It’s sometimes tough being the new kid. People immediately judge you; whether it’s on your parents at the school gates, missing the memo that your Pokémon backpack isn’t cool anymore, or that home-sculpted bowl haircut. They’re all looking at you, and that level of scrutiny isn’t much fun. That’s been Crucible’s day.
The first major title out of Amazon Game Studios was always going to have a heap of attention put upon it. When Jeff Bezos is your Dad, you’re doubtless going to turn up in some fancy looking clothes, and say all the right things, but when you’re entering an arena where Overwatch, Fortnite and DOTA rule the roost, it’s going to take a bit more than a massive wad of cash to be in with the cool kids.
Crucible takes its first steps well, though. A sci-fi hero shooter with shades of MOBAs like League of Legends or DOTA, it pulls a heap of influences from the current top-tier of competitive gaming and rolls them all up together. It even managed to come out the other side feeling, mostly, like its own thing.
You’ve got ten, very different, heroes to take into battle. Those characters each boast a range of unique abilities with which to take apart the opposition, and on the whole, they’re an interesting and exciting bunch, barring the prerequisite third-person shooter soldier-man Captain Mendoza, and eye-patch toting female special operative Sazan.
I love the alien tank character Earl, with his ridiculous gatling gun named Misty, and a health boost found by chugging down a can of energy drink. Similarly, space-faring adventurer Rahi and his floating Brother companion are a great-looking, unique support character duo, with lethal lasers and the ability to boost other players shields.
Bugg on the other hand, is like nothing I’ve ever seen before in this, or any other type of game. A floating botany drone that can plant and propagate aggressive plant life, it’s clear that there’s been some real care and attention poured into many of the cast.
Alongside your abilities, every character has a customisable skill tree that you access as you level up through a match. As with most MOBAs, there’s an underlying aim in every round to upgrade your character, and in Crucible it’s all about acquiring Essence. There are creatures out in the world to farm this from, you can capture harvesters that produce a continual supply of it, or you’ll get a big blob of the glowing blue stuff if you nail one of the opposing team. Grab enough of it and you’ll move up a tier, raising health, boosting damage, or whatever it is you’ve set along your upgrade route.
The expansive alien arena has clear shades of Avatar about it, though as it stands, it lacks some of the definition and signposting you’d hope for. To give you a real sense of place there need to be more recognisable areas, and this all looks far too similar. That sizable map can emphasise the slow movement speed of some of the characters too, and while it’s a MOBA-centric trait, there are times where it can really grate.
Crucible has launched with three different game types. First up, Heart of the Hives, is a 4v4 team game, where giant hives grow at regular intervals – destroy the hive, capture its heart, and you’re one step closer to victory. Then there’s Harvester Command, which amounts to Control by another name, as your eight-person team trying to capture and hold as many harvester points as possible. Right now this feels like the most action-packed mode, with the larger team size ensuring there’s always a battle just around the corner, helping to shrink the perceived size of the map.
Finally you’ve got Alpha Hunters, where you and one other teammate head into battle, with the aim of being the last ones standing. There’s no respawning in this mode, so once you’re down, you’re done, but it does add little wrinkle to the battle royale formula in being able to form alliances with other solo players who’ve lost their teammate. You can temporarily team up to hunt down other players, but once there are only three of you left, the alliance breaks and you’ll be gunning for each other again.
Battles are tough and often swift, with combat having enough weight and meaning to keep encounters interesting. So many MOBAs, and the games that have cribbed their ideas, seem to think that whittling down huge health bars with puny weaponry is fun. Fortunately Crucible has realised that it’s not, and the time-to-kill feels just about right.
Crucible has been tuned and tweaked throughout its development with feedback from the game’s biggest proponents: Twitch streamers. It’s little surprise given Amazon’s ownership of Twitch that they’re looking to put their own game up amongst the most watched, and most played, competitive titles out there, and as a free-to-play game, they’ve at least got the best chance of getting it into people’s hands. It’s definitely watchable.
There’s enough variation to give the modes room to breathe, but again, the map design weakens the entire package. The heroes are varied, the action is robust and there’s some fun push and pull to encounters if you’re playing with friends or a team that know what they’re doing, but there’s simply not enough of a sense of place. It’s a problem that many multiplayer shooters face, and hopefully Crucible has the time to work on it.
There are a few other elements that frustrate when you’re out in the field. The need to pull up the map every time you want to look where you’re going is painful, and for the style of game it just feels like it should be permanently part of the HUD – there’s no option to set it as such at the moment. The pinging or waypoint system is also oddly inconsistent. You and your teammates can place markers that indicate where you should all be heading/looking, but they quickly disappear without much explanation, leaving you to dive back into the map yet again.
For all that it’s the new kid on the block, Crucible’s third person hero-shooter-MOBA schtick is not an entirely new idea. Epic had a similar go with the much-missed Paragon, though it leaned more heavily into MOBA territory, and eventually withered in stablemate Fortnite’s ridiculously long shadow. Motiga’s Gigantic also grabbed a bunch of the same influences, wrapping them up in some beautiful cel-shaded visuals, while few could forget the crushing defeat of Battleborn at the hands of Overwatch. None of them found the audience they deserved, and after a woefully short lifespan, all petered out with less than a whimper. Crucible will be hoping for better.
Epic’s frustrations with Paragon prove that even where money is no object, if players don’t gravitate to you, you’re never going to get the foothold you need to keep on updating and developing the game. It feels like that would be a shame in Crucible’s case. There’s a lot to like here, with the foundations to become a streaming, and perhaps, an esports darling. You just have to hope that enough people see it that way.