Icarus hands-on preview: Survival with a goal

Icarus dares to fly high, offering players a unique twist on the survival genre in the form of session-based experiences.


Icarus is a new survival game from RocketWerkz, a development team from New Zealand that’s headed up by Dean Hall, the man behind the intensely popular DayZ. The game looks to add a new spin to the crafting-survival genre in the form of session-based experiences. I recently had the pleasure to go hands-on with the game in a co-op session with Dean Hall. We talked about what makes Icarus a unique experience, we hunted together, I disappointed Hall with my inability to get a kill-cam shot on a deer, and we died a harrowing death in an icy wasteland as a mammoth gored Hall’s body.

Much like the smash hit Valheim, Icarus has players surviving with one another in a pure PVE experience. Players don’t need to concern themselves with attacks from other players, and the developers need not concern themselves with the troubles of balancing PVE and PVP content.

icarus preview

In Icarus, players venture to a harsh, terraformed world full of flora and fauna from Earth. As part of their missions, players must build bases to survive the harsh weather, hunt and collect resources to build new structures and important tools, and search for rare and valuable exotics (a resource that is extracted and sent back to the orbiting station for purchasing items). The maps themselves are hand-crafted, with procedural-generation reserved for things like caves.

Before I ventured into the play session with the man who created Icarus, I took some time to familiarise myself with the basics. So often in games like this players can be overwhelmed by the sense of freedom, the tutorial is a fine example of a way Icarus gives players direction. That’s not to say Icarus lacks freedom, quite the contrary, but what it does is give players who need or want direction a set goal to work towards.

“One of our gameplay pillars is great pacing and clear direction,” Hall explained as we stood around a campfire by a serene lake. “One of the problems I found with a lot of the PVE games is that’s it’s hard to have a sense of ‘What am I doing?’ and that’s the idea behind the sessions.” Hall went on to describe how the game will prompt the player based on their progress, from the acclimatization stage through to the more advanced Prospects like faction missions and hunting for exotics.

icarus preview steam

The tutorial asked me to go through the basics of survival. I had to collect sticks and grass fibre to make a pickaxe. Collect some stones by breaking down a large boulder to create an axe. I then took this axe to cut down a tree (being careful not to crush myself) and then chopped up the tree into little bits which I used to create flooring and roofing for my basic house. At this point, my character was getting hungry, so I set out to hunt the skittish deer of the region.

Beyond the hunger meter, there is also a water meter and oxygen meter. Despite the local fauna thriving, humans aren’t equipped to breathe the air of the planet, so players will need to mine Oxite in order to derive oxygen. As players progress through the tiers, more efficient means of processing this compound will be unlocked.

When Hall and I teamed up to survive the world, we had to quickly build a shelter in order to survive one of the game’s storms. While the tutorial’s storms are mild, they can still do some damage to your structures, though it sounds like it pales in comparison to the weather in later areas. With our shelter erected, Hall pointed out the wealth of information available to the players in the stat screen, “I feel like a lot of games dumb things down way too much. We have gone in the complete opposite direction.” Players can see the details like item wear, stomach capacity, swimming speed, lightning burn chance and much more.

icarus steam

The session Hall and I were playing is your classic survival-crafting experience. Players are given a blank slate on which to scribe their own stories and adventures. With a time limit of 20 real-world days, there’s more than enough time for players to explore the world, level through the tiers, and see everything on offer.

But when players are ready, they can return to space and venture to other areas of the world. The basic idea being players will use the more unconstrained Prospect mentioned above to learn the basics and level their character (which moves between each Prospect) before diving into the tougher Prospects, which feature different objectives, goals, and time limits. The character acts as the connective tissue, linking these sessions together.

Hall touched on this idea of session-based gameplay in our chat, “You go down, you do stuff, and you come back. One of those loops is exotics, but we’ve actually identified a lot of different ones.” Hall went on to explain faction missions, where players will need to do a variety of tasks such as build a specific structure and find a specific thing.

While the gameplay is different, the idea reminds me of Deep Rock Galactic. In Deep Rock, players go on missions with varying objectives and time limits and face unique threats. Where Deep Rock focuses on tactical combat, Icarus’ focus is on the survival, crafting, and exploration aspects, though the similarity of session-based experiences is a common thread.

There are other similarities to be found in how the player’s character progresses and can be used across each session. In Icarus, however, the number of skills and upgrades is mind-boggling. Players have access to several skill trees, with each offering unique improvements to specific areas (Repairing, Tools, Bows, Firearms, etc). Beyond this, there are also the aforementioned tiers of crafting. Tier 1 is like crawling out of a cave and rubbing sticks together while Tier 4 has players crafting complex components for computer systems and developing new types of armor.

Though the preview build of Icarus had a lot of tech trees, Hall promised that the team wasn’t done yet, “We’ve got a lot more trees coming.” It seems as if players can look forward to highly specialized builds with their characters.

The beauty of the co-op experience is that players will be able to focus their character on a specific area. Each player will have a vital role in the team, as you work out who will be unlocking what to progress the benefit of the whole. And with the constant threat of the storms and running out of oxygen, ensuring that society survives is key to success.

As my time with Hall was coming to a close, we decided to venture into the snow-covered section of the hand-crafted map. We settled in a small area where the forest meets the snow, and I built us a small refuge with a lovely angled roof. Unfortunately, a storm knocked over a nearby tree, destroying the roof and leaving us exposed to the elements. A few bashes from the repair hammer, and it was good as new, with no resource costs outside of a bit of stamina consumption. The game manages to seamlessly fuse the approachable mechanics with the depth of the classic survival genre.

When the storm passed, Hall and I ventured deeper into the snowy terrain, where we swiftly succumbed to the hazards. Hall perished to a mammoth attack, while I was eaten by a pack of wolves and a polar bear – none of which I managed to kill to see the fabled kill-cam shot.

Fans of the genre are going to discover a rich and immersive survival game with Icarus. The inclusion of the session-based Prospects seems to solve the problem of players losing direction and purpose after building a base and becoming self-sufficient. I’m certainly impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and can’t wait to dive in with a full squad of mates to survive the harsh world of Icarus.

Icarus is set to release in November 2021 on Steam and will have a beta for those that pre-order the game. The Icarus beta is scheduled to begin on August 28, with every two weeks focusing on a new area of the game for players to test. For those that are hoping for a release on other platforms, Dean Hall encourages them to reach out to their favorite platforms and ask.

Guides Editor

Hailing from the land down under, Sam Chandler brings a bit of the southern hemisphere flair to his work. After bouncing round a few universities, securing a bachelor degree, and entering the video game industry, he's found his new family here at Shacknews as a Guides Editor. There's nothing he loves more than crafting a guide that will help someone. If you need help with a guide, or notice something not quite right, you can Tweet him: @SamuelChandler 

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