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 to the planet Fortuna III, where mysterious alien creatures run free and old research facilities remain 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. Anyone can turn on you at any time all while being chased down by the hostile alien monsters on the planet.
You can enter the game solo or with a team of up to three players. You start with basic loadout options and you have to equip them individually 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. Thankfully, you also have five Safe Pocket slots in your inventory, which will let you keep those five items even if you die. While this mechanic seems kind of punishing, I didn’t find it frustrating. It gave me more of a reason to be cautious about the looting I did and the interactions with players that I decided to take on. 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. Extracting successfully will reward you with XP and all the resources you picked up in your adventure, which you can then use to craft or sell for currency. This extraction mechanic reminds me of games like Escape from Tarkov, Battlefield 2042’s Hazard Zone, and Scavengers. It works really well here since it only adds to that risk and reward factor that The Cycle focuses on. 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.
When you get back from an adventure, you return to a cute cyberpunk hub area called Prospect Station, which is chock full of people and vendors. You can also pick up quests here for three different factions: The Independent Civilian Advisory (ICA), Korolev Heavy Industries (Korolev), and Osiris. Upon completion, these quests will level up your standings with each faction which then will grant you the ability to buy special weapons and gear from these faction vendors. Each faction has its own campaign that you can complete and it heavily reflects MMO style quests with different contracts you can pick up as well. These contracts are usually missions that require you to go down to Fortuna III to gather resources, fetch supplies, or bring back bits of organic specimens for research.
There are currently two maps in the closed beta: Bright Sands and Crescent Falls. The former is the smaller map, though that doesn’t mean it’s a tiny map by any standard. Crescent Falls is much larger and meant to include more players in a server, and it also has the enemy type Crushers, which are the hardest mobs to take on currently. There can be up to 215 players on Bright Sands and 26 on Crescent Falls. 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 allows for no matchmaking times and interesting gameplay twists as you find what areas have been occupied and which ones are free.
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 some in game events that just happen organically. 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. There are also mini-puzzles that exist throughout the map in different locations where you have to power a generator for different abandoned forts that will open up locked rooms for good loot and unlock Uplinks that allow you to extract data. The mini-puzzles will generate a lot of noise once activated and will alert players to your presence in the location, so again, this is one of those high-risk high-reward scenarios The Cycle loves to practice.
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.
Finally, the world looks gorgeous, even during and after a storm passing through. Fortuna III has a great mix of abandoned facilities and camp structures that are slowly being taken over by the wildlife and fauna of the planet. The graphics and world are beautiful here, and the optimization seemed fairly well-balanced with no performance stutters except minor desyncs in the main hub area. 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 gameplay focus is on competitive FPS games and she’s previously reviewed Apex Legends, Hyper Scape, Halo Infinite Multiplayer, and Battlefield 2042. You can follow her on Twitter @ParallaxStella.