Crucible hands-on preview: All for one in the battle for Essence

We took an early look at Amazon and Relentless Studios' Crucible to see how this sci-fi team-based shooter is coming together before its free-to-play launch.

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It’s wild to think that after years of whispers, Amazon Game Studios is finally ready to push one of its mainline projects out into the world for all to see. Coming from Relentless Studios, Crucible has been a long time coming for Amazon, and as an F2P, team-based third-person sci-fi shooter, it’s packing a lot of elements into an ambitious venture. I had a chance to sit down with the game on PC ahead of its launch to see for myself, playing both with controller and keyboard and mouse.

The battle for Essence & the Crucible competition

Crucible takes place in a far future world in which corporations and military factions have discovered a planet which produces an incredible substance they call “Essence.” This strange force, once harnessed, dramatically changes all things around it. Living matter becomes stronger and more robust while machinery becomes hyper powerful with effects ranging from self-awareness to biotechnological development. Naturally, the major forces race to harness this resource, but disastrous setbacks on the planet punish them for their hastiness. They then change tune, choosing to utilize freelance fighters in a series of competitions known as the Crucible to gather Essence for them. Each fighter who answers the call has a personal stake in the matter, but at the end of the day, one thing matters most: be the side to survive and collect the most Essence to bring back for whatever goals they have.

This set-up makes for an interesting backdrop to both the game modes of Crucible and the cast of characters that participate. Starting with the former, Crucible is a team-based third person shooter played across three different game modes offered in the preview and slated for Day 1 launch: The 8 vs 8 Harvester Control, the 4 vs 4 Heart of the Hive, and the 16 player duos battle royale mode, Alpha Hunter.

Game modes like Harvester Control, Alpha Hunter, and Heart of the Hive each force a very different type of gameplay in Crucible, even on the same battlefield.
Game modes like Harvester Control, Alpha Hunter, and Heart of the Hive each force a very different type of gameplay in Crucible, even on the same battlefield.

Heart of the Hive and Harvester Control are a bit unique in their approach. In Harvester Control, two teams of eight must battle across the map to capture and hold Essence Harvesters in a Control-style game. The longer players control the harvesters, the more Essence they gain. The first team to 100 units of Essence wins. Heart of the Hive forces more aggressive strategies and engagement. Across the map, Essence Hives will spawn at preset times and points. Two teams of four must fight to destroy the hive and collect its "heart." The first team to three hearts wins. Finally, there’s Alpha Hunters, in which players must be the last of up to eight duos to survive a typical narrowing battle royale map. Alpha Hunter is the most simple of the three modes, but all modes bring an interesting difference in character meta and strategy to them.

Not only that, the battlefield in Crucible is alive with more than just the threat of your opposing players. Creatures like Stompers, Hydras, and more are enhanced by the Essence and will attack the player if engaged or even sometimes approached. Avoiding them means not drawing attention, but killing these Essence-enhanced creatures means leveling up your personal character throughout the match and unlocking specialized perks for their loadout. No matter what mode I played, Crucible brought a vastly different strategy which rewarded various character types in different ways, but always threatened with specialized planetary conditions like stronger monsters or special power-ups like health and weapon damage.

Fighters from the furthest corners of the cosmos

Whether you play a hit-and-run trickster like Tosca or a more upfront brawler like Summer, there's plenty of variety in Crucible's starting roster.
Whether you play a hit-and-run trickster like Tosca or a more upfront brawler like Summer, there's plenty of variety in Crucible's starting roster.

Crucible’s arguably standout feature besides its interesting game modes and battlefield is the varied roster of characters that players can choose from. Much like a hero shooter in the vein of Overwatch or a MOBA like League of Legends, Crucible’s characters have specializations that will likely appeal to a wide variety of players. You’ve got tanky sustained damage like Earl, all-around combatant soldiers like Mendoza, sly snipers like Ajonah, and more.

My favorite character was the mad genius and rodent-like Tosca, who has a low health pool, but features an acid shotgun that does heavy damage-over-time, a sticky grenade that slows mobile foes down, and a blink mechanic to warp healthy distances and evade danger when the getting is good. That said, I couldn’t help but also be attracted to the kit of characters like Sazan, who features a shotgun, assault rifle, and shock knife, and gains unique bonuses when switching between her weapons. There’s a ton of fun variety in the starting lineup of Crucible aided by the fact that you can customize special perks on each character for their level-ups to further make them play your way. For instance, Tosca can equip perks that allow her to drop a flash grenade when she blink warps to stun enemies, equip more medkits to offset her low health, and more, depending on your style and priorities.

It’s not just the variety of the base characters and customization of their perk kits either. As you play a character regularly, you unlock levels with them that will reward you with character-specific goodies, as well a general level for other fun unlocks. There's fun to be had in discovering and specializing in a favorite character and unlocking character skins, player cards, and more cosmetics. The game will also reward you for exploring more of its roster in special experience-unlocking challenges. Crucible is easily the type of game I can see players both attempting to discover the right meta for in a game mode like Heart of the Hive, as well as maybe shooting for their own accolades like “best Ajonah NA.” And it seems to have the progression systems in place to keep players coming back for more in the early running.

The Crucible has just begun

Can Crucible stand up the test of time and build a strong community? Time will tell, but we're atleast on board for the start on May 20.
Can Crucible stand up the test of time and build a strong community? Time will tell, but we're atleast on board for the start on May 20.

Amazon Game Studios and Relentless Studios have built something truly interesting in Crucible over these last few years. Not your typical battle royale, hero-shooter, or team-based game, it has an interesting style to it I can safely say I’ve seldom seen elsewhere. With the game launching as a free-to-play team shooter shortly, it will be interesting to see how it continues to grow past its launch, what players think of it, and what kind of community growth occurs alongside it. What I saw in my time with the preview was promising for continually rewarding gameplay, but the real test of time will be how Amazon and Relentless can keep players coming back for more after launch. That said, if they can keep pace, they’ve got something special here in Crucible. At the very least, it was unique, fun, and full of personality.


This preview is based on an early build of Crucible supplied by the publisher. The game is slated to launch free-to-play on Steam in North America on May 20, 2020.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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