Crucible is a new free-to-play third-person shooter from Amazon Games’ Relentless Studios. On the surface, the game really looks like Overwatch, or even Apex Legends, but playing it feels far more like the humble MOBA. The game got off to a rocky start, but as a whole, Crucible suffers far more at the hands of reimagined takes on old genres than it does real flaws.
Set in a mysterious alien world, players choose a character (or hunter) and are dropped into a circular battlefield. In Crucible’s main mode Heart of the Hives (which is now Crucible’s only mode) players drop in as part of a team of four, with the aim of levelling up, collecting and utilising bonuses around the map, eliminating opponents, and capturing heart-based objectives. If you’re eliminated, you’re simply dropped back onto the map at a spawn of your choice and you keep going. All the basics of a team shooter are here – so where does the MOBA part come in?
Well, it’s in the smaller details. Levelling, for example, changes on the build you pick. You have to farm XP (essence) from AI creatures on the map, and winning depends on having a strong build and a solid plan, rather than good aim.
If you’re looking at the game at just a surface level, it’s pretty gorgeous. Bright landscapes, fun character designs, and curious creatures means that I can’t really complain nor add to the visual experience of Crucible. The world’s construction is intriguing and absorbing with many little nooks and crannies to have a look around – that is when you’re not being shot at. The real critiques and comments made about the game lie in the way it plays.
The team shooter has launched to some very mixed reviews. Without getting too much into the opinions of others (I’m looking at you Steam reviews) the middle ground often boils down to appreciating the concepts but feeling like certain aspects of the game lack attention. As I am writing this review, Relentless Studios has acknowledged it has fallen short of expectations, and as such is removing two modes from the game.
As it says on this improvements roadmap, the studio is removing Alpha Hunters and Harvester Commander to let Heart of the Hives take centre stage. The extra modes may make an appearance at a later date, but Heart of the Hives is really the main mode and format Crucible is focussed on – and within a competitive setting this is absolutely the right call.
Although the extra modes are fun, refining the elements of the game and moulding the abilities and levelling of the hunters around the most competitive mode is the most important first step. The first Overwatch games outside of beta had Bastion dominating games as players didn’t know how to deal with the robot, and the same goes for navigating around and focussing Torbjorn’s turrets.
Years have passed and Overwatch fans know now how to master Bastion but it took time for players to understand the process behind each and every mechanic. Crucible needs the same process and the same time for it to thrive, and having these crucial elements split over three modes wasn’t exactly helpful. Balancing, for the most part, is really very solid – Relentless had clearly considered hard counters, levelling differences, and the builds of each hunter.
Ultimately, the game’s characters and their mechanics hold the key to Crucible’s competitive success. Like other MOBA’s out there, last hits reign supreme in Crucible, and getting them right is quite the art. In games like League of Legends, gold and XP give you the tools you need to come into the late game strong and defeat your opponents, but Crucible goes back to basics with these ideas. Crucible’s creep kills and harvesters (essence generators) mean you have the same objective ideas as MOBAs, just in a simpler format compared to some of the others on the market. Plus, in Crucible, your team levels up together, so it’s not as frustrating when a teammate jumps in and steals your kill.
Essence is also what you need to get the rest of your abilities. When dropping into a game you start at level one. As you collect essence and gain levels, you also gain better abilities – this might be more ammo, shorter cooldowns, or added bonuses when using an ability you already have. These aren’t set in stone however, levels one, three, and five come in variations so there is a little bit of fun in working out the build of your opponents as you play. Having that variability also means that you can play the same character with a few different variations, keeping your opponents on their toes. It’s a mix of the classic MOBA levelling system, crossed with basic team shooter plays, and it has the potential to hold an audience within a competitive setting.
However, Crucible’s audience nor competitive scene has been refined. Some critiques that the game is getting aren’t really issues, they are aspects of the game that don’t suit a preferred style. And that’s fine – players have every right to dislike some of these aspects – but Relentless isn’t wrong for implementing them.
This leads to the misunderstandings Crucible faces. It looks like a team shooter – but it isn’t. Throughout the review process, it’s been hard to weigh up where the game tilts towards being defined as a shooter or a MOBA, but sitting on this knife-edge means players don’t really know what to expect. The visuals lean so far into looking like a hero shooter that’s how gamers are trying to play the game. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s not fun if you play the game like you think you should – and Relentless fails to tell you that.
The tutorial gives you basic controls and a little bit of information on harvesters and the creatures you’ll encounter but that’s it. It doesn’t teach you you’ll be punished for running into battle a level below your enemies, or the random events that will happen over the course of the game. It doesn’t even teach you that you’ll need to watch out for different builds of characters. Crucible instead drops you off in an alien world and expects you to work that out for yourself. Luckily the roadmap Relentless Studios has set up does mention a tutorial rework, but that’s still a way off yet.
From a competitive angle, the format of Crucible really works well. Having four players on each team balances nicely when you split up to complete different objectives. If a competitive scene comes about, I can already imagine the probability plays, where teams discuss if they should gamble sending half the team to a damage multiplier while the other two tackle a harvester, or if they should double down and go as a group together. These are what will make a competitive game truly interesting. After all, threats can come from 360 degrees, and the unpredictability of how each game will unfold is what makes it different from the likes of Valorant and Overwatch.
But before we can even consider the creation of a competitive scene – Relentless needs to address the elephant in the room: the lack of voice chat. Any online gamer knows the importance of voice chat. Making calls, delivering information, and coming up with a plan is crucial to building effective and powerful teams. Crucible relies on a ping system and nothing else, which simply isn’t enough communication for what the game requires.
If there is a competitive scene to grow from Crucible, players need to negotiate and exchange plans of attack on the many objectives on the map. A ping can’t communicate numbers, or timing, or which enemy you saw on the horizon – it’s never going to be enough when Relentless really wants you to think when you play the game. Voice chat, according to the aforementioned roadmap, will be added in the near future, but here’s hoping it’s not too late.
Outside of communication between players, the real problems for Crucible arise because the game doesn’t teach you how to play it. It looks like something you’re familiar with – but it plays like another genre completely. It’s built well, so a highly competitive match would be entertaining to watch if the game gets to that level, but without a playerbase that knows how to play, this is near-impossible.
Relentless is working hard to patch and iron out some of the bigger creases in Crucible, and I hope once that it is done, people return to try the game once again. It’s good and it has the potential to be great – it just needs a push in the right direction.
Crucible review (PC)
Crucible’s world, characters, and gameplay can be a pleasure – but without proper communication, the fun is often cut short.