The Cycle: Frontier is a free-to-play PvPvE first-person shooter that, graphically speaking, reminds me of No Man’s Sky and Outer Wilds. I got a few hours of gameplay time and I’m happy to say that it feels solid even with the few bugs I came across.
The Cycle: Frontier introduces players the planet Fortuna III. Here, mysterious alien creatures roam free while old research facilities are abandoned. Players enter the planet as Prospectors – adventurers who search for resources and precious loot while braving the elements and hostile creatures. You aren’t the only Prospector around town, however. Other players will be dropping into the planet to gather the same resources you’re after, and while some can be friendly, others will want to hunt you down for your inventory. The Cycle: Frontier brought me back to DayZ days of worrying about PvE elements and survival while also being wary of players I’d come across. You can be attacked by any alien creature on the planet, or anyone can turn against you.
You can play solo or as part of a team with up to three other players. Start with the basic loadout options, and then you must equip each item in your inventory. Each time you set out on an excursion, you’ll have to decide if you want to insure any of your equipment you’re setting out with. If you die on Fortuna III, you’ll lose everything you equipped and had in your inventory unless your items are insured. You have five Safe Pocket slots, which allow you to keep five of your items even if they are lost. While this mechanic seems kind of punishing, I didn’t find it frustrating. It gave me a reason for being more cautious about the looting that I did and my interactions with the players I chose to accept. The Cycle: Frontier balances risk and reward really well, since it’s really on you if you decide to take on that big alien creature if you decide to enter a high danger area.
When you’ve had your fill of scrounging for resources, you can go to an Extraction point to call for an evacuation ship. There’s a bit of a delay in calling for the ship, waiting for it to dock, then waiting for it to close its doors and leave, so you have to be aware of nearby players that might try to jump you to steal your loot and take off in your ship. Successfully extracting will give you XP and all resources you acquired in your adventure. You can then craft or sell currency. This extraction mechanic reminds me of games like Escape from Tarkov, Battlefield 2042’s Hazard Zone, and Scavengers. This works well because it adds to the risk-reward ratio that The Cycle emphasizes. Everything you do needs to be pretty seriously considered since it’s fairly easy to lose a lot of resources in one fight against creatures or players. While you do have the safe pockets and insurance, you can’t save everything.
After an adventure ends, you will return to Prospect Station, a charming cyberpunk hub that is full of vendors and people. Here you can also find quests for three factions: Osiris, Korolev Heavy Industries and Independent Civilian Advisory. These quests will raise your standing with each faction and allow you to buy gear and weapons from these vendors. Each faction has its own campaign you can complete. It heavily reflects MMO-style quests with various contracts that you can also pick up. These are missions that require you go to Fortuna III to collect resources, fetch supplies or bring back organic specimens for research.
Two maps are currently in closed beta: Crescent Falls and Bright Sands. The former is the smaller map, though that doesn’t mean it’s a tiny map by any standard. Crescent Falls is larger and can accommodate more players on a server. It also features the enemy type Crushers which are the most difficult mobs to defeat currently. On Bright Sands, there can be as many as 215 and 26 players respectively. The servers will continually be repopulated and will reset after six hours, so you may stumble upon already looted and mined areas following in other players’ footsteps. So the servers aren’t match-based but are persistent, like MMO servers. This eliminates the need for matchmaking and allows for interesting gameplay twists, as you can see which areas are occupied and which are unoccupied.
What’s truly impressive is that no excursion down to Fortuna III feels the same. It sounds like a repetitive task to go to the planet to forage and loot but you never know what you’ll find on the surface. There are certain events that happen in-game. A storm may pass through, meaning you’ll need to find shelter or brave the elements, or meteors may crash onto the planet’s surface that grant you precious materials when mined. Mini-puzzles can also be found throughout the map. You need to power a generator in order to unlock Uplinks and open locked rooms that offer good loot. These mini-puzzles can generate a lot noise when activated. It will also alert players about your presence.
In the few hours of hands-on time I got with The Cycle, I found myself wanting to throw myself back into another Fortuna III adventure, since the rewards of successful exfils make you feel unstoppable – though conversely, when you lose all your items and rewards from a failed extraction, it just drives you to go back in and try again. It’s such a fun co-op game that I can’t wait to try with friends.
The world is beautiful, even after storms. Fortuna III contains a wide variety of abandoned facilities as well as camp structures which are gradually being overtaken by the wildlife and fauna. The graphics and world are stunning. The optimization was well-balanced and there were no performance stutters. The sound design with the guns are so satisfying to hear, especially with the shard based sub-machine guns that sound like you’re shooting glass fragments out of the barrel. The world of The Cycle: Frontier is fascinating and I can’t wait to dive back in for the closed beta to discover more.
Stella is a video producer, host, and editor at IGN. Her gaming focus is competitive FPS games. She has previously reviewed Apex Legends and Hyper Scape as well as Halo Infinite Multiplayer and Battlefield 2042. Follow her on Twitter @ParallaxStella.