Impressions: Amazon’s Crucible is a jack-of-all-trades hero shooter that just isn’t fun to play

Crucible, the first game produced and released by Amazon Game Studios, feels less like an interactive experience and more like a laundry list of checked boxes. One could technically classify it as an Overwatch­-esque hero shooter, a twitch-based MOBA in the vein of Epic Games’ failed venture Paragon, and even an Apex Legends-esque battle royale game. Crucible is all of these things, and yet despite a flashy features list, an accessible F2P monetization model, and an overabundance of buzz-worthy descriptors, its actual moment-to-moment gameplay leaves a lot to be desired.

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

Amazon Game Studios apparently couldn’t decide which competitive player vs. player format it wanted to focus on, so it just decided to focus on all of them. At launch, Crucible has three main modes of play along with a tutorial and practice arena. All three modes involve players fighting both each other and AI-controlled wildlife on a large open map as they work to complete mode-specific objectives. The three currently available modes are as follows:

  • Heart of the Hive – A 4v4 mode where players converge on specific points of the map where a large hostile hive spawns. When the hive is killed, it drops a heart which can be collected, and the first team to collect three hearts wins.
  • Alpha Hunters – A battle royale-esque mode in which every player only has one life per match. Players can form an alliance with another player to create a team of two, but if they’re the only two left at the end the alliance is broken and they must fight for the top spot.
  • Harvester Command – A mode similar to the Battlefield series’ Conquest mode where two teams of eight players vie for control of a series of large harvesters dotted around the map. Controlling harvesters and killing enemy players contributes to your team’s total essence score, and the first team to reach 100 essence score wins the match.

While Alpha Hunters and Heart of the Hive have their own dedicated tiles in Crucible’s matchmaking panel, Harvester Command is tucked inside a separate ‘Arcade’ tile, suggesting that Amazon Game Studios plans on releasing new Arcade modes in the near future. One would hope that some sort of co-op PvE mode is in the works since the game could certainly use one, but as of this writing those who don’t enjoy fighting their fellow players directly need not bother checking Crucible out.

Rogue’s Gallery

It’s a shame that Amazon Game Studios didn’t bother to explore Crucible’s PvE potential more since the game’s eclectic cast of playable heroes doesn’t feel properly balanced for direct PvP combat. Don’t get me wrong, on their own each of Crucible’s ten heroes both looks and feels distinct enough that they could easily star in their own standalone game. It’s just that in a typical Crucible combat encounter, some heroes are pretty much always going to beat others.

Take, for example, the hero Tosca, a furry little gal who can teleport around using her Blink ability, deploy explosives and smokescreens, and dominate mid-range firefights thanks to her shotgun which fires acid-covered rounds. Pit a highly-skilled Tosca player against another player controlling a more melee-centric character like the burly axe-wielding Drakahl or the elegant duelist Shakirri, and the Tosca player will pretty much always win in a 1v1 situation.

Simply paging through all of Crucible’s different characters and their unique abilities and playstyles proves that Amazon Game Studios was at least committed to ensuring there’s a hero for every type of player. Newbies will likely gravitate towards Captain Mendoza and his simplified loadout of an iron sights-enabled assault rifle, flash grenades, sprint, and deployable cover. Once they’ve got the basics down, players can then move on to more specialized heroes like Ajonah, a fish-woman who can swing around the map using her grappling hook-equipped harpoon gun, or Rahi, a boisterous brawler who can use his pet robot to set up coordinated flanks or escapes.

As I mentioned above, though, not every hero is created equal. Mendoza will almost always get outgunned by the minigun-equipped hero Earl, a cargo hauler who can self-heal, knock enemies back, and equip explosive rounds to boot. If the botany-based robot hero Bugg is caught all on her own by even a single enemy, her heavy support focus will leave her in dire straits unless she’s being controlled by a master-level player (and even then her odds won’t be great).

Then there are heroes whose gameplay mechanics just feel straight up unintuitive. Sazan is a former spec ops soldier whose combat gimmick involves having to quickly switch between three different weapons (an energy rifle, a shotgun, and an electricity-charged throwing knife) whenever one runs out of ammo. The problem is that these weapon swaps must always be triggered manually, resulting in frequent situations where the player is desperately trying to shoot an enemy with an empty weapon and wondering why the reload button isn’t doing anything before they remember they need to switch.

Again, all of Crucible’s heroes can be objectively fun to play under the right conditions, it’s just hard to invest in a hero you find aesthetically pleasing when you know that an enemy player with even a slight modicum of skill will always best you in combat if they happen to have another specific hero as their favorite.

Missing the Point

Fans of the shooter, MOBA, and battle royale genres will find that Amazon Game Studios has taken great pains to ensure Crucible has every reward system and progression gimmick they’ve come to expect and then some. There’s a battle pass with tiered rewards that are unlocked by completing season-specific daily tasks and challenges, there’s in-match character leveling complete with diverging passive skill trees, and there’s even character-specific meta-leveling which encourages players to stick with specific heroes over multiple matches.

Unfortunately, getting to appreciate the fruits of these progression and reward systems means having to also suffer through Crucible’s actual gameplay which, to put it plainly, is incredibly hard to master unless you’ve got some seriously fine-tuned twitch reflexes. Virtually all of the game’s heroes must rely on ranged combat to some degree, and yet janky aiming mechanics and a lack of any sort of aim assist makes hitting distant targets (especially fast-moving ones like Tosca) an exercise in futility.

Melee combat doesn’t fare much better, not so much because of its reliability but because there’s really no “weight” behind a character’s melee strikes. Whether you’re throwing a punch as Rahi, executing an aerial slice as Shakirri, or swinging Drakahl’s massive axe, your blows land with virtually no impact or force, making it hard to justify the appeal of attempting to close the gap with a ranged opponent.

Pair Crucible’s frustrating shooting mechanics and unsatisfying melee combat with its generic game modes and various other shortcomings (glitchy character animations, a lack of in-game chat tools, and an unintuitive in-match map to name a few), and it’s not hard to see why, mere days after its launch, the game already has an aggregate review score of “mixed” over on Steam.

There’s no denying that Crucible in its current form is both problematic and boring, mainly because it feels less like a game that was created through passion and more like an artificially-constructed compilation of executive-approved buzz words presented in interactive form. Amazon Game Studios could theoretically transform the game into something truly unique and memorable given proper time and resources (its parent company is certainly not lacking in the latter), the question is whether Crucible will even survive its initial launch doldrums to warrant that kind of continuous investment.

If you still want to try it for yourself, Crucible is available now on PC via Steam.