Back in April, I was able to conduct an interview with Dean Hall of RocketWerkz. The creator of DayZ now heads his own studio, with Icarus as its biggest offering to date. A survival game set in a massive world, Icarus is ambitious in size, scale, and scope. I genuinely found these concepts interesting at first. Unfortunately, the “finished” product is plagued by so many bugs, glitches, and questionable design.
Our Icarus review is based primarily on an offline/solo playthrough. My character is currently level 30 and I’ve yet to complete some of the late-game missions. However, I’ve already noticed a plethora of issues that soured the experience.
The hubris of humanity
As the name implies, Icarus is about the folly of humankind. Set in the far future, spacefaring entrepreneurs managed to discover a planet designated as Wolf 1061. Attempts to terraform the planet were successful, at first, until a substance known as Exotic Matter led to an ecological disaster.
Although the initial regions and biomes part of the First Cohort season/episode will remind you of Earth, other places are significantly more dangerous. Those areas are teeming with flora and fauna both unnatural and alien. Then again, I’ve yet to see those areas during the course of my playthrough.
Crafting and survival in Icarus
Instead, what I’ve mostly noticed are features and mechanics akin to most other survival and crafting games. When you arrive on the planet, you’ll see several HUD elements suggesting that you need to replenish your oxygen and quench your thirst. Likewise, you’ll hunt and skin animals, subsequently using meat and other ingredients for cooking. You’ll chop down trees, mine ore deposits, gather herbs, and whatnot. Eventually, you can build a small shelter as a base of operations.
If these sound odd, then that’s because Icarus‘ own crafting mechanics don’t make a lot of sense when you consider the setting. Generally speaking, the game is built with the framework of futuristic sci-fi (i.e., terraforming new planets and using dropships). But, for some reason, your character, a Prospector looking for riches on this unknown land, somehow doesn’t have a clue on the essentials of survival. For example, how to create wooden walls, thatched roofs, or stone tools. It’s as though your character just managed to ace their application to the space program without ever learning about the basics.
Indeed, these crafting blueprints can only be unlocked in the tech tree by spending points (there’s also a different tree for talents/perks). Since you can’t reset the points that you’ve allocated, there can be times when you obtain something which would hardly get used. You’ll have no choice but to continue gathering, farming, hunting, and crafting some more to earn XP and level up.
Tedium in repetition
One of the key reasons why you can get frustrated early on in Icarus is its session-based core gameplay system. There are around 40 Prospect missions in the game, and each one has specific objectives like doing an area scan, hunting down a specific target, or picking up a device. The goal is to finish these tasks and return to your dropship to escape the planet. If you can do this before the session timer expires, your character lives on. If you can’t escape in time, then your character and all unlocked blueprints/talents are gone for good.
The session timer is fairly generous (lasting around a week). The downside is that every time you begin these missions, you’re essentially starting from scratch. Even if you were carrying around several materials and resources when you escaped, your next run means that you’ll repeat the same initial steps. You’re back to picking up sticks and stones, grabbing berries, mining ores, and the like. Imagine having to do these steps across 40 missions and you’ll realize how tedious the process becomes.
Still, there’s a way for you to alleviate your woes: yet another tree for the Orbital Workshop. This unlocks tools that can be brought along as part of your loadout when you begin missions. Unfortunately, the currency to unlock these can only be obtained while playing online. If you’ve been playing offline like I have, there’s a bug that prevents you from obtaining rewards.
Icarus has a plethora of bugs and problems
Apart from offline mode not giving currency rewards, Icarus has several bugs and glitches that can be downright annoying. There are missions that don’t actually have tasks, so you’re left wondering what you need to do until you just decide to leave the planet. Some are downright odd, such as bears that happily climb ridges and cliffs like they’re flat terrain, as well as the Lethal Predator in the Kill List Extermination mission getting stuck in its cave. Speaking of bears, these beasts and other creatures get spawned right on top of a scanning objective in missions like Livewire Terrain Scan and Searchlight Scan. It gets even stranger once you visit the arctic biome for missions like Icestorm Expedition. There are wild animals at significantly higher levels compared to your character (i.e., level 90 to 100).
Similarly, there’s another called Waterfall Expedition. It requires you to construct objects on a specific area to get past a ridge. It took me a while to figure this out because the objective wasn’t getting completed. In one attempt, I accidentally placed a beacon on a cliffside. It turned out that it can’t be picked up again, bugging out the entire quest and forcing me to restart from the beginning.
Accessibility and ease of use are also concerning. There’s no hotkey to quickly take all items in a container or corpse, so you have to rely on a tiny cursor to click on the option instead. Moreover, there are a multitude of talents, recipes, and blueprints. Regrettably, you won’t see interactive tooltips or search boxes that can quickly let you know where certain fixtures or perks are. You receive information that you need item-X, but you’ll have to mouse over a lot of stuff just to find what you’re looking for.
Coincidentally, one particular mission called Deep Vein Extraction tasks you with obtaining Exotics, but the device itself can’t be crafted even after learning it in the tech tree. Worse, after a fairly recent hotfix, the tooltip now says “requires talent” without telling you what that is. As confusing as that sounds, it seems as though the object isn’t necessary at all as the Exotics could be mined with a simple stone pickaxe.
More questionable decisions
If not bugs, then certain design choices will get to you. These include chaotic weather patterns that, for the most part, restrict you to hiding in your shelter to avoid exposure. Should you die to wild animals or exposure, then there are punishing XP penalties for solo players. If you’re with a team, then your pals can revive you. But, if you’re alone, then deaths will drastically reduce your XP and you’ll be “in the red” until you amass enough to reach the previous value. During my interview with Hall, I was told that the plan was for solo players to have a means of getting sponsored by a faction that will revive them at the cost of resources. Sadly, as far as I can tell, the live version doesn’t have that function.
Moreover, there’s another mode called Outposts. This is predominantly for those who want to let their creativity run wild. There are no session timers, which means you don’t need to escape the planet. You can just build strongholds at your leisure. The problem is that Outpost mode doesn’t have missions, which means there’s nothing to do and you can’t obtain Orbital Workshop rewards either. There’s also a lack of dangerous animals, so you’ll just fight deer and other herbivores. Again, this doesn’t really make a lot of sense since the maps are smaller and you can’t acquire Workshop unlocks.
In a way, Outpost mode allows you to get attached to your creations and bases at the cost of progression. Meanwhile, Prospect missions lead to progression, but you’ll hardly feel attached to whatever you build. Because you’re doing one separate mission at a time, you’re not going to bother with extensive construction. Similarly, there’s no point in wasting so much time on a location/base that will get wiped once the session timer expires. It would’ve been better had RocketWerkz decided on presenting larger zones/biomes, with multiple missions that you can tackle in various areas (akin to an open-world game). The session timer could be disabled for the “hub” area, activated only when you’re doing missions. This is to create long-term engagement for your creations in these sectors, as opposed to one-and-done clears followed by redoing the same gathering/building starter tasks in successive activities.
Icarus at a technical glance
From a graphical standpoint, I don’t really have a lot of qualms with Icarus. I do have an Nvidia RTX 3080, an Intel i9-10900K, and 32 GB RAM, which allows me to run the game at the highest settings. The lush forests, verdant fields, tranquil streams, and majestic mountains are stunning to behold. Frozen landscapes and windswept deserts, while dangerous, also keep you immersed. The audio is fairly decent, and you could hear the howl of wolves and the roar of other animals in the distance.
However, I should add that Icarus has noticeable framerate dips. Some occurred just after I took screenshots (as is the case with Steam games), while others were more egregious. In arctic biomes, it’s possible to see sub-20 fps drops, turning your adventure into a PowerPoint slideshow. Crashes, too, were downright annoying. Even if they were seldom, you could see yourself restarting from the very beginning of a mission if you’re playing offline. This is despite the game telling you that the last autosave was just a few seconds ago.
Perhaps another gripe I have is that, while Icarus has marvelous and scenic backdrops with graphics at the highest settings, it definitely lacks enemy variety. You could be wowed by the environment, but you’re still fighting wild animals from Earth.
Too close to the sun
In any case, the visuals are just about the only thing in Icarus that appealed to me. Base building is completely forgettable when doing missions (you’re more likely to construct smaller shelters with basic functions). Even then, you’ll need to keep redoing this for each and every run. Crafting mechanics, meanwhile, are similar to other games — truth be told, you’re better off playing No Man’s Sky if you want a sci-fi survival game with crafting elements. We could see new additions (i.e., alien plants, strange animals, and vehicles) in future episodes/seasons. However, as we’ve noticed from the Supporter’s Edition, these might be paid DLC.
As for everything else, there are currently too many issues that proved to be detrimental to my enjoyment. From bugs and glitches to inexplicably poor mechanics, it’s hard to recommend Icarus at this stage.
Even with the lengthy beta process and delays, this still feels like an unfinished, Early Access game, releasing in December just to coincide with the holiday season. It’s as though the team wanted something that’s highly ambitious and, just like the hero from Greek Mythology, Icarus flew too close to the sun. Still, if you want to give it a go, you can take a look at our guides and features hub.