Crucible feels familiar. It's a team-based shooter that attempts to improve on the formulas of a few different genres. It adopts MOBA elements in the sense that each character has unique abilities that upgrade over the course of the match. You hold points and eliminate opponents and AI creatures to acquire Essence, which fuels level ups that you choose before each game. It's a team-based third person shooter when it pits you against an enemy squad as you battle to capture and hold points across a map. Then it shapeshifts into a battle royale for one of its modes. Crucible crams so many features into one package to offer three competent—albeit very different—experiences.
Of Crucible's three modes, I was most looking forward to Alpha Hunters. Rooted in the spirit of battle royale, this mode consists of eight duos who duke it out to be the last team standing. There's a slight twist, though. If a player loses their teammate, they can hunt around for another solo player on the map and form a temporary alliance with them. This alliance can be broken at any time, and once there are just three players left alive, all alliances are broken to make way for a free-for-all finale.
- Best Crucible characters: Meet all ten hunters
Due to technical issues, my brief experience in Alpha Hunters left me playing solo almost immediately. Knowing I was outnumbered in every direction had me on high alert but I was quickly downed. Working as a team feels integral to survive these intense encounters, and had I spotted another solo player I would have been eager to team up. I imagine this could add an unsettling—if not exhausting—edge to the mode. Maybe I'm a horrible teammate, but playing mind games on the lead up to betraying my buddy sounds very appealing. While it's a fun addition to battle royale, I'm unsure how realistic this expectation is in a real match.
Crucible's other modes promise more restpites. Harvester Command was introduced as the relaxed, arcade option. The teams are larger and offer more chaotic 8v8 matches. The main objective is to hold Harvesters across the map while you farm Essence. Having picked Tosca, a cat-like hunter, for my first match, I opted for additional med kits, an AoE ability that damaged and slowed enemies, and a bomb that would detonate when I teleported. Splitting up from my team and farming Essence on the way to the next capture point was encouraged and I was surprised at how quickly I levelled up. There's plenty of room for sneaky strategies in this mode. On a few occasions my team was able to lure the majority of the opponents to one Harvester while a few of us skittered off to capture neighbouring points.
Heart of the Hives was more intense, shrinking teams down to 4v4. This mode focuses on killing giant Hive creatures and collecting their hearts, while competing against the enemy squad. Hive spawns are staggered, affording downtime to level up, capture objectives, and coordinate a Hive strategy. The highlights of these matches were the final seconds before capturing a heart. These moments felt similar to being suspended in overtime on a map in Overwatch as each team scrambled to end the match. Despite winning both Heart of the Hives matches, the frustration of dying less than a second before I captured the final heart got to me. When the entire match was riding on one final capture, letting my team down and enduring a long respawn time was a harsh reminder of how important teamwork really is to survive. I wanted to get back out there immediately. Similarly, watching others play Alpha Hunters made me feel impatient to hop into another match and try again.
In the hope of ensuring Crucible is both fun to play and watch, Relentless Studios turned to streamers for feedback. In our Q&A session, franchise lead Colin Johanson highlighted that Twitch streamers were given "unprecedented access to the development process". Johanson noted that the team was given "very detailed feedback on the tweaking of numbers for how weapons worked… [Streamers] even helped us design the monetisation system for the game". The team also highlighted games like Path of Exile, Rainbow Six: Siege and Warframe as aspirations for community engagement and updates. Johanson stated that, "how often we update the game with meaningful updates that our players care about is really the thing that will determine our long term success".
Future updates will be structured by seasons, which will renew roughly every two months. Game designer Stephen Dewhurst outlined that players "can expect characters, modes, all that sort of thing, in addition to our normal seasonal updates of new cosmetics and rewards for players". Seasonal updates will be influenced by community feedback after the game launches. While the team is currently unable to elaborate on Crucible's roadmap, this is a promising attitude towards development.
One thing that has to be rock solid in a team-based shooter is its characters. Crucible's ten hunters offer a roster of aliens, cute robots and an evil genius cat. In the Q&A, head of art & animation Jason Stansell also highlighted how diversity was an important focus when developing Crucible's cast, stating that he hopes the team has "created a cast of quirky, engaging hunters where there is, and there will be, a hunter for everyone". This also ties deeply into Crucible's narrative design. Alongside creating interesting personalities for characters, narrative designer Samantha Vick commented on how authenticity was a priority for casting. For example, one hunter is Hawaiian so their voice actor is too. Vick stressed that "we just wanted to make a really authentic experience that people can feel good about losing themselves in".
Most of the hunters slot into the standard classes you'd expect. There's a sniper with a heavy Widowmaker vibe, as well as characters that fit tank and DPS roles. I was initially interested in Tosca, an angry bundle of fur that specialises in close combat chaos. Teleporting towards enemies, firing acid rounds, and throwing down an explosive compound before dashing away made pestering the enemy team fun, but I struggled to finish off opponents.
The hunter I found most interesting was Sazan, referred to as a 'one woman army'. Equipped with just three weapons (rather than specialised abilities) and no option to reload, Sazan switches between a pulse rifle, shotgun and knife to deal damage. While I found her more challenging to play than other hunters, balancing each of her weapons and their cooldowns made kills feel rewarding, and I racked up noticeably more across the match when playing as her.
Crucible offers up refreshing little twists to multiple genres and has tied them together to form a competent selection of modes. That said, I hope that's enough to secure its longevity. Having spent such a short amount of time with an alpha build it's definitely too early to make a call. Muscling in against the other major free-to-play competitors is no easy task and Relentless Studios seem confident in their community-oriented approach. It'll be interesting to see how others react to it over the next few weeks.