While your opinions on Telltale may vary, there's no denying that they've kickstarted their own genre of story-heavy adventure-lite episodic games. The Descendant's first episode, Aftermath, sets the stage for another one of these types of game. Is The Descendant actually worth checking out, or is the first episode only setting up a bad time?
Aftermath takes place during two different time periods. After a global war that ends with nukes being dropped humanity has been dropped down to four thousand lucky Descendants who are considered the best of the best. These Descendants have been in cryosleep all over the world for centuries and have been taken care of by the Janitors, who are the doctors and engineers who care for the Descendants. One of the arks that house the Descendants (Ark-01 in Alaska) hasn't been activated yet and two people get sent over to see why. When they get there, they find a wrecked station and no sign of anybody. You'll be playing just a mere three years after the world ends to see how everything went down, and in the investigation centuries later.
The game alternates between two playable characters. Donnie is the Janitor sent to check on Ark-01 and with him is Senator Randolph who insists on being there for political reasons. Opposite to the two of them is Mia, the Janitor who is woken up three years after being put into sleep to help keep Ark-01 operational. You switch between them at story intervals and both of them get about the same amount of attention given to them. There's enough time to develop each character and get you interested in their plight, but the episode's short running time (only about two hours) means there's not enough to get more than that. It's a good setup, but it's the first episode, and there's no major twists or revealing scenes.
As usual for these types of games, conversation and dialogue choices are important. What you say to the characters in the game is probably going to change outcomes in future episodes. They will not, however, change outcomes much in this episode. For the most part, everything on the dialogue front leads to about the same conclusion. There are pop ups of "X will remember that" similar to Telltale's games, but it seems we'll be holding until next episode until we find out how much they remember and how important that is.
Usually, these games go through its action scenes with quick time events, but there's only a single QTE in the game and the game's sole "action" scene is more about solving puzzles and moving through the environment quickly. Aftermath is noticeably more puzzle oriented than your usual Telltale affair. There are several times where gameplay shifts into a pixel hunt, which is a bit of a shame as they don't work well and aren't very interesting. Thankfully, that's not often enough to really drive a player nuts. Puzzles in Aftermath never felt that difficult nor unrelated to the context they were in. Attaching wires, unscrewing pipes, and shutting off steam valves are the order of the day here. During one of Mia's segments, you have to do these rather quickly, as the lives of several Descendants depends on you fixing a water heater as soon as possible.
The drama is aided by a decent soundtrack that knows when to kick in and mostly good voice acting. Mia's Janitor buddy Silas is the one exception here, as most of the time it feels like his voice acting is ranging between "not really interested in being there" and "actively can't pronounce his lines". Still, everyone else is well done, with performances that helped invest me in the drama that much more.
Aftermath is the first of five planned episodes, and I'm interested to see where The Descendant goes from here. I've always held that one of the best things I could say about an episodic game is "I can't wait to buy the next episode" and sure enough, I'm saying it here. There are some rough edges, I'm hoping episode 2 cuts some of the worse pixel hunting challenges and advances the story more than Aftermath did, but whatever it does I'm going to be there to see it.
The Descendant - Episode 1: Aftermath was reviewed on Steam using a code provided by the developer.
The Descendants' first episode has some issues, but they can mostly be ignored by fans of the adventure-lite genre that Telltale established.