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I’m worried The First Descendant will meet a similar fate to Anthem

Nexon has done enough to hook players into its new looter shooter, but as my The First Descendant preview indicates, they may not stick around on PS5 and Xbox.

The First Desendant preview: Bunny charging at a collosus next to Sharen

The First Descendant finally arrives on Tuesday, July 2 on PlayStation and Xbox, and I’m already worried about Nexon’s live-service looter shooter. Having spent the past few days getting hands-on with the game for our The First Descendant preview, I can feel the influences of genre mates Destiny 2, Warframe, and the ill-fated Anthem coursing through it. However, the developer is going to have to work to convince players to stick around considering its critical gameplay foibles. Light spoilers ahead.

In the multiplayer game, you’ll take on the role of a Descendant – a human that’s not only inherited the will of their ancestors, but their supernatural powers, too. As humanity has expanded out into space via a dimensional portal, the extraterrestrial backwash in the form of the Vulgus has had catastrophic consequences. Now, you’re on the hunt for the Iron Heart – a material capable of closing the portal – led by the mysterious AI known as the Guide.

Aside from maybe Destiny 2, looter shooters aren’t historically renowned for their nuanced narratives, but what I’ve experienced of The First Descendant’s so far may be its most pleasant surprise. The introduction of the Guide early on augments the game’s overarching conflict with internal uncertainty surrounding her true intentions. What’s more, each new Descendant you unlock comes with their own story beat, fleshing them out and allowing you to form a connection with them. There are layers here, and while it’s not exactly award-winning stuff, there’s plenty to build on.

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Beyond this, though, things start to get real rocky, real quick. The bulk of The First Descendant’s core gameplay loop involves your standard array of ‘kill things, capture point, collect drops’ missions, which is fine were it not for the fact that the enemy AI is technically stilted. Some enemies have a shield, some have a gun, and some charge at you. If you’re lucky, some have bonus modifiers that interrupt your ability to use abilities or sap your resources, but I found these to be few and far between, even in high-level zones. It’s all a bit pedestrian, though I expect it to an extent with this sort of game.

Of course, uninspired mobs don’t really matter as long as it’s satisfying to mow them down with your Descendant. This is something Warframe – the game I’d most closely link TFD to – excels at, fulfilling its frenetic, space ninja power fantasy with aplomb. Unfortunately, Nexon struggles to do the same. While each Descendant is distinct enough design-wise from one another and has their own specialties when it comes to mission types and elemental damage matchups, many lack the necessary flash to feel impactful.

Exemplifying this contrast, poster girl Valby is incredibly fun to play thanks to her fluid, puddle-based mechanics. Likewise, Bunny’s zip ‘n’ zap playstyle is perfect for fans of Digital Extreme’s own space game. However, the defense-oriented Ajax is relegated to ‘big shout, stomp, shield, and bigger shield,’ which wouldn’t be so bad if his animations matched the mucho gusto of his design. Meanwhile, though I expect damage-over-time effects like Freyna’s poison-based kit to be extremely potent, the Descendant herself felt underwhelming to play.

The First Descendant preview: a group of Descendants prepare for battle

One thing that can’t be slated about The First Descendant is that it at least looks the part. With Nexon taking full advantage of Unreal Engine 5.2, Ingris looks as stunning as the Descendants who inhabit it – it’s clear Nexon and fellow Korean studio Shift Up share a similar design philosophy when it comes to designing hot characters.

That being said, while the world looks beautiful, I’m currently struggling to understand the purpose of The First Descendant’s open areas aside from as a means to host mission nodes. Mostly, they’re devoid of life – the planet’s supposed to be invaded by the Vulgus, but where are they? Running around barren spaces that lack any other meaningful way to engage with makes them totally superficial. At this point, Nexon should’ve just yoinked Warframe’s Star Chart and shown its environments off through instanced activities, though I’m hoping it’ll up the encounter rate as players begin their journey in earnest on July 2.

If you’re an Anthem alumni then your alarm bell’s probably going off by now, and it’s a very valid response. From what I’ve played so far, there’s absolutely no reason why I’d recommend The First Descendant over the big hitters. However, there is one glaring advantage that the game has over something like Warframe, and that’s Nexon’s promise of “endless endgame content,” which comes in the form of activities like Special Operations, Infiltration Operations, and Void Intercept Battles.

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While I haven’t had the chance to properly team up with other players – I was either playing at the wrong time or matchmaking wasn’t up during my playtest – I did get to test my mettle against some of the challenging Void Intercept Battles. As I mentioned earlier, each Descendant has its own specialism, and it’s here that these really shine. Each Colossi boss comes complete with its own elemental strengths and weaknesses, alongside specific mechanics you’ll need to keep an eye out for. Defeating them nets you various materials that can be used to forge new Descendants and legendary weapons. Unsurprisingly, the drop rate for the really good stuff is incredibly low, so you’ll need to keep coming back for more.

And this neatly leads us to the jeweled elephant in the room – The First Descendant’s monetization. Nexon’s reputation for going big on MTX precedes it, and it’s certainly the same type of deal here. There’s an expansive cash shop offering up customization options for everything – the UI included. There’s also a battle pass, which offers up progression boosts. It’s incredibly similar to Warframe’s offering in many ways, so it’s not looking too egregious so far.

That being said, I’m still concerned that the studio will take the route of creating problems that it can create sellable solutions for, particularly when it comes to enticing players with drop rate boosts. Already, there’s arguably more variety in the way the game’s been monetized than is in its core gameplay loop, which is a big red flag to me.

The First Descendant preview: Karel, leader of the Vulgus

Technically speaking, The First Descendant does a decent job of utilizing the PS5 DualSense controller haptics, but nothing extraordinary. Considering it’s a multiplatform game that spans current and last-gen hardware, I didn’t expect anything more. My biggest technical gripe, though, is actually in-game. I don’t know if it was server-side or an environment boundary issue, but I found Vulgus glitching through terrain on multiple occasions. Additionally, Vulgus would often teleport in front of me. If this is any indication of the game’s server capabilities, then prepare for a rough launch.

So far then, I’ve ultimately found The First Descendant lacking. Between its empty zones, generally flat gameplay, and mixed Descendant design, Nexon is going to have quite the challenge when it comes to keeping players engaged enough to actually make it to its endgame content – no amount of glitzy, M83-soundtracked CGI trailers will achieve that.

Though its presentation is neat and its narrative beats offer enough to hook you in, the developer is going to need to present a robust post-launch roadmap if it’s to survive the unforgiving live-service landscape it’s about to jettison into beyond its first few months. As always, I hope to be proven wrong, but right now I don’t think The First Descendant will make it.