It’s an important first PC game from Amazon that will provide competition for Overwatch and Riot’s new Valorant, which is in beta testing. And it will help determine whether Amazon, an e-commerce and data services company, can find its way in games.
Crucible is a hero shooter, where you choose from a roster of aliens, robots, and humans, and work with teammates to hunt opponents, take down hostile creatures, and capture objectives. You have to balance your team with tanks, snipers, brawlers, and such. And you fight it out on the planet Crucible, which has dangerous creatures and a valuable resource dubbed Essence.
Players begin each match by selecting from a lineup of 10 hunters (Amazon will add more over time), each with distinct loadouts of weapons and abilities. With anywhere from two players to eight players on a team, you’ll quickly notice there isn’t an overwhelming number of players like in the 150 in Call of Duty: Warzone, as Crucible was designed from the start to be watchable, said Louis Castle, head of Seattle’s Relentless Studios at Amazon, in an interview with GamesBeat.
“It’s exciting to watch anybody playing Crucible. You can jump in, randomly pick a character, watch them, and it’s instantly exciting,” Castle said. “The map is relatively small compared to the big open world maps in some of the battle royales out there. The team size, the number of players, is intentionally small, so the match resolves more quickly.”
Amazon’s Twitch livestreaming division is no doubt eager to get excited about a home-grown game. And it’s nice to see Amazon think about the strengths that it offers as a company, with game designers creating games that will show well on Twitch.
Crucible will be the first of two major titles from Amazon Games in 2020, followed by the launch of New World in August 2020. Previously, Amazon released The Grand Tour Game, a racing title for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2019. Before that, the company worked on various mobile games for the Amazon App Store.
I’ve played the game for a few hours, and these are my impressions of the title. I don’t feel that’s enough time to give this game a full review, but it is enough for me to see what sort of skill you need to play it. The tutorial can take you through how to play the game in a matter of minutes. But you’ll have to learn how to play the characters one-by-one.
What you’ll like
Good variety of characters
Crucible has a hunter for most play styles. Earl is an interstellar trucker built like a tank. He has a giant gun with four barrels. Bugg is a robot botanist who can lay down plants that attack you if you step within range of them. Summer is a former welder who wields flamethrowers. She can point her flamethrowers downward and use the propulsion to fly for short distances, giving her the ability to escape from a hairy combat situation or catch up to a fleeing enemy. Drakal is a melee-only character with a giant ax and a chain that can pull somebody to him.
Ajonah is a sniper who can lay mines as you chase after her. These heroes are recognizable enough for you to know what they can do on the battlefield and give you time to counter them. In the larger battles, chances are your team has a hero who can nicely counter whatever the enemy throws at you.
These characters are all well designed, and they fit into the colorful terrain of the game’s first map. Before each match, you can customize the way the character levels up during the match.
Three modes add variety
Crucible is launching with three modes: Heart of the Hives, Harvester Command, and Alpha Hunters.
In Heart of the Hives, two four-player teams battle giant boss Hives that spawn throughout the world. Each Hive contains a Heart, and the first team to capture three Hearts wins the match. The battle is balanced between racing to defeat the opposing team and battling to survive and capture the powerful Hives.
Harvester Command challenges two teams of eight players to capture and hold Harvesters spread across the map, vying for control of the Essence that drew them all to the planet. The first team to deplete its opponent’s resources wins. This is a bit like Domination mode in Call of Duty, though there are five control points instead of just three. Of all three modes, I felt the most useful in this one, which was easy to grasp.
In Alpha Hunters, eight teams of two fight to be the final team standing. When I played this game, we had some trouble finding enemy teams to hit. But there’s no excuses in this kind of fight. If you take on the enemy, you win if you shoot better or work better together than the enemy duo does. If you die, you’re out of the game. You can make alliances with other single players, but then you can break the alliances at the end in order to go for a victory.
As Castle said, these smaller team modes and the smaller map lead to matches winding up quickly. I think that would be even more true if, as mentioned down below, the game played a little faster.
Skills and teamwork win
It’s a complicated game, but there are multiple ways to win. You can level up your team with Essence and make it much harder for the enemies to take each one of your teammates down. But in Heart of the Hies and Harvester Command, you have to fight bosses to claim territory.
To do that, you have to work together. If you are taking a point, you are vulnerable so someone else has to protect you. If you can get three players up against one, you’ll win every time. And if you are smart about using the environment to your advantage — like getting the invisibility power-up or medical power-ups at just the right times — you can tip the balance in a fight.
Because the game has a slower pace and because it takes a while to take down each enemy, the victory doesn’t always go to the lone fighter who is the best shot. There’s room for players who can learn how to fit in and get a task done, like holding down a Harvester or collecting a lot of Essence. There are ways to contribute to victory that don’t involve being an awesome shot. These help with accessibility, and that’s important because Crucible is a brand new franchise that players haven’t heard about before.
What you won’t like
The slow pace
If you’re used to Call of Duty, you may feel that Crucible has an excruciatingly slow pace. You can land on the map, but you often have to trek far distances. Most characters have a way to speed up, but it’s on a timer. You speed up for a short time, but then you go back to moving slowly. If you’re killed, you can come back. But you have to spawn at a distance from the action. So you have to hike for a while.
Thankfully, this isn’t another Call of Duty game. But it also plays slower than Overwatch, and this first map doesn’t help. There are big rock formations that you have to move around to get to different key locations, and so getting to the action always takes time. I understand the slow pace requires more teamwork. You have to stick together on the map or risk getting cornered with no one able to come to your aid quickly. And since the map is circular, it can be pretty easy to get lost. That’s not great for newcomers.
It takes patience to move up the learning curve
This is one of those games that you can’t expect to learn to play in a few hours, which was all the time I had to play. It could take much longer than that, and you’ll have to keep a good eye on everything. Just like in Bleeding Edge, a similar hero-shooter game from Microsoft’s Ninja Theory studio that debuted in March, there are timers on your special abilities. If you use them, you’ll have to wait for the timer to be able to use them again. So you have to keep an eye on that. You also have to watch the terrain not only for enemies but also watch for the creatures of Crucible, as these non-player characters represent an environmental threat to players.
You can shoot creatures, or farm them, to build up your Essence, but you might neglect to see that your enemies are capturing all of the important stations on the map. If you’re in a firefight, you have to maintain awareness of your health and use your collected health kits if you have them. If multiple enemies are on you, that health can go down surprisingly fast. And you have to keep an eye on the scoreboard, see how well the enemy team is scoring, and do something about it if you’re losing. In short, it’s easy to lose while you’re distracted or not paying attention to the right problem at the right time.
This complexity will eventually turn into an advantage once you master it. But it works against accessibility.
It takes a while to take down enemies
Crucible isn’t one of those one-shot, one-kill games. If your teammates aren’t listening to you (on something like Discord audio communication), then you won’t have much of a chance to bring down enemies. I played with Amazon developers and other game journalists, and there was constant chatter on Discord to close in on enemies and get kills. But if you don’t have that tight communication with other players, good luck in combat. It feels like if you play with friends, you can coordinate better. If not, it could be frustrating.
Reptitive gameplay and a single map
Once you feel like you’ve learned the game, you may feel like it gets repetitive. The map could definitely use more verticality, so that players can get the jump on those below. If you’re not a fan of either the gameplay or the map, then you’ll have to wait until Amazon releases more. This problem can be fixed, but it makes it feel like there just isn’t enough content at the start. If I were Amazon, and I had worked on this game for five years, I feel like it would have been better to rotate players across a few different maps, like with Overwatch at its outset.
I fear that this game could wind up like Bleeding Edge, which was rated poorly by critics. That game got run over by other titles like Call of Duty: Warzone and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In other words, Crucible has just enough content to be a playable game, but it isn’t enough to be a blockbuster or to take on established titles like Overwatch. At least not yet.
While this game has similarities to other titles out there, it doesn’t really take down any of them by being a much better game. My only suggestion for Amazon is to accelerate its content updates so that players will feel like there’s a lot more variety. I worry that it will take a while to get good at the game, and players don’t really have that patience. Castle knows there are improvements to come.
“I’m super excited to hear what people have to say. We’re a brand-new game studio, a brand-new game publisher,” he said. “We’ve worked on it a long time, but we’re under no delusion. We know that the minute it goes live and we have millions of people out there playing, we’re going to find out all sorts of things we didn’t think of. We’re anxious to have people do that. We’re dedicated to making sure we respond to customers.”
There are seeds of goodness here, but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough just yet to call this an outstanding game.
Amazon’s Crucible is now available on the PC as a free-to-play game.