Most new hero shooter and battle royale games feel like knock-offs or cheap clones, but Crucible does its own thing — and it does it pretty well.
Amazon Game Studios seeks to carve out a unique position in the gaming industry with Crucible, a team-based hero shooter similar to Blizzard’s massively successful Overwatch (2016) and Riot Games’ new kid on the block, Valorant (2020). Yet Crucible also blends in some third-person battle royale mechanics found in Fortnite.
Those are some daunting names to live up to, particularly for a studio that’s struggled to find its footing in the seven years since its founding despite being backed by one of the biggest bankrolls in tech. But by splitting the difference between these titles that each has a huge following, Crucible finds a vibrant niche right in the middle that’s worth exploring without the experience ever feeling derivative.
Crucible will feel immediately familiar, with characters and modes that more closely resemble Overwatch, some battle royale elements reminiscent of Fortnite, and MOBA mechanics found in games like League of Legends, all played from a third-person perspective. The Twitch integration promised years ago with the game’s announcement won’t be present at Crucible‘s launch, and even though that’s one of several areas where Crucible can be improved, it’s already Amazon’s best game.
Inverse played an early version of the Crucible launch build for three hours last week. The experience felt promising and the game takes plenty of risks that pay off, like including a fighting game-style character on its roster and an interesting twist on a battle royale duos mode.
But Crucible still needs to improve by adding missing features like Twitch integration and a competitive ranked mode if it wants to be successful. Otherwise, it risks being left in the shadow of those big names already on Amazon’s gaming platform.
Hero shooter meets battle royale meets MOBA — Most multiplayer shooters opt for simple and easily recognizable modes like zone capture or deathmatch, but Crucible borrows from newer ideas pioneered by Overwatch, Call of Duty, and Fortnite. The first is Heart of the Hives, which tasks two teams of four with capturing the hearts of otherworldly plants that spawn around the map, all while defending themselves against computer-controlled enemies and powering up with special man-made machines called Harvesters. Heart of the Hives feels a bit like League of Legends, given the focus on powering up while fighting other players and juggling additional objectives.
This mix of PvE and PvP elements all at once is refreshing to see in the hero shooter genre, since it’s usually limited to MOBAs where players face a mix of both mobs and other players. With a focus on upgrading and powering up over the course of the mode and competitive play, this mode is Crucible’s most original.
Harvester Command is a more traditional Domination mode where players capture as many Harvesters as possible to reach 100 points first. Harvester Command and Heart of the Hives both cater to players who like the secondary objectives in shooters more than the straightforward competitive PvP elements, so Crucible has a great chance at capturing that niche.
Finally, there’s Alpha Hunters, a duos battle royale mode for 16 players. If your partner dies, temporary alliances can be offered to another solo player with a single button-press. This adds an interesting dynamic to matches, though I never actually had a chance to use it during my demo. If this mechanic is polished a bit more and made more meaningful, it could catch on in other battle royale games, similar to Apex Legends’ ping system.
Crucible’s modes have somehow managed to find the middle ground between hero shooters and battle royales, and if you could never get into either subgenre, this game may strike the perfect balance for you.
I need a hero — During my time with Crucible, I tried out three of the game’s 10 heroes: Captain Mendoza, Drakhahl, and Summer. Each has their own distinct play-style, but some felt more original than others.
Captain Mendoza is closest to Overwatch’s Soldier: 76, a basic super-soldier archetype with a Plasma Rifle, sprint ability, and grenades who’s easy to pick-up. He can also increase his own health and summon a barrier and health pack to help allies.
Next is Drakhahl, who one of the developers described as a “fighting game character translated to a hero shooter.” He’s a heavy, slow, and melee-focused fighter who can deal a ton of damage by executing button combinations that feel like they’re straight out of a genuine fighting game. The skill ceiling for this character seems high, but fans of characters like Overwatch’s Doomfist who really want to put some time into Crucible will find some enjoyment in Drukahl.
Finally, there’s Summer, my favorite character. She wields flamethrowers on both arms with decent range and no ability cooldowns; your only concern is overheating. Summer feels more like a character from a MOBA and can launch herself around the map in a way that feels like a mix of Overwatch’s Pharah and Iron Man. Crucible’s map is quite large, and Summer makes getting around it a lot more fun.
Crucible’s heroes already feel more memorable than Valorant‘s. Characters and worldbuilding are pivotal to the success of hero shooters, as Overwatch’s beloved cast of characters’ shows. Even with only 10 heroes, Crucible is on the right track here.
Can Crucible get competitive? Amazon says Crucible’s launch on May 20 is a full release, which separates it from the likes of Valorant and even Fortnite that remain in “Early Access.” Crucible will launch with a battle pass monetization system that feels ripped straight out of Fortnite, one that’s found a home even in games like Destiny 2. But this is the only meaningful multiplayer progression the game has to offer with no competitive ranked or casual modes that are crucial to similar games like Overwatch.
Crucible will launch without a ranked and casual split for any of its modes, which seems ill-advised when games like Fortnite and Overwatch have seen such overwhelming success with competitive play leading to esports leagues. Betting too much on an esports scene before launch can cause different problems for a game, but Crucible isn’t doing enough to even lay the groundwork for it at launch. Amazon needs to fix this soon if it wants to ensure Crucible truly catches on and sticks around for a while.
Otherwise, we’re looking at another casual free-to-play game that players bounce right off of.
Twitch integration is also lacking, which seems odd when Amazon owns the development studio behind Crucible and the entire Twitch platform. The integration promised in 2016 is missing at launch, and Crucible doesn’t appear to be relying on Twitch drops for new items or access either, unlike Valorant.
This is a massive missed opportunity for Amazon. Why wouldn’t the development team take advantage of the platform in the same way that Valorant used to achieve such success?
While it may have some launch woes, Crucible is more original than most games in either of the genres it borrows from. Addressing some of these early concerns about the game could lead Crucible to become Amazon’s answer to Fortnite. And if Amazon can manage that, it will finally have a proper foothold in gaming. If not, Crucible might just be another game that’s fun to try out before moving quickly on to something else.
Crucible launches for PC on May 20, 2020.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Inverse cares about hours over money. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We care about the in-game narrative, and if the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)