The First Descendant Preview: The Lush Post-Apocalypse

After the end of the world, the only survivors will be supermodels, cyborgs, and cyborg supermodels. 

That seems to be the general idea behind The First Descendant, a team-based third-person shooter/MMORPG from Korean developer Nexon. As an empowered survivor of two separate alien invasions, you’re the troubleshooter sent in to deal with situations that would instantly kill normal human troops.

So far, The First Descendant is one of those games where the situation is bleak but the environment isn’t. You’re one of the only things standing between hostile aliens with an uncertain agenda and the relative handful of human survivors, but everything from people to landscapes to enemies looks almost idealized. It’s like its own classical painting of itself.

The First Descendant was built in Unreal Engine 5, and it’s used all that additional power to render some of the most idyllic vistas I’ve seen in a video game. Then, of course, I was asked to travel through them and kill everything I saw.

The game’s probably best described as a hero-based “looter shooter.” At its core, The First Descendant is about blasting aliens to death by the half-dozen with powers, guns, explosives  you can also rip them apart with your bare hands  and collecting everything that falls out.

You’re up against a series of murderous loot pinatas who are out to wear you down by force of numbers. Sometimes, it’s a question of whether you can kill them fast enough to replenish the resources you’re losing in the process.

You’re one of the handful of remaining defenders of the holdout city of Albion, the last significant human presence on your home planet. Most of the rest has been taken and/or destroyed by the Vulgus, a race of cybernetically-powered aliens that were more or less on track to wipe out humanity.

That was until several people became Descendants, borderline superheroes, who are capable of holding the line against both the Vulgus and the massive killer robots they’re able to summon to the planet. You play as one of them, sent out into the field to whittle away at the Vulgus’ positions and try and predict your next move.

On top of that, there’s a mysterious woman that no one else seems to be able to see or hear, who keeps contacting you in the field to warn you that things are even worse than they look.

You can collect up to 10 descendants in your playable roster, who share your inventory but level separately. Each has their own stats, with four active skills and a single passive ability that feeds back into them.

I ended up putting the most time into Viessa, a “glass cannon” sort of character who specializes in using ice. Her default ability’s an unreliable grenade that sort of slows enemies down a bit, but she’s a lot more interesting after a few levels.

Her later skills include a shotgun blast of ice that murders everything in front of her, the ability to manifest a frost slick behind her that freezes and/or kills anything that touches it, or an ice tornado that can take out entire packs of enemies at a time.

Unlocking new characters after the start of the game seems to involve purchasing reagents with what might be a premium currency (not sure yet). I ended up having enough during my preview window to unlock Bunny, a crazily upbeat cyborg in a themed bike helmet who can shock entire crowds at once.

The problem with both Viessa and Bunny, I found, is that The First Descendant is very much not designed as a solo activity. Once you’ve got a few levels under your belt, you’ve probably got some tricks that’ll take out a few aliens at a time, but it turns out the Vulgus aren’t particularly interested in playing fair. 

The later missions in a chain will think nothing of throwing small armies at you at once, and at that point, it really pays to have at least one other player along to split the Vulgus’ focus.

In addition to their powers, each descendant comes out of the box with a regenerating shield that has to be chewed through before you start taking actual damage; a grappling hook, which lets you vault onto distant rooftops and ledges; a double-jump; and three weapon slots for an arsenal that includes hand cannons, assault rifles, submachine guns, beam lasers, and a giant bazooka that the game simply calls a “launcher.

The First Descendant is currently in beta, with closed test periods coming intermittently over the next month or so. If you’re looking for something that lets you look cute while you murder entire hordes of aliens and collect their looty filling, this might be right up your alley. It releases “soon” for PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms. 

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