We played the FPS with unlimited destruction, and it's just as chaotic and glorious as you imagine

the finals concept art
(Image credit: Embark Studios)

We were warned before our first match of The Finals, the debut multiplayer FPS from Embark Studios that's been touting its impressive destruction tech since last year, that it'd take a while to learn how to use the freeform destruction to its fullest. Yea right (I thought), I've played Battlefield. I've got thousands of hours in the most destructible FPS around, Rainbow Six Siege—I know the value of making a new door with C4.

I was quickly humbled when, in the middle of nervously depositing cash on an exposed rooftop, the Embark developer on my squad suggested we get out of the open by simply blowing a hole below the cash box, dropping it inside of the building where we could easily defend. My brain could not compute—this is a central capture point instrumental in winning the match, and we can just move it around with explosives?

That's one of the ways that The Finals is bending the rules of the multiplayer FPS—trading rigid map design that can be studied, practiced, and mastered for concrete jungles that can be chopped, chewed up, or swiss cheesed into piles of physics objects. The Finals is Battlefield by way of Prey 2017, which is to say its systems are messy and malleable in ways that can conjure memorable moments, but also frustrate those looking for an exacting competitive shooter.

I'm a little worried The Finals' premise of a tournament-style game show is sending the wrong message to folks who spend their nights queuing up for ranked in Apex Legends or Valorant. I had the most fun in The Finals when I stopped taking it seriously and embraced the mayhem. 

Class room

Embark has talked a lot about how The Finals is aggressively different from other popular shooters of the moment. I've been curious what that means beyond destruction, and here's a cool example: you don't pick a hero and equipment isn't gated by strict roles. It's sort of like if the class-specific gadgets of Team Fortress 2 or Battlefield were distilled into three broader body types (light, medium, and heavy). Each body type can be outfitted to be several archetypes.

Light characters are:

  • Quicker, but have less health
  • Can use SMGs, shotguns, sniper rifles, and light melee weapons
  • Can bring movement or stealth gadgets, like a grapple hook or cloak
  • Physically smaller, harder to hit

Medium characters are:

  • Balanced in health and speed
  • Can use assault rifles and grenade launchers
  • The only class that can heal teammates or scan for enemies
  • Can bring some explosives

Heavy characters are:

  • All health and no speed
  • Can use LMGs, heavy shotguns, and heavy melee
  • Specialize in destruction with RPGs, C4, and an ability to run through walls
  • Can optionally bring a shield to tank for the team

I'm pretty into this setup. It feels great to build a loadout again in an FPS that isn't Call of Duty and I love that the body types are distinct enough that our 3-person squad had to talk about who's gonna heal and who's gonna blow stuff up, but gave me enough wiggle room to never get boxed into a loadout I didn't like. There's so much flexibility that your single slot for a gun doesn't even have to have to be a gun at all. I had more luck rushing enemies with a sledgehammer than picking them off with an LMG. The melee playstyle was even more potent when combining the knife and invisibility cloak on a light build (backstabs were instant kills). 

You can feel the DICE legacy everywhere in The Finals. Guns have a similar time-to-kill as Battlefield. Sprinting, reloading, and vaulting are as quick and seamless as BF1 and BF5. Exploded walls chunk up in a very Bad Company 2 sorta way and I could feel Battlefield 4 muscle memory kicking in bouncing grenades around corners. The two maps we played (Monaco and Seoul) are stylized with harsh shadows, saturated colors, and abundant glass windows that'd feel at home in a Mirror's Edge 3. 

Tech tension

Something that doesn't feel very Battlefield, and part of the reason I gravitated toward melee weapons in our preview session, are the guns. They feel sluggish and a little wimpy, and I can't put my finger on why. It could've been that the heavy class has too much health, or that our mix of US and European players made for laggy firefights. Maybe servers have a low tick rate to account for all that destruction computation. I suspect most of it came down to my PC's performance, which wasn't spectacular on a RTX 3060 and Ryzen 7 5700 CPU.

I struggled to keep a steady 50-60fps, with regular drops to the 30s when 100 tons of wood and concrete succumbed to gravity. That's with DLSS on performance mode and graphics set to medium-low. A bummer for sure, but I'll take the sea of "TBD" on the Steam page system requirements to mean there's still a lot of optimization to do before release day. The freedom to destroy definitely comes with a cost—one large enough that it's clear why most shooters are content with sturdy, unbreakable walls.

Besides a few glorious moments of wreckage, like the time I RPG'ed the floor above mine to unexpectedly drop an enemy to my level and hammer them in the face, I can't say that my early matches of the Finals would've been that different with unbreakable walls either. It's certainly novel and fun to Kool-Aid man through walls or blow up a beautiful facade for the sake of it, but it was rarely necessary. It's not really like Rainbow Six Siege, where every wall matters because everyone's stuck in a single concrete box—The Finals moves fast, and you're rarely in one building long enough for its structural integrity to matter.

After a while, I stopped actively thinking about the destruction and let it become a background track to regular FPS firefights. It was actually when I started treating The Finals like any other shooter that the dynamism of its maps would sneak up on me.

More than potential demolition, The Finals maps are also littered with ziplines, elevators, toxic gas canisters, and barrels of goo that expand and harden into makeshift walls, bridges, or scalable platforms. There's a Source engine quality to these throwables that I love (all that's missing is a gravity gun), though I didn't get much use out of them after a few hours.

One thing I'm sure about after the closed press preview: The Finals that I played last week will probably be significantly different than the game that comes out. Class balance was wonky and some abilities seemed wildly overpowered, but the details are all up in the air in this pre-release period. Case in point: just hours after our session, Embark had already shared a list of planned balancing changes for the March 7 closed beta, including toning down the heal gun that healed a little too well.

My fun with The Finals came with a lot of asterisks. The fundamentals are strong and it has a mid-2000s arena shooter spirit that I automatically want to root for. If Embark can smooth over performance and keep up with balance tweaks, it could be the first new multiplayer FPS in years worth sticking with.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.