icarus beta weekend 4 impressions south arctic boss makknus closeup
Content Type: Gaming News
Date: October 19, 2021

Epic, exciting. Sometimes quite frustrating. Far more time consuming than can reasonably be expected of even a three-day weekend, but not without a fair sense of accomplishment. This was my experience with RocketWerkz 4th installment in their saga of beta weekends to test and develop their latest title, ICARUS.

This episode of Dean Hall’s new survival sandbox was our first taste of multi-part missions. We plucky prospectors trudged through violent thunderstorms and arctic blizzards; we snuck, stabbed, and shot our way through wolf packs, grizzlies, and polar bears. All of this was to recover the bio-warheads from lost payloads of crashed satellites, responsible for (partially) terraforming the planet.

Therein lied the final challenge — fighting the satellites’ frisky wardens, supercharged by the bio-warheads they guarded: mutated versions of a black jaguar, a woolly mammoth (whom we did not get to see), and a giant polar bear.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions mission objective
The Broken Arrow mission briefing by Prospector Sol.

The mission assigned to us was called “Broken Arrow,” which may evoke memories of John Travolta and Christian Slater wrestling on a train car over a remote detonator for a nuclear bomb. On Icarus, however, Broken Arrow was a fetch quest to find downed biotech satellites and extract the extremely dangerous terraforming enzymes entombed within them: one in the forest, one in the northern arctic, and one in the southern arctic (corresponding to the wardens we discussed earlier).

After being dropped around the same lake we landed near for Beta Weekend #3, empowered with our retained experience points and the Talent reset (more on this later), we began the usual grind.
(Does my little rant on the right sound familiar to you?)

Without raccoons this time around, the rabbit population and the handy skinning bench were key to fast-tracking bedrolls and fur armor for the landing party.

Harvest stone, wood, fiber, sticks, make shelter, hunt small creatures, make bedrolls, tech tier 2 workstations, fur armor, mine, better weapons, mine, tech tier 3 workstations, mine, ammo, mine, … but you know how it goes if you played during the last beta weekend.

With all of the travel and mining to be done this weekend, we had to level up our defense strategies for cave entrances — see the screenshot below. (Bug warning: careful walking into wooden beam constructions like these. We discovered that a bug can cause prospectors to get stuck right next to them at the worst possible time.)

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions cave barricade bear reach
Of course, the local fauna saw our carefully crafted defenses and rushed to say hello.

Some changes have occurred on Icarus since Beta Weekend #3, and it’s not just that the entire raccoon population was driven to extinction by newly thriving population of rabbits (what do those rabbits eat…?). We immediately saw some subtle differences near the dropsite: berry bushes and wheat seemed more sparse, and poisonous piranhas were more vicious (but still fairly impotent little water weasels). In addition, we felt like the ore node rolls were more variable from cave to cave this time around.

This produced an interesting effect: it seemed like the scarcity of resources we encountered was pushing us into richer, more dangerous reaches of the forest biome. By the time we built and loaded our first guns we were practically on top of the forest crash site.

The superstars of Beta Weekend #4 were the mutated boss wardens of the downed satellites. We never made it to the northern arctic satellite, but the other two held plenty of action.

Of course, the forest boss had to be a jungle predator, and there is none fiercer than a jaguar. The moment we tried to extract the warhead, a one-minute countdown was started and a black jaguar spawned in and immediately leaped at our wary band of prospectors. Between the three of us armed with a rifle, shotgun and crossbow, the fight was over fairly quickly.

Nevertheless, we were glad for the defensive wood beam bunker we constructed near the crash site. After a minute next to the satellite, the warhead was disarmed, and we retrieved the bio-warhead.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions forest boss black jaguar
Whew! Our barricade shut down the jaguar’s surprise attack before it started.

The next stop was the southern arctic region which was not very far from the initial drop zone. This crash site lay beyond about a kilometer of wolf-infested arctic glaciers and deep within active polar bear romping grounds.

We reached the downed satellite and built a sniper nest into a cliff face a hundred meters away. They must have smelled us because no sooner had we climbed up to the nest than the polar bears started closing in. At first, it seemed that right after a rain of bullets and arrows felled one of them, another strolled in to take its place.

Finally, we cleared the ground around the crash site, tried to extract the warhead and proc-ed the real encounter — a face-to-face confrontation with an enzyme-infused polar bear supreme named Makknus. Rather than engage it head-on, we regrouped at the sniper nest and dispatched Makknus the same way we had its cousins.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions south arctic boss deaggro
Luckily Makknus and its massive HP bar was more attached to the crash site than us.

By this time, the weekend was nearly through. We considered extracting, but instead decided to spend the remaining time exploring and looting nearby caves. However, those proud furry furies were not done with us and delivered a poignant departing message.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions polar bear base invader
Polar bears can break through the stone cave entrances, too! Too bad we set bedrolls and spawns here.

What greeted us at the start of this weekend was a surprise! As fresh and new as the prospecting mission was, so too were our stats and limits. Without wiping everyone’s progress this time, the talent and tech tree points were reset and we were allowed to respec our characters (and it wasn’t even a bug this time that required us to experiment with the refresh button).

However, it’s important to note that we still do not have an actual respec option. This was a one-time gift, so I took my time throughout the beta carefully reselecting my prospector’s skills and craftables.

So, a quick overview. My character was Level 25 after Beta Weekend #3, but magically started at Level 30 this time (thanks, Dean?).

Blueprint points per level were dropped from 5 to 3, as advertised. The max level bonus of 6 combined for a total of 96 points, which left plenty of room to explore the tech tree with points left over.

Then, instead of 25 or 30 talent points we were given 45. So, the talent points were a real opportunity to explore specialization, as you could reach top-tier skills in up to 3 different trees.

icarus beta weekend 4 impresssions talents combat bows

Since Solo tree skills still stacked with the other trees, I buffed my prospector’s basic stats on three separate trees.

I decided to explore top-tier bow and hunting tree talents so I could stealthily ship pointy gifts to every wolf, bear, or worse out in the Icarus wilds, or skirt the battle entirely by being aware of them before they were of me.

However, despite two attempts by the developers to fix the issue this weekend, the “Coming Soon” barrier bug still talent-blocked my attempts to experiment with animal highlighting skills. So much for seeing them first. But, we still had eyes and sense enough to stay out of the thick brush which was enough to get the jump on most of the predators this weekend.

(On the left: A 14-Point Combat-Bow Build: -30% reload speed, -15% draw stamina, +10% aim speed, +14% crit damage, 30% slow and bleed chance. Click on the image for the full size.)

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions sneak attack autotarget
High powered bows with boosted crit damage and sneak-attacks, the occasional knife intervention, and patience were enough to carve safely through the arctic wolf threat.

If you’re starting to feel the Beta fatigue like me, you may have felt encouraged when gamerunner Dean Hall said (in one of the developer streaming sessions) that he didn’t like the slow pace of the rollout and he was going to start pushing systems out of the door. So, keep your eyes peeled for the patch notes and scour the trees for new talents and craftable items each beta weekend to freshen up the experience. (Even if some of those new cupboards have some bugs in them.)

One of the systems a lot of streamers passed up is advanced cooking. Since each food item comes with a temporary (15-minute) buff to maximum HP or stamina, as well as healing properties and perks (like increased experience), it makes sense to pretend you’re back in Valheim and craft up a feast.

To get into the new baking specialty in ICARUS, you’ll need to learn and craft a lot of mostly new equipment. The Kitchen Bench, the Gas Stove, the biofuel reactor, and a gas can was enough to light our pilot. After harvesting a ton of wheat and turning it into flour and bread dough, we had a mission’s worth of bread.

The Kitchen and Glassworking Bench, a couple stacks of iron ingots for glass jars, and a habit of picking every berry bush we came across was enough to keep us in berry jam for days. Combine this with endless supplies of cooked meat and our diet was maxed out.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions gas stove uses fuel can
Don’t forget that bread dough spoils, so have the kitchen aids and fuel ready before you make it.

In the meantime, we looked for efficient ways to deal with the weather. The standard approach is to upgrade your domicile from wood to stone (and this is a good plan for those looking to level).

But, you can do a lot with a few wooden pillars, and after some experimentation we had MacGyvered a low-tier lightning rod. It had a tendency to burn (still, better it than the base). But like an aspiring Franklin or Tesla, we perfected it. With the addition of a single stone pillar cap, the improved version provided fire protection for the whole mission.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions sacrificial wooden lightning rods work
Just a few stacked wooden pillars and we had a free ticket to the safest light show on Icarus.

In many ways Beta Weekend #4 was a promising success for our prospecting team and the state of ICARUS as a game. Missions, bosses, multiple biomes and a litany of animals and survival systems made for a compelling and immersive experience. Most of the bugs were either benign, avoidable, had work-arounds, or got some mitigating patch during the process.

Still, I would be lying if the bombardment of memory leaks did not throw a comedically-sized wrench into our progress every couple hours. Whether it is reasonable or not for a game less than two months away from release is a matter for the developers, but no impression piece would be complete without riffing a list of malfunctions to watch (out) for in the betas to come. There was…

  • Of course, the constant drumbeat of the threat of a memory leak, one of which caused a glitch during base upgrading that led to the loss of nearly all of our Tier 3 metals (steel and above).
  • Also, the overheating bug where the overheating debuff would get stuck on a prospector, eventually leading to death even after running into the arctic.
  • The missing fireplace bug which primarily affected our non-host players.
  • A shelter bug which initially caused us to lose some workstations and storage until the developers turned off environmental damage altogether.
  • The twice unsuccessfully patched “Coming Soon” block bug which caused most of us to waste talent points trying, futilely, to unlock talents we should have been able to reach.
  • An items-falling-through-the-world bug — familiar to sandbox survival fans — making it very difficult to transfer items in the field (by dropping them on the ground for the other player to pick them up), especially so the expensive weapons and ammo.
  • And the annoying tendency to get stuck on every wooden pillar we brushed past — especially cruel when caught in combat.

Here’s to hoping going forward that most of these laments remain past-tense!

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions rifle dropped in snow
In a fraction of a second this hunting rifle will quantum tunnel through the world, leaving us forever. Goodbye 40 steel!

For us, admittedly average prospectors, all of the technical hiccups impacted both morale and progress and made it much harder to finish the intended objective — the retrieval of bio-warheads and extraction — in a weekend.

Thankfully, we still managed to get our hands on two of them, and in the process explore the southern arctic and encounter most of the new bosses, polishing off the new environmental and animal content for this Beta Weekend.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions objective 2 of 3 no extract
Two-out-of-three dangerous gene-thrashing enzyme bio-warheads ain’t bad, right?

With each beta weekend we do learn new facts about Icarus and prospecting life we can take with us into future beta weekends, hopefully making them easier. My personal favorite was locking down the position of the undersea cave in N10. It was a veritable ore emporium, and a few caves of its type are scattered throughout the forest biome.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions n10 underground lake marked
A peaceful tree-lined lake nestled between snowy peaks. Pay no attention to the thread of wooden railings leading into the water. They definitely do not mark anything of interest.

Cue sweet Guns N’ Roses outro music!

With the first mission-themed beta weekend under our belts, where are we headed next? The last two betas have been uncomfortably cold. So, of course, for Beta Weekend #5 we will venture towards the other extreme.

It has been promised that the desert will contain untold riches for those skilled enough to survive in an oppressively hot environment, possessing few of the resources needed to sustain life. Like the past two weeks, the desert transition zones are likely to be some ways from the drop site, and are likely good locations for a forward base.

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions north desert transition zone
A picturesque forest-desert transition zone a few kilometers north of the Beta Weekend 3/4 drop site.

It appears not all transition zones are above ground. While pressing on toward the northern arctic, we came across a deep valley sheltering a solitary lake and two conspicuously close caves leading to the same sweltering waterlogged passage. What lies beyond was protected by the great and powerful 11-second death timer. Might it be revealed in Beta Weekend #5?

icarus beta weekend 4 impressions north desert transition caves valley
An ore-rich passage to the desert, protected by much more than a forest-shrouded pond.

And on that note, what are your predictions: Do you think the developers will open all of the desert biome at once, or just a piece, leaving us thirsty for more?

Also, what were your impressions of Beta Weekend 4? Does our experience resonate with you, or was it quite different? Are you still deciding whether to purchase the title, or have bought in fully and are just waiting for ICARUS to go gold?

Let us know in the comments below!

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