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The First Descendant isn’t GOTY material, and that’s why I like it

Despite being similar to most other looter shooters, Nexon’s The First Descendant is an awful lot of fun, and I’m absolutely fine with that.

A woman wearing cyberpunk style armor with glowing red eyes crouches on top of a building

Perhaps it’s just me, but it often feels like canonically ‘great’ modern videogames have to offer sprawling, expansive open worlds, deep characterization, mechanical complexity, and cutting-edge graphics. God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2, Baldur’s Gate 3; we’ve arguably fallen into a bit of a pattern when it comes to what we expect our GOTY contenders to be. Yet I don’t always find myself having the best of times with games of this scale and ambition. So while Nexon’s free-to-play looter shooter The First Descendant isn’t quite poised to dominate end-of-year lists, it’s still good ol’ fashioned chaos, and I’m very okay with that.

We begin in Albion, our Descendants’ home base. After flicking through the extensive character roster, I settle on Ultimate Bunny, the upgraded version of my favorite character from The First Descendant’s previous beta. While the switch initially just seems like an outfit change, I spot that this version of our feisty speedster boasts some increased stats, making her even more of a force on the battlefield. I lock in and head off into the wilds, weapons ready and electricity charged.

I arrive in a mysterious underground cavern deep in the Agna Desert and set to work plowing through hordes of enemies. It’s a similar scene to other looter shooter RPGs like Outriders, but the graphics are truly a step up. Ultimate Bunny channels Stellar Blade’s Eve (producer Boem-jun Lee tells me he’s friends with the developers). Her attacks are fluid; her shooting is deadly accurate. It felt like I was occasionally hitting enemies I definitely shouldn’t have landed a shot on, but as someone with a tremor and an inability to aim especially well, that’s okay with me.

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As I sneak through various rooms and take down my foes, I’m eventually confronted with the boss man himself, who has my target trained squarely on his back. He’s a hulking beast with a series of spherical, rotating implements that I need to destroy in order to damage him. Unfortunately, my game began to struggle, and the balls often stuttered into their next position instead of rotating smoothly. This added a level of unnecessary frustration that admittedly made my eventual victory all the sweeter.

I will say, however, that I had frame rate issues across multiple games at Summer Game Fest, all of which were housed in the same area as The First Descendant. Running an in-person LAN-style event with high-end equipment and a flurry of journalists frantically connecting to the WiFi may, therefore, account for that stuttering.

Two hero characters fighting a towering monster in a ruined city area

With my mission complete, I head back to the Albion to conclude my session, before being whisked off to another room to chat with Lee and creative director Minseok Joo. After a brief bonding session over the Korean variety TV show Running Man, I ask about the game’s story content, which is heavily showcased in the video I was shown during my preview.

Joo states that there have been “requests for enhanced story content,” which has led to “comprehensive revisions of the main story to make it more immersive.” Other Descendants will now appear as NPCs in main story missions for players to interact with, and specific characters will be getting their own unique story quests, beginning with Bunny (this makes me very, very happy).

When I ask if story content like this was always planned, or if it was a deviation from how Nexon expected the game to look, Joo tells me that “we constantly thought about how to make a very solid storyline, and as we were doing the tests we found out that a lot of users had high expectations for the storyline and wanted to experience different storylines. So after going through the tests, we’ve improved our storyline as well.”

A woman in a robotic bunny rabbit suit runs forward in a dark area

With the success of Helldivers 2 and the Warhammer 40k Space Marine 2 release date on the horizon, co-op shooters are back with a vengeance and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I ask Lee and Joo how they think The First Descendant will stand apart from its competitors as the genre continues to swell.

Lee tells me that he’s aware that “there’s a lot of good things coming out this year [2024]. The First Descendant stands out from other games because it supports online live service. We are cross-platform, with cross-save and cross-progression within PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. Also, the action is very smooth,” he continues. “It’s not like there’s any breaking in between. You can also enjoy it with your friends; it’s a very cooperative game – a team game.”

Two hero characters stand in a grassy wasteland area shooting at various different foes

That focus on teamwork is a key hook for The First Descendant. While most of my time is spent fruitfully trying to ascend the League of Legends ranks, sometimes you just need to destress and shoot a bunch of baddies. The First Descendant achieves that – its core gameplay loop is fun, it’s easy to play but hard to master, and it’s a seamless, quick experience that you can weave in around the myriad other things occupying your day. I’m excited to dive back in when The First Descendant release date rolls around. Before then, here’s a rundown of The First Descendant system requirements to ensure you’re all set.