Thursday, September 14, 2023
There's no shortage of choice when it comes to co-op RPG shooters, whether it's of the first-person variety in Destiny, or third-person in the likes of Outriders or The Division. Despite that fact, Korean developer Nexon Games is hoping to get a piece of the action with The First Descendant, an entry into the genre with plenty of its own ideas and mechanics, as well as an attractive, rich art style, and an expansive sci-fi world steeped in its own complex lore, all built using Unreal Engine 5.
Unlike Destiny, The Division, and the like, The First Descendant doesn't allow you to create your own character. Instead, you get to choose from one of its roster of Descendants, which range from the vivacious Viesa and her icy abilities, brash hothead Lepic and his explosives expertise, and obligatory heavy hitter Ajax, who wields an improbably huge cannon. The beta version we're given an early look at features a total of a dozen or so Descendants, but you'll need to unlock the others beyond the initial choice of three you're given.
It looks like there's a Descendant to suit pretty much every playstyle, with Jayber a scientist-type character laden with gadgets; the energetic Bunny bristling with electrical lightning-based skills; Blair able to conjure fire; Freyna boasting a hard edge and arsenal of green corrosive abilities; Valby possessing bubbly water powers; Sharen with her teleportation; and Kyle, who seemingly has some sort of power of magnetism. As for Gley, we're not entirely sure what his raison d'être is, but no doubt that will become clear once you manage to unlock him.
As your chosen Descendant, you form part of an elite band tasked with keeping alien invaders known as 'the Vulgus' at bay, which come in all shapes and sizes. There's razor-clawed grunts known as 'The Soulless'; so-called 'Mass Soldiers'; ones that run at you and explode; imposing, large Vulgus who walk menacingly towards you before striking; and numerous others. In charge of the Vulgus is chief big bad Karel, who wields untold power and seeks The First Descendant's mysterious MacGuffin – the Ironheart, of which there are three (so, Ironhearts, plural, then). Why? Because Karel wants even more power, of course.
Luckily, your Descendant is well equipped to fight back, packing three different weapons, a set of unique character abilities (Viesa's slippy 'Ice Road' is a personal favourite), and some neat traversal skills that boost your mobility. Not only can you double jump, but you can also scale heights using your grappling hook, and roll to evade enemy attacks. These prove especially helpful during battles against the game's Colossus bosses, like the GraveWalker (the first one you'll encounter during the game's prologue) or the towering Executioner, specific pieces of which can be picked apart after you've scanned for their weaknesses, which are then highlighted in yellow.
Remove armour plates, and you can use the exposed weak spot as a grappling point, enabling you to reel yourself in and latch on, before dealing damage up close before being shaken off. Piss off a Colossus the requisite amount, and its frenzy gauge will fill, sending it into a highly dangerous state. At this point, you'll need to discover a specific way to bring the frenzied spell to an end, lest you make life a lot harder for yourself. Void Intercept Battles offer the chance to immediately go toe-to-toe with bosses, providing not only a great proving ground for your character, but also a stack of powerful loot upon vanquishing said boss.
Naturally, like any shooter RPG worth its salt, The First Descendant also has a confusing selection of different currencies and resources to wrap your head around, and you'll be able to use them for various things while visiting the game's Albion HQ hub. For instance, there are stations where you can conduct research towards unlocking new Descendants to play as, purchase and sell equipment, or enhance modules using Kuiper Shards. Wait a sec; what are modules? Modules are straightforward enough, providing buffs, perks, upgrades, and skills that can be slotted to your character and weapons, and you can dismantle any you don't need to generate more Kuiper Shards. This might all sound like a dizzying affair, but it's clearly laid out and explained – none of it seems extraneous or overly complicated.
All of the accoutrements you'd expect from a game of this ilk aside, The First Descendant, even in its beta state, already delivers where minute-to-minute action is concerned. The shooter mechanics feel tight and immediate, the Colossus encounters are challenging and engaging, and the Descendants we've played as thus far are interesting and unique. Will all of this be enough to tempt you away from your current co-op RPG shooter of choice, though? Or, indeed, any multiplayer shooters you've already sunk countless hours into? The First Descendant looks spectacular and it plays well, but whether it'll draw you in and hold your attention long-term, remains to be seen.