Although Amazon has been making mobile and social games for nearly a decade now, most core gamers probably never really heard about the online retailer’s game division until around 2016. That is when Amazon Games announced three AAA PC games in the form of Breakaway, Crucible, and New World.
Fast forward to 2020, and Amazon’s experiment with the AAA games industry is looking pretty grim. Breakaway was cancelled two years back, and New World has been delayed to make some fairly drastic changes based on closed alpha and beta feedback. Unfortunately, the changes made have caused division among the community.
That leaves us with Crucible, the first big budget, AAA game to be published by Amazon Games to get a full release. After roughly six years in development, and an as yet undisclosed budget, this MOBA-inspired third-person hero shooter is finally available on Steam.
However, if this is the quality we can expect from AAA games made by Amazon, then perhaps it would be best if the company cut their losses and reconsidered their place in the game industry.
Developer: Relentless Studios
Publisher: Amazon Games
Platform: Windows PC
Release Date: May 21st, 2020
Crucible is a MOBA-like third-person hero shooter that follows mercenary Hunters fighting over valuable resources on the lush, uncharted jungle world of Crucible. The planet is rich in a strange substance called Essence, the discovery of which has started an intergalactic gold rush as corporations have converged on Crucible to strip mine the planet.
That’s pretty much the extent of the game’s story and lore. You see, most good hero shooters expand upon the setting and lore with interesting characters that banter with one another, and have memorable voice quotes. As we will establish in this review, Crucible is not a good hero shooter.
Oh sure, the game has voice quotes and banter between the characters, but it’s all extremely boring, generic, and does little to engage the player and expand their love for any particular Hunter.
Even Bleeding Edge has more interesting and memorable character chatter, and that is a game I ripped pretty hard into back when I reviewed it. Ultimately though, nonexistent lore and drab voice lines are the least of Crucible‘s extensive list of problems.
Crucible launched with one map that is shared between all three of the game’s modes. The “main” mode is Heart of the Hives, a MOBA-like mode where two teams of four players compete to destroy Hives. The Hives are large, mushroom-like living structures that, upon being killed, drop tons of Essence and a “heart” that the teams are trying to collect.
The first team to collect three of them wins the match. The Hives spawn about every five minutes, during which time the teams will be running around the map farming creeps, capturing Essence harvesters, and completing side events to gain levels.
Harvester Command is closer to a more traditional team deathmatch mode, and features two teams of eight players. Teams are tasked with capturing harvesters and killing enemy players to reach 100 victory points. This mode still has all the MOBA trappings of Heart of the Hives, but it overall feels a lot more like team deathmatch and emphasizes large-scale team fights.
Finally, there is Alpha Hunters, the odd mode out. Simply put, Alpha Hunters is a Battle Royale mode. There are eight teams of two players each trying to murder each other to see who comes out on top.
If this collection of modes sounds completely unorganized and random, its because they are. At launch, Crucible was essentially trying to be three completely different games at once, all while not actually being good at any of them.
As you can imagine, nothing in this game is properly balanced because you have 10 unique characters, each of which have five distinct abilities, that are being played across three mutually exclusive modes with completely different objectives and tactical requirements.
Even more confusing is the fact that Crucible is a team-based game without any means to communicate with your teammates aside from pings. There is no in-game voice chat, nor even a text chat function. Yes, you read that right. Crucible is a multiplayer game that lacks even the most basic of multiplayer functions.
Ultimately, the developers agreed that trying to create a game with three diametrically opposed modes was a mistake, and have since removed Alpha Hunters. They were going to remove Harvester Command too, but decided to keep it due to player demand.
While I wouldn’t use the word “fun” to describe Crucible, Harvester Command was at least the most enjoyable mode because the increased player count somewhat counteracts the game’s absurdly large map.
Which brings me to the map itself. No critique of Crucible is complete without a section explaining how utterly awful the game’s single map is. Visually, the map looks pretty good. It’s a lush, alien rainforest with rivers, caves, and various industrial zones representing the corporate invasion of Crucible. There are creeps to farm, and the game features a variety of events that spawn across the map.
These events include capturing a team-wide damage buff, increased creep spawn rates at specific areas, and so on. There are also various alien plants you can shoot to create a cloud of spores with different effects, like health regen, a temporary cloak, etc. Theoretically, the map should be pretty fun with all these objects and events to interact with.
In practice, the map is about four times larger than it reasonably should be. This map is incredibly massive, which in turn makes it feel dead and lifeless, despite all the random events.
This is especially apparent in Heart of the Hives, where you can easily go over five minutes without any PVP combat. Even Harvester Command has frequent, lengthy stretches of time where you aren’t actually doing anything besides running through the jungle farming creeps.
The size of the map makes respawning especially painful. If the developers wanted dying to be a punishment in this game, then good job, because they succeeded. When you take into account spawn timer, the respawn animations, and just running back to where you were, then you could be looking at about three more minutes of downtime where nothing interesting is happening.
This wouldn’t be so bad if farming was engaging, but its not. There are three types of creeps in the game: huge beetle-like creatures called Stompers, burrowing worms that shoot acid called Spitters, and these flying beetles that I can’t remember the name of because you don’t see them very often. None of these creatures are anywhere remotely threatening or fun to fight.
Even the Hives are extremely dull encounters. They have exactly two attacks. One involves shooting a group of exploding bug things at nearby enemies, while the other is an AOE attack that discourages melee combatants.
As a ranged character, your general strategy is to shoot the weak spots, get behind a wall or pillar when the hive shoots the exploding creatures, and start shooting weak points again until it dies.
Of course, the real point of a game like Crucible is the team fights. Unfortunately, combat against other players isn’t that interesting either. Crucible features 10 playable Hunters right now, each of which have four different skills. I must admit that some of the character designs and their kits are actually pretty cool.
In terms of visuals, Earl is probably my favorite. He is this huge, overweight alien redneck trucker with a massive chain gun. His skills include firing a more powerful burst from his gun, and activating a huge booster on the back of his gun to rocket around the level.
He can also send out a wave of exhaust that pushes enemies away, and has a canteen full of nutritious, life-giving space whisky that regenerates health.
Most characters follow this same general ability structure. You have a primary weapon, a movement-based skill, and three other skills of some description. All skills in the game are cooldown-based, with your primary weapon usually having some type of reload mechanic.
Some of these characters genuinely do have some interesting skill sets and mechanics. The problem is that the core combat just isn’t especially fun. The game’s overall time-to-kill is quite high, and none of the weapons feel particularly weighty or impactful. Even Earl’s giant chain gun just doesn’t feel very fun or powerful to shoot.
By far the worst example of the game’s overall mundane and weak weapons are the melee characters. I don’t know how the developers of Crucible did it, but they managed to make a giant axe wielded by a buff alien sharkman have about the same feeling of impact as a child swinging a foam pool noodle.
I mentioned Essence a while back, which is basically Crucible‘s version of XP. The main way you’ll be getting Essence is by farming creeps, or capturing harvesters on the map. Player levels are shared by the whole team, kind of like in Heroes of the Storm. Sure, a player might be contributing more Essence to the team’s level than others, but its ultimately still shared by the whole team.
Teams are trying to race to level 5, after which time you’ll have all your upgrades. At levels 1, 3, and 5 each character will have a choice of several upgrades to choose from. After level 5 you just get generic stat increases. This means that you have a small degree of customization over your character’s playstyle, but no where near the number of builds a more traditional MOBA will have.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, overall character balance is all over the place. Some are must-takes in specific modes, but fairly mediocre in others. Meanwhile, some characters are just plain bad in all modes. The game’s completely scattershot approach to game design all but ensured that no character could ever truly be properly balanced for such a random collection of modes and objectives.
Worse still is the complete lack of any type of proper MMR, or even the concept of matchmaking balance in general. Did you just install Crucible five minutes ago? I hope you don’t mind being placed on a random team of other newbies against a four stack consisting of the only people on the planet that care enough about Crucible to play it 8 hours a day.
Harvester Command in particular suffers from the game’s lack of character diversity and proper matchmaking balance. Since you select your character before queuing up, it’s entirely possible to be placed on a team where four of the eight players are using the same character.
Admittedly, in Crucible‘s current state a proper matchmaking system would hurt more than help. This is because Crucible was completely dead on arrival. The game capped out at around 10k players on launch day, and has since dropped over 95% of its player base.
As I write this review, Crucible has barely 200 concurrent players, with a daily peak of just over 300. This means that you regularly sit in queues for upwards of five minutes, if not longer. The queue for the last match I played before uninstalling this game almost hit the 10 minute mark.
Crucible also just feels extremely unpolished and incomplete. Animations regularly desync, with the Stompers and Hives in particular looking like they are running about 30 FPS below the rest of the game at any given time.
Speaking of which, good luck getting anything approaching decent performance. I average around 80 FPS when just moving around the map, but you can easily lose 20 to 30 frames once a team fight starts.
Not even the simple acts of moving and aiming feel right. Character movement feels very floaty, and when using a character with some kind of zoom function, it almost feels like you are battling an aggressive aim assist feature when trying to shoot at distant targets. This feels like what I’d expect from a game’s first playable closed alpha test, not what is being marketed as a full game.
Despite how completely unfinished Crucible feels, the cash shop is fully functional. Admittedly, in terms of business model Crucible actually isn’t that bad. Every character is unlocked from the start, with the progression system being based around leveling up characters to unlock voice lines, account avatars, emotes, and all the usual hero shooter stuff.
The cash shop is limited to skins, though I honestly can’t say that any of them look good enough that I would consider dropping cash on them. There is also a Battlepass available that lets you unlock cosmetics by doing daily quests. They actually give you enough of Crucible‘s premium funny money to buy the current Battlepass, so I suppose that is a bit generous of them.
Back in my introduction, I made an offhanded comment about Amazon cutting their losses and moving on. The more I think about it, the more I feel like that’s exactly what happened with Crucible. There is no other explanation for why this game launched in such a blatantly unfinished state.
Crucible feels like a game the higher ups at Amazon lost faith in and just wanted to get out there in the hopes that they might make a little bit of their investment back in the cash shop. It feels like a game that was sent out to die without so much as a basic marketing campaign to back it up.
While I can see a few promising things here and there, Crucible is a complete mess of a hero shooter that has no clear or coherent direction. The developers clearly don’t even know what genre of game they want Crucible to be. It feels like they just took three popular game modes and threw them out there to see which one players gravitated towards before they actually finished the rest of the game.
Even ignoring the schizophrenic approach to game modes, Crucible just isn’t even remotely fun to play. While there are some interesting skills in the game, the core shooting and melee attacks feel anemic and lack any sort of satisfying impact. The map is entirely too big for the number of players the game supports, and farming the game’s meager selection of creeps is extremely dull.
If Crucible was an Early Access title, I could at least say that while the game isn’t very fun right now, maybe it could improve in a year or two before the full version releases. Unfortunately, Crucible isn’t an Early Access game. It’s clearly unfinished and lacks anything even resembling balance or polish, but its being marketed as a finished game with a functional cash shop.
Bad games have released and been saved after years of updates and patching before, but I don’t see that happening with Crucible. The player base dropped so dramatically and in such a short period of time that I have a feeling Amazon will be pulling the plug sooner rather than later, where it will go on to join the likes of Battleborn, Gigantic, and Paragon.
Crucible was reviewed on Windows PC using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.