The First Descendent is dollar store Destiny starring exclusively hot people

 The First Descendant.
Credit: Nexon

It's a joy of PC gaming that you never know what breakout hit will dominate the Steam charts in a given month. This week it's not an unknown indie making waves, but a South Korean publishing giant whose games rarely catch fire in the west: Nexon. Its new looter shooter The First Descendant peaked at 203,244 players today despite only 51% of its Steam reviews being positive.

It's not entirely clear to me why The First Descendant is so huge—I've been extremely bored by it so far—but I have some guesses. It's pretty, high-budget, and as far as I know, there are no paywalled missions. It's a big game you can squeeze a lot out of for free.

Nexon would love it if you paid up to unlock more characters, the battle pass, and expensive cosmetics, but after a few hours working through the campaign, it's nice that I'm not getting nagged to open my wallet. It's also a great time for a free-to-play, low brain activity grindfest to hit. We're in a summer drought for big games, the kiddos are home, and my fellow desert dwellers are holed up during a streak of 100+ degree days. The First Descendant is something to do.

I wager The First Descendant's biggest appeal (beyond its cast of exclusively and comically beautiful supermodels) is how hard it's ripping from Destiny 2's playbook. The creative borrowing goes beyond The Divisions or Warframes of the world—everything from the makeup of The First Descendant's loadouts and gun types, to its premise, social hub, MMO lexicon, iconography, and even its overworlds work exactly the same or very similarly to Destiny's. The parallels are so consistent that a longtime Destiny player could make the switch to The First Descendant without missing a beat.

Unless, of course, gunplay matters to you as much as it matters to me. I'm no Destiny faithful, but the handful of times I've lost a week to exotic grinding and raid attempts, it was Bungie's innate talent for excellent first-person shooting and eye for the little things—the kickback of a hand cannon, feedback on weak spot kills, bullet impact sounds, the confident priming of a scout rifle bolt—that kept me around.

On that front, The First Descendant simply doesn't have the juice.

the first descendant
the first descendant

Nexon's gunplay is good enough for a third-person shooter, but the camera makes it tough to feel the same connection to my cool loot that I get in an FPS. Most of the guns I've used so far sound tinny and weak, a major red flag for an MMO that's all about collecting weapons. Big baddies have little or zero reactions to getting shot in the face 80 times and I estimate I've spent half of my game time so far watching a circle fill in the center of the screen while my Abercrombie mannequin reloads.

I can be hard on third-person shooters sometimes, but man, I hate feeling like I'm shooting with UI instead of with a gun, as if my character doesn't even need to be visible on screen. It takes a Helldivers 2-level of care, with important considerations like reactive recoil management, a hybrid first-person aiming option, and distinctive reloads and sounds for me to form a bond fit for a looter shooter. The First Descendant doesn't seem overly concerned with that stuff, perhaps because it's too busy with quantity to bother with quality.

I tried to care about The First Descendant's story, but eventually I started hammering the skip button.

Good enough

Every mission I've played is a minor variation on killing everything that spawns in a room or defending a position while shooting everything in the room (another thing it has in common with Destiny). I've fought a handful of bosses now and most of them have weirdly relied on the same gimmick of floating balls that you have to shoot to make them vulnerable to your guns. I guess these "immunity spheres" are so common that they're already becoming an inside joke in the community.

Quantity does have its perks: There's so much going on in The First Descendant between its campaign missions, big-budget cutscenes, Strike-like repeatable missions, and endlessly customizable weapon traits. I even like the hero shooter approach with the Descendants themselves.

the first descendant
the first descendant

I've only unlocked my one starter guy who throws grenades and has a gun arm, but I got to test drive a few others in a demo at Summer Game Fest last month. None of the abilities knocked my socks off, but I appreciate they all have their own thing going on, like laying down shields, healing, or speeding around the map. There are 14 Descendants at launch and I'm sure Nexon plans to add to that. That's more than I can say for Destiny's modest class variety.

With better missions, I could see getting the itch to collect 'em all in The First Descendants. Unfortunately, new characters take a long time to unlock for free and otherwise cost $10 a pop. No thanks. It's easy to imagine where Nexon might be hiding progression roadblocks meant to get dedicated players to start paying down the road, but even if that's the case, you could duck out of The First Descendant before that and have still played a decent amount of game for free.

That said, I've had my fill of generic looter shooter for the year. I'd rather play more Suicide Squad.