Yager describes The Cycle as a “competitive quest game”. A handful of squads drop into a large map to pursue their choice of objectives in a colourful world full of monsters and precious ore deposits. Squads collect points for each completed mission and then rush for extraction before a storm destroys everything. When Yager revealed the game, many people assumed it was another battle royale. In fact, it’s a more complicated idea, and an attempt to predict the next craze once the fervour for battle royale has faded.
It’s an immediately appealing game, with a fresh, clean art style and fluid movement. The guns are chunky and fun to use, and clear maps and UI makes it easy to keep track of squad members and objectives. It’s hard to believe The Cycle has only been in development for a year, but I’m able to play a full round with the developers and get the sense that this is a potentially very decent game in a tricky position.
There’s a wide variety of mission to chase. You can capture ore mining points to earn a steady income of points over the course of the round. As the miners chug away you can take on hunts to battle powerful wildlife, or you can pick up mushrooms and transport them across the map for points. Any of these activities can be disrupted by other teams chasing the same objectives. The round inevitably culminates in a big shootout around the extraction point as players fight to get inside the dropship before it takes off.
The criss-crossing mission objectives are confusing to a completely new player like me, but I can see how they create interesting decisions for your squad. Do you go for as many ore extractors as you can and win points by brute forcing the economy? Or do you go for risky fights with big rewards, or perhaps earn your crust hunting other players and stealing their objectives? You level up and earn money over the course of a round as well. At any point you can open up the shop page and buy a weapon or a gadget. The purchase plunges to earth from space in a couple of seconds. You crack open the capsule, grab your new gun, and seamlessly carry on with the round.
Gadgets include turrets, bubble shields, and other utility items. Between rounds you can heavily mod all of your gadgets and guns with elemental effects, expanded magazines, and more. There’s a lot of scope for specialising your character with unlocks, and that’s backed up by an extensive crafting system. I like the fact that you start each round with a basic pistol and call down your personlised arsenal bit by bit. There’s more tactical intrigue to it than the luck of finding a good gun in a house, battle royale-style.
All of this takes some explaining, which is the Cycle’s biggest challenge. As soon as you play it the rhythm of the game becomes apparent, but it doesn’t quite fit into an elevator pitch. Battle royale comparisons are inevitable, even though there is no shrinking ring, no randomised loot, and no last-team-standing win state. In fact there’s a lot less down-time in The Cycle than a typical battle royale round. You’re always on the move towards a new mission, juggling priorities, and trying to make sure you are leveling up consistently and keeping pace with the power curve. Clashes with other players are still tense, important moments, but there’s a fun game to be had roaming around sucking resources and points out of the map.
There’s a solo mode too, and I’m told this is quite a different, intense way to play. You can form pacts with other players to share resources and mission completions. Teaming up will be essential for efficiently completing missions, but of course you can betray pact pals and take the glory (and resources) for yourself.
The plan is to go into closed beta testing in May and open beta testing in late summer. When it releases properly it will be an Epic Games Store exclusive for a year before wider release. I’m looking forward to playing more in the betas to explore the mission objectives and crafting system in more detail. The Cycle emerged from one of Yager’s internal pitch jams, and I feel like it might find a nice audience if it’s able to effectively make that pitch to the wider gaming audience.