Icarus, flying too close to space bears

Icarus: First Cohort is a game undermined by its unusual design choices and poor balancing.

It’s a survival/crafting game, but rather than giving you a persistent world, you are repeatedly sent down with everything except your skill progression and tool unlocks reset.

In typical survival game fashion, making items requires a bunch of prerequisite materials. You pick up sticks and rocks to make stuff to acquire better materials to make better stuff to acquire better materials.

But those tools also require unlocking a progression tree with skill points. And almost all items require one of many special benches to make, and the benches themselves require unlocking and materials.

As is often the case with these games, some items have a chain of items and builds that borders on the ridiculous, for what can feel like minimal improvements.

Icarus is also mission-based, so you get thrown down to the planet with nothing, start from scratch every time, and can take nothing back with you.

This means every time you start, you’re almost certainly going to spend your first 15-30 minutes doing the same things – picking up sticks, rocks, and chopping down trees to make the basic things you need to survive.

The missions have timers. Originally, these were real-world timers that ran even when you weren’t playing the game. Start a mission with a 24 hour limit, and if you didn’t complete it within 24 hours of real time, you failed. Fortunately, the devs realized this was an unpopular design path and switched it to being “in game time” only. But this has the effect of making the current time limits a non-issue.

Most of the time the tension seems to be “how much grind do I want to do before I start the actual mission goal?”

Icarus understands that the “scrabbling to survive” part of survival games is often the most fun, but making you replay exactly that every time on every level gets old quick. There are no real shortcuts to get past this repetitive start, either.

Unlike some other games (Valheim, for example), there are no ruins to discover, no items to find. You’re in nature, up against regular animals. There aren’t many types in each biome (and it’s the standard forest/desert/snow, too).

The combat is not great. Even at a high level, if the wrong kind of animal gets the drop on you, you are probably going to die, and probably with your inventory or loot windows open as you frantically try to close them. Combat is mostly sniping from far away and then running like hell or exploiting terrain.

If more than one creature is aggroed, you’re also probably going to die. Even at Level 50, I am carefully sneaking around and completing many missions by running and hiding, rather than doing things “properly”.

Combat tends to be either trivial, or “oh, fuck this”.

There is a punitive death penalty when you do die, giving you “negative XP” you must re-earn to progress. Plus you have to run back to your corpse to get your stuff.

You can build elaborate bases, but given the inherently disposable nature of them in missions, you’re going to build the smallest possible thing, usually out of wood, since any of the other materials require a grind completely not worth the benefits. This is also the problem with most of the upper tier objects – the benefits don’t seem worth the grind.

Even if you build a nice base, a storm might blow it (and the benches inside) to bits, or lightning might set it on fire and burn it to the ground while you are on the other side of the map questing away. Fun or frustrating? You decide.

Some missions are deliberately opaque, and require you to have unlocked a particular technology to complete the mission. The game does not tell you this, however, you just find out on your own once you’re down there. So you either abort and fail, or stay down and grind until you unlock the thing you need to win. Or you can read a Wiki and get instructions before you launch.

On that note, the world map is fixed. Most of the items always spawn in the same place, and once you know where caves are, you know where to look. But the game does not mark things on your map, nor does it let you mark things on your map. (My heuristic is anything I can do with a paper and pencil, the game should be doing for me, so give me a persistent map I can mark up, guys!)

The “metagame” progression of unlocking items at the base also feels unnecessarily difficult and expensive. You have to “research” items for one cost, then “buy” them after researching them for another cost. The majority of these items seem to be only slightly better than the 2nd tier (of 4 tiers) items you can craft, and you can generally get to that level of crafting after a few minutes on each run.

The missions seem to fall into a few standard types: Gather materials, go scan at a location, kill some critters, or build a base.

Some of these missions are unnecessarily tedious, like requiring you to build a tower 10 stories high, and having to do it in a particular way so it doesn’t collapse under its own weight. Perhaps the designers thought this would be a clever and fun puzzle. Maybe. But then you have to do it twice, exactly the same way.

There’s a lot of narrative inconsistency. You have a space suit, you have to fill it with oxygen, the atmosphere isn’t breathable…but you can get pneumonia in caves. You can’t bring stuff down with you, until you can bring some stuff down with you. You can’t bring stuff back, except for the stuff you have to bring back. You have a space suit, but no flashlight. And so on.

The game does a few things well, though. Icarus feels like it was balanced for multiplayer, and accommodates single-player by having a whole separate “Solo Skills” tree you can unlock, providing boosts for single-player runs only. That’s a clever solution, even if Icarus still feels excessively difficult solo.

The world looks decent, with lots of detail. There’s plenty of stuff to build. The biomes each present unique challenges.

I haven’t played multiplayer yet, but it seems like the game would really shine here.

Some of Icarus’ problems are fixable with some balancing and quality of life improvements. Beyond that, I would likely restructure the missions into a proper campaign, where you are locating and building materials which are then sent to you in later missions, allowing you to skip at least some of the grind and giving some consistency and flow to the missions on tap.

It is hard to recommend as it is, and yet I find myself going back to it.

I bought it when it was an early access because I thought it looked pretty promising. But you have rightly pointed out most of the issues with the game. I can’t help but think they should have some sort of persistent evolution of the game world so that every time you go on a mission you’re not starting from cave age discovery and exploration. But that would mean the design would have to be very wide or deep sense you would need things to discover and or implement as you continue going back to the planet.

For instance, it would be nice if you when you went back to the planet you could find your previous camps – even if they were degraded to an extent through time. Maybe they would turn into cashe of materials you could use. Or when you go back a second or third time one of your goals is to electrify your camp or build with stone because of an upcoming weather event.

Also, I could have sworn that in some of the promotional material for the game they implied that you would be going to different biomes. This would be another way to make the game more interesting.

I feel like the developers could make the game much more interesting and engaging but as it is it’s simply one of many survival/builder games. And so it doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

There are several biomes, and by now, several maps. The latest, Styk, is quite different from the previous attempts to make maps.
DLC will be even stranger maps, real alien planets they say.

You can do this already - its the maps called outposts, with respawning ressources, but no quests.

Oh, nice. I obviously haven’t touched the game in a while. Maybe I should dive back in and see what’s different.

Yeah - Personally, I am waiting a bit, because the weekly updates are quite extensive actually.

I do think they should have kept the Early Access moniker for more time than they did. Currently they are updating weapons quite a lot, adding modules to make them more specialized.

I don’t have a ton of hope, but I did really love the sense of place it has just being in the world.

The lighting, the storm effects, the ambient sound is all absolutely beautiful. It’s actually awesome in those aspects, and that really sells it.

Shame all the missions were just a soulless grind, combat was mostly terrible and it just lacked direction.

If they ever managed to overhaul it and catch my attention I’d reinstall for sure. So far it has not.

I played a little today. Took the initial Styx biome mission and went out exploring. First off, this biome does not look appreciably different from the initial biome. Maybe less ice but at first glance they look very similar. So Wiles technically it’s different I did not see many substantive differences.

Secondly as I’m running to scan a location (about 10 min of running) I get butt punched and killed by a bear which reminded me how much I hate the death penalty. It feels punishing rather than a setback to lose your belongings and also have an XP deficit.

I dunno, they may have been A lot of changes but the core game does not feel terribly different to me. Maybe I got caught up in some pre-release hype and bought it when I shouldn’t have. Well, I hope they keep working on it!

Its not supposed to be a different biome - its supposed to be a map where they have learned a number of lessons in mapmaking and apply those to a map that is better structured than the original ,hence the cost (Free).

Vastly different maps will come.

The devs have made it to 1.0, and are rolling out new paid DLC.

I have reinstalled the game to see if they have made any substantial changes to the frustrations I had previously.

So far, the answer is “not really”.

…As an example, the devs patched in a mission that is one of the first accessible ones. It is pitched as a quick “do this now” mission, with a short timer and “you’ll unlock craftable target dummies” (I have no idea what those will do for me, but it’s a short mission and one of a handful rated ‘easy’).

OK, sure. So I land on the planet, and run over to the designated area with my little sticks and stones.

A bear appears and charges me. The bear charges right THROUGH the fences the devs have put up. I don’t mean it knocks them down or tears them apart, I mean it just clips right through like they aren’t there. And of course kills me in 2-3 hits, before I can even draw my pathetic toothpick of a spear.

I get an achievement that says “killed by a bear, welcome to ICARUS!” (or something similar), and has a “cute” icon of a bear wearing sunglasses.

I sigh. Wait and respawn. Wander back over to my corpse. The bear is still there. He kills me again.

I exit the game.

What are the designers thinking here?

As I recall, bears are crazy hard when you are first starting Icarus. They simply tear through you. I vaguely remember an early game cheesy strategy was to engage one in a body of water, retreating as you stabbed them. But in the open, it’s very tough.

This is one of those games I bought on a whim, but after playing a while I sort of wondered why I did so. I watched a few YouTube play throughs and that shoulda been enough for me!

The bears swim now. Plus there’s the poison piranha.

I will say the game is much more fun and manageable in a multiplayer setting. It really doesn’t work as a single-player game.

I’d say my 80 hours in it as a single player game kinda belies that statement.

It works fine as a single player game. Its also pretty good, and fun, and has some excellent building aspects that I love.

The recent updates allow you to make a permanent base, instead of the mission based structure where you had to make a new base every time, as that was the biggest detractor for a lot of people.

I started playing this over the weekend. I am level 16 at the moment, playing on an open world.
I have finally gotten a stone base, and food is plentiful. I had a bad run with a group of bears that killed me like 20 times. Also bears can climb up cliffs to get you.

Anyway, I have to ask, what is the point of this game? Early on, food and shelter were my challenges, but now? All that is covered. I have even gone on a few long treks, but until I am at least level 20 I can’t make cold weather gear and I have not seen hot weather gear either. I am just at a loss of what to do. I even spent a while looking for caves.

Also, why the fuck can’t you annotate the map. Like here is a cave, or here is gold resource node, etc… ?

Any advice? I am kind of bored of it already. I did see there are some gear I can unlock, like better bows via some currency or something. There appear to be 3 currencies though.

Originally, the game was meant as a series of missions, based on a planet, where you started from scratch at every mission start, with nothing.

The missions got progressively harder, both because of the different biomes and monsters, but also becuause of harder weather and shorter time limits. Hell, originally the time limits were REAL TIME, instead of in-game time.

The gameplay loop was each mission gave you money and resources, enabling you to unlock, and purchase various shortcuts. (A forge, a weapon, an axe and so on), thus making each missions start easier, even though the missions were harder.

I will assume you have running an open world instance, instead of mission based where you are time limited? The reason open world type of game exists instead of pure mission based as was the original intent, was that part of the playerbase was vocal about wanting a permanent open world, instead of having to rebuild every time.

The game isnt really setup for that sort of gaming though, leading to you questioning what the game is about.

Shortly, the missions will be available in open world as well, leading to a bit more to do, I assume.

The 3 currencies are used to unlock progressively better gear, and are progressively harder to get.

its a fun game, but its a bit schizophrenic in how it works right now.

If I should recommend something, right now, it would be to play the games missions, and not the open world. Then you have a point and goal every time.

I hope the above makes sense, and is of use to you!

Thanks for that. I do have the radio thingy and I did a few missions with that, but not have left my home base. The guns nerds and steel guy is starting a series on this game, and I am learning a lot from it.

As a single player, can I unlock all blueprints? I heard that I am limited to 40 talent points, but do I need to be careful about what I unlock for blueprints or am I pretty safe in unlocking whatever I want?

I don’t think the big missions are available (yet) via radio, but I cant readily recall.

All blueprints can be unlocked easily. Its only your character build where you have to specialize :-)

I have some mixed feelings about the game. The world is beautiful, and I like walking around exploring it.
However, the missions can be very grindy and seem to not be calibrated for single players.

For example, I am on a Tier 1 mission that was labeled Farming. I thought it would be fast, but it is super grindy. It actually has two parts, farming and hunting.

For some idiotic reason, they put the two objective points (one for farming and one for hunting far apart. Its not like you can go hunting while you wait for your crops to grow.

Anyway, I knocked out the farming fast, with a bunch of farm plots and foraging. However the hunting part is where it really is grindy. Thank god I have the perk which lets you see animal health bars, so I can at least see in the distance that there are some animals in some direction.

However, the real problem is animal fur. The quest requires like 800 fur. This is crazy. I have met all other hunting goals, but am just about half way on the fur. I am using the skinning table too. I can only get 10 to 15 fur per animal IF I can carry it to a table. Those big horse things (even the babies) and some deer can not be carried. The horse only gives me 4 fur per kill.

Overall this game would be so much better if you could take all your gear and stuff on missions. The missions would of course have to give you a better description of what you faced. Workshop items should just be special blueprints you unlock, but still have to craft. You should be able to repair those items without the special repair kits and the high-tech repair station.

I am not sure how much longer this game will hold my interest. The grind is killing me. Maybe in a few more years the devs will have removed their heads from their asses, and done something decent. The lack of the ability (without the high tech consumable item) to annotate the map still pisses me off. There is no reason for that.

That mission is the absolutely WORST in the game. I feel sorry for you, taking it. I dont even recall if its possible to avoid it,

I hated that quest, and you are right, the pelts took FOREVER to gather. Some of the other quests are better :-)
Also, its fun to try the other biomes, Desert, Arctic and so on. Some of them are a bit hard though, thus the purchasable weapons are a good headstart.

Oh - and the annotation thing - I could have sworn the devs have said it would be implemented, but not yet, apparently!