The First Descendant Review - Another Looter with End Game Problems 34534

The First Descendant Review – Another Looter with End Game Problems

It’s always exciting to start a new looter. Every drop is exciting, there are untold secrets to uncover, and bosses that truly push players to their limit. So when I heard The First Descendant was set to release for free, I had to see if it would be the next big thing. With giants like Warframe, and Destiny to compete with, will it push them to greater heights, or is it a pale imitation?

In a lot of ways it’s hard to critique The First Descendant‘s narrative. At its core the story is an introduction to a larger world. Each Descendant gets a moment, every core activity is touched on, and it works as something of a guided tour of the base experience. It also concludes in a way that starts an epic adventure over feeling particularly conclusive.

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I Want to See The Manager of… The Ironheart Data

Beyond the basic tutorial is an okay adventure. Players need to stand up against dark lord Carl Karel, who is something of an unstoppable force. Much of the narrative reinforces their power, as you progress towards destroying the Ironheart, an event that will deal a massive blow to the opposition.

If nothing else, I appreciate the effort that went into it. There are cutscenes, actual dialogue, and there is a clear reason for each activity. It gives them meaning besides picking on lesser antagonists like Greg.

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The Superior Greg

Naturally, the main attraction for The First Descendant is gameplay. This starts by allowing players to select one of three characters. There is Ajax the quasi-tank, Lepic the male damage dealer, and Viessa the female damage dealer. Shortly into the adventure players unlock Bunny, a charming speedster that makes quick work of adds.

Much to The First Descendant‘s credit, these characters can hold their own even in late game content. It’s far too common for them to be replaced by the grind/paid characters, so that is great to see. I also appreciate each element has a character that is easier to unlock. Something that helps against certain bosses, stages that encourage a specific element, or to do a number of activities.

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Playing through the story is a great opportunity to figure out what works. Since weapons will constantly be cycled out, there are a lot of incentive to try new things. That being said, I wish The First Descendant didn’t calculate potential damage through a “DPS” metric. The problem with this metric is it tries to simplify a far more useful, and complicated concept, in a way that sounds more approachable than it is.

DPS, which is commonly shorthand for damage per second, is something I imagine most gamers are familiar with. It goes without saying a higher DPS weapon will do more DPS, and in theory it will, though in practice it’s debatable. Given enemies are strong/weak to certain elements, along with having a specific group (Order of Truth, Legion of Immortality, Legend of Darkness, etc), players need to actually examine skills to see if they’re useful. Something shorthand like this doesn’t instill.

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To help round out the weapon system are modules. These are random drops that give a wide variety of benefits like elemental damage, altering metrics, to even giving granting buffs. This can be a bit intimidating, though there is an equip recommended module option.

On paper this is an interesting idea. The First Descendant looks at the task you’re currently at, and presents builds based off the “top 10 percent successful intercepts.” This data can also be searched on the official website. I like this idea because it simplifies a number of negatives associated with the genre. I don’t need to watch a content creator to get a top tier build, but the issue is it isn’t defined enough to be useful, and lacks nuance.

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But Should I even Use This Gun?

For starters, it isn’t clear how exactly these things are calculated. What specifically makes someone a “top 10 percent” person? Is it speed? Damage? Some kind of other calculation? I don’t know. It also doesn’t tell me how weapons are considered. Sometimes I’ll win with random weapons that I’m leveling, which shouldn’t be considered. This is even more impactful when you consider over-leveling.

I did a quick run of Grave Walker, which is the first Colossus boss, and killed it in 3 to 4 seconds. Would this be considered a top 10 percent performance? I’ve done the same with a lot of earlier bosses simply by virtue of farming, even though I don’t have a particularly insightful build.

The Pinnacle of Power?

In addition to that, a lot of things don’t seem to be considered. One of the biggest is module capacity. This increases based off proficiency, can be boosted through resources, and every module can increase/decrease/add capacity depending on level. Yet I’ll consistently get suggestions that fill my capacity. Maybe I’d be better off with Bullet Rain leveled instead of Sharp Precision Shot, yet I’ll never know. Maybe neither matter and the true perfect build has both at zero, capacity at 50, and there is another mod.

I’ve also never seen it suggest something I don’t have. Reddit posts suggest Mental Focus, which increases Firearm attack as shots are fired, is a great way to burn bosses. I don’t have it, but at its base level it increases attack by .25 percent, and stacks up to 150 times, which comes out to be about 37.5 percent at max default level. Maybe this is actually the secret key, but I’m not directed to chase after it, or informed it existed. This would be a great way to encourage long term play, as now I know what the desired meta is. At least if this feature worked as intended.

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As my final bit of criticism of the system, I also want to note it doesn’t point out what I should be using. Having the best roll of a bad gun is not as helpful as knowing the meta is actually elemental damage as a specific character, or using a certain weapon. I do hope long term this stuff is ironed out as it could vastly improve onboarding, something that hurts games like this long term.

Nitpicking aside, combat is quite fun. It reminds me a lot of Outriders, though that might be due to the top rarity gun story gives, Thunder Cage, looking/functioning similarly to The Daimyo; and Viessa’s Cold Snap wave attack being similar to how my Pyromancer played.

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Encounters are typically won/lost depending on how well players utilize their perks. I got very proficient with my starting character, Viessa, knowing when to utilize my skills to maximize damage. Once everything starts to come together, each character fits into a specific niche. Some of these are more practical, like Bunny is almost impossible to match in add heavy activities, with the other characters excelling in their own ways.

I actually really like this approach as well. It isn’t like Freyna is poison Viessa, or Blair is the fire version, they each have their own style of play. Freyna has more of a focus on area denial, Blair can deal substantial damage, Sharen is an assassin with a melee focus, Bunny electrocutes trash mobs, and so forth. It also adds something of a learning curve, as they can all stand out given the right situation and knowledge.

Most of the problems with The First Descendant stem from the post-campaign content. Some of these problems are rather basic, like Infiltration Operations (think dungeon) on hard. I’m not above joining an LFG community, it’s just more effort than should honestly be required. Especially when hardcore players will still opt to LFG for better rewards.

While that is arguably the biggest grip in the community, mine is how The First Descendant approaches grinding new content. Freyna, Blair, and Sharen are the three easiest non-starting/story Descendant’s to unlock. They basically just require doing activities, such as Infiltrations, and getting lucky.

Normal vs Hard

The problem with these activities is pretty simple. A highly desired item like Freyna Enhanced Cells, one of four items needed to unlock her, is exclusive to normal. I’d forgive this if a drop in her slot was guaranteed and it was removed to increase the overall rewards, though it’s my understanding each item is its own roll, and even if it wasn’t that theoretical spot isn’t even 100 percent, it’s 55.2 percent on normal, and 67.5 percent on hard. I don’t think anyone would complain about that item being a redundant drop 32.5 percent of the time, but I digress.

Instead players are just expected to do easy content in hopes of getting her. It’s pointless for the player, as I can literally tank most damage and kill any enemy, with certain activities lasting a couple seconds. This holds true across the board, so a good amount of time will be spent overpowering low-level content.

This problem is continues to stack as players get more into the end game. A lot of activities don’t give drops, as much as they give “Material Patterns,” an item that works similar to a mystery box. I might have a 10 percent chance of getting one, followed by only having a 6 percent chance of getting what I want. These are then redeemed through other activities to ultimately get the reward. It requires a lot of repetition, something I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t entirely pointless like the normal version is.

As mentioned in the title, the other issue is the end game itself. What ultimately saved Destiny from its disastrous launch was Vault of Glass. It showed it could be something greater, though The First Descendant only has faint glimmers of the same potential.

The first post-story boss, Hanged Man, has enough mechanics to make it feel unique. However, this is followed up by reprising five of the normal bosses with more health. These are brutal fights that encourage better builds, though it’s hard to be excited about spending 10+ hours grinding just to beat the third normal boss with 10x higher stats, followed by doing the same for the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. I hear the final three, Obstructer, Frost Walker, and Molten Fortress, are a return to Hanged Man’s highs, but it’s such a high investment to get there.

The First Descendant Review Verdict

The First Descendant: I think The First Descendant needs to do a lot to ultimately find success. This review doesn't even touch on the frequent performance issues, how certain activities are doomed to largely fail, and the hands down worst auto-aim I've ever experienced. Not because these issues aren't important, they absolutely are, but I don't think there is a reason to deal with them in the first place. There is no denying I had fun playing through The First Descendant, it's once the main story is completed it's an endless uphill battle for modest gains. Given the roadmap does not paint an optimistic future, it's hard to see this experience lasting long term, even if I'd rather see it find success like Destiny, and many other titles ultimately did. Grant

von 10

Editor’s Note: The First Descendant was reviewed on PlayStation 5, and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.

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