Descenders is one of the newest entrants into Xbox's Game Preview program, launching on May 15th. Over the weekend, I got to spend some time seeing what the Preview version of the downhill biking title offers right now. I'm not the first TrueAchievements staff member to test out the game, however — THEpaynexkiller and Rebecca tried out Descenders in February and last month at EGX Rezzed respectively — but Descenders has received huge changes since then in the form of the Rogue-Bike Update, which launched simultaneously with the Game Preview version and overhauled many of the game's systems.
The session begins with me outfitting my biker. In addition to the default outfit, there is a green set of clothing emblazoned with the Xbox logo with my gamertag written on the back. Since options are slim right now, I throw on the Xbox digs and set out for the course. But I'm not at the course just yet; the game begins at some sort of hub area. A tutorial informs me I can hit the menu button to begin a riding session, so I do since there doesn't seem to be much going on at the home base just yet.
My fans call me the Jolly Green Giant (probably)
The first location is called the Highlands. More popups inform me I'll have to trek through this zone before I can unlock another. I set out on the first track, which is a breeze, but having seen video of Descenders prior to my play session, I know the easy tracks won't last. Upon completion of the course, a map of the Highlands opens up, and this is where things start to get more interesting. While I didn't get to choose my first track, I now have several options I can choose from to progress. There is a mini description of each track. Some are curvy, others short and stunt-focused, and a number of other options. This is where some of the Rogue-Bike Update starts to come into play; level placement was completely randomized with the update, so another player riding through the Highlands won't have the same experience as me.
I continue through the courses and start to take notice of a few of Descenders' other mechanics. I now realize I have a health bar and can only wipe out so many times before I'll be sent back to my home base — oops, better be a bit more careful. Completing bonus objectives on courses or stopping at a medic station (which randomly come up on the map) will allow me to regenerate one health. However, bonus objectives can be hard, and after fumbling with a few of them, I realized some aren't worth the trouble, at least not for an inexperienced player like myself. More than once I lost more health trying for a bonus objective than what I gained back for completing one. Examples of bonus objectives include completing the course with a fast time, reaching certain speeds, or doing tricks.
Carve your own way through the Highlands
Along with the medic stations added with the Rogue-Bike Update, other new types of courses that can come up include danger zones (pretty much what it sounds like) and the helmet cam, a special type of track where the player rides in first-person perspective. Special modes like these are more challenging, but you'll get more reputation points upon completion, and some of them are a lot of fun too. There are also new crew members that can be unlocked. Think of them like perks; crew members bring special skills to the table like decreasing wobbling or the amount of obstacles that show up on each course. More than 22 crew members were added with the Rogue-Bike Update, and which ones you can choose from are random, so they make each playthrough a little different.
As I continue along, I finally stumble across the boss. Wait, the boss!? This sounds a little out of place in a downhill biking game. After reading the description, I now understand the track is not actually a boss but rather a boss jump. Surviving the boss jump will let me progress to the next zone. I'm not quite confident in my skill level yet, and probably not ready for this jump, but with my other options for the course exhausted, as well as my curiosity piqued about the next area, I go ahead and select the track anyway. I still have four health at this point, so I have a little padding to wipe out a few times. Probably.
In this special track, you don't descend; you ascend
A video fly-through of the course at the beginning of the boss jump lets me see what's ahead. The course looks pretty straightforward until it gets to a massive jump over elevated train tracks. My confidence is wavering. "Now or never," I think to myself. I know I'm going to need a lot of air to make it over the train tracks — heaven forbid the train is actually on the tracks at the time I get there — so I gun it full speed toward the jump. I'm on the ramp. I'm flying through the air. I'm over the train tracks. I'm doing it!
I land, but I wipe out immediately. I forgot about one important factor: the higher you climb, the harder you fall. I actually jumped way too high, and as a result, I couldn't stick the landing without seriously injuring myself. I try again, this time trying to go much slower as I make it to the ramp. I make the jump but wipe out a second time on the landing. I only have one health left. I decide to try a new approach, boldly going where no rider has gone before. I ride around the ramp. I avoid it completely. "This won't work," I think to myself. "It's going to fail me." Surprisingly, it still counted as me beating the boss jump. I'm not sure if that's intentional, as Descenders is in Game Preview. I am now in the Forest, the new area that follows the Highlands.
The Forest offers new scenery over the Highlands
Unfortunately, I could only take one more hit due to my low health — Descenders calls it your 'Last Stand' — so my days in the Forest were numbered. In my brief moments of the first Forest course, I could tell it would be a much more challenging experience than the Highlands. The track was curvier, speedier and had a lot more obstacles in the form of trees; after it all, it is the Forest. My riding session was cut short by a nasty jump through a treehouse structure that took the last of my health.
At the end of the session, I unlocked a bunch of new gear and leveled up through the reputation points I earned. A company even noticed my 'talents' and offered to sponsor me (boy, are they going to be disappointed). When I go to the area selection screen, it lets me know I have to finish the Highlands boss jump two more times, or a total of three times, to be able to unlock a shortcut to the Forest. There are also other zones that I can't get to yet without unlocking them, symbolized by '????' on the selection screen. Determined to actually beat the boss jump in the Highlands without avoiding it like a coward, as well as feeling curious about these new zones, I hit 'Play' once more.
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