There’s a certain balancing act to being a reviewer. On the one hand, you need to judge a game by its own merits. On the other, the context of a game’s release remains relevant. Part of reviewing is offering insights both on a game’s own terms and within the broader framework of the industry. Vigor, a new free-to-play survival shooter developed and published by Bohemia Interactive, makes this balancing act quite simple: the game fails on both fronts.
- What is it? 3rd person online survival game, shoot and loot.
- Reviewed On: Xbox One
- Price: Free-to-Play with Microtransactions
- Developer: Bohemia Interactive
- Publisher: Bohemia Interactive
- Multiplayer: Up to 12 players.
- Website: www.vigorgame.com
We’ll start with the premise of the game: it’s set in Norway in the 90s, following a devastating nuclear war. Players become Outlanders — scavengers and raiders eking out their existences amidst the ruin and natural splendor of postwar Scandinavia. Airdrops laden with valuable supplies periodically touch down, prompting ambushes, firefights, and mad dashes for their contents. Otherwise, players can scurry through the wrecked houses and abandoned military installations, filling their packs before sprinting for the exit. And that sprinting may be necessary — a radioactive dust storm eventually sweeps through the level, making short work of any soul unfortunate enough to fall behind. Those who perish lose all of their gear, so the stakes of these Encounters are often high.
To some, there are familiar elements in this description. If Vigor isn’t a battle royale (a la Fortnite), it’s undoubtedly BR-adjacent. That said, combat is more opt-in than is typical for the genre, and there is no straightforward “win” condition. So to be more precise, it’s a survival shooter with BR elements. The consequence of these elements, taken with the poor execution of the game, is that it feels like a roughshod, trend-chasing cash grab. This current state of affairs is particularly odd, considering the fact that the creators, DayZ and Arma developer Bohemia Interactive, helped create this trend in the first place. Assuming the developers are passionate game designers who want to contribute something interesting to the industry, why does this game exist?
This Game Bugs Me
That was perhaps an unfair, even naïve question (after all, there’s a straightforward justification whose name rhymes with “collars”). Whatever the reason, Vigor exists, and I’m here to tell you whether it’s good or not. Does it pale in comparison to other games? Probably, but who cares? Let’s meet the game where it’s at and judge it on its own merits.
Before an Encounter, you can equip your Outlander with assault rifles and ammo as well as medical supplies and sidearms. To be sure you don’t lose all of this hard-earned gear to a stray bullet, you can insure it for 60 Crowns. These are the ideal conditions for you to succeed, and in my opinion, the ideal conditions to get into some exciting firefights. It’s the best shot Vigor has at impressing you.
The most familiar sight in Vigor will likely become the title screen because a “Error during communication with cloud service,” or a “Connection to Xbox Live has been lost,” or perhaps an “Unable to connect to Vigor servers.”
Unless, of course, the game kicks you to the title screen and deletes all of your loot anyway. Imagine that. But we shouldn’t despair! Even though it’s entirely possible for us to lose stuff we spent real-world money protecting, we can still find some exciting firefights. Let’s give that a go:
I spotted a heavily-armed Outlander. I stalked after them, only to discover that they were fully aware of my presence. I had lost the element of surprise, and I was armed only with a pistol, but I decided to take the gamble anyway. I squeezed off two shots. Both missed. They turned and ran. I pursued, lined up a shot, and put a round in their back. Wounded. But even injured, my adversary didn’t slacken their pace; I lost them in a maze of desolate fishing shacks. It had become a deadly game of cat and mouse, each of us trying to — “Connection to server lost.” Crap.
I wish these were isolated incidents, but this game is tremendously unstable. A bug might occur when you pull the trigger, spitting out every last bullet in your magazine long after you’ve taken your finger away. The X button might suddenly stop working, and hypothetically, you could stand helplessly at the base of a ladder to the exit, howling and cursing, before some merciless player rolls up with a loud, violent solution to your little fix. Vigor’s game-breaking bugs are legion. The most familiar sight in Vigor will become likely become the title screen because “Error during communication with cloud service,” or “Connection to Xbox Live has been lost,” or an “Unable to connect to Vigor servers.”
Rotten to the Core
Even still, the bugs are not the crime which will send Vigor to the gallows. At the beginning of this piece, I brought up a problem that we reviewers face. I’ll bring up another: video games are not static. They are continually updated and patched, and with Early Access and open betas and the like, there’s no reason to assume that a game’s quality will remain fixed. It is entirely possible that in a year’s time, every bug mentioned in this review will be eradicated from Vigor. The problem is that even with such a massive improvement, the game has deeper, foundational issues at work.
Let’s revisit an idea I briefly mentioned. Vigor’s combat is opt-in. That is to say, your own decisions partially determine the amount of risk in a given Encounter. You can pursue the Airdrop, or you can ignore it and try to avoid danger. This sounds like a good thing — player agency is important to facilitate, right? Well, yes, but you must also be cautious not to give players too much leeway to hamper their fun.
For instance, there were multiple games I played in which players assumed the Airdrop would be a deathtrap. The person who wound up reaching it in these games was able to snag it and walk away scot-free. Think about that: the central source of conflict in a given Encounter was rendered inert. Hell, in one game, my teammate and I collected the contents of the Airdrop and the Safe (another area where conflict is supposed to be incentivized) without firing a single shot. Vigor isn’t a game that can afford disappointments like that.
High Ground View
Before I render my verdict, I should note the things that I like here, and why they can’t make up for Vigor’s considerable flaws. The game is capable of eliciting tension, exhilaration, and chest-swelling triumph. While the gunplay is unwieldy at first, once you’ve gotten a feel for it, the combat becomes more intuitive and weighty. Shots pop nicely, the sound design enhancing the satisfaction of racking up kills. A duel between two Outlanders can swiftly become a free-for-all as opportunists are drawn in by the report of the guns.
Like the picturesque setting, the emotional experience of play is a series of peaks and valleys. Sadly, once you’ve started crossing this environment, you discover that the peaks are not terribly impressive, and the valleys are in fact gloomy, infested mires stretching for miles.
The wild nature of these scraps elevates the fun factor considerably. Good luck finding those. Between the bugs, the lack of incentive to fight, and the relatively low probability of such an event, exhilarating battles are rare. And that only speaks to the combat.
Cosmetics are laughable. Expect to see countless bald white dudes in green raincoats with a crisscross of duct tape stuck to the side. The crafting available at your Shelter is by-the-numbers, and the shooting range is as buggy and annoying as anything else in the game. Loot crates are satisfying to open (and I admire that they can’t be purchased directly), but that, paired with the color-coded loot rarity, only serves to add an addictive quality to the game. Even bad games can become addictive, and that is not a compliment.
Pairing with random players is a marginal improvement over solo play in terms of combat. Fights get doubled in size, so you’re more likely to pick up some kills. Playing with a friend will improve the game in the way that it would for any game. However, it is nonetheless a considerable improvement to be able to strategize, chat, and commiserate in Vigor. Like with many multiplayer games, the ideal way to play is with a friend. Unlike with many multiplayer games, you’d be wasting your time and theirs by doing so.
My prevailing attitude toward Vigor is one of ambivalence. Like the picturesque setting, the emotional experience of play is a series of peaks and valleys. Sadly, once you’ve started crossing this environment, you discover that the peaks are not terribly impressive, and the valleys are in fact gloomy, infested mires stretching for miles. Turn back, Outlander, while you still can. This land is broken, and it is not guaranteed that it shall ever be healed.
Game title: Vigor
Game description: An online survival game set in a post-nuclear war 90's Norway, with Battle Royale elements. This shoot and loot game is free to play and downloadable via the Microsoft Store.
Solo Encounters - 4/10
Team Encounters - 5/10
Vigor is a survival shooter that’s short on ideas and even shorter on polish. While combat can be frantic and fun, Encounters are frequently uneventful and downright boring. Meticulously exterminating the bugs would help matters, but it probably wouldn’t save Vigor from its likely fate: obscurity and mediocrity.
- Combat can reach exhilarating heights
- Playing with friends is fun
- Loot provides the basis for a lot of tension and catharsis
- Bugs permeate the experience
- Combat is not incentivized nearly enough
- Bland visuals and mechanics