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Review: Vigor

Full disclosure upfront: I don’t often play shooters. I am usually really bad at them for several reasons, chief among them is that I cannot aim, well, at all. But recently I have been trying to broaden my horizons by exploring games outside of my comfort zone. So, what could someone who sucks at shooters possibly have to say about Vigor, a third-person shooter? Well, aside from the countless deaths I experienced, I had a surprising amount of fun with the game.

Vigor is an online third-person looter shooter set in post-war Norway. You play as an Outlander doing whatever you can to live through the apocalypse. The set-up is simple, but it works well in establishing the overarching theme of survival. Every facet of the presentation leans into the idea that you are alone in the world, and must fight for your life. Maps are sparsely populated; a few clusters of run-down buildings and abandoned cars, with large wooded areas and wide-open spaces. This paired with the quiet, sombre music reinforces the lonely feeling.

Gimme Shelter

The gameplay serves the theme as well, especially when it comes to the persistent objective of rebuilding your weathered shelter into something liveable. The shelter, and its surrounding area, is a fully explorable and upgradeable hub where you’ll be spending a fair bit of time. You can craft weapons, donate food you’ve found to other Outlanders in need in exchange for rewards, and, as I already alluded to, build upgrades to the shelter that enhance your abilities (like crafting and deconstructing loot) and produce extra materials, food and craft items.

For example, building a rat trap will provide you with a couple of units of food per hour, and you can upgrade that specific trap to produce even more food. Getting the food in your inventory requires you to go to the location of the trap in the house and collect it from there.

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It’s a good system, forcing you to learn the layout of the shelter, and making you feel a sense of accomplishment when you see your garden looking more plentiful, or an actual roof on your shelter instead of a torn-up tarp. Building these upgrades, crafting weapons, opening crates and actually going into an online match can be done by going to specific interactable areas in the shelter, but they can also be accessed from a menu screen. It’s nice that there is a good reason to explore the shelter other than the novelty of seeing what object might represent each menu action.

Additionally, you can practice with any weapons you’ve unlocked at the makeshift shooting range and try to solve a Rubik’s cube, but these are more distractions than anything else. You might want to use them to pass the time if match-making is taking too long, which did happen a few times to me.

Close Encounters

Encounters are the main online game mode and are what set Vigor apart from its contemporaries. In this game mode, eight to twelve players go into a random map and try to collect as much loot as they can carry. If you get killed, that’s it, you’re out and you lose everything in your pack, including your weapons. This isn’t a battle royale though; you don’t actually have to engage in combat, and you can leave from designated exit areas any time you want. But if you want to leave with the best loot possible, you have to take some risks.

There’s an airdrop scheduled to arrive in about five minutes, and only one person can leave with its contents. Or, if you don’t want to wait for that, you can rush to the barred house and try to crack the safe. This takes some time though, and players are alerted when you are attempting to open it. Whatever you do though, don’t stay in the area for too long; a cloud of radiation is coming your way, and if you’re caught in it for too long, you will die.

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Before you go into an encounter, you can choose your weapon loadout, the right ammunition, and any consumables you think you might need (healing items, signal jammers, etc.). You have a limited amount of space in your pack, so it’s important to leave enough room for any loot you might find.

As I was one to try to avoid combat, I typically only brought a small amount of ammo for each of my weapons and a few healing items, leaving more room for loot. But if you aim to go in and kill every other player – a tricky task, considering killing enough Outlanders labels you as a threat and marks your presence on everyone’s map – you might want to bring extra ammunition and some portable signal detectors to locate them.

Going into a match with a plan is always a good idea, and the fact that there are so many different tactics you can take is what I love about Vigor. If you like combat and taking risks, you can go straight for the airdrop or barred house. Or if you’re like me and prefer to play it safe, you can take a more explorative approach, going to undiscovered areas on your map, filling up your pack and escaping the area. You can also explore the map for mementos to fill out your collection at the shelter. These come in the form of trolls and lighters, both of which are difficult to find (but you’ll get a vague hint on the mementos page in the menu).

Overall, I found that the game ran decently on the Switch, with no noticeable differences between docked and handheld mode. The frame rate was solid, but would sometimes stutter if someone in the match had a poor connection, and some maps would take a little longer to load in all the assets on occasion. I ran into a couple of bugs, like clipping through a surface, but these were few and far between. However, all of the performance issues the game had were minor and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game. The most frustrated I got was when matchmaking would take too long, but even then, I could still go to the shooting range while I waited, as I mentioned earlier.

Vigor’s Crowning Achievements

Vigor is set up as a live game service, similar to games like Fortnite or Call of Duty: Warzone. There is a battle pass system, wherein levelling up through each tier will net you designated rewards. You can use an in-game currency called Crowns to upgrade to the premium battle pass, which mostly has cosmetic rewards, but every so often you will get an XP booster allowing you to level up faster.

Crowns can be earned through completing challenges, levelling up through the battle pass and opening crates you find in Encounters, but, as this is a free-to-play game (not currently free-to-play on Switch, as it’s technically in early access, but free-to-play on Xbox One), there are microtransactions if you want more Crowns right away. These also have a use in Encounters, allowing you to purchase buffs to the loot everyone will find or the contents of the airdrop, and get insurance for yourself, meaning you won’t lose anything you picked up upon death (except for the airdrop).

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I can see how one could get sucked into buying a lot of Crowns in order to get better rewards, but that is likely to be a problem in any game like this. I don’t love the idea of microtransactions in video games as a general rule, but, as most of the things you can earn with Crowns are purely cosmetic, and you cannot pay to win, I can forgive their implementation here. Purchasing the version of Vigor on the eShop now, the Founders Edition will provide you with a few exclusive cosmetic items and a bunch of crowns equivalent to $40 USD.

As Vigor is a game as a service, it will be consistently updated about every two months. Since launching on the Xbox One, Bohemia Interactive have added two new game modes – Shootout, a free-for-all mode where you must get the most kills to win, and Elimination, a team-based shoot-out where you battle it out in rounds to eliminate the other team (there is also a touch of Capture the Flag in this mode) – new maps, new cosmetic items, new mementos to find, and many quality of life changes. What they have done with the game so far has been very interesting to me, and I’m interested to see what other game modes they can come up with.

Verdict

The main gameplay loop of entering an encounter, trying to escape with the airdrop (or at least a full pack of loot), and using what I found to improve my shelter was quite addicting. I was having a lot of fun with it, despite only having a total of four kills across my entire playtime (pathetic, I know). But it just goes to show you that this game is not just about shooting. The way I played it was much more like a survival game, and there were times when it felt very tense. Frantically look around while I tried to open the safe, sprinting back to the exit with a full pack, and simply crossing a river or wide-open space were all moments that had my heart racing, knowing I could be shot at any second.

Even if you don’t love third-person shooters, this game is still worth checking out; whether you pay for it now or wait for the free-to-play version to release on Switch later this year, I definitely recommend giving Vigor a shot.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]