The story of a German developer Jager Not the repetition you often see in the gaming industry. Most people know the name from its seminal work in 2012: Spec Ops: The Line, a game with its own history of struggles in its art that balances politics with a publication hoping to get a slice of the Call of Duty pie business needs.
But we don’t remember all of that when we think about Spec Ops: The Line. Rather, it’s the game’s view of war through the lens of a video game, its understanding of player agency, and what it promises to say at a time when the game is just beginning to try and embed information in the narrative, which is what most people really think about games coming.
Since then, few have kept pace with Yager, in part because developers have given up on the limelight of AAA development to take matters into their own hands, choosing to focus on interesting prototypes and see them come to fruition. These weren’t always successful ventures, but they established a theme for Yager that the studio would follow for years to come. For me, it’s the ability to shelve unpopular things and move on to new projects of a completely different type.
In 2019, the studio quietly went online cycle, a revolutionary online shooter, one of the first to understand PvPvE, and later to become another flavor of multiplayer. In the years since, The Cycle has received numerous updates, a new map, a deeper progression system, and several overhauls to its game loop.
But few people care. Despite being free to play and having a fair monetization system to boot, being locked into the Epic Games Store hurts its chances of reaching a wider audience. It also never made it to consoles. While finding a vibrant The Cycle game was hardly a challenge, Yager told me it was too niche to support an entire studio.
So the team had to do something they were very good at: turn again. Only this time, it won’t be as drastic as from Spec Ops to Dreadnought and later The Cycle. Unfortunately, this also means the original version of The Cycle is dead, as Yager’s team size doesn’t allow it to maintain two live games at the same time.
“Honestly, the choice is [between] Keep banging your head against the wall and you’re likely to fail — as many game developers do when the market isn’t quite right, or bravely change the game,” said executive producer Jonathan Lindsay.
We are witnessing the birth of a new type of multiplayer shooter based on battle royale and traditional MMO/server concepts. We haven’t yet found a proper term for these games, although extraction royale seems to be the most common.
For those of us who aren’t bothered by exact video game terminology, comparing new games to other, more established titles is still the easiest way to describe them. Cycle: Frontier Known as Lite Tarkov and Sci-Fi Tarkov. In fact, Frontier borrowed as much from Escape from Tarkov as it did from Loop.
It’s a shooter game in which players load into active servers and are tasked with acquiring materials stored in caches, mining ores, and hoarding various items. The ultimate goal is to claim and keep a piece so you can sell some loot later, spend some on upgrades, and donate the rest to complete the quest that sent you there in the first place.
At all times, you will encounter AI monsters and animals, as well as other human players with the same goals as you. Lindsay told me that Frontier was designed so that passive players who like to avoid engaging in PvP can thrive as much as the killing machines that play these games to ruin someone else’s day.
The result is a more accessible and friendly view of Tarkov. Frontier retains some inexcusable elements like losing your gear on death, short kills, realistic weapon ballistics, limited inventory space, and more. But it also boils down dozens of ammo types to just five, offers easy gear insurance, and generally isn’t afraid to improve the player’s quality of life with helpful tutorials, as well as a plethora of UI options that Tarkov irons would laugh at.
While playing The Cycle: Frontier, I found that the game solved most of my problems with Tarkov. For example, while friendly fire is still there, there’s an easy way to identify teammates without wearing matching arm patches and the occasional wiggle. Frontier also has a world map that clearly shows where you are and where you can go to call an evacuation.
Pickup locations vary, but you will always have other players going to the same location as you. The developers told me that the locations were balanced to prevent Chad from making life miserable for new players. Matchmaking is another element that works in the background to bring you into the game of players with similar skills, something that Tarkov lacks.
The best thing about Frontier is that it hasn’t given up on years of work and improvements in The Cycle: it’s still a satisfying shooter with solid mechanics, just in a different package. The team has been taking the time to get players who can’t or won’t get into Tarkov more interested in extracting the concept of royale.
Faction events – a new feature in this beta – provide clear direction for players looking to learn the ropes and plenty of meat to chew on for others. Passive income is another mechanic where players can invest a portion of their income in their abode to expand their character inventory, generate the game’s premium currency and make more upgrades.
Frontier may seem like a reinvention of The Cycle, but it’s actually closer to Yager’s original vision for Prospector — the project’s tentative name throughout development.
“We thought, well, here’s an opportunity to move on to something that might be a better fit for the original idea of the game, which is to be a prospector. This [was] Honestly, we forgot about the 2016 hype,” explained Lindsay.
This mantra also determines Yager’s approach to the problems inherent in extracting royale. For example, Tarkov has to empty everyone’s inventory every few months to force all players to start on an equal footing. Frontier will use the same solution, but the developers want to tie it into the release of seasonal updates and a new battle pass, something that The Cycle players should be familiar with — let alone anyone who plays live service games.
This is also why matchmaking primarily considers players’ ability to extract valuable loot rather than their marksmanship skills. This allows different play styles to flourish, as long as the final variable is able to make it alive in a good way. Frontier goes even further, creating protected brackets for novice (and struggling) players, allowing them to easily adapt to various systems, or bounce back after a downturn. This is achieved by reducing the number of players in the session, e.g. bringing the extraction point closer to the drop zone.
According to creative director Dan Banefelt, all of these elements have evolved from early prototypes and tests, so it’s not unreasonable to expect some of them to change again and make the game friendlier or harsher. Another interesting point of feedback was the lack of player-driven auction houses, which Lindsay added were not meant to stop the game from spinning around the economy and assigning a clear value to everything.
For now, The Cycle: Frontier’s advanced systems are clearly well-balanced, proving that pivot was the right choice for the team. The instant gameplay also benefits greatly, enabling what Banefelt calls “tense uncertainty.”
Players seem to agree. Despite not offering any sponsorship deals for streamers, closed beta Twitch viewership has naturally moved into the platform’s top 10, with an average of 5,000 to 10,000 concurrent viewers, reaching over 99,000 in October 2021 Considerable peak. Limited access test, peaking around 16-24,000 concurrent players.
The Cycle: Frontier has had two closed betas so far, the second of which has been running since mid-March and runs until April 19th. Over 100,000 players have been granted access, but many more have yet to be invited. Yager was surprised by the response to the second closed beta and has been working to upgrade its systems to support these higher concurrency numbers.
Those who can’t get in now can wait until the official launch sometime in the second quarter of this year.Until then, there will always be Steam Wishlist.