MOBA. Collectible Card Game. Battle Royale. Every now and then, a game arrives and fundamentally changes the way that a certain genre is usually regarded in the industry. More than sheer quality alone, it’s often a combination of pure luck and timing that ends up steering the market in a firm direction for a couple of years, or even more.
I can see The Cycle becoming one of those games. I can't put my finger on anything definite, as these things usually are as unpredictable as Valve’s next game, but still, I wouldn’t mind seeing ‘Quest Shooters’ as the next video game trend.
I didn’t come up with the label, however; it was penned by developer Yager for The Cycle, a game where players – called Prospectors – fight to claim as many resources as they possibly can from the dangerous planet Fortuna III. Sounds just like something us, humans, would do, right?
Prospectors. Prospectors Everywhere
Yager is the German developer of the acclaimed story-based third-person shooter Spec Ops: The Line. But The Cycle really isn’t a game where the storyline plays a vital role, so it’s not like they could expand on that area. The studio’s latest game, Dreadnought, is a niche sci-fi action strategy game that delivered in quality but failed to convince enough players to make it something worth pursuing. A change of direction was inevitable, one that other studios such as arcade experts Housemarque were forced to undergo, as Stormdivers demonstrates.
I commend Yager for resisting the Battle Royale temptation. A first-person shooter with some familiar mechanics it may be, but The Cycle isn’t a straightforward loot and shoot affair. Instead, Fortuna III is a massive playground where you are free to go anywhere you want to, to face whatever dangers lurk around the corner, AI-controlled or human, and to ultimately play every match as you see fit. The bulk of each match is about completing contracts, or quests, as you avoid enemies that can be both human or alien. It’s PvPvE and all the better for it, and you have absolute freedom to avoid fighting fellow Prospectors if you don’t feel like it.
But first things first, as you start by picking a Prospector from the five available classes: Champion, Poacher, Prospector, Bruiser, and Tracker. It’s unclear if there are any actual differences between classes apart from their look and gender, but you can customize them to some degree by changing head, chest, base suit, gloves, and boots. Your starting kit, however, will make all the difference, as this provides some relevant additions to your character. The Dragonfly Flightsuit, for example, replaces the ordinary jump with a short vertical boost, something that becomes priceless to evade certain dangerous situations, and is complemented with a bonus to melee aerial attack.
Every Prospector begins his adventure on Fortuna III with the most basic gear. As soon as you exit your drop pod with your trustworthy pistol and your gargantuan ambitions, you will earn credits through several means – mostly by shooting alien creatures – that you can spend at the gear store. At the press of a button your predefined selection of weapons and abilities will pop up and your purchase will immediately be dispatched to your location – beware as any other Prospector, squadmate or not, is able to seize your purchase right from under your nose. Leveling up will reward you with some abilities such as increased speed, defense, reduced ability cooldown time and more.
There are quite a few weapons and abilities to craft in The Cycle. With the material that you salvage from your expeditions and the blueprints at your disposal, you will craft new and exciting weapons, abilities and gadgets. Directional scanners to point out items of interest, revitalizers to heal your teammates, warp points, cloaking devices, heavy turrets, kinetic barriers and more – there is something for everyone. This provides a pleasant variety to the battles that you will inevitably face in Fortuna III.
The cherry on top is the option to add weapon mods, with several points that can be customized. For example, you can choose between explosive, penetrating and radioactive rounds. You will be able to create a nice unique build in no time, but so will your enemies.
Currently, there are three factions that you can join and support, Korolev, Osiris and ICA, each one leaning towards certain ideologies. Korolev, for example, prefers heavy weapons and armor, while Osiris goes for speed and evasion. Your choice and reputation will determine which kind of rewards you have in store.
How To Make Friends and Backstab People
The unpredictable gameplay in The Cycle is right down my alley. Here is a game that isn’t worried about pushing you down this fixed path; instead, you spawn in this huge map where creatures of different sizes and strength lurk around, as well as other players, and you are free to go anywhere you want to. Contracts can be completed in any order and are moderately varied as to not become monotonous in the long run.
Contracts involve tasks such as hunting challenging trophy creatures, salvaging research drones, refining Letium gas, harvesting and delivering Brightcaps (don’t call them mushrooms), drilling minerals, capturing uplink relays, powering up a facility and more. A few of these contracts have some fine print to them, such as drilling minerals – as soon as you set up your drill, the local fauna immediately storms to your location, aggressively attacking you from all angles. And let’s not talk about other Prospectors who may happen to be around at the same time and try to make the jump on you. Things can get quite exciting in a matter of seconds.
The Cycle offers two different game modes which are, in fact, four. Solo and four-player Squad modes where you must complete as many contracts as possible before escaping the planet, and the same options, but this time you must be the first (player or team) to complete all your contracts and escape Fortuna III.
Friends can take you places, and that is why it is not advisable to shoot on sight. Making a pact with another player will increase your odds, as both of you will scour the planet in the hopes that the remaining Prospectors are foolish enough to reject the perks of having an ally. The option to break the pact at any time, backstabbing the one that was right there watching your back for most of the journey, adds even more spice to this intense expedition.
The Cycle even includes a ping system for your teammates – the middle mouse button places a marker for your partners to follow. It’s no revolution by any means, but this mechanic blew up thanks to Apex Legends and is a truly clever way of communicating locations to players who aren’t using a microphone.
Gunplay is immensely satisfying in this game, no matter the weapon at hand. It feels punchy, duly paced, and the creatures’ propensity to dodge and sidestep keeps you on your toes and in constant movement. Squad combat ramps up the excitement and The Cycle truly shines when players and the local fauna are all involved in a relentless, no-holds-barred battle.
With just a few minutes to go, the Evac Ship will arrive on the planet and everyone will have to make a run for it. This is almost an entirely different game, or to put it bluntly, this is The Cycle’s metagame, the stretch when all your efforts can go to waste and you must guess what is going on in other players’ minds. The Evac Ship hangar is the breaking point for many players, the location where ambushes are commonplace, where firefights break out without warning and all hell breaks loose. You can proceed cautiously or make a run for it; luck plays an important part but make no mistake, skill will determine who manages to get out alive.
Fame and Fortuna
I can see some clues of Firefall in The Cycle, from a similar art style right down to the thumpers. It’s hard to avoid seeing glimpses of one of the greatest video game blunders ever made when entering Yager’s new online shooter. ‘Successor’ may be too strong a word, but there is something that brings back fond memories of a time long gone when Firefall was brimming with potential. Other game that can easily draw comparisons – despite the drastically different theme – is Crytek’s Hunt: Showdown. Once again, the core concept is one of the squads fighting environmental threats, one another, and ultimately trying to escape with the bounty.
One of the things that I liked the most about The Cycle is that this is a PvP game where you can win without engaging in any player versus player fight. There is a degree of liberty ensuring that every expedition plays differently from the previous ones, helped by the treacherous nature of the fauna and the perilous alliances with other Prospectors.
The awfully short alpha was enough to convince me that The Cycle has a promising future ahead. Here is a game that is eminently playable and polished, that doesn’t conform itself to following the current trend, instead, trying to carve its own special niche. Every match feels exciting and new, Fortuna III is an inscrutable and brutal playground, and there is no amount of menacing alien creatures that would deter my resolve to set foot on this inhospitable planet again as soon as I can.