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Crucible review - a tale of two genres

Mixing a MOBA and a team shooter makes for a game with strong foundations but a confused audience

Our Verdict

Beautiful scenery, strong characters, and inventive mechanics give Crucible a solid foundation - one undermined by poor communication between players and from Relentless Studios.

Crucible is a shiny, brand new team shooter set in an alien environment with equally alien concepts and mechanics. The game is Amazon’s Relentless Studios’ first attempt at dipping its toes into the world of competitive multiplayer, and so far, the studio has found the waters a touch shark-infested.

Despite the game being solid in concept, art style, gameplay, and more, Crucible has run into some walls when it comes to attracting a player base and ultimately appealing to a large audience. I have my own theories as to why, but we should begin with what Crucible gets right, and the material I’m excited about.

First, I’d like to highlight how damn pretty and fleshed out the world is. While you spend a bunch of time running from objective to objective, players don’t often stop to smell the giant scary alien flowers – understandable, to be perfectly honest. The environment is what hit me first as I was traversing the battleground, and I know that’s the same for others.

It’s almost like you’re dropping into James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar. Luscious and colourful surroundings, trickling streams, and crumbling craters are all present. When I breathe in I half expect to smell a rainforest. This busy playing field is both a blessing and a curse – fantastic for hiding when you’re being chased by your enemy but plenty of opportunities to be ambushed later on. The environment is a solid win for me, as are the characters.

Since 2016’s Overwatch, hero shooters have become a breakout genre in competitive multiplayer, and in a world where imitators abound, trying to create a new and interesting cast of individuals is no easy task. When I play Valorant, I can’t help but see a bunch of Overwatch clones, whereas when I play Siege, I can’t quite tell whether it’s Mute or Smoke that I just saw peeking around the corner. In Crucible’s ‘hunters’, however, Relentless has given players a group like no other. Barring Mendoza, the white guy with an assault rifle and gruff voice, there are no stereotypes here.

You have Earl, a massive alien who just wants to get back to his family. He’s not a fighter; he’s an intergalactic truck driver. Tosca, who is described as an ‘angry evil genius’, is what you get if you cross Rocket the Racoon with a house cat, and a pleasure to listen to. And Bugg? Bugg is voiced by Amazon Polly, a text to speech service, so is literally a robot voicing a robot. (Hilariously, if you’ve ever played Mad Verse City from The Jackbox Party Pack 5, you’ll also recognise Bugg’s voice as one of the giant robot rappers.)

What I would have liked to see more of from the characters is contextual in-game comments, such as short discussions with other characters, or commentary on particular parts of the map. They have a lot of personality on paper, but it feels a little lost among all the chaos that ensues – something that Apex Legends and Overwatch manage to avoid.

Crucible - upcoming PC games

One of the advantages of these unusual characters is the lack of a role system. Comparable shooters typically have categories like healer, support, or damage, among others. None of that has made its way into Crucible, which is a refreshing outlook. If you like having the ability to heal yourself in another game, you’re not limited to a passive role in Crucible – in fact, Earl is the both tankiest character in the roster, yet is also the most self-sufficient with healing abilities. No formal roles means hunter abilities can be much more flexible, without preconceptions from the designers or judgement from other players about what they should and should not be doing. Also, it’s nice not to have a team shout at each other because no one picked a healer.

Speaking of, well, speaking, Crucible has no voice chat. This is a pretty big problem, there is no denying it. There’s nothing more frustrating than not having the means to communicate with your team about what you should be doing and when. The shooter does offer a ping system to help coordination, but it’s just not enough, which brings me to Relentless Studios’ roadmap for Crucible.

Last week, Relentless dropped a major announcement recognising early feedback about areas in which Crucible falls short, and what the studio is planning to do about it. Although Crucible currently lacks voice chat, it is coming, as is a new tutorial video, a surrender option, and a solution for players going AFK during the match.

All of these are needed to make Crucible the game Relentless Studios envisioned it to be. As in other games, AFK player characters just stand idle wherever they spawn, but it’s especially problematic in Crucible not just because you’re a man down, but because – like in a MOBA – it can feed the opposition as they’ll just keep spawning. A surrender option would also be nice – the core game mode, Heart of the Hives, is an objective mode in which you need to kill a creep-spawning mobile boss, a Hive, and then capture its heart. First team to three hearts wins. Trouble is the Hives spawn on timers, so even if you know you can’t win you still have to wait several minutes for them to appear so you can wrap things up. Surrendering at least saves you some time and effort.

On that note, undoubtedly the biggest change in that dev update is the removal of two whole game modes. Upon release, Heart of the Hives was joined by Alpha Hunters and Harvester Command. The latter two are now being removed while the team focuses on polishing the core game – getting the headliner up and running before introducing the supporting acts. This commitment to getting the main mode correct is admirable, it’s just a shame other things have to be sacrificed to do so.

However, no matter how much work Relentless puts in, Crucible’s biggest challenge is that because it is moulded from the typical hero shooter, many players bring certain assumptions into the game with them, rather than adapting to new surroundings.

Many times have I dropped into a match and predicted the outcome almost immediately based on the way my team stuck together or dispersed, completed objectives or wandered aimlessly, and how they engaged with the enemy. Within a couple of minutes, I could tell my teammates would naturally prefer to pile in guns a’blazin’, rather than think more methodically about the next ‘play’.

Yes, Crucible looks a bit like Overwatch or Battleborn, but it plays far more like a MOBA. Kill-hungry players get punished hard and feed the other team, giving them the lead. If your opponents are a level ahead of you, are already capturing the Hive, and your team is 200 metres away, you shouldn’t engage – you should review your strategy, and prioritise to execute it. Look for damage multipliers or other events which may help you in the next team fight rather than sacrificing yourself for nothing.

Look for essence (Crucible’s XP), tag other players’ movements when you see them, opt to respawn near an enemy-controlled harvester (essence generator) and take it – all very valid tactics that I’ve rarely seen employed by teammates who simply don’t know the difference they can make. This is in part due to the audience and the assumptions they bring from other multiplayer shooters, but it’s also on Relentless Studios.

I know how to use the aforementioned tactics – how to actually play the game, in other words – because I was taught to do so by the developers during the press preview. Not only do newbies not have such a thorough walkthrough, they don’t have any objective walkthrough apart from capturing a harvester – which is why the game needs a new tutorial as soon as possible. It was frustrating to be matched with players who had no clue how to play, but it must’ve been frustrating for them, too, to be thrown into a world and barely know which way was up.

I laugh as I think of what the first-ever League of Legends games looked like. How players bought items, encountered creeps, or tried to fight as a team without a real idea of what the game was capable of. I believe Crucible’s beginning could reflect something of that time. Too many of its current playerbase simply don’t understand how different it is from some of its lookalikes.

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As with most ongoing multiplayer games, judging Crucible on its current state is hazardous. The game Crucible it is right now is not the game it will be, even in the very immediate future. Crucible’s foundations are strong. Rock-solid in concept and many times in execution, it just needs some refinement and the right audience to deliver on its great potential.