‘Crucible’ proves that Amazon is finally serious about video games
Every character has a primary attack and four abilities tied to Q, E, left Shift and your mouse’s right-click button. (You can remap the control scheme in the game’s settings, though.) Where possible, Relentless has tied similar character abilities to the same button. Left shift, for instance, will trigger a sprint for Captain Mendoza, a short-range teleport for Tosca and a retractable grappling hook for Ajonah. Some characters have unique control schemes, though, that defy this shared logic entirely. With Shakirri, for instance, you can alternate between a pistol and sword by pressing left Shift. Doing so will change the character’s left- and right-click attacks, but not her Holo-Shield (E) or Force Dome (Q), which prevents enemies from leaving or entering.
Crucible characters have different skill ‘floors’ and ‘ceilings’ — how difficult they are to learn and the amount of hidden complexity — to accommodate casual and expert players alike. “That being said, generally speaking, we’ve put the ceilings as high as we possibly can,” Jon Peters, combat lead on Crucible, said. The true complexity lies in how the characters synergize with each other. Unlike Overwatch, there are no conventional roles. Characters have slightly different traits — the lumbering Earl can take more damage than the agile Tosca, for instance — but they can each play offensively and carry a team to victory.
Essence provides yet another wrinkle to Crucible’s strategy. Like a MOBA, characters can use the substance to level up and gain powerful upgrades throughout each match. In the pre-game lobby, you can review and tweak the bonuses that your character will receive at level one, three and five. Tosca, for example, can pick between an explosive teleport or an increased number of Electro-Cloud charges at level five.
That flexibility adds to the game’s strategy and potential team compositions. Drakahl is a melee-focused character, for instance, while Ajonah is a long-range sniper. At first, they might seem like a bad pairing. Drakahl has an optional “blood tracker” upgrade that means he can spot enemies that are taking sustained damage within 80 meters. Ajonah, meanwhile, has a squid mine that follows the target and explodes to slow them down. The pair can, therefore, be a surprisingly deadly tracker combo. “There’s a ton of extra depth because of these upgrades,” Peters explained.
Essence also changes how you play each of the game modes. Take Heart of the Hives: Should you battle for the first spawn point, or hang back and collect essence from some AI-controlled monsters first? Similarly, during an Alpha Hunters match, I found an essence dispenser that would help me quickly level up. Other teams were sniffing around, though, so I had to decide whether it was worth leaving the undergrowth and potentially drawing enemy fire.
I know what you’re thinking and, yes, the essence system was absolutely inspired by MOBAs. Relentless isn’t the first studio to come up with this genre-blending idea, either. Epic Games released Paragon, an action-heavy MOBA with a third-person perspective, in March 2016. The title didn’t take off, though, and Epic downsized the development team after the success of Fortnite’s battle royale mode. Paragon was eventually shut down in April 2018 and all of its assets were released for free through the Unreal Engine Marketplace.
Battleborn shared a similar fate. The frenetic first-person shooter, released by Borderlands developer Gearbox Software in May 2016, used a mid-game levelling and skill tree system lifted from MOBAs. Despite some mildly positive reviews, the game was a commercial flop. (It probably didn’t help that the title was released in the same year as Overwatch.) Gearbox tried to save the shooter with a free-to-play pivot, but it wasn’t enough. In September 2017, the developer announced that the game’s Fall Update would be its last. Battleborn has since been removed from digital stores, and multiplayer servers are scheduled to shut down next January.
Relentless is all too aware of these failures. The company believes it’s taken a different approach that will fundamentally change how it’s played and perceived. Paragon matches, for instance, had a similar setup to popular MOBAs like DOTA and League of Legends: Two teams started on opposite sides of the map, then slowly pushed down “lanes” that lead to smaller towers and, finally, the enemy’s base. Destroy the core inside this stronghold and you won the game. Crucible’s game modes, meanwhile, are nothing like this. That’s because the team focused first on its core loop — level up, hunt and adapt — before considering which modes it could and should be applied to. “So I think [the game] grew a little bit more naturally,” said Eric Flannum, creative director on Crucible.
Relentless isn’t the first studio to come up with this genre-blending idea.
The team is also quick to highlight its community outreach. Relentless pulled in many different people — including professional gamers, variety streamers and cosplayers — to playtest the game and provide feedback early on. “We hope that’s allowed us to make a game that has an inherent appeal,” Flannum said. ”And the second thing is, we hope that will establish a rapport with our players so we can continue to serve them after the game has launched.”
Crucible’s success will likely depend on its ability to attract streamers. Any game with competitive aspirations needs to build an audience on Twitch and, to a lesser extent, smaller competitors including Mixer, Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming. That’s why Riot Games used Twitch to distribute Valorant closed beta keys. Unsurprisingly, players flocked to the streams that would make them eligible for the randomized key drops. The clever marketing strategy boosted the game’s audience and guaranteed its dominance both on Twitch’s homepage and general social media.