Having spent a good few hours with The First Descendant on PS5 — ahead of its open beta release later this month — we're happy to report that this free-to-play shooter seems to have a solid base to build upon. Very reminiscent of Destiny in terms of structure, we didn't quite have time to dig into finer details, but the gameplay clicked almost immediately thanks to buttery smooth controls and a near constant supply of loot (even if we did end up spending a touch too much time rummaging through equipment menus).
Unlike Bungie's ongoing saga, The First Descendant is a third-person escapade, and you play as pre-defined heroes as opposed to making your own. Being free-to-play, this is obviously intended to be the game's hook, as you'll need to grind specific objectives and materials in order to unlock additional characters — all of whom come equipped with their own unique abilities.
Unfortunately, in our relatively brief time with the preview build, we couldn't get a proper feel for how demanding this process actually is. As is the case with any title flaunting a free price tag, you can only assume that there'll be a catch — and the game's extravagant character select menu, complete with lovingly animated models, does its best to convince you that true happiness is always within reach.
But we're trying not to be too cynical here, because as mentioned, The First Descendant plays well (and it looks great, thanks to Unreal Engine 5 and some tight art direction). Regardless of your starting hero, there's an emphasis on mobility; movement speed is fairly fast, you can double jump from the off, and you have a snappy grappling hook that immediately adds some verticality to both exploration and encounters. It's the kind of game where experienced players will be able to perform some impressive acrobatics, all while scoring headshots and avoiding enemy fire.
The shooting itself felt a little too twitchy at first, but a quick rejig of the game's in-depth sensitivity settings had us blasting like nobody's business. Baddies tend to spawn in surprisingly large waves, and so the action rarely lets up during a mission. Fortunately, your chosen Descendant is tanky be default, and your inherent mobility means that you can run rings around most opponents. What's more, your character abilities give you an edge — and they're really the glue that holds combat together.
Now, these abilities aren't necessarily original — our chosen hero, Ajax, comes with a pretty standard shield wall — but reasonably short cooldowns mean that you're popping them every five to ten seconds or so, once you've got all four of them unlocked. It makes for a nice flow, and it helps that each ability feels useful in the moment-to-moment carnage. There's also scope for tactical teamwork if you're playing alongside (up to three) friends, synchronising your skills to destroy an oncoming horde.
The First Descendant is fundamentally fun, then, but we do have a couple of concerns. The first is that in between missions — which you pick up from beacons scattered across the map — there's nothing to hold your attention. Enemies only seem to spawn during said missions, and so you can spend minutes at a time just sprinting from one map marker to the next, maybe breaking open a few resource boxes on the way. We would hope there's more to the experience once servers are better populated and we're tackling increasingly dangerous objectives.
Our second concern is with the overall mission design. It's very much a case of chasing on-screen icons and carrying out straightforward tasks like defending an area. During the preview, this supposed lack of creativity didn't hit us too hard because the core gameplay kept us engaged, but we do wonder whether the grind for character levels and better gear will eventually be hamstrung by repetitive quests.
Overall, though, The First Descendant shows promise. If its free-to-play model is respectful, and the gameplay holds up across much longer sessions, then it could well be worth checking out if you enjoy elements of games like Destiny or Warframe.
The First Descendant's open beta launches for PS5 on the 19th September, but will you be giving it a shot? Lock and load in the comments section below.