On the surface, “Crucible” looks like an average third-person arena online shooter that mixes elements of “Overwatch,” (characters with different skill sets) with those other familiar titles. “Crucible” is an attempt to fuse the chaos of a hero shooter with the pacing and strategy of a multiplayer online battle arena, like “League of Legends.” And much like “Fortnite” distilled the satisfaction of loot grinds to a single match, “Crucible” allows players to level up within a game, turning matches into dynamic power plays with explosive crescendos. That process is made easier thanks to every game being filled with AI-controlled enemy aliens, meaning you don’t have to best the living to increase your abilities.
“You’re not limited in your ability to fight another player,” said Colin Johanson, franchise lead for “Crucible.” “Suddenly, this role emerges where anyone can meaningfully contribute, through farming, gaining [experience] to help their team gain levels.”
Out the gate, there are three modes playable in the game. Harvester Command is your big team 8-on-8 tower defense standard. Heart of the Hives is the marquee mode that pits two teams of four to take down three large “hive” monsters. And Alpha Hunters is a survival mode with eight teams of pairs surviving against the planet Crucible and its alien life-forms.
Before each match, you pick one of 12 distinct characters. Drakahl is your standard, melee-only tank, while Summer has two flamethrowers attached to her fists, making her essential to any defensive strategy. But “Crucible” allows players to customize skill trees before each match, and as the game continues, your team will earn Essence by completing tasks, defeating players and computer-controlled enemies.
The Essence you gain, the more you level up and the more your character’s focus changes. This way, the game is able to expand beyond the standard MMORPG classes of tanks, healers and damage-per-second heavy hitters. Tosca, a smart aleck, squirrel-like creature (think Rocket from “Guardians of the Galaxy”), is great for defense, as she lays clouds to obscure vision. But she’s also great for hitting hard and fast with her shotgun and a blink teleportation ability that she’ll be able to do more and more as the match progresses.
Every game mode will feature planetary threats, living up to the promise Bioware’s “Anthem” never met. In “Crucible,” certain stage events could happen that could tip the scales of the game. A part of the metagame includes preventing the other team from farming too much Essence from these enemies, so they don’t level up.
The game is pretty too. As a setting, the planet Crucible is as vibrant and colorful as any of the interstellar maps we’ve gotten in other games like “Destiny,” just bigger and wider to accommodate the enemies and the superpowers. The game’s map size seems to be a compromise between the arenas in “Destiny” (in a mode also called “Crucible”) and Halo’s Big Team Battle maps.
Jason Stansell, head of art and animation at Amazon Game Studios, said they took a lot of feedback from players when it came to hitboxes, player silhouettes and diversity, both in terms of the characters and the way they moved. Stansell’s past work in animation include the Sony title “Infamous: Second Son,” which was an early and impressive demonstration of the PlayStation 4′s abilities in 2013.
“From a gamer standpoint, being able to read the situation is something we took seriously,” Stansell said. “But it also works in terms of streaming, being able to quickly understand from a watchability standpoint. We wanted to create characters that were earnest, someone the audience could connect to.”
“Crucible” is a standout in character animation, even compared to Blizzard’s celebrated work in games like “Overwatch.” Facial animations on Rahi, a South Asian short-range player equipped with lasers, tell stories about his friendship with his robo-buddy Brother, and how they seem to have a symbiotic, dependent relationship.
Johanson said giving streamers the chance to provide feedback was invaluable in making sure the game was as much fun to watch as it is to play. For example, there are no hitscan weapons in the game. Every bullet in the game is a projectile, which Johanson said makes for more exciting gameplay. The planetary events will have visual cues, so audiences, as well as players, know when something big is about to happen.
“It’s not always about making what was cool, we wanted to make something that’s clear and customer focused,” Stansell said.
Given that “Crucible” is free to play, it unsurprisingly comes with what’s now become the standard in online “live service” shooter games: season passes (like “Fortnite”) and character skins for sale. Both appeared to be ready to go in our two-hour preview session.
It’s hard to say what kind of legs “Crucible,” will have. Competition for attention, even in the shooting genre, is fierce. But it’s easy to say what “Crucible,” gets right: Gorgeous graphics, controls well, a low barrier for entry, low barriers of entries for players of many skill levels and a solid mix of today’s most popular genre ideas.
What matters, though, is that by the end of my two-hour session, I found myself wanting to learn more about the game, and explore upgrade paths of several other characters. In an industry filled with also-ran games, my skepticism for “Crucible” has waned.