Icarus: First Cohort

Dean Hall, founder of Rocketwerkz and creator of DayZ, has stated in the past that Icarus: First Cohort was an attempt to redefine the survival genre and advance it past the general rut it has been in for the last several years. As a fan of the genre, having played dozens of survival and crafting games — some great, most mediocre, a few unmentionable — this concept intrigues me. Even though having to constantly chop down trees in these games has become a meme in and of itself (Rocketwerz even titled the first in a series of developer videos, “Woodcutting Simulator”), I guess I had unconsciously accepted that this was just how these types of games play.

But once you’ve played Icarus: First Cohort, it starts to seem that this might not necessarily be the case. In Icarus, many aspects of the familiar formula have been streamlined, and a good amount of thought has clearly been put towards redesigning how those elements work and feel (although, to be clear, the staple survival mechanics are still very much present).

So let’s get started with the most basic task in almost every survival crafting game: Will you be chopping down an endless series of trees? Yes — I mean, mostly. Is it tedious and frustrating or, worse yet (and this is a cardinal sin of the genre as a whole), is it boring? I mean, not really, for all three. This is mostly due to the fact that most resources, trees among them, have a reduced harvesting time compared to other games. With three or so good whacks of the low-level starting axe, you can chop down a tree. And with roughly the same amount of effort, you can chop each section down to usable wood. There is even a skill that you can unlock that gives you a chance of chopping down a tree with one hit.

And speaking of skills, there are an insane number of them in Icarus, ranging from combat-centric to crafting to just basic survival buffs. Icarus has by far the deepest skill tree I’ve seen in a long while. Although perhaps 25% of it amounts to simply beefing up your thirst or hunger meter, or limiting the amount of decay for food items, there are yet still more niche skills that will help you focus on a preferred character build. Not interested in using knives for combat? Fine, how about putting skills into the bow or spear tree? I’m still scratching the surface of what is even possible, and I’m already loving what is on offer even for a lower-levelled cohort.

Icarus: First Cohort

Icarus also manages to help alleviate the annoyance of weapon degradation. Although I am not a huge fan of weapon or item degradation in games, that mechanic can add a nice difficulty wrinkle when balanced correctly. An unfortunate problem is that if your weapon breaks in the heat of battle, you’ll need to either pause the game to bring up your menu to select another weapon (à la The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild), or to go to the crafting menu to make another axe or knife or whatever. This can really bring you out of the experience, ruin the tension of combat, and leave you open to further attacks if the act of crafting doesn’t stop or pause the game (with Icarus‘ live-session approach, there is no pausing). 

In Icarus, as long as you have the item assigned to a hotkey, and you also have the resources needed to craft another item to replace the one that is broken, you can have a replacement with a couple button presses. All you have to do is hit the drop item button to get rid of the broken item, then press the hotkey it is assigned to; you’ll automatically craft a replacement that’s ready to rock. This all takes place outside of menus or pause screens, and it’s such a seamless time- and aggravation-saver that it boggles the mind that more games haven’t gone this route. It’s a simple adjustment, but clearly a lot of thought went into this tiny aspect of the game.

Although Icarus isn’t the first game to have a robust and intuitive base building system, it’s refreshing to see a system that feels elegant right out the gate. Items snap to one another with such a level of satisfaction that it makes my toes curl. And by adding a simple indicator, it is now crystal clear whether the wall you are about to put up is going to face the right way or not — if it’s a thatched wall, will the exterior be facing out and the interior facing in? It always peeves me to finish a hut, only to notice that one of the walls is orientated the wrong way.

Icarus: First Cohort

If that’s not enough, Icarus doesn’t require you to build specialty variations of every wall. That’s right, all you need to do is unlock a wall of any building material, and it serves as a standard wall, a wall with a window well, a wall with a door frame, etc. You simply need to hold the R key while lining up your wall — before placement — to bring up a menu wheel of all of the variations of that wall. I can’t tell you how tedious it can be having to learn individual variations of items, especially if they require additional, precious skill points to unlock them.

And lord howdy, there is even a hammer you can craft that allows you to upgrade the building material of already-placed items if you learn a sturdier version down the road. Not having to completely demolish your abode simply because you want to beef up your defenses? Now that’s a game-changer for the ages. 

There is also a pretty cool animal carcass system in Icarus: If you kill an animal, it will sometimes randomly attract wolves. That’s right, these wolves smell the fresh kill and will show up for dinner. This can add an unexpected element of danger while harvesting your prey, and it can also be a great way to lure even more unsuspecting prey to capitalize on the XP points from hunting and harvesting.

And speaking of XP from hunting and harvesting, you gain XP in Icarus from most every activity (other than walking or jumping). It is a relatively small amount of XP, to be fair, but it’s nice to get some from gathering fiber from plants, mining stone or ores, chopping down trees, killing animals, and even crafting items. I love this because if you are constantly gathering items while completing your overarching tasks, you will constantly be earning XP.

And Icarus makes constantly gathering resources literally as easy as holding a button and moving. That’s right, the interaction key can be held down, and as long as you face an item you can collect, it lights up (if you have item highlight glow turned on). This means you can just hold down the interact or F key and gather everything in your path that isn’t nailed down while simply traversing to your destination. You are effectively gathering resources and slowly leveling up just by moving. And with those extra resources, you can spend a relaxing night in your cabin, crafting material to your heart’s content (preferably material that stacks, like walls or floors, and not items like knives, which require one inventory slot per item). You’ll get that sweet XP from crafting, and then you can break down each item, recoup some resources, and craft a few more — rinse and repeat.

Icarus: First Cohort

These are just a few examples of the features that stuck out to me in my brief time with Icarus. This game really sets out to prove that, just because survival games can be grueling by design, that doesn’t mean they have to be a slog. By streamlining these elements and removing some of the tedium — and even some of the hurdles to grinding — Icarus allows me to allocate more time to actually enjoying the game. I admire Rockerwerkz for putting in the effort.

I look forward to discovering more during my time with Icarus: First Cohort, because I’m sure there are more things that it does really well that I just haven’t experienced yet.

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