THE FINALS Preview: "One to watch"
It's been a long while since a brand new free-to-play shooter was able to break into the regular evening routine of gamers around the world. Apex Legends managed it with a stealth reveal that turned the Battle Royale world on its head. VALORANT arrived with the esports pedigree of Riot Games at the wheel. It seems that if a developer wants to carve out some precious time from the evening of a first-person shooter player, there had better be something extremely special on offer.
THE FINALS is the latest game from Embark Studios, a team of veteran shooter developers that's based in Stockholm, Sweden. That's significant because Stockholm is also home to one of Sweden's other big development studios: DICE. Famous for creating the Battlefield series, five of these developers split from the company in 2018 to create a new team with their own vision.
Now a company of over 250 on the team and with two projects on the go, Embark is ready to reveal what it has in store for us, and it comes in the form of THE FINALS.
- Want to try THE FINALS for yourself? Here's everything you need to know about THE FINALS Closed Beta.
What is THE FINALS?
While the team at Embark explains that it was reluctant to make another first-person shooter, it couldn't stay away from its roots for too long. THE FINALS is a free-to-play, first-person shooter that revolves around environmental dynamism, destruction, and player freedom. Whenever a game developer uses buzzwords like these, they can often feel empty. From a brief hands on with a preview build of THE FINALS, this might be one of those few times they ring true.
You play as a contestant in THE FINALS, a violent game show setting on the world stage. Here, you're fighting for fame, riches, and seasonal sponsors. Embark was honest with its inspirations, claiming that the likes of The Hunger Games, Squid Game, and Formula 1 all had a part to play in the brainstorming sessions.
Matches consist of eight-minute rounds where players must fight to take control of cash deposit boxes. Two of these spawn at the start of the match, and must be transported to one of two cashout stations. Once delivered, you must defend the deposit box until it's successfully extracted. Otherwise, another team of three could take the deposit for themselves and steal all of the cash.
The team with the most amount of cash at the end of the round wins. However, there's also a knock-out style ranked mode which sees 16 teams of three compete in a bracketed tournament. In each match, the two teams with the most cash go through to the next round before an ultimate winner is decided in a final showdown.
- Here is everything we know about THE FINALS gameplay details, trailers, and more.
What makes THE FINALS so different?
So, now you know the basic premise of THE FINALS, what makes the game different from any other shooter? Well, it all comes down to a few ambitious ideas that Embark is trying that will either elevate it above the competition, or crush it under their own curiosity.
During matches, you enter detailed maps that are more like virtual playgrounds based on real-world locations. We fought across two maps in the preview, including a set of high-rise skyscrapers above the streets of Seoul, and the sunbaked backstreets of Monaco.
In typical Battlefield fashion, these maps are totally destructible. Walls, ceilings, and objects can all be laid to waste with a variety of explosive weapons, gadgets, and items scattered around the map. Games have had destruction in them before, but never on this scale.
To make things even more impressive, Embark has figured out how to handle all of this destruction on the server side. That means that all of the destruction witnessed in a match will be exactly the same for all players in real-time. It should also alleviate the associated performance issues that usually crop up with an experimental gameplay feature such as this.
In addition, these maps are dynamic in the sense that they also have random day-night cycles, weather events, and interactable objects like elevators. If you were a fan of the high-rise elevators on Siege of Shanghai in Battlefield 4, imagine those but with a Rush M-COM inside them. It paves the way for ultimate chaos.
THE FINALS progression system is refreshing
Whisper it, but I'm a bit tired of the hero shooter trope. Having to learn how individual characters interact with each other from a gameplay perspective ends up getting a bit tiring as new shooters join the roster. And if you don't learn the team dynamics from the start, good luck getting involved six seasons down the line when even more heroes are added.
Thankfully, THE FINALS has a progression and loadout system that's rather refreshing. Embark describes it as a "hero builder, not a hero shooter", where players can build up a character that best suits their playstyle. To start, players must choose either a Light, Medium, or Heavy character base. As you can infer, the Heavy character models move much more slowly but have larger health pools. Alternatively, Light characters are nimble and have more traversal equipment, but have squishy health pools to counteract that.
From there, players can equip a primary weapon of their choosing along with up to three gadgets of their choice. If you're someone who likes to zip around the map at lightning speed, then a Light character with an SMG and a grappling hook might be a good build for you. Alternatively, a Heavy build with an LMG and explosive devices might be a better choice if you like to pack a punch.
THE FINALS is still in the early beta stages of development, so plenty of balancing work is still needed. However, it already feels like a breath of fresh air. Tailoring a loadout to a certain playstyle is what I loved about the Battlefield series - this brings back that feeling but modernised for an age of free-to-play team shooters.
To top it all off, the player customisation here is excellent. Players can customise every single item of clothing their character wears, and some of the designs are already off-the-wall wacky. If Embark sticks to its guns and ensures that nothing related to gameplay ends up behind a paywall, it seems like THE FINALS might just have a strong live-service model laid out ahead of it.
What is THE FINALS actually like to play?
You now know about what the package of THE FINALS has to offer, but what is it actually like to play? From match to match, THE FINALS feels fast-paced and competitive, which is a vital feeling in this genre to get right.
What's more, there are plenty of different strategy options for teams to take. Do they go straight for the deposit boxes, or choose to camp out around a cashout station? Do you choose to approach with an all-out frontal assault, or sit back in the shadows and pounce at the last possible moment?
Throughout our two-hour play session, we had plenty of fun working out how to best build our team composition and navigate through each match. On more than one occasion, our matches came down to the wire with us stealing a cashout station at the very last second, going from the bottom of the leaderboard to the top.
Because the time-to-kill isn't instantaneous a la VALORANT or Rainbow Six Siege, you're given much more opportunity to coordinate with your team while involved in teamfights. To my knowledge, there are only Overwatch and Apex Legends that are capable of invoking such an intense level of teamplay while involved in the heat of battle. From our limited playtime so far, I'd easily put THE FINALS up there as a contender amongst them.
THE FINALS isn't perfect
While there is a lot of positivity to glean from THE FINALS, there are still a few concerns. Beyond basic balancing issues, like the healing beam that could keep a player up in even the most disastrous of enemy fire, THE FINALS seemed to really struggle with performance on my PC. Even with an i9 CPU and an RTX 3080, the game chugged to a slow 20fps in the most heated of battles. This ended up affecting aiming and movement capabilities, which threatened our enjoyment of the game overall.
It's worth noting that we were playing on NA servers from our location in Europe. Given that a lot of THE FINALS relies on cloud technology, this could have had an impact. I'm excited to see how the game shakes out when playing against opponents on this side of the Atlantic.
Of course, it's still in early beta, so we have to assume that plenty will be changed before it ships to the public. Thankfully, Embark seems to be well ahead of the curve with feedback, already changing plenty of variables between our preview build and the closed beta that goes live next week.
THE FINALS is a promising first showing of what's to come
As mentioned at the top of this preview, the free-to-play shooter market is an incredibly tough one to crack. You could have the most entertaining game in the world, but without a live-service plan to back it up, it will be a flash in the pan. Likewise, even the best-laid plans are put to waste if the core gameplay loop turns sour after a few rounds.
Thankfully, the expert pedigree of the minds behind Embark Studios seems to have struck gold with their initial concept of THE FINALS. There are a few technical kinks to iron out, but if all goes to plan, we could be looking at the latest free-to-play shooter that's here to stay.
For more THE FINALS news and guides, keep reading GGRecon.