Space has gotten a bit heavy lately, what with Battlestar Galactica, The Expanse and recently Andor spreading harsh vibes throughout the universe. What happened to Star Trek’s glass-half-full vision of the future? Well, it’s alive and kicking in Cygnus Enterprises, a game that imagines the future to be an alright place to be—save for the carnivorous aliens, of course.
Team Miaozi’s game takes place on a lush alien planet, one with a teeny bit of a monster problem, but with beautiful tropical scenery and bountiful resources. It’s a wonder the previous colony didn’t survive. In this chimeric action RPG/citybuilding and management game, you’ll establish a new base from the ashes of the previous one, giving humanity another place to sit, while hopefully attracting tourists and traders from far and wide.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Have you seen the planet Mytilus lately? Its buildings are derelict and smothered in a strange alien fungus, the broken paving tiles are a trip hazard if ever I saw one, and the less said about your neighbours (violent, crystalline dinosaurs) the better. Benevolent spacefaring corporation Cygnus Enterprises has sent you—the 'Contractor'—to establish Mytilus’ new outpost, firstly by cleaning up the existing structures, then building new ones.
Playing in a top-down view, you’ll spend half of the game constructing and placing facilities, and the other half blasting dinos and unfriendly robots to pieces. However, both activities will complement each other. Resources gathered in the wild, and from the bodies of dead monsters, can be used to expand and maintain your base. You’ll need to provide your settlers with food and shelter, and construct new buildings to grow the colony. By doing so, you’ll gain access to unlockable upgrades, be able to craft new weapons and gear for yourself, and attract merchants who will flog you their wares.
One thing you won’t be doing is defending the base from constant creature attacks, as the developer wants it to offer a bit of respite from the action when the player is out in the field. You’ll be able to take your time in the base instead, safe in the knowledge that no creatures are going to wreck the place when you head into the wilderness on a story mission.
When it’s being an action RPG, Cygnus is promising everything you’d expect from the genre: boss fights, a skill system, and, naturally, loot. The trailer shows an emphasis on ranged combat, which is looking brisk and pyrokinetic, as you fight alongside little drones that will help you out in battle. Occasionally, you will delve into alien ruins to unravel the secrets of Mytilus—and to obtain better loot.
But this is the rare action RPG that allows you to build and expand a settlement—not just a settlement, but a fully fledged trading outpost. When your humble colony is up and running, you can build a landing pad that will allow visitors to, well, land on it, some of whom may be merchants carrying bags stuffed with useful equipment. Alternatively, they could be tourists with bulging wallets, eager to offload some of their credits in your local store.
Visitors can be convinced to stick around on Mytilus with the offer of paid employment. Put them to work in your facilities to improve productivity, or gear them up and send them off on expeditions to bring resources and other items back to the base. What’s the point of being the boss if you can’t make others do the hard work for you?
But whatever their role on your planet, you’ll need to provide visitors with food, and build them somewhere to sleep. A happy worker is a productive worker, after all.
That’s really your ultimate goal in Cygnus Enterprises: to turn a derelict colony into a productive and profitable outpost, the envy of every other outpost in the galaxy. You can see a glimpse of a thriving Mytilus in the debut trailer. It looks like a colony from Mass Effect, but where nothing terrible has happened yet—and given the game’s optimistic nature, perhaps it never will.
Not that it’s all sunshine and gleaming habitation pods. The trailer suggests something darker is going on as well, with an unseen narrator asking the Contractor to finish what they started, as red-eyed drones advance on them in an alien ruin.
It’s a game mixing light and dark, then, just as it mixes genres in a bold and unusual way. Cygnus has the story and combat of an action RPG, and the more sandbox nature of a management game, giving you a narrative framework and the freedom to express yourself.
The creators behind this genre mind-meld go by the name Team Miaozi: a new studio formed by industry veterans Eva Jobse, design lead on Total War: Three Kingdoms; Alexander Pankov, designer on Far Cry 6; and Brian Cox, programmer on Age of Wonders III. That’s a lot of action and strategy experience right there, which will surely help with this novel action/strategy hybrid.
If you’ve been inspired to take a trip to Mytilus yourself, you don’t have long to pack your bags and find your good laser blaster, as Cygnus Enterprises hits Early Access on December 16. The devs say there will be 12 hours of content available at launch, with plenty else to do after you’ve finished the available story missions.
Team Miaozi also says to expect a hefty free patch in the months afterwards, along with regular free updates, and paid expansions once it launches out of Early Access.
While you wait, you can wishlist Cygnus Enterprises on Steam now. Hit up the official site or follow @cygnus_game on Twitter to keep up with the latest news and enter contests with the chance of winning prizes.