Icarus: First Cohort

Icarus: First Cohort is a solid, mostly polished attempt at reinvigorating and reinventing the crafting survival genre. In some respects, it really does improve upon some of the tried and true mechanics and systems of the genre in ways that are player-friendly and also make a lot sense. And the base building has me over the moon — especially when compared to so many other games of this nature. But the one part of Icarus that I simply cannot get behind, especially as a solo player, is the penalty that the player incurs from dying. 

I’ve taken to calling it the “Double Whammy of Doom.” Basically, not only do you need to do a death run to reclaim your items — something that is an even bigger pain in the ass if you failed to set a close enough respawn point beforehand — but on top of this, the XP deficit you are shouldered with is a real punch to the gut. That’s right, folks, you can wind up getting a pretty severe XP hit after each respawn that, depending on how much XP you had already amassed, can really set you back.

Whereas it is true that you gain XP from doing a wide range of activities, basically resulting in you almost always earning at least a smidge just from normal player interactions, the amount of XP you can lose from just one death can be astronomical. And if you happen to end up in a nightmare scenario that’s no fault of your own — which happened to me — the thought of turning the game off, never to return, becomes more and more palatable.

Icarus: First Cohort

To illustrate my point, let me spin a yarn for you. 

I was knee-deep in XP during this fateful run. I was about 80% of the way to hitting the next level and having a blast while doing it; I had fallen into a great groove and felt like nothing could slow me down. That is, until a freak lightning storm cropped up, forcing me to hightail it back to my shack for shelter. Unlike previous storms, however, this one was sudden and violent, and even though I was only about 300 meters from my base, I was struck by an errant bolt before I could reach the front door. On fire and with no water in sight, I knew that there would be no recourse. And so, I died almost literally on my doorstep. 

Even though I knew I would lose like 70% of my XP, I would at least only be a few yards away from my grave to reclaim my gear and resources and get back into the fight. And so, once the respawn timer expired, I woke up in my bed ready to rock.

Even though the storm had passed by this point, two wolves had shown up outside my house. Because my windows were wide open, these wolves noticed me and went into attack mode. With no weapons to speak of, or resources to craft new ones, I tried to punch the wolves through the open window in the hopes of killing them before they could destroy my walls and breach my compound. In this, I was unsuccessful, as the wolves made their way into my tight quarters and proceeded to maul me.

Icarus: First Cohort

I waited for the respawn timer to tick down once again. However, instead of moving along, both wolves lied down on my bedroll as if to claim this as their new den. I waited two good minutes, hoping they would either leave out of boredom or to chase down some frolicking animal that passed by, but all that waiting was in vain.

My only option at this point was to respawn on the very bed they were both cozied up on. I tried to get out the door and back those 300 or so meters to my original tomb so I could grab the gear I lost in that lightning strike. And to my credit, it almost worked. But at the end of the day, the wolves killed me a second time before I could pinpoint the exact location of my corpse bag with all of my weapons. To make matters worse, the wolves went back to rough up my shack some more, and effectively destroyed enough of it that it could no longer sustain my bedroll. This meant I would respawn close to my original landing zone, which would then mean that I would need to hike for quite some time just to get back to my original corpse bag.

By now I’m sure you can imagine how many expletives were flying out of my mouth. Not only was I spitting four-letter words in the direction of those stupid wolves, but I was also fuming over all of the XP that had been zapped by three deaths in as many minutes. I was ready to close down the game and delete it from my hard drive, as any calm, rational, self-respecting video-game enthusiast would do in this circumstance. However, to Icarus’ credit, I sucked it up and hit the respawn button. 

Icarus: First Cohort

So yeah, the death penalty in Icarus: First Cohort can be a bitter pill to swallow for us lone wolves. Hopefully there will be some sort of a redress in the near future to help lessen the penalty — at least for solo players. To be clear, I don’t think there should be no penalty at all — I do like the incentive to stay alive at all costs — but the current system is a bit of a beast.

Now, as a comparison, I was recently playing Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Adventure, a sort of rogue-lite side-scrolling adventure game. In it, you venture off to mission locations in order to complete objectives and, in keeping with the spirit of real-world fire fighting, to earn thousands of dollars each time you report to duty. In Firegirl, if you die while on a mission, that mission ends and you are brought back to the firehouse. The thing is, just for going out on the mission, you automatically earn $2000, which is incentive to play more missions, win or lose. However, if you do lose, aside from the mission ending prematurely, there is also a $950 penalty, and you don’t earn any extra or bonus cash from your fan base (which you build up by successfully completing missions and rescuing people and cats). 

So, even though you do incur a penalty for failure, it isn’t severe. Although you don’t earn your full potential (which can be both ludicrous and lucrative the more fans you have), you are still rewarded for your efforts, just for trying your best.

Firegirl: Hack ‘n Splash Rescue

I get that I might be comparing apples to oranges here, but my point is that there are ways to penalize players for failure or death without completely screwing them in the process. Icarus: First Cohort leans a bit too heavily into the screwing part of that equation, if you ask me.

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