character skills, fancy punches, and the grappling hook to zip around kept me interested.

The First Descendant's defender character targeting a Vulgus

Giant bosses are a nice break from the standard dull enemies, though I hesitate to call them “strategic,” as Nexon describes them in the game’s promotional material. They all have weak areas that you have to exploit to deal extra damage, and if you use your grappling hook well, you can pull those areas off completely. That’s kinda neat, but less so when you realize you can also just shoot them a lot until they blow up. There was more strategy involved in figuring out how my character’s skills would work against them and less in dealing with their actual designs.

On that note, I wish Nexon leaned into character roles more heavily. My initial character was a tanky fellow with a horn mask and the ability to generate shields and crash into enemies. It sounds like standard gameplay for tank characters. However, the few times when enemy mobs surrounded me and when I tackled large bosses alone, I found myself actually having to think about tactics and playstyle. That’s when I had the most fun with The First Descendant and when it felt like something with ideas and ambition of its own.

More of the same in the end

A squad of First Descendant players in an endgame challenge

Nexon made a point to say that The First Descendant’s endgame would function differently from Destiny 2’s and prioritize strategy and challenging combat over maximizing stats and grinding for better gear. That’s only partly true. Instead of repeating activities multiple times to get a slightly better version of an existing weapon, you’re repeating them multiple times to unlock new Descendants. Granted, these new characters have new skills and playstyles that feel more rewarding than just getting a 0.5 boost in a specific stat, but right now, the only thing you’re able to use them for is running hard versions of maps from earlier in the game. It’s fine, but it gets a bit stale even with new characters.

The difficulty feels unbalanced as well. Completing these alone is almost impossible, but there’s currently no in-game matchmaking for hard mode. Your only choice is to hope party members in another activity might be keen on joining you for a hard run, assuming they have text chat on and can even see your request. Maybe Nexon just didn’t expect people to reach the endgame so quickly, but the lack of matchmaking feels like an oversight.

Either way, I’m more than ready to put The First Descendant down and not come back for a while. Its character playstyles are fresh and interesting, but underbaked gimmicks, overly familiar ideas, and underwhelming encounters make it hard to recommend. I’m hopeful that The First Descendant can outgrow its need to imitate other games and eventually turn into something interesting in its own right. It’s a live service game and Nexon’s first shot at making something in this style, so there’s every chance it might turn around in future updates.


This review is based on a code provided by the publisher. The First Descendant is available for PC via Steam now.

Contributing Editor

Josh is a freelance writer and reporter who specializes in guides, reviews, and whatever else he can convince someone to commission. You may have seen him on NPR, IGN, Polygon, or VG 24/7 or on Twitter, shouting about Trails. When he isn’t working, you’ll likely find him outside with his Belgian Malinois and Australian Shepherd or curled up with an RPG of some description.

5
Pros
  • Unique character roles and playstyles
  • Snazzy visuals
Cons
  • Repetitive challenges
  • Simple combat gimmicks
  • Overt influences from Destiny 2 with no attempt to create a new identity
  • No endgame matchmaking
From The Chatty
  • ? reply
    July 9, 2024 9:10 AM

    Josh Broadwell posted a new article, The First Descendant review: 'We have Destiny at home'

    • ? reply
      July 9, 2024 11:29 AM

      I completely agree with the overall tone of this review (it's a forgettable game), but this review misses a pretty, pretty big thing which is that 95% of the game mechanics are taken directly from Warframe. It's maybe the most shameless rip-off of another game I have ever seen, and that game isn't Destiny.

      The only things that aren't Warframe are the story telling, map design, and picking up guns as loot. The class designs are lifted almost exactly from Warframe classes (Eg, Bunny is Volt, Freyna is Saryn). The enemy designs are literally copied exactly. The damage system, weapon upgrade system, class upgrade system, modules, all monetization, research system, bosses, relics, rank system--all literally copied exactly from Warframe. The grappling hook imitates WF's unique movement system because this game doesn't have ninjas. Even small details like escorting drones draining your shield is taken from WF. Many of WF's shortfalls and balance issues resurface in FD because of how closely they copied all the mechanics. Like, it probably should've been in the review at least somewhere.

    • ? reply
      July 9, 2024 11:33 AM

      I would like to voice my support for meme titles.

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