Crucible, the new free-to-play competitive shooter from Amazon’s Relentless Studios, is somewhere between a shooter and a MOBA. While games like Paragon have recently tried and failed to combine these two immensely popular genres, Crucible is going about it in a new way. The game combines the objective focus and “neutral” enemy units found in most MOBAs and uses them to force teamfights that are fast, exciting, and would feel right at home in the team deathmatch mode of many traditional shooters.
The basics of Crucible probably sound familiar. Players select a character, called a Hunter, before a game. Hunters range from humans in generic sci-fi space marine armor, to tiny robots, to anthropomorphic woodland creatures, to giant aliens with axes. Each Hunter has their own unique weapons and abilities, and everything takes place in a close-up third-person perspective.
Once a game begins, players spawn onto a giant jungle map — Crucible only has one map for now, and it’s not clear if or when there will be another in the future — filled with rivers, bright green trees, and alien fauna. The various alien wildlife, which is hostile to both teams, can be killed to gain experience points called Essence, which are used to level up the entire team. Each level unlocks new upgrades, depending on the Hunter.
Teams can also capture Harvesters, which passively give them Essence every few seconds, or they could fight the enemy team directly in hopes of standing in the way of the other side getting too large of a level advantage.
All these mechanics are consistent across all three of Crucible’s game modes. There’s an eight-on-eight capture-the-point mode, which serves as the perfect place to try new Hunters. There’s also a battle royale-esque mode where eight teams of two vie to be the last team standing.
But these mechanics really shine in Crucible’s main game mode, the four-versus-four Heart of the Hives.
The star of the show
In Heart of the Hives, the goal is to be the first team to capture three Hive Hearts. Players have to balance farming neutral monsters and fighting the enemy team, like they do in all of Crucible’s other modes, with a new enemy called Hive. Hives are a massive insect-pod-looking enemy that both teams can destroy. Once a Hive dies, its heart will appear on the ground for either team to collect in order to earn a point.
These events force players into the massive teamfights that are Crucible’s chaotic bread and butter. Hunters dash around and use abilities, five different types of weapons all fire at once, and yet somehow it’s all easy to keep track of. Each ability has a unique and identifiable noise associated with it, and Hunters are vocal enough to make their presence known in the middle of combat. Along with the audio cues that help you keep track of what’s happening, the abilities are also brightly colored with splashy visuals to let you know what each Hunter on the screen is doing at any moment.
Abilities come off of cooldown quickly and are powerful enough to feel like a big deal every time one lands, without each one hitting like a death sentence. These battles feel like brawls, but you almost always have tactical options, even when things look dire.
So far there are 10 Hunters — though there may be more in the future. There’s Mendoza, a traditional soldier-type Hunter with grenades and a machine gun. Then there are trickier Hunters like Sazan, who has three different weapons, but she can’t manually reload them. You have to swap for another and wait for each weapon to recharge instead. There’s Drakahl, a giant beast with an ax who plays a little like a fighting game character with dozens of different possible combos that make it hard to fight back if you get caught by a talented player. A Hunter called Bugg sets up plants that act like little turrets.
Each Hunter feels totally different to play, and each ability feels like it has multiple ways to use it during each fight. Learning the best way to use each ability brings obvious benefits when I’m playing them, but it’s even more worthwhile to learn every Hunter to understand what’s likely coming if I’m playing against certain Hunter or combinations of Hunters. It may not be worthwhile to chase a particularly mobile Hunter, or a defensive Hunter may have a long cooldown on their shield so you know to attack quickly and decisively after they’ve used it once.
With so many different types of Hunters, fights can sometimes stretch into minutes-long encounters. If one team plays a fight carefully they might even lose a member or two, but keep the engagement going long enough for those Hunters to respawn and rejoin the fray.
In every fight you’re constantly faced with decisions about whether you should focus on killing an enemy player, back off to heal yourself, or take a bit of a risk with your own life to save a teammate’s. And the “right” decision may change on a second-to-second basis. Fights are exhausting but exhilarating, and win or lose, each one opens up a dozen choices about what your team should do next to capitalize on your new advantage or begin your comeback.
While hearts are the only way to win the mode, they aren’t the only thing that’s important. Along with farming the NPC enemies that spawn on the map to get more Essence for upgrades, several bonus events spawn during each match for teams to fight over. One event has players capture newly-spawned stations around the map in order to get a permanent health upgrade. Another spawns small canisters around the map that players can deliver to a set location for a huge Essence bonus but, if the carrier is killed, the other team can deliver it for the same bonus instead. The events are random, and each one can change the game completely.
Crucible’s map is massive enough that taking any one objective will mean a serious time commitment, so you might have to give up something else in return. One team may choose not to put up much of a fight at the first Hive in favor of farming Essence instead. While letting their opponent capture the first heart puts them at a disadvantage, the farming team might enter the fight at the next Hive a level advantage over their opponents, which might make the rest of the game easier to win.
In Heart of the Hives these kind of high-risk, high-reward decisions feel like they happen every couple of minutes, always keeping you on your toes and making sure that every match feels unique. Crucible is the best kind of familiar, as this description likely makes you think of games as diverse as League of Legends or Overwatch, but Crucible’s development team has put enough thought into how to remix these ideas that the result is worth at least trying, even if you’re up to your eyeballs in new, competitive online games.
Crucible will be released on May 20, and is only available on PC where it can be downloaded for free through Steam.
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