- Developer: Bohemia Interactive
- Publisher: Bohemia Interactive
- Release date: Summer 2020
- Currently in Closed Beta
Like most of you, I’ve been playing that game where you grind away to collect resources and build a lovely little house. I’ve enjoyed scraping together resources to move from a dilapidated empty husk right up to the cosy, homely abode I’ve always wanted. Some people say it’s much more of a survival sim than they had expected. I was equally surprised. You know the game I’m talking about? No, it’s not Animal Crossing, but Bohemia Interactive’s Vigor. I had the chance to spend a good few hours with the Beta, and must say I am very impressed!
Living in the end times
Bohemia Interactive has a real pedigree when it comes to brutal and unforgiving shooters, having previously released the ARMA series, and latterly the full game adaptation of the ARMA mod DayZ, which combines free-roaming battle royale survival mechanics with a zombie-infested world. In Vigor, Bohemia hasn’t strayed from the post-apocalyptic landscape, but they have put a different spin on it.
Vigor is set in Norway after the conclusion of World War 3, which ended in all-out nuclear war. Norway was one of the few countries which was not completely wiped out. There isn’t a whole lot of story beyond that, other than that you play as an unnamed survivor who must restore an old, crumbling house to become your safe haven.
The game alternates between your homestead and a third-person battle royale-style mode with some interesting mechanics. Your house and the land around it serve as a hub of sorts. You can access crafting benches, get in some target practice or access the main menus by accessing the appropriate part of your homestead. By accessing the giant map on your wall, you can browse through various game modes and get into the meat of the experience.
Once you load into the battle royale mode of the game, you are paired with up to 11 other “Outlanders,” as survivors are called in Vigor. The Outlanders all spawn in different parts of a vast map set in the Norwegian wilderness, with the option to play solo or in doubles. There are a few maps available, which ensures variety. When I initially approached this mode, I assumed it was the same as any other battle royale, where the last man standing wins. Instead, the game turns the genre on its head by focusing the gameplay loop around survival above anything else, even if it means literally running away from fights.
In each encounter, you make your way through the map, be it through a small town or across a mountain range or forest. You must pick your way through any buildings or vehicles, scavenging resources and any weapons or equipment you can find. You often encounter other Outlanders along the way, but combat is rarely the best option.
Like in any other battle royale, death is permanent. However, Vigor makes things even more punishing by forcing you to choose your loadout before you enter an encounter from a pool of gear you have stashed at your house. You start the game with a small stockpile of ten pistols and assault rifles. You can choose to tool up heavily, or go in light. There’s a nice balance of risk versus reward at play, as death means you lose that gear, plus anything else you had found in an encounter. Each encounter generally involved me slowly picking my way stealthily across the environment trying to scavenge as much as I could whilst avoiding confrontation. It felt very fresh to be playing a shooter where my main aim was to avoid shooting at any cost.
How does it play?
The gunplay in the game is very unforgiving, and feels similar to something like Counter Strike, where you really need to place your shots and fire in bursts to control your weapon. Weapons hit hard, and shootouts can be over in a flash. The ability to choose your own loadout can lead to some wildly unbalanced shootouts, which helps maintain a lot of tension. I found I was really struggling to survive in my first few battles, so started taking a pistol and a few rounds to each encounter in an attempt to stop wasting my stronger rifles. This lowered the risk of losing valuable gear, but made things even harder when I did find someone heavily armed.
Each map has a few locations marked at the start of each round, including a barricaded house which includes a safe. This location guarantees some seriously good loot, but requires you to break your way in. This takes some time, and carries a huge risk given that everyone else has this location marked on their map. To make things worse, once you start to crack the safe, it takes a few minutes before it opens. During this time, everyone will be alerted that someone is trying to open the safe. This quite often results in an influx of greedy enemy players looking for a piece of your hard-earned pie!
The game also marks an area for an airdrop at the start of each encounter using a broad circle. This helps to focus the gameplay, and to set up some interesting standoffs. A crate full of loot is usually dropped into that area after a few minutes, resulting in a mad scramble to grab it and then extract the contents from the map.
In Vigor, the round doesn’t end at a set time – rather, you need to get to one of several marked extraction points with any loot you may have. If you manage to capture the airdrop, which is no mean feat in itself, you are marked on the map for all players to target. This means a mad dash to the nearest exit! I found I had my best success when I planned an escape route before grabbing the crate.
Encounters can play out in a number of ways, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to play through a whole game avoiding combat and heading to the extraction point early when I found some decent gear. As well as looting guns and ammo, you find resources such as fuel, nails and glass which can be used to upgrade your home and improve your ability to craft stronger weapons. Once you start to pull together some decent resources, you feel empowered to begin entering encounters with better gear, safe in the knowledge you can craft more if it all goes wrong.
The game’s post-apocalyptic setting is used to good effect to keep encounters moving. The map at the start of each round shows the wind direction. Sometime into each encounter, you get a notification that radiation is closing in and you need to start heading to the exit. Unlike most other battle royale games, the radiation comes in as a wave from whatever direction the wind blows. This means you need to plan an extraction point in advance and start moving when the warning comes to avoid a slow death by radiation. Clever players will plan a route and move with the wave to try and spend as much time as possible looting the best gear.
Stay at home
The workbench in your home lets you build weapons as well as upgrade your homestead via a deep skill tree. Each upgrade provides an ability or resource which then feeds back into the encounters and also visually improves the look of your home. Early upgrades see your roof covered in a tarpaulin, whereas later repairs start to bring the building together to something more presentable. This provides a nice sense of progress and helps the outcomes of each of the encounters to feel like they have a tangible effect.
The overall feel of the game, from the bleak survivalist premise to the quick and messy combat, reminds me of the multiplayer mode in The Last of Us. The tension in encounters is sky-high, even compared to other battle royale games. There is very little in the way of an in-game HUD, and the game doesn’t notify you when other players are killed or leave the encounter. This keeps you constantly guessing, as late in the game you could be the last man standing or could walk into a trap as some enterprising Outlander camps near an extraction point ready to wipe you out and steal your hard-earned gear.
The game itself will eventually be free to play, and from my time with the Beta, I feel reasonably confident in saying that it seems very generous compared to other similar games. Bohemia announced that the game will initially be released in a paid form accessed by purchasing a “Founders Pack,” which will include some exclusive cosmetics and a load of the in-game currency, or “Crowns.”
When crafting or building improvements to your house, there is a timer before these builds are completed. Timers were very brief, with nothing I unlocked taking more than 20 minutes to build. Crowns, which can be used to speed up builds, can also be used to unlock cosmetics such as outfits or weapons skins. I wasn’t aware of any pay-to-win style transactions, so things seem positive in that regard. Pricing of cosmetics seemed reasonable, but time will tell if the final release is so generous in terms of build times or the prices of items.
Crowns could be earned by completing daily achievements, so there does seem to be some provision for those who don’t want to pay. Crowns can also be used to upgrade the loot pool before a match, with the effect improving the overall loot for all players. The pre-game lobby also allows players to spend some Crowns as insurance to prevent the loss of any loot upon death.
How does it look?
The game looks and runs great when docked, but I did think the resolution hit in handheld was disappointing. I found it very difficult to identify targets in the shooting range when playing in handheld. There were a few occasions when I was squinting at the screen trying to find the plates I was supposed to smash. The issue was less pronounced when playing an encounter, but I wouldn’t fancy my chances trying to hit a far-off enemy in handheld. Hopefully this is something that can be ironed out for the final release of the game in the Summer.
Other than the docked resolution, I found the game ran really smoothly and was a joy to play. I did encounter a few glitches, including one occasion where the game kicked me to the Switch home menu, but these aren’t unexpected given the game is in Beta. I have every confidence that the final release will be much more stable.
As well as generally looking pretty good, the game performed well online. I didn’t encounter any lag or any other issues, which was a nice surprise given the game is, again, in Beta!
I really enjoyed my time with the Vigor Beta. It offers something really unique when compared with other battle royale games. Its slow pace and cruel risk-versus-reward mechanics won’t be for everyone, but I think it will definitely find a good home on the Switch. The game is already out on the Xbox One series of consoles, and will apparently offer cross-platform functionality. This should help ensure a strong community from day one. I’m really looking forward to the Summer release, and hope that the small performance issues can be ironed out before then. Either way, I’ll be spending my Summer sneaking around post-apocalyptic Norway looking for nails and Gasoline! A refreshing change from lockdown!