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Crucible ticks all of the boxes that make a modern hit. It’s got compelling hero characters, a form of battle royale, and a free-to-play model supported by a battle pass and cosmetic store. Developer Relentless Studios (under Amazon Games) has clearly done its research of the competition, as it frequently reminds me of the highs of Overwatch and League of Legends, but this new team-based shooter also needs its own unique elements to help set it apart from the rest. Thankfully, there’s a lot to love in Crucible for both veterans of the genre and total newcomers.
Crucible Preview | The heroes
Throughout the entire preview event, which was conducted at home due to current events, I always had at least one developer at the ready to answer any questions and guide me through the game. As we waited for devs and guests to join the relevant groups, I was told about the 10 different heroes that are available for launch. These characters are made up of humans, aliens, and robots, with each boasting unique weapons and abilities.
The gist of the story is that these characters are after a resource called “Essence” which has powerful qualities. This Essence is what players collect in-game to level up and become more lethal.
In the couple of hours I spent playing Crucible, I used Mendoza and Earl. Both played very differently, but I quickly became aware of their strengths and weaknesses. I played more of a slayer role with Mendoza, as he can sprint to chase down fleeing enemies, while Earl made for an effective blocker, which helped me shield teammates who were interacting with objectives.
Each character has a unique skill tree that allows them to level up in different ways, so not every Mendoza on the field will be kitted out the same. This keeps you on your toes, as simply seeing an enemy doesn’t mean you suddenly know all of the abilities at their disposal. I’m a big fan of this!
Though I didn’t play as other characters, I had my fair share of encounters with all of them. Tosca and Bugg stand out as the annoying heroes to go up against, especially when controlled by the people who made the damn game. Sazan also deserves a shout-out for being arguably the trickiest character to master, but incredibly effective in the hands of a competent player.
Hero shooters lean on their characters for a hell of a lot. There’s the story behind them, their appearance and skins, their weapons and abilities, and so Crucible needs to get them right. All 10 launch heroes seem solid to me, backed up by a generous helping of cosmetic unlocks that are expectedly wild.
In addition to purchasable skins, there’s also a battle pass helping to support this free-to-play game. It’s the tried and true method of many popular titles now. The free-to-play model means that you can give this title a go at zero cost and keep on playing for free. Then, once you know that you like the game, you can dive into that paid-for battle pass and/or additional cosmetics.
Crucible Preview | The shooting
Of course, hero shooters aren’t just about the heroes, there’s also the shooting! Let’s talk gameplay.
The basic gameplay loop which occurs in all modes is as follows: Start by farming A.I. enemies and completing objectives to level up, take on player-controlled characters to earn additional Essence that further increases your level, and then win the game by completing the main goal or wiping out the remaining players. That is the ideal loop, but sometimes you encounter player-controlled enemies too early, resulting in some lengthy firefights, or your team can fall behind on Essence, which is where communication and teamwork become key. Playing as a team and knowing when to push, but also when to retreat, is going to separate the winners from the losers.
Crucible has three game modes at launch: Harvester Command (8v8), Heart of the Hives (4v4), and Alpha Hunters (eights teams of two).
Harvester Command is a more casual mode, intended as a place where players can just enjoy the chaos and get used to new heroes. It plays out like Domination or Conquest in other games, with the need to capture Essence Harvesters, which award the team with additional Essence. This means those who play the objective level up more quickly and become more powerful, which is a great incentive to keep objectives in mind.
Heart of the Hives is more competitive, with the player count dropping down to 4v4. The primary goal is for players to kill a boss that appears on the map and then capture its heart. During the downtime between boss spawns, players need to earn Essence to level up as high as they can, to ensure they continue to pose a threat in the next fight. If you get left behind on Essence, it becomes much easier for the enemy to overwhelm you. There’s no time for camping here, as you rush to level up as quickly as possible.
Alpha Hunters is my favorite launch mode. It pits eight teams of two against one another, as they fight to become the last team standing. This takes everything great about battle royale, but throws in a unique little twist.
In this duos mode, players can join forces when they lose their partner. So if you go into a 2v2 situation and manage to wipe out one player but your partner dies in the process, you can agree to team up with that surviving enemy, becoming a new pair. Adding even more drama to this is the way that you can betray that new partner by breaking off the alliance. This can come in clutch during late-game fights, where a temporary partnership can help you take down an otherwise unbeatable enemy, before you then turn on your teammate. It’s crazy to see in action and will no doubt make for some truly brilliant stream highlights.
Crucible Preview | Unique appeal
The main draw of Crucible for me, and the reason I’ll be jumping back in at launch on May 20, is the feeling of growing more powerful as you collect Essence. The increased damage and health, combined with the new abilities you unlock, force your attention to playing the objective and keeping the enemy at bay. Combine that with the battle royale intensity of Alpha Hunters and you have a recipe for greatness.
I should also say that, while I prefer aggressive playstyles and pushing for kills, there is certainly room for other types of players who will still benefit the team. If support is more your bag, there are a good number of heroes who complement that style. Every win, however small, helps your team level up, so you’ll be rewarded as a whole.
Crucible Preview | Ready to launch
The concerns I have about Crucible going into launch are largely external factors, occurring outside of the game. I feel like Amazon really needs to market this title well, maybe leaning into the battle royale aspect a little more. I realize that Crucible isn’t just another BR game, but that can be the bait that draws the player in. It made for a good headline, at least…
Aside from that, one other niggle is the lack of in-game voice chat, which some could find a bizarre omission, though obviously Discord is a thing, and Crucible does feature an Apex Legends-esque ping system for simple communication.
Here’s hoping PC gamers give Crucible a chance, as I think it has a lot of potential. It might take a few hours to know exactly what everything on the map means and to not feel a bit overwhelmed, but stick with it and I think it will surprise you.
Crucible will be available via Steam on May 20. It’s free-to-play, so give it a try!