Crucible Review: Amazon's Floundering, Beautiful Mess

[Music – Hall of the Mountain King]
How do you even begin talking about an ambitious
game that was in development for six years,
with a rumoured development budget in the
tens of millions,
and yet arrives to little fanfare and widespread
ridicule?
This is Amazon’s second shot at breaking
into the competitive gaming sphere after the
first attempt,
Breakaway, was cancelled before it even launched;
this game just oozes development and management
issues.
I really wanted to like Crucible.
I try to go into games seeing the good in
them,
and it wasn’t particularly hard to do so
here.
It’s not just that there’s potential on
display,
it’s that somewhere under this confused
mess of genre trends,
you can see passionate artists and developers
trying to put out something special –
but it feels like executives took a unique
embryonic project,
and then turned a creative development process
into a trend-chasing box-ticking exercise,
piling on marketable ideas until what was
there ended up swallowed by feature creep.
‘Make it a hero shooter, check,
make it a battle royale, check.
Put in a battle pass, check.
A roster of unique and diverse characters,
check,
make sure it includes a teleporting brown
person because that specific combo is a recurring
trend for some reason, check.
Is there a ping system? Check.
Make it heavily team-dependent [one side of
mouth] but also make sure you can solo carry,
check.
And after all that, the game gets pushed out
a month or two before it’s really ready.
You might notice that this video doesn’t
feature footage of every character. By the
time I had played as seven of them, the game’s
problems had eclipsed the little enjoyment
I was getting,
and I ended up giving up on the game in its
current state.
The problems are varying in scale. I could
focus on the myriad little issues with the game:
[MUSIC INTENSIFIES]
Matchmaking and connection issues
Character level display bugs
Profoundly boring respawn process
Character information lacking important tooltips
Identical death sounds for allies and enemies
Living characters not displaying on the
map
Respawn animations consistently loading
at low level of detail
Performance Issues
Drakahl specifically having extra abilities
Glitchy ping wheel
AI enemies becoming immune to damage
Awful cash shop user interface
Camera not suited to melee-dependent characters
Significant Character Balance Issues
Weapons that don’t feel impactful
Animations that were clearly meant for use
on different assets
Inconsistent melee hit registration indicators
Annoying sound when taking damage over time
[Music cuts]
But I shouldn’t. These aren’t the issue.
They were all annoyances, sure, but a lot
of them are just rough edges that can be gradually
sanded away with patching.
Crucible’s core problem, the one that drove
me away, is something more fundamental.
[sigh] Let me explain…
[music resumes and climaxes]
[Music: Crucible OST – Summer’s Theme]
Crucible’s core problem is that I have played
it for seven hours and still struggle to succinctly
describe it.
I mean, sure, I can give you the wikipedia-style
explanation –
Crucible is a free-to-play PVP third-person-MOBA-shooter published by Amazon Game Studios
following Amazon’s 2014 acquisition of Twitch,
and developed by one of their subsidiaries
but to concisely tell you what it means to
sit down and actually play Crucible still
eludes me.
There’s a lot of elements in there, but
rather than coming together as one cohesive
vision, it feels like the game was stitched
together from a laundry list of popular design
trends;
a creation that came from the findings of
innumerable focus groups rather than developers.
“So…you want a fast-paced arena hero shooter,
that’s driven by macro strategy and
…plays out like a MOBA?”
‘Yeah’,
‘that’s right’
‘Sure!’
‘POGGERS’
‘I’d like that’
‘Something like Battleborn!’
‘And also, you should put in a battle royale!’
[SIGH]
The mishmash design of Crucible comes to light
in three main ways –
the gameplay, the tutorialisation (or lack
thereof),
and the communication features (or…lack
thereof).
Let’s talk about how the game plays first.
Crucible
[MUSIC CUTS] – generally
[music resumes] pits two teams of players
against each other to skirmish over objectives.
Each character wields abilities that express
their personalities and go to some length
to make them feel quite different from one
another.
Some of them are pretty damn fun to play as.
One of the first things I did during the tutorial,
while playing as flamethrower girl Summer,
was discover this little tech where I combo
abilities to escape a close-range encounter.
It was really promising to start the game
seeing a character with interesting and expressive
movement mechanics.
[whispering] – Someone please steal Summer
and put her in a game that deserves her
At launch, Crucible had three modes –
Harvester Command, Heart of the Hives and
Alpha Hunters.
In Harvester Command, two teams of eight players
fight to control points on the map to contribute
to a score,
first team to 100 points wins.
In Heart of the Hives, two teams of four take
down colossal alien insect hives so they can
collect the heart within.
The first team to collect 3 hearts wins.
And in Alpha Hunters, eight teams of two deploy
into a no-respawns battle royale.
If you lose your teammate, you can temporarily
team up with another solo player.
Aside from the main objectives, teams can
capture harvesters and fight each other or
AI monsters in order to gather Essence
– essentially experience points.
Team members share XP and level up as a team,
unlocking upgrades with each level.
Side objectives occasionally spawn and capturing
these provides team-wide bonuses.
If this all sounds good so far, well, I agree
with you.
I honestly think that high-level Crucible
play with organised teams would look pretty
interesting,
and I initially had high hopes precisely because
of this strategic layer –
the problem is that these core concepts are
drowned out by all the other decisions that
feel like they’re in conflict.
Crucible is a game that’s constantly being
pulled in different directions.
The abundance of XP and side objectives looks
like it’s there to encourage teams splitting
up,
fighting 1v1 for access to experience, soaking,
and then coming together in time for teamfights,
but just roaming as a group, getting ganks
and clearing out monsters along the way never
feels like it’s actually sacrificing XP.
At the end of a match where one team dominated
through experience,
the end stats usually have the teams at level
6 vs level 5, and everyone gets their last
perk at 5.
There’s no way to see the enemy team’s
level or XP gain during a match, so it’s
impossible to tell who’s about to hit a
power spike for a teamfight.
Why engage with this strategy layer if it
never feels like it’s key to victory?
The harvesters trickle constant essence but
even if you have them all locked down it doesn’t
seem to give you any significant advantage.
There’s also issues with the implementation
of PvE essence farming.
I actually really like strategic macro play,
rotations and being a team player, but essence
farming for me was just, well, dull.
The map is too large for the amount of content
that’s in it, and the main hostile XP source,
the Stomper dinosaurs, just soak a lot of
damage while slowly walking towards you posing
minimal threat.
Even with characters that consistently output
a lot of damage, it’s just a process of
standing there holding the left mouse button
for minutes at a time.
You can’t quickly rotate to a stomper herd,
mop them up, and return to your team, you
have to stand there and grind them out.
If the monsters were different this could
lead to interesting choices.
If you could kill them quickly you could weigh
up if you had enough time to take them and
return.
If they were dangerous, you would have to
really engage with the combat mechanics.
What we have instead is a worst possible scenario
where fighting them is both long and boring.
Good luck trying to get players to help the
team through farming when farming isn’t
remotely engaging.
What reason is there to pursue this dull strategy
when I could just fight alongside the rest
of my team against whatever we find along
the way?
This lack of commitment to a teamplay or solo
focus extends to the toolkits of many the
characters.
So many of them feel like they were initially
designed to fill a role in a team composition,
but were then reworked to make everyone relatively
self-reliant.
Very few of them really fill a niche in a
team. Bugg can set up defensive turrets and
provide an AoE heal,
but he still doesn’t end up playing like
a support character that influences your team’s
win condition.
Then. There’s. Earl.
Earl has one of the best abilities for moving
across the map, a large health pool,
consistent damage and a self-heal in a game
with very limited healing;
he doesn’t feel like a tank, he just feels
like a character that can do everything.
Promotional and tutorial material really make
the game sound like it wants to be more team-oriented,
but the actual mechanics go against that.
[developer voice over] With objectives all
over the map, you’ll be skirmishing constantly.
Think about the sort of squad you want at
your side.
…There’s no drafting or team composition.
There’s no way I can theorycraft about team
composition unless I’m queueing with friends.
Everyone just picks their character before
they even enter the matchmaking queue,
and I suspect that’s why every character
ends up having to have a kit that lets them
fend for themselves.
The fence-sitting design is borderline embarassing
with the hives.
They’re built up and presented as mini raid
bosses that you have to take down together
as a team.
[developer voice over] Hives are big nasty
things. You’ll find them springing up out
of the ground on Crucible.
Come special with their own little wasp…things.
Euch!
My advice? Don’t let ‘em touch ya.
Anyway, here’s me taking one down solo and
all I needed was a medkit.
Oh, and they seem to have a minimum attack
range which means Summer and Drakahl can just
grind them down without a care in the world.
So many interesting team-based opportunities
are thrown away in an attempt to make every
player independent.
I wonder if this was all done as a concession
to the battle royale style mode, Alpha Hunters.
It’s absolutely the odd one out of the modes
and makes the discordant design show.
Players just deploy in their duo and that’s
it. They their have standard abilities and
weapons.
There’s no scavenging for equipment, making
a Battle Royale mode with one of the hallmarks
of the genre removed.
The map’s too large and empty for a MOBA,
but too small for a battle royale and it devolves
into a deathmatch within minutes.
As a result of all this, the game right now
comes off feeling like a hodgepodge of trends
all undermining each other instead of executing
a few ideas well.
Crucible doesn’t have a solid ‘identity’
that becomes apparent during play and it’s
a terrible way to be perceived at launch.
I don’t have a lot of interest in Valorant
and I think its art style is a bit of a mess,
but I can look at one round of gameplay and
intuitively understand what the game’s about.
Apex Legends keeps expanding in scope but
there’s no doubt as to its Battle Royale
focus.
Overwatch has spent four years in an internal
tug of war between its casual and hardcore
playerbases,
overhauled some of its characters, added side
modes,
made significant, game-changing alterations
to team composition rules and has a PVE expansion
on the horizon,
but despite all that, the intuitive role-driven
gameplay pitting attackers against defenders
has always been at the core of Overwatch.
Crucible absolutely has potential as refinements
are made, but ‘potential’ isn’t enough
at this late stage.
It’s trying to solve problems that should
be sorted before a beta, never mind a full
launch with a battle pass and cash shop implemented.
[Music fades out]
[Music: Crucible OST – Mendoza’s Theme]
With some significant tweaking, there may
be a cohesive design present in the game,
under all the mess
– but the other part of the problem is that
the game doesn’t have any interest in letting
me know how to engage with it.
Let’s talk tutorialisation. Some of you
may be rolling your eyes, but bear with me
here.
People defending the game can understandably
have a tendency of telling others with this
complaint that they’re just too casual,
or that they didn’t play the game enough
or put enough effort into understanding it.
Putting aside the fact that this isn’t a
problem that many other games have, Amazon
absolutely wants Crucible to have a broad
player base
rather than a small, select hardcore one that
grits their teeth and bears through potentially
tens of hours of confusion.
The current new player experience makes people
bounce off it and gatekeeping isn’t a stance
you can really afford to take early in a game’s
life in a crowded market.
Even the developers agree.
Those are many of our top priorities. And
while we’re addressing those, we’re also
going to be working to improve the quality
of areas that we’ve heard your feedback
on
like framerate, hit feedback in combat and
the feel of combat, matchmaking and most importantly
teaching the game to new players.
I mentioned a little bit earlier, it’s an
area that we’ve heard a lot of feedback on, is
that as new players come in,
they’re not actually understanding what
makes Crucible unique and it’s not being
taught to them,
and we’re going to be doing a lot of work
to help educate and make sure that as new
players come in,
they look and see and can understand the amazing
parts of Crucible that all of you in our core
community have fallen in love with,
and we do a better job of teaching them that.
The game’s tutorial only really explains
the basics of control and interaction, but
the game does very little to stress the importance
of essence gathering.
When a game starts I’m presented with these
tooltips for modifiers and side objectives,
but I still don’t have any frame of reference
for how this is meant to inform my decisions.
I know what a stomper is, and I have some
vague idea of what to do if a stomper herd
is moving, but do these two modifiers intersect?
Are they separate insofar as we’ll see stompers
and a distinct herd?
Why do some of these just sound like things
that are present in the map by default?
For some of these I still don’t have much
immediate understanding of what they mean.
I can’t engage with this potentially awesome
strategy layer of the game if I can’t understand
it,
and if the dominant or most entertaining strategy
so far seems to be to ignore it entirely,
how am I going to come to understand it?
I said earlier that I imagine high-level coordinated
Crucible play may look really interesting,
but my personal interest in the game is going
to chiefly be sustained by what the experience
is like for me to play on the ladder.
If that high-level experience doesn’t trickle
down to the average player,
and most games feel like disorganised skirmishes
that don’t play to the game’s strengths,
I’ll end up playing something else.
‘Why play Crucible if Crucible just feels
like a watered-down version of something else?’
Let’s talk for a moment about another, similar
game that I fell in and out of love with.
[Music: Heroes of the Storm OST – Heroes
Defy]
Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard’s MOBA game
that takes characters from all of Blizzard’s
universes –
Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch
– and puts them all in one game
[shouted across the room] HEY WOULDN’T IT
BE COOL IF DIABLO GOT TO FIGHT THE…THE…THE-THE-THE-THE-THE,
THE GUY, THE THE THE THE…JOHN STARCRAFT?
As I played Crucible, I found myself thinking
about Heroes from time to time. Like in Crucible,
characters in HotS level up as a team,
encouraging soaking experience through PvE
elements and rotations, before regrouping
as a team to fight over objectives.
Having a better soak routine and XP economy
means your team will reach power spikes sooner
and opens windows of opportunity to take a
favourable teamfight.
The rest of the game tries to highlight this
– experience bars and levels are always
on clear display,
the minimap shows experience opportunities
in the lanes,
and some characters are picked just for their
ability to gain XP.
I love Heroes of the Storm. A good match in
HotS where the team rotates, soaks and comes
together like a well-oiled machine
is one of the most satisfying multiplayer
experiences I’ve had.
I adore it in design and execution. But I
eventually stopped playing, because the poor
tutorialisation slowly trickled down to the
player base,
and that lead to the ladder experience being
unpleasant.
Despite being so crucial to success in the
game, HotS always struggled to inform players
just how important it was to soak waves especially
in the early game.
It launched in Summer 2015 but it wasn’t
until four years later that the dev team started
to look at ways
to better communicate and incentivise soaking
through visual feedback and mechanical changes.
By then, it was too late. The team had already
been downsized and, to this day, you can routinely
find posts on the game’s subreddit from
players of all ranks,
talking about how their teammates ignore experience.
Those thrilling games where players work together,
take on responsibilities and rotate in unison
are overshadowed by games
where mages and pushers just constantly teamfight
in mid.
Meanwhile, I’m borderline powerless to deal
with minion waves alone as I’m usually the
solo tank or healer.
I get exhausted with games where I have to
use my best customer service voice to ask
people to do the very basics of HotS play,
and the thrilling high level play from the
HGC esports days feels like something from
a parallel universe.
[casters] …started healing up for Dignitas,
Stukov waiting for another silence opportunity.
At this point you’re just trying to look
for that engage, they need that Varian silence,
and look at Rich he actually gets the camp
but at the same time the kill comes in! Tisk
is down! Is that the kill?!
Bunker comes in as well as Wubby’s under
pressure. X-strike, they’re going for it!
Rich! He’s gonna go down, Poilk finds the
kills as he gets resets here.
He’s not playin’ Heroes, he’s playin’
Nintendo as he gets these resets, another
one coming in!
KyoCha falls as well, that’s gonna be a
five. Man. Team. Wipe!
They need to take that camp and they need
to take it now…
[Music: Crucible OST – Shakirri’s Theme]
We have a similar situation: a game with brilliant
design [side of mouth] although HotS is a
lot more polished;
but a lack of communicating the mechanics
to the players leads to a scenario where the
game can be unbearable unless you team up
with like-minded people.
If Crucible doesn’t nip this issue in the
bud soon, it’ll be headed down the same
track where nobody plays the game in a way
that leans in to its strengths,
the ladder experience will become unpleasant
and people will just move on.
[Music fades out]
[Music: Crucible OST: Drakahl’s Theme]
There’s one final aspect of Crucible that
exemplifies the fence-sitting confluence of
design decisions: the communication systems,
or rather, the lack of them.
At the time of writing, the only way to communicate
with teammates is a ping system, with no voice
or text chat;
the game directly links to its discord server
so you can find others to play with and chat
via discord. Conceptually, I’m actually
pretty okay with this.
I think it’d be nice to see us move away
from these systems as a default assumption
and embrace other in-game communication systems
while reserving voice for groups.
At least make it so that there’s plenty of ways
to communicate in a solo queue environment
without relying on voice.
The problem is that the ping system they have
in place is absolutely dismal, doing very
little to stand in for text or voice chat.
It’s limited to essentially barking orders
at your teammates –
‘look here’, ‘go here’, ‘enemy here’,
‘group up here’, ‘danger here’ and
a context-sensitive ping for items like health
packs.
On the map screen, the only pings you can
leave are ‘look here’ and ‘enemy here’.
That’s it.
The omissions are glaring – there’s no
way to acknowledge someone else’s order.
There’s no way to give more specific pings
on the map, just ‘look here’.
You can’t ping the map to say that you’re
going somewhere, so there’s ultimately no
way to either agree with anyone else’s plans
or communicate your own.
The game has all this strategic depth, and
a ping system that barely interfaces with
that depth. There’s not even a way to say
‘thank you’.
With no way to express appreciation or admiration,
there’s no real sense of camaraderie in
game, and the atmosphere just feels boring
to play in.
I want to reiterate that the problem here
isn’t inherently the lack of voice or text
chat, it’s the fact that they went for this
without developing a good ping system in its
place.
Good in-game communication systems exist in
other games. Since launch Overwatch had a
bunch of crucial commands and context modifiers
to communicate with your team built into the
game.
They were all available at the touch of a
button, and recently added a bunch more to
the point where I customised my comm wheel
and keybinds.
While relatively basic, Heroes of the Storm
allows you to convey information about your
own plans and suggestions as well as draw
attention to other things.
Apex Legends was praised at launch for its
ping system that accounted for a lot of different
eventualities –
the pings were built around the game, and
it even prompts you to thank your teammates.
Apex launched with voice and text chat but
you can go for huge lengths of time playing
the game without ever using them
just because the ping system is so robust
and built into the game’s culture.
Crucible doesn’t even let you bind specific
pings to single keypress inputs.
Voice and text are coming, but I want to draw
attention to the lack of a consistent design
ethos here. In an interview with Wired,
one day before the game’s launch, senior
combat designer Jon Peters had this to say:
Crucible is meant to be competitive, with
a low barrier to entry and a high skill ceiling.
Until Crucible’s community is solidified,
and its antiharassment systems are robust,
Crucible will not have integrated voice or
text chat—
only a ping system. That way, players are
less likely to get pushed out because of toxicity.
A decision, and its reasoning. But fast forward
less than a week and developers are describing
voice chat as a top priority.
We have heard you that the ability to have
voice and text chat is extremely important,
and it’s something that we agree with.
We had originally planned to deliver voice
and text chat together, however we’re gonna
go ahead and deliver voice as fast as we possibly
can rather than wait for text as well.
We’ll get voice in the game, and we’ll
do that as quickly as we possibly can, and
then text will come slightly after that.
A call was made to not include voice or text
until further down the line, but the system
that exists in its place doesn’t feel like
it was designed with that decision in mind.
Nothing in Crucible feels like it was designed
accounting for everything else that surrounds
it, right down to how you interact with other
people.
[Music fades out]
[Music: Crucible OST – Earl’s Theme]
After all my time playing and all I’ve said
about it, I really do feel like Crucible has
some potential.
Make no mistake, I did have some fun times
and enthralling firefights in my seven hours,
and in those moments the promise of an amazing
game emerging kept me hopeful.
Developers have spoken about how they’re
going to improve the ping system and the player
onboarding experience, and I’m glad they
seem to be aware of where some of the issues
are.
They’re even making the very brave decision
to cut out two of the three modes and centre
all the development around Heart of the Hives.
[music cuts, VHS eject sound plays]
Hi. So, uh, [tongue clacking noise] this video’s
been in the pipeline for about a month,
between writing, re-learning how to edit,
new programs, new mic, re-doing the VO and
most of the productivity coming in manic workaholic
bursts,
and uh…[lip smack] the day before I finish
editing, the devs announce that the game is
effectively going to be ‘un-released’
and put into a private beta state.
Anyone who’s already installed the game
can participate and invite others, but from
here on out no more random newbies until re-release.
As of now the player count hovers around 150,
and the devs are matching a drastic situation
with drastic action.
The closest a game’s come to doing this
that I can remember is Final Fantasy 14’s
total rebuild with A Realm Reborn.
I can’t say I’m super optimistic about
the game, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t
lowkey enthralled at watching this play out,
and Crucible’s development might be a hell
of a story one year from now. So uh, good
luck devs, I think?
I’m uh, I’m kinda stuck here between rooting
for an underdog and my disdain for Amazon
as a company.
Anyway, back to the rest of the video; I think
everything else I say still stands, but I’d
be remiss not to mention this. [VCR sound,
music resumes]
It kind of reinforces the perception that
a lot of the game’s bloat was added by executive
decision but now devs seem firmly in the driver’s
seat.
I would love to come back in a few months
and see that the game has turned its fortunes
around; I sincerely hope that this video ages
poorly.
But this is Amazon’s second entry into the
big multiplayer games sphere and it just doesn’t
look hopeful.
I hope that New World doesn’t fall into
the same traps as Crucible, because I’m
excited to see an MMO made by Guild Wars alumni
and
[Music cuts] Oh. They want you to pay upfront
to try out the colonialism MMO in an already
populated market.
Well, uh, [chortle] good…good luck with
that Jeff. [sigh], these subsidiary studios
are screwed.
It’s also a really bad time to have a rough
launch. Even if Crucible were to fix all its issues
tomorrow, the question of ‘is this game
worth your time’ is still pretty dicey given
the competition.
Valorant launched in early June while I was
making this video.
Do you remember what happened the last time
an interesting moba shooter came out just
under 2 weeks before a highly polished game?
A highly polished game from a studio with
huge name recognition?
Apex Legends and Rainbow Six Siege don’t
seem to be showing any signs of slowing down,
Overwatch has a huge co-op expansion on the
horizon,
and – [Music cuts] hell – even [resumes]
Planetside 2 is seeing the best player counts
it’s had since 2016.
Damn. Imagine having the backing of the richest
man on earth and the biggest game streaming
platform
and still being overtaken by Planetside.
Sure, Crucible has potential, but if the best
you can say about a game at launch, especially
in this environment, is that it nebulously
‘has potential’,
chances are it’s already too late.
[Music Fade Out]
“Aawwwww bring it down, Momma, likes to
[volume increases] SWING, HER, THING, YEAH!
[whispering] Also, uh…giving your game the
same name as the PVP component of Destiny
has made it nigh-impossible to google basic
information about it.
[beat] Sorry!
[Music: Crucible OST – Rahi and Brother’s
Theme]
Thanks for watching through to the end. This
is actually the first video project requiring
serious effort that I’ve done in nine years,
and it was fun and surreal in equal measure.
I’d like to do more; and I’m currently
writing a video about Death Stranding. Feel
free to like and subscr
…y’know…do algorithm things.
In the meantime, check out some of this weird
stuff I made! I also stream! Not, uh, not
consistently yet, but I’m getting there!
And, well, I don’t think I’ll be streaming
Crucible for at least a few months, especially
if they don’t turn it around.

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