Crucible Hands-on Preview: Is Amazon’s New Shooter an Instant Classic?

Amazon hopes Crucible will kick off a new era for the company, but does this shooter have what it takes? Read our hands-on impressions.

Photo: Amazon Studios

Amazon plans to expand its reach into the world of video games, and big-budget competitive shooter Crucible from developer Relentless Studios will be the e-commerce giant’s first big test in this arena. Crucible, as well as Amazon Game Studios’ MMO New World, could be early indicators of whether or not Amazon is ready to become gaming’s next big publisher.

Beyond the implications associated with Crucible’s publishing partner, there’s still the matter of the game itself. What is Crucible? What kind of gameplay experience does it offer? Most importantly, how does it separate itself in a genre that is overflowing with quality titles like Call of Duty: Warzone, Overwatch, and Valorant

Based on our time actually playing the game during a hands-on digital event in May, Crucible separates itself by offering a fundamentally different experience. Playing Crucible gave us a much better understanding of Amazon’s gameplan for its first big-budget title. Here are our impressions of the game after a couple of matches:

Crucible Combines Elements of Third-Person Shooters and MOBAs

Crucible is a hero-based PvP third-person shooter with PvE elements. While you’re always working with at least one teammate in order to beat the enemy team (or teams) to an objective, there are also A.I. controlled monsters across the map that you’ll need to contend with. 

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Why do you care about these monsters? Well, killing them (or interacting with certain objectives in the world) rewards you with a resource called essence. If you collect enough essence, your character will level up and gain access to a new tier of skills. Some skill tiers offer static upgrades, while others offer a few different options that you can select prior to the start of a match. 

While you’ll ultimately win a match by defeating the other teams, defeating A.I. enemies and leveling up is often a necessary component of any victory. On top of that, unlocking new skill tiers really showcases the power of heroes. More on that later. 

Crucible Will Launch With Three Distinct Game Modes

The first of Crucible‘s three main game modes, Harvester Commander, will be familiar to Battlefield fans. It sees two teams of eight compete for control of essence harvesters across the map. The longer you control a harvester, the more points you gain. The first team to reach 100 points wins the match. 

The second mode, Heart of the Hives, feels much more distinct. Basically, a large monster spawns on the map and teams must work together to take it down and then gain control of its heart by interacting with it long enough. The first team to collect three hearts wins. 

Finally, there’s Alpha Hunters. This is basically Crucible’s battle royale mode. Eight teams consisting of two players each battle to be the last team standing. In an interesting twist, you’re actually able to form alliances with other solo players who have lost their teammates throughout the course of the battle. 

Crucible Features a Diverse (and Interesting) Pool of Heroes

Crucible will launch with 10 playable heroes (referred to in the game as “hunters”) who are not only visually distinct (aliens, robots, humans) but surprisingly diverse in terms of their cooldown-based abilities. 

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For instance, Drakhal is pretty much a melee-focused character while Captain Mendoza is kind of a standard run and gunner. Earl is a beefy alien with a large Gatling gun, while Shakirri is more of a rogue-type character. Every hero brings something interesting to the table, and each of their playstyles evolves as you level them up. 

One of the more interesting examples of both of those ideas is a hunter named Sazan. Sazan comes equipped with three weapons (an assault rifle, a shotgun, and an energy knife), but you can only use one at a time. In order to reload, you have to swap to a new weapon and wait for your empty weapon’s cooldown to expire. Unlocking new skills allows you to focus on benefits to each weapon or opt for more of a varied strategy. She really showcases the kind of creative concepts the team is exploring with its heroes.

Crucible’s Matches Feel Competitive and Balanced, but Not Skill Intensive

While I only played Crucible with its developers and other game journalists, I must say that the matches I participated in felt remarkably balanced, with each contest coming down to the wire. It remains to be seen whether or not that will remain true when Crucible reaches a wider pool of players with varying skill levels, but the balancing of the characters and the “hot spot” style of gameplay, which typically funnels players to a few different spots around the map, means that matches tend to at least feel pretty close. 

As a third person, ability-based shooter where only a few characters even have the ability to even aim down sights, Crucible is pretty much the opposite of a game like Valorant. That is to say that it doesn’t exactly demand pro-level skills from its players. 

The game’s developers explained that this is by design, but in this early stage, it does leave some of the more mechanically complex characters (such as Sazan) feeling somewhat lost in the shuffle. In a game where your aim isn’t really an especially vital skill, it’s a little hard to justify picking a sniper or agile character whose raw damage output just doesn’t feel as strong as a character that can just focus a straight-ahead laser on their enemies and occasionally pop a life-saving shield.  

We’d stop short of referring to Crucible as a“casual” shooter, but it does feel like a mobile game at times and does seem to be trying to appeal to a larger group of players beyond the hardcore shooter audience. 

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There Are No “Roles” in Crucible, but Teamwork Does Matter

Crucible‘s hunters are not defined by roles such as Tank, Healer, or DPS. However, there is an element of strategy when it comes to choosing the right hunter. 

For instance, faster characters are generally better for reaching objects. Characters with shields and higher health pools are better for capturing static objectives. A good team will likely consist of various types of hunters, and because there can only be one of every hunter on each team, there’s a degree of composition diversity which is essentially forced upon players by the game. 

Because there’s no real “hitscan” element and because characters (so far) feel fairly balanced, it’s hard to imagine many instances where one player will be able to carry a whole team. 

The PvE Elements of Crucible Feel a Bit Underutilized

As I noted, Crucible’s PvE elements primarily consist of killing monsters for essence or harvesting resources in the environment. While those aspects of the game add a little character to the experience, the PvE aspects of the game feel a bit superfluous at times. NPC enemies aren’t particularly challenging and mostly exist to be farmed. As such, the PvE aspect of the entire experience feels more like an obligation than an obstacle that you’re thrilled to overcome. 

It’ll be interesting to see how Crucible expands upon this element as it grows. Right now, it feels like this element of the game is still a bit half-baked. Nothing that can’t be improved with a thoughtful update at a later date, though.

Crucible’s Microtransactions Are Cosmetic

Crucible will feature some form of microtransactions, largely in the form of a battle pass-like system, but the developers said they do not intend for more substantial future content — such as new maps, modes, and heroes — to be locked behind a paywall. 

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However, items like character skins, new drop pods, sprays, and even extra pieces of lore will need to be unlocked with in-game currency. It seems that there may be multiple ways to purchase said currency (or the aforementioned battle pass), but the details don’t appear to be set in stone just yet. 

Overall Impressions: Crucible Is a Fun Game in Search of a Niche

Crucible really does have quite a lot going for it. It’s fun, it’s filled with interesting characters, and it features distinct modes of play. Most importantly, matches play out as down-to-the-wire affairs that won’t leave you feeling left out due to lack of skill. 

Having said that, we’ve seen attempts at this kind of game before. The most notable example being Epic Games’ failed MOBA-like shooter experiment Paragon. Much like Crucible, Paragon was a solid shooter, fun to play, and occasionally inventive. You can’t trace the ultimate failure of Paragon down to any one aspect, but one of its most notable shortcomings was its failure to appeal to hardcore MOBA players or to draw in a sustainable amount of competitive shooter fans. It stretched itself thin trying to reach both markets but never really made the connection with either. With its fairly accessible playstyle which dilutes some of the more competitive, skill-based elements of MOBAs and other competitive shooters, there’s a worry that Crucible could end up suffering from a similar fate. 

I played two games of Crucible during my demo session (I was unable to participate in the third due to technical issues on my end). In one, I got no kills and played fairly poorly statistically speaking. In the other, I led my team in kills by quite a lot. The problem was that I can’t really say I felt a substantial difference between the first two games in terms of satisfaction. 

Even more “mainstream” competitive titles like Fortnite demand a level of skill from the player that entices them to chase the next victory. Such as it is, I’m not sure that Crucible really has the quality that will keep players coming back once the novelty of its undoubtedly enticing core experience begins to wear off. 

Developer Relentless Studios should feel proud of what its crafted, and you should certainly give Crucible a shot when it launches on Steam on May 20. How the game grows from there is something we’ll surely be keeping an eye on.