Vigor is an oddity of an Xbox One exclusive that more people should hear about. It's free-to-play, with microtransactions that are not too aggressive. It's made by Bohemia Interactive, the people behind DayZ. It's set in Norway, a location we don't often see as a video game setting. Most importantly, it's a combination between looter shooter and battle royale. This unique gameplay hybrid makes for a game that's full of potential, mostly makes due on that potential, and also invites frustration by being what it is.
Norway Is A Nice Place
For most free-to-play online multiplayer games, story is bottom priority - if it even appears at all. That's mostly true in Vigor, although Bohemia at least tries to give us context as to why the world has become so shooty and looty. It's 1991 and nuclear war happened. Europe is in shambles, with most of the survivors fleeing to Norway. Why Norway is the safe haven we don't know, but your character takes up in an abandoned house in the woods. This is your base of operations, and your motivation to keep playing.
Like in most post-apocalyptic games, you need to gather materials to survive. Random nails from construction, intact glass from torn-up kitchens, gasoline from busted cars, all of it serves the purpose of turning your house into a home. Collecting enough materials will give you the ability to construct house improvements like a workbench or water purifier. After hitting enough improvement milestones, your house gets a visual upgrade. As the house is your hub area, the idea is that you become invested in repairing it. How do you repair it? By going out on Encounters!
Encounters are the meat of the game. You and 7-11 other players enter a section of war-torn Norway. The maps are well varied, from snowy woodlands to a waterfront village to an abandoned train station. A radiation storm is always just miles away, meaning you have limited time to loot as much as you can and escape to the safety of your shelter. You can simply go from building-to-building, checking drawers for any leftover contents. Maybe you want to hunt down the safe, a one-time payout of riches that takes time to open. Or perhaps you want the motherlode of all loot: the airdrop.
You can leave at any time by taking one of the many exit paths. This means you can risk the wrath of the radiation to pick the place clean or play it safe by grabbing a few things and leaving. If you decide to make a play for the safe or the airdrop, you'll likely find other players who can end your run, and your fun, just like that.
What Are You?
Up until your first Encounter, Vigor might seem like the average looter shooter. In fact, most of the material I was sent calls it a "shoot 'n' loot." Once you go for your first airdrop, however, you'll learn the truth. Vigor is a battle royale. Yes, your primary objective is to collect material to fix your house. But the best material happens to be in the safe or the airdrop crate. The other players want that loot, and only one person can take it. Guess what happens.
When you're killed in an Encounter, you lose everything you were holding (unless you pay for insurance at the Encounter's start). Bohemia's intention was probably to make risk-reward management a big part of the experience. Do you skirt the outside of the map, picking up small amounts of common loot while staying safe? Or do you go for the bounty of the airdrop, knowing that if you die you get nothing and lose your guns? It's the kind of thing hyper-competitive PUBG types love. Me, not so much.
I should confess that I'm one of those people who hates that Fortnite is about building more than gunplay. I've won two Apex Legends matches in my lifetime, I think. Maybe three. I know I suck at battle royales, but I can still enjoy them and respect them for what they are. I do, however, find them immensely frustrating sometimes. There's that feeling of dying several times in a row, of always being put back to the start, that sticks with me over long sessions. Playing for hours and achieving nothing doesn't always make for fun gameplay.
Vigor has that same feeling sometimes, and possibly even worse because there is progression involved. Imagine finally finding the last few pieces of glass needed to make the next upgrade, only to get gunned down as you turn a corner. No upgrade, and now you lost your guns. It's like going back before square one. Again, I acknowledge that some players aren't bothered by this. They utter a curse, pick up their controller, and get back into it. Overall, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. The loot aspect does add a fun ingredient to the battle royale formula. It makes it possible for sucky players like me to grab a few small rewards and get out without taking on the big boys. But the big boys are still there in the end, making it their game no matter how different the developers wanted it to be.
A Bit Of A Fixer-Upper
One's feelings on Encounters aside, there are undeniable technical issues with Vigor. The game crashes often. This is a widely-reported issue, so I know it's not my connection. The gunplay still feels a little sloppy, with hits not always registering as they should. Bells and whistles, like house customization, are still listed as "coming soon." It's not an entirely finished game. The core aspects are in good shape, but there is definitely work to be done.
Still, I can't help but be intrigued by Vigor. There's a mechanic where you can find food and donate it. It's essentially a leaderboard, but it comes with a message saying something like "outlanders should help each other." Players can emote, but I've never seen anyone do it. They just kill you and take your stuff. I find myself wondering if these mechanics hint at some later version of the game that allows for more friendly interactions like trading. One that helps those of us who like the loot part better than the battle royale part.
Whatever it becomes in the future, Vigor is worth trying out. It mixes looter shooters with battle royale to create refreshing gameplay steeped in risk management. Also it's free. While I wasn't totally on board with the frustrations of losing, I know there are those who will be all about what this game has to offer. So why not give it a shot?
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Vigor is free-to-play, but Bohemia Interactive provided TheGamer with a code for the founder's edition for this review. It's available now for download on Xbox One.