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The First Descendant is a solid shooter, but that might not be enough

A squad fires guns in The First Descendant.

It feels like it’s been a while since a game has truly shaken up the live-service “looter shooter” genre. Destiny and Warframe have been forces to be reckoned with for a decade, but few other attempts at the genre have had the same impact. Despite the fact that studios seem so eager to chase the trend, it’s a surprisingly stagnant genre.

That could change on July 2 with the release of The First Descendant. Well, maybe change is a strong word. Nexon’s latest doesn’t so much reinvent the looter shooter as it does peek over Destiny’s shoulder and brazenly copy its notes, right down to its enemy designs. It’s perhaps a little shameless, but is it fun? A demo I played at Summer Game Fest certainly kept me entertained with tight shooting and high-octane action. I’m just not sure that’ll be enough for it to break the mold right as Destiny 2 is at its peak. It’s an uphill battle for even the most polished shooter.

Breaking the mold

Before my hands-on demo, a long video presentation gave me a rundown of what to expect in The First Descendant. It was an exhaustive look at the game, including its characters, post-game activities, and more. I was immediately overwhelmed, but that’s how I’d feel if I got a rapid-fire rundown of Destiny 2 right now and I can navigate that game with ease. I’m sure The First Descendant will have clearer onboarding that makes it easy to jump into its various activities; that’s just a hard experience to demo in an hour.

Instead, I was thrown directly into the fire. After loading into a hub that looked quite a bit like Destiny 2‘s Tower, a developer put me in a dungeon for a mission full of enemies to shoot (I was supposed to try two dungeons during my demo, but a dead headset truncated my experience). I’ll give The First Descendant credit right off the bat: Its third-person shooting is about as fine-tuned as you could want. Within seconds, I was taking out hordes of enemies with precise, snappy shots. Dungeons throw dense packs of critters at players, which makes me feel like I’m cutting through a flood of zombies. Any critique I get into here ultimately may not matter much in the end.

A Descendant in a robot suit fires a gun in The First Descendant.

Its more-distinct quality is its titular Descendants, which bring a bit of the hero shooter genre to the co-op genre. We’ve seen that before in games like Outriders, but The First Descendant does go a bit deeper with its sizable cast of characters. For my demo, I chose the freshly announced Enzo, who came packed with some heavy fire power. One ability let me unleash a devastating shot that could burn down a powerful enemy’s health bar fast. I could also drop a turret, choosing exactly where I wanted to position it on the field. None of that is necessarily new, but I’m interested to see how deep the customization goes. I imagine it will make for some great co-op strategizing.

Those strong pillars will need to do a lot of work, because The First Descendant can feel derivative otherwise. As I pushed through the dungeon, I gunned down creatures that felt a lot like Destiny’s Hive and Cabal races. Small packs of weak creatures functioned like Thrall, while shield-wielding robots are almost identical to the Phalanx. The sci-fi aesthetic doesn’t help it beat the Destiny comparisons either; it felt like I was walking around the Cosmodrome as I traveled through caves and piles of decaying metal. Even the colorful ammo and health boxes that pop out of enemies feel lifted straight from Destiny.

Things would get a little more interesting when I’d face a bigger boss, who could rain shots down on me. I’d need to roll out of the way to dodge them, taking advantage of the third-person perspective. In its second phase, orbs would appear above it to grant it a shield. I’d need to take those out one by one to inflict damage. It was a tough fight that felt tuned for co-op; I can see where I could have some fun with my pals taking it down and reaping the spoils.

The question is: Is that enough? Based on what I’ve played, The First Descendant very much feels like an alternative to its peers rather than its own distinct thing. That might have worked in its favor last year when Destiny 2 hit a low point with Lightfall. Frustrated players may have moved on out of spite and been hooked by The First Descendant‘s rock-solid action. Now, it will launch in the shadow of the excellent Final Shape expansion, which currently has players occupied with a new drip feed of quests. Why abandon a game you’ve invested in at its height for a new, unproven game that looks just like it and is starting at zero?

A human fires a gun at an enemy in The First Descendant.

I don’t think that means that The First Descendant is doomed. On the contrary, the gameplay is tight, there’s strong co-op potential, and it feels a bit more international than its competitors. That could elevate it and turn it into a surprise hit. A free-to-play launch certainly won’t hurt either. It also feels like the kind of game that could hit its stride over time, mounting a Warframe-style arc in the long run. The foundation is there; it just needs to find its personality fast.

The First Descendant launches on July 2 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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