Last weekend, Steam users were able to check out the PC beta for The First Descendant, the first Unreal Engine 5 game to become publically available (unless you count Fortnite, that is).
The First Descendant is an online cooperative action RPG developed by NEXON in the vein of games like Outriders or The Division 2. To learn more about the setting, mechanics, and the developer's experience with the shiny Unreal Engine 5 technology, we arranged an email Q&A with the development team. You can read the full transcript below.
As a reminder, The First Descendant will also be available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S|X.
Can you explain the meaning behind the title 'The First Descendant'?
First of all, I should tell you the game's story. The Ingris continent, where humans live, was invaded by alien invaders called the Vulgus and was on the verge of destruction. Humans managed to escape the crisis, but the invasion continues. In this situation, the player realizes a mysterious power through awakening. The Descendants were destined to save mankind in a moment of crisis with the power inherited from the ancestors of the past. As a result, players are called Descendants, meaning those that inherited the ancestors' powers, and are given the mission to protect humanity. So, it can be said that The First Descendant symbolizes the player's role in the game.
What were the inspirations for the fictional world seen in this game?
First of all, visually, we were influenced by numerous dystopian and post-apocalypse content as the setting is in a world on the brink of extinction. Various content such as Blame (animation, comics) and the Metal Gear Solid series also influenced our game visuals, not just the looter shooter and FPS genres. Based on the inspiration, we tried to create new visuals.
Many PvE shooter game masterpieces inspired us in terms of gameplay. The battles of classic masterpieces, like the Doom and the Halo series, inspired us a lot. In addition, we think that many games, movies, animations, etc., that our team loves inspired us a lot without us knowing it.
How long has The First Descendant been in development? How many developers are working on it?
We started working on the title in the Spring of 2019. That's when our code name was decided as well. We currently have around 150 people on our development team, and this number is increasing. If you include the other departments like the QA, there are more people who help are helping with the development (the Steam beta included Credits, so you could see how many people worked on the game.)
To what extent is it possible to customize a player character's skillsets?
The characters' stats and abilities are all pre-defined by default. Thus, the essential roles of the characters are also fixed. Therefore, it is pre-determined if a character is melee oriented or not.
In the Steam beta, character skills could only be enhanced in a certain way, but we are discussing whether to allow players to change a character's skill function in the future. If this is added, players can specialize their characters in various ways.
Are there character levels in The First Descendant?
Yes, we do have levels. Each character has a level. The level will increase character stats, unlock/enhance skills, and provide other benefits.
How will the loot system work?
In the game, players can obtain rewards in various ways, such as item drops by defeating monsters, mission rewards, and boss raids. There are some randomly set elements in this acquisition process, but they will not all be RNG. The First Descendant is designed to reward players in proportion to the time invested by the player rather than having them given out randomly. As for the significant rewards like characters and weapons, we designed it so that it would take more time to collect a variety of them than to get one specific one.
Of course, various items in the game require grinding. It may take more time if players want to get some of these with specific options or features. However, the development team wanted to make it possible for many players to collect characters and enable character growth in various ways if they put in the time.
Is there crafting in The First Descendant?
Yes, we do have crafting in our game. Some of the items were available in the Steam beta. Some contents will require you to craft new items by collecting materials or dismantling/combining new items. However, it is not a crafting-oriented game.
How many weapons are there?
During the Steam beta, eleven classes of guns were available in various designs. Each gun has different usability, so you can choose a gun that suits your taste.
Can you explain the difference between scenario missions and World Missions? How long are these expected to last?
The story mission can be called a campaign. Players will have to clear them to proceed with the gameplay. In the beta test, there was about 15 hours worth of story missions. Moreover, the world mission is a co-op mission. It's a complex and challenging mission in which players must team up. World missions also appear one by one as you clear story missions.
How many maps are in the game? Are there any procedural generation elements to missions and/or maps?
We had three maps along with the city of Albion during the Steam beta, and I assure you that we'll have more maps for the official release of The First Descendant. Some procedural elements are introduced exclusively for the missions. The development team will check the players' sentiments from the beta and reorganize the development direction based on the sentiments/feedback.
Will there be cross-play between the various platforms?
We have ambitious goals to support cross-play and cross-progression. The goal is to ensure that your progress is shared no matter which platform or device you play our game.
What was your experience with Unreal Engine 5 as a developer? Is it ready for primetime development yet?
We started developing The First Descendant with the latest version of Unreal Engine 4. Unreal Engine 5 was released during our development, and our Dev team became highly interested in its visual quality. Although I was a bit concerned since the development had already progressed a lot at this point, I decided to boldly upgrade our game to Unreal Engine 5 for the best visual quality.
The main reason for the upgrade is the Nanite and Lumen of Unreal Engine 5. In particular, we believe that the lighting quality provided by Luman, a Real-time Global Illumination solution, is essential for next-gen projects. Now, everyone on the team is delighted with the results.
However, we have performance issues on last-gen devices like PS4, Xbox One, and low-end PCs. As for Lumen, it boasts excellent quality but requires high specs, so we had with the optimization.
During the upcoming Steam beta, you can see the results with a certain degree of optimization and quality established based on the recommended specifications. And on low-end PCs, we use LPV (Light Propagation Volumes) instead of Lumen to optimize and match the quality. Since the version of GI developed with UE4 was LPV, I think it was possible because we were somewhat prepared. However, as the focus is still on optimization, quality enhancement is still a challenge for us. We are working on PS4 and Xbox One optimization through LPV support.
Will there be any ray tracing support in the game? What about upscaling techniques like DLSS 3, FSR 2, or Intel XeSS on PC?
We will, of course, support ray tracing. However, for various reasons, the recent beta only supported UE5's software ray tracing. Moreover, for the upscaling, we'll support DLSS, FSR, and Intel's XeSS. FRS and XeSS will all be up to date, and we'll support up to DLSS 2. As for DLSS 3, we have plans to support it at a later date.
Is there anything else you would like to add about The First Descendant?
We really want to talk about The First Descendant's monetization model. After the official reveal, we were surprised that there was a lot of concern about the monetization model of Nexon's games. We are well aware that the direction of the game and target market tendencies that we pursue are different from those of Asian games, and that is why there is no plan to induce excessive payment.
The characters, equipment, and stages needed to play the game will all be earned as a reward for the gameplay. There will be paid products, but they will not deviate much from the monetization model of games of the same genre. The most important thing for us is to create a fun live service game that the players long love.
Thank you for your time.