What is it? A third-person competitive hero shooter
Reviewed on RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 2600 3.4Ghz, 16 GB RAM
Release date Out now
Publisher Amazon Games
Developer Relentless Studios
Multiplayer Up to 16-player PvPvE
Link Official site
Crucible seemingly checks all of the boxes needed to fit into the service game climate: a colorful roster of heroes with diverse abilities, cosmetics stuffed to the brim, a battle pass with dozens of progression levels, and snippets of lore that suggest a larger world. Unfortunately, it wraps these familiar elements around a competitive third-person shooter that isn’t very good. Even as a free-to-play game, I can’t find a reason to stick with its boring combat and spotty performance.
So much of Crucible feels like misguided effort, starting with its game modes. Heart of the Hive, its marquee mode, is a 4v4 race to farm essence (Crucible’s experience points) and be the first to collect three hive hearts. Since a hive heart monster only spawns every few minutes, teams are encouraged to spend the time between capturing harvesters that cultivate essence and slaying weak NPC creatures that roam around the map.
Efficient farming is the best way to outlevel opponents and get an edge in fights, but it’s so dreadfully boring that I can’t blame most of my teammates for screwing around instead of playing the objective. The map is huge—way too big for eight players. Most of your time is spent running between opposite corners of a confusing jungle waiting for your movement ability to come off cooldown.
I had a bit more fun in Crucible’s duos-only 18-player battle royale mode, Alpha Hunters. The map still feels too big for the number of players, but the action does tend to kick off faster than Heart of the Hive. There’s also a neat twist—players that have lost their partner can offer to partner up with enemy players and reform a duo on-the-fly. It’s a useful gimmick that can alleviate the typical BR scenario of trying to play out a round solo after losing a teammate in the first five minutes. Most players have been open to pairing up when I request, but a few have used the opportunity to shoot me in the face instead. Not cool.
When big teamfights break out in Heart of the Hive or Harvester Command (an 8v8 conquest-type mode), it’s not worth the wait. Crucible’s combat is sluggish and the gluttony of explosion effects are hard to read up close. Imposing assault rifles and miniguns sound like they’re shooting marbles. Neither NPC or players react to taking damage, something that totally kills the impact of Drakahl’s big axe and Shakirri’s sword. Crucible’s unsatisfying weapons make me wish they had anything close to the rich impact sound cues that make Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s bullets hit like supersonic bricks.
Since most weapons are only effective at mid-range and movement is slow, every shootout quickly becomes two people staring at each other holding left click, each trying to drain the other’s massive health bar first. The close-up third-person camera feels claustrophobic among the map’s dense foliage and crowded NPC camps. The narrow field-of-view makes target acquisition an unnecessary chore against agile heroes like Tosca, who can instantly teleport.
Tactically, there aren’t many options to get out of an uneven fight. Some heroes’ movement abilities are quick enough to briefly disengage, but other players can just as quickly use theirs to chase you down and finish the job before you can recover. With nobody to heal up allies and few options to dodge incoming damage, fights are more-or-less determined by which team has the higher numbers.The lack of dedicated support roles (there are a few abilities that can grant shields or share a medkit) leaves a noticeable gap in the flow of combat. It’s like playing a match of Overwatch with only damage and tank heroes.
Despite plenty of MOBA-adjacent mechanics like cooldown management and leveling, Crucible’s lack of roles is a deliberate choice. Developer Relentless Studios wants to avoid the downsides of hard-defined roles that Overwatch players know too well—feeling forced to play a role you aren’t in the mood for kinda sucks and waiting eight minutes for the one you want is even worse. I respect the goal, but Crucible is role-free in name only. Earl, a minigun-toting space trucker with a huge hitbox and health pool, is a de facto tank that draws aggro from squishy characters like Sazan or Tosca.
It’s a shame that Crucible isn’t more fun, because most of its hero designs are so clever. I particularly love Bugg, a sweet little botanist robot that plants flowers to attack enemies and can crop dust an area with poisonous gas. I appreciate Sazan’s bizarre loadout that requires her to switch between her rifle, shotgun, and throwing knife in order to reload. There are examples of unoriginality with definitely-not-Solider-76-cosplayer Captain Mendoza and Ajonah’s distracting resemblance to Widowmaker, but Relentless has done enough to make its cast feel distinct. More games should probably steal the way Crucible weaves character lore into its progression system, too. In addition to unlockable skins and voice lines, leveling up a hero also unlocks audio logs that slowly reveal more of their backstories.
One of my biggest roadblocks with Crucible has been inconsistent performance. On my RTX 2060 and Ryzen 5 2600, the game struggles to hang around 50 fps with settings on high. Before I updated my graphics drivers, the average was closer to 30 fps. This spotty performance doesn’t really square with Crucible’s level of detail. The game looks good, but not that good. I also encountered visual quirks that seem to stick around regardless of settings, the most jarring of which is a noticeable drop in animation detail based on distance. From about 20 meters or more away, character movements get jittery and appear almost stop-motion. Until these issues are ironed out, you’re likely to get mediocre performance without a beefy machine.
Unfortunately, even Crucible at its best isn’t compelling enough to wait around for. There’s obvious potential in its creative heroes, but my enthusiasm falls flat as soon I actually have to play with them. There are too many shooters out there that do what Crucible does way better. That’s a big problem for a competitive multiplayer game, even one that's free.