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Crucible Early Impressions: A Fun Experience in Need of More Work

Welcome to the jungle.

crucible-teamplay

Imagine if Epic’s late MOBA Paragon were still around, but it cut out everything except the jungling. What you’d likely end up with is Crucible, Amazon Game Studio and Relentless Game’s debut title. While Amazon and Relentless may bill Crucible as a cooperative objective-based team-shooter, the MOBA DNA is evident the moment you land on the titular planet for your first match. There are enemies to farm for experience (“Essence”, in Crucible parlance), extractors and other side-objectives to complete for larger gains, and enemy teams to farm. Your focus is to rapidly level and out-pace the enemy team, granting yourself the edge in combat.

It’s a MOBA, but without the creeps, towers, or lanes. Junglers will immediately pick up what Crucible is throwing down, but those that jump in expecting an objective-based third-person hero-shooter will take a while to adjust. If my early matches have been any indication, this learning curve is protracted by Crucible’s half-baked nature.

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Crucible’s foundations are strong, but it feels half-baked.

First, let’s start with what Crucible does well. While the characters and environments are not what anyone would call “inspired” they look good and are well designed, thanks in large part to the Lumberjack Engine. The general aesthetic blends together well, and while not a graphical powerhouse, the game looks good. Not great, sure, but it’s not an eyesore or staid by any stretch.

The marque game mode, Heart of the Hives, is also pretty fun – once you and your team figure out how all of Crucible’s various objectives slot together. The tutorial is as generic as they come, and while it may introduce players to the basics (such as “how to use skills”, and “kill enemies for experience to grow stronger,”) it’s structured in such a way that leaves much to be desired.

Right, I said I’d start with the positives… Heart of the Hives is nothing but jungle, and when both teams are playing the mode as intended it’s not hard to see Crucible’s hooks. The concept is simple: roam the map as a team and farm whatever computer-controlled monsters you encounter, all while capturing experience granting extractors and other side objectives as the main goal – the Hive – spawns. Like any MOBA, you’re trying to out-level your opponents before your teams clash in a chaotic team-fight. Solo roaming is a viable strategy (experience is shared by the entire team, no matter the distance), but you risk getting ganked by a pair or more of enemy players.

You don’t want this to happen, because player-kills reward the most experience, and it’s entirely possible for a team to ignore side-objectives and NPCs in favor of farming enemies out of position. You really want to stick together as a team in Crucible, or at the very least have one teammate at your side. That’s because, despite the longer time-to-kill, dying in Crucible takes mere seconds when two or more opponents are focused on you. One-on-one fights can drag on for longer than they should, but find yourself outnumbered and you’re likely a goner.

Crucible is a genuine third-person shooter, however, so player-skill can tip the scales in your favor. Not enough to turn a 4v1 encounter in a solo player’s favor (unless the other team is grossly incompetent), but enough to allow lower level players a chance against an enemy that is a level or two above them. Once the gap extends beyond three levels, though, it’s game.

Not only do levels unlock talents chosen before the start of the game (up to level 5), they boost your health and damage. Again, this is nothing new to seasoned MOBA players, but those coming into Crucible expecting a standard third-person shooter are going to find their pants around their ankles as they wonder why it’s taking so damn long to kill opponents, and why they’re melting when attacked.

This brings me back to Crucible’s poor tutorial: it hints that leveling is something you should care about, but it doesn’t emphasize how absolutely critical it is to farm experience. Instead of being set in a series of corridors and arenas, the tutorial should take place in the middle of an A.I. filled match. If the tutorial guided players through a mock battle, and showed them how to rotate between farming, capture objectives, and when to pick a fight I feel more matches in Crucible would be played as intended, instead of the “every person for themselves” chaos I’ve witnessed time and time again.

I bring this up because, as I’ve already said, when you have two teams playing Crucible’s Heart of the Hives properly the game starts to shine. You can see the underlying potential in Amazon’s title. Sadly, this potential is squandered by the poor introduction and mass of confused players. Don’t believe me? The game is currently sitting at “Mixed” user reviews on Steam, and you need only read a few to see how many people have bounced off of the game due to it’s slipshod first impressions.

The minimum-viable-product UI, UX, and lackluster audio don’t help matters. For example, shooting someone in Crucible doesn’t have any audio attached to hit registration. The reticle may flash, but there’s no aural feedback whatsoever. You often need to watch a foe’s healthbar like a hawk if you want to judge the damage you’re dealing, and this omission makes the already longer time-to-kill feel all the more glacial. There’s also no voice or text chat in game, meaning players have to rely on the rudimentary ping system to communicate (and the ping’s audio cue is abysmal – it sounds like a deflated squeaky toy).

Then there is the lifeless UI, entirely flat and devoid of personality. You have all the corporate approved check-boxes filled out – battle pass, collections tab, store – but they all feel stapled on. The UI is entirely function with little to no form. Games such as Fortnite and Overwatch have demonstrated how to effectively blend both style and substance within their UIs, and it often feels like the team at Relentless Studios didn’t have the time to polish theirs up to those standards. Crucible’s UI appears like the sort you’d expect out of an Early Access title that’s still working out the design, yet it’s a fully launched title.

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Lost in space.

Throw in the most flaccid round start and end-of-match screens I’ve seen in a competitive shooter and it’s evident that’s what Crucible is: an Early Access title. To Relentless Studios credit they do bill their current season as a “pre-season” and are, in a fashion, offering the first battle pass for free (by granting all players who try the game before June 1st a thousand of the micro-transaction credits). But no where on Steam does it say the game is in Early Access, thus this is a full release by Amazon’s standards.

I’m not sure if they were afraid the Early Access branding would affect initial interest in Crucible, but it may have made people more forgiving of its shortcomings. The game has plenty of potential thanks to its solid core concept, but it’s currently suffering a slow death from a thousand self-inflicted cuts. The issues Crucible currently suffers from would have been easier to overlook if Amazon and Relentless made it more obvious the game is a work-in-progress, but as a full release people expect better (free or not).

You don’t have to squint hard to see Crucible’s potential staying power. Heart of the Hives is a fun and intense experience that boils down the MOBA format into what is perhaps its most accessible form. The battle-royale-lite Alpha Hunters is a snappy and exciting take on the massively popular genre with an intriguing team-up mechanic for those who’ve lost their teammate. The gunplay and balance are only a few tweaks away from being good. The game is so close to being something special.

But it’s everything else in Crucible’s orbit that’s holding it back. The character voice-overs sound like afterthoughts (why does Bugg sound like it’s taken one too many Vallium?), the cosmetics are largely uninspired reskins, the UI is boring, and the tutorial threadbare. I could go on and on listing Crucible’s issues, but I believe I’ve gotten the point across: the game isn’t finished.

The fact Crucible is loaded to the gills with micro-transactions doesn’t help matters: again, Amazon is obviously treating Crucible like a finished product. But, it isn’t – nowhere close. There is fun to be had in Crucible, and I firmly believe it can become a good, if not exceptional game with a little more work. The question now is how rapidly can Amazon and Relentless iterate and improve on the foundations they’ve established. If they can triage many of Crucibles faults within a month or two then I can see Crucible establishing a dedicated audience and growing from there – the pieces are in place. If not, well, Paragon will soon have another friend in the void.

- This article was updated on:May 26th, 2020

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