Descenders is an interesting and intriguing early access game on Steam. The title touts itself as an “extreme downhill freeriding experience for the modern era”.
For the most part, it certainly delivers on that promise.
Featuring procedurally generated worlds, you are always doing something new in the game thanks to each run being slightly different than the last. Plus, with the harsh difficulty of the game, you’ll likely find yourself working quite awhile to get through even the limited selection of rides currently available.
So is it worth it to give Descenders a try despite the early access tag? Read on to find out…
What I Liked
- The Gameplay – The gameplay reminds me a lot of Trials, just if Trials were 3-D and an open-ish world on bicycles. You definitely feel like you have control of the action (so long as you are using a controller). The physics and such aren’t hyper realistic, but they are video-game solid. That is to say, they react to your inputs and everything makes logical sense as you do it so you can feel like it’s you making it up or down the courses, and meeting goals or not. The sense of speed and control is never lost and it’s great. The basics here are well done and are a good foundation for future growth.
- Course Variety – The courses are all really varied and every time you open up a level the game really gives you something different to try. This is all really good and will keep things fresh well into the future.
- Using a Controller As the Input – Using a controller really made the game stand out and gave it the needed boost vs. using the keyboard controls…which, never go full keyboard.
- Trick System – I am writing this assuming even more depth is coming here eventually. What is here is pretty cool and allows you to string together combos and tricks in a way that makes a lot of sense. It’s quite simple for now and that may be how the devs like it — but the potential number of combos you can string together is still quite large. The whole “simple on the surface deep to master” rule is at play here.
- Soundtrack – The soundtrack has a lot of great music on it. I’m actually very impressed with the lineup and quality of the tracks. Kudos for this small but important touch.
- The Rep System – I like the Rep system as it really does give you bonuses or punishments based upon your skill. Ultimately, this takes a holistic approach to how you finish (or not finish) your runs. Did you meet your goals? Did you wreck? Did you quit before finishing? I think this system has real potential as a genre-defining idea. There’s loads of potential here.
- The Teams and Leaderboards – On the surface I like the idea of joining teams and having leaderboards for each on a global scale. The teams (Arboreal, Enemy, and Kinetic) each offer unique bonuses which you can explore fully as you go. From a multiplayer standpoint, this certainly seems like a unique way to add a bit of dynamism to the game that’s missing in other similar titles.
- The Tension is Real – There’s a lot to like about how the game is just hard. There’s no way around this fact and while you will be frustrated, you never feel the game is too unfair towards you. The system set up is entirely fair but definitely harsh. Which leads me into some of the things I wasn’t so fond of within the game…
What I Didn’t Like
- The Life System – I don’t mind the idea, I just don’t know if I like the execution. Basically, you only get a few times to mess up for a series of runs on a level, and if you fail it’s back to the start. On one hand, this is a fine system and necessary “for realism”. On the other, you can’t really separate yourself from this to just ride around and work on your skills. I get the why behind the Life System, as it adds an important area of tension to runs and forces you to really focus in. However, there’s already enough tension just trying to survive the runs and complete goals in many instances and improving your skills in a meaningful sense simply means failing over and over and over again. While I appreciate the ability to generate new health by completing objectives, it just seems to make finishing any individual level super hard. My beef isn’t that the Life system should be taken out, I do think it probably should be a little less onerous or there should be some more fully fleshed out mode apart from the main one to allow for a more casual riding experience with no rep or life system to hone your skills in the worlds generated within the game. The small training area just doesn’t cut it for that purpose.
- Lack Of A Fully Open World – This is likely a future update of some kind (I hope) but having an open world to string together runs on, or create your own, really seems like a missed opportunity even at the launch of Descenders. What is in the game is fine, but we are to the point where games like this kind should have an open world to play in.
- Physics Wonkiness – Overall the game behaves as it should, but this is an early access game, and you will run into moments where the physics just go haywire and result in you basically needing to restart a run. There have already been updates to help fix some of this, and I’m sure in the future this will continue to be worked out.
- OMG The Hay Bales – They do not like you. They are not your friend. I think they’re secretly an old torture technique from the 17th century. In reality, it’s like the devs said, “You know our game is really stupid hard but you know what would make it harder? Random hay bales that just come out of nowhere to wreck your run for no reason.”
- Don’t Use a Keyboard – For the sake of reviewing the game, I used the keyboard controls a few runs and I’m still trying to recover from the misery that caused.
- It’s Still Bare Bones – At the end of the day, the biggest knock against Descenders is it just doesn’t have much meat on it still beyond the basics. The core of the game is definitely playable and there’s surprisingly quite a bit to explore and master here given its early access title status. But there’s some much needed depth in a variety of new modes that isn’t quite there yet.
At the end of the day, Descenders is an early access game that’s just beginning its journey on Steam. That means there are going to be bugs, incomplete ideas and some gameplay elements that aren’t working the way they probably eventually will.
What is here is fun and has loads of potential. If this were a final product, it’d be quite disappointing in that it shows a lot of potential at the core but there’s just not much to do beyond the basics. If you want to invest in a developer that has a great idea and is executing it pretty well, get in on this game now.
If, however, you want a final and fully polished product to test your mettle against, avoid this one for now but keep your eye on what the final product ends up looking like, as the potential is there for Descenders to be a gem.