Various countries going to war and dropping bombs on each other isn't a particularly new concept, and many games, movies, and books have explored how we continue as a species in the aftermath of such a cataclysmic event. The Descendent is one of those, an episodic adventure that seeks to explore this particular setting. Is it worth descending into this game's mysteries, or does it fail to survive its own atomic blast?
The Descendant takes place in a world ravaged by nuclear war, with the aftermath of the warheads wiping out a large portion of humanity. The solution to this crisis came in the form of Arks, giant underground bases that would hold the best and brightest of humanity. This totals only 4,000 people, plus a few "janitors" for each facility to help take care of the Ark and make sure nothing goes horribly wrong to the descendants. In the game, you'll be taking control of two different characters. Mia is the janitor assigned to Ark-01 in Alaska, and her story takes place three years after the bombs drop, though there's something off with her that gives the impression that she's not quite supposed to be there. The other character you play as is Donnie, a janitor from another shelter sent to Ark-01 to try and discover why that Ark hasn't been woken up like the others thousands of years after the nukes dropped.
What follows is a compelling story that just takes a little too long to get going. The first episode and a good chunk of the second seem a little too reluctant to move the plot along, rather spending its time setting up more and more world building. Still, once it does get going, The Descendant really drew me in. The mystery of the facility, and what the real purpose of Ark-01 is, was a compelling thing. The characters that accompany each playable character were also great additions, each having their own mysteries. Mia gets stuck with Silas, another janitor who seems a little too obsessed with caring for the descendants for a mysterious reason, while Donnie travels with Senator Randolph, who has his own agenda when it comes to helping the trapped descendants.
There are some pages pulled out of Telltale's playbook, and talking to and interacting with characters will serve as a good chunk of the game. You'll also be making a few important decisions, some of which will ultimately decide who will live and who will die. Many choices involve the descendants and how many of the chosen ones will actually be waking up from their artificial sleep. Ark-01 has about 118 descendants in it, and many of your choices will decide if they live or if some of them need to be sacrificed. It's a neat way to see how you've been doing, and at the end of the game I couldn't help but wonder if I could have saved more.
While conversation and dialogue choices play a role, The Descendants is a puzzler at heart. By the end of my ten hours with the game, I had reassembled piping, reorganized crates, and solved some basic logic puzzles. It's a good chunk of puzzles, and I was often surprised by how much I enjoyed some of them. One particularly cool task saw me playing as Donnie with a detailed sheet of instructions on how to reset a generator, having to slowly read instructions to Randolph and double check the information he relays over a phone to make sure I'm giving the right advice. Still, not all puzzles or activities are winners, naturally. The end of the game saw these weird and ill-fitting endless runner segments that weren't really fun, but overall I at least had more puzzles I enjoyed than hated.
When you're not solving puzzles, you'll be wandering around the environment either finding items to continue or just generally exploring. Sadly, finding items often felt like a pain. It turned into a pixel hunt at times, just running laps around areas until I pick up the random tool I missed the first few times. Often I would have to backtrack or take strange routes just to find some item on the ground somewhere. It felt less like natural puzzle work and more like padding the game out a few more minutes by hiding what's needed to advance. Still, it at least doesn't happen often enough to really distract me, but whenever it did come up I couldn't help but groan.
Graphically, The Descendant didn't really stand out from any other game. It looks nice enough, though the entire game taking place in the same area means that there's no real artistic changes or standouts. One issue I had with the first episode, which involved some terrible voice acting, got fixed with all the voice actors being replaced and lines from the first episode being re-recorded. Now all the actors are of a higher quality, and there's no longer a few stand out terrible voices. I had a few problems with glitches in The Descendant, one problem I wish wasn't carried over from Telltale games. It's not quite as bad, but there were still a few instances of stuttering or odd animations. The absolute worse was when the game deleted all my data from the first episode when I went to start the second, but eventually, I got through it again and I never had another similar issue.
I'm glad I noticed The Descendant, as what I found was a pleasant surprise. A nice alternative to Telltale's series, The Descendant has a good story and choices, but also brings in a nice chunk of puzzles to keep things a little more leaning towards classic adventure games. If it's a genre you enjoy, then it's worth descending.
The Descendant was reviewed on a PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developers.
Providing a solid story and some interesting puzzles, The Descendant does a good job taking notes from Telltale's adventure games while still bringing its own ideas in.
- Strong Story
- Interesting and Smart Puzzles
- Great Voice Acting
- Occasional Pixel Hunt
- Story Slow to Start