Bohemia Interactive is well known for their work on the ARMA series, online multiplayer games about military simulation and tactical play. For a long time, the studio has been a major darling for PC enthusiast’s thanks in part to the popular DayZ mod for ARMA II, and the now-standalone game officially releasing in 2018 after nearly three years in beta. Now another game is on the horizon for the company, a bite-sized survival shooter called Vigor, which recently saw its first online beta.
Vigor is sort of a Frankenstein's monster, a mix between PUBG and survival with a dash of Minecraft and ARMA for good measure. Your objective is to survive a post-nuclear Norway by scavenging for resources on several small maps, killing other players for the supplies and escaping before nuclear radiation kills you. On paper, Vigor has a simple premise with potential. In practice, it's a frustrating slog that, even in this beta stage, leaves an ambivalent impression when its all said and done.
Now, it is important to frame this all-in context of the beta. After all, developer Bohemia Interactive has plenty of time to recalibrate any issues with Vigor. That said, what was available was incredibly rough to get through. Long load times, spotty collision detection, minor graphical hiccups, it is what you expect in betas for the most part, and it does hamper some of the enjoyment you can get out of the game.
What compounds it though is pacing. Vigor is agonizingly slow 90% of the time, with that 10% being a breakneck pace. Each map is decently sized containing varied locales found in the Norwegian countryside, perfect for the 8-16 player matchups the game touts for its “survival portion” of the game. You are always on a time limit as well. Towards the end of a match, a Geiger counter begins to slowly tick away while your vision becomes hazy from radiation poisoning.
The added restriction of radiation coming in is a good way to keep matches online short and compact, which are often quick and dirty due to player combat. Since this is a survival-style multiplayer game, once you die, you lose all progress and materials you may have gained on a given map. It is the kind of game that benefits a stalker-like style, crouching low and paying attention to moving specks in the background to stage a surprise attack on the player.
Matches even try to encourage encounters with other players by placing air-drops of supplies onto random locations. Players can track those supplies on the map screen, including whether another player grabbed them. This offers a “kill the carrier” mentality for a big reward. Players want those big rewards too, as the amount of resources gained from these air-drops gives them a major edge in the resources they need to keep upgrading their supplies.
This again could work in theory, but the long load times and honestly janky control scheme hampers a lot of player ability. Characters have very stiff movement about them, while weapons seem to have aiming issues when looking down the barrel. Minor actions such as switching between guns and bandages require players to hold down buttons on the Xbox One controller instead of it being a quick click. It's possible to live with these issues, but the controls work against the player, making it a game with a steeper learning curve to overcome.
Losing resources is another caveat to the survival portion. Items you find are either weapons and ammo or resources you need for crafting. Since you compete with other players, you lose everything you're carrying (including your guns and ammo) when you die. As stated earlier, this is part of the survival portion of the game. It becomes a 'kill or be killed' skinner box that often boils down to overcoming the tank controls and a bit of luck. Weapons are thankfully plentiful, so finding spares mitigates this a bit. Ultimately though, the mantra for players on Vigor is one of a constant grind. The rich are likely getting richer each match they participate and win in.
Of course, stockpiling weapons and ammo helps in this case, but players will burn through resources quickly. After winning a few matches my own home base (a hollowed-out cabin across a cliffside lake) was already looking more livable. Resources were becoming somewhat plentiful, but the costs of crafting more items became astronomically high, and that’s the catch. Vigor, being a free to play style game, already has the mechanisms of its grind in place with its growth charts. Players can improve their own home, improve weapons, create health kits and other little features, but it all depends on how well they perform in-game. The alternative is buying power; as Vigor comes with a loot-box style system that can give players not only resources they may need but weapons and ammo that are quite rare to find in the wild.
The question then is why do we even bother with survival? As far as I can tell, your home base is ultimately safe from any form of attack. The participation of resources (thus far) only amounts to improving your base, weapon stash and other goodies for multiplayer matches. With the prospect of buying power in the game, Vigor’s biggest problem is keeping a player's attention. The gameplay could be interesting but lacks any incentive to continue the grind. In turn, that kills any interest in playing.
Of course, Bohemia Interactive can attach all kinds of restrictions to this to make survival more involved. Often it's for personal best scores tied to time limits and achievements, or overcoming challenges in-game that, even if for a moment, give players a reason to keep playing. In this state, Vigor lacks that motivation. The only reason to grind through multiplayer is to get enough scrap wire and gas to build a fireplace. Seeing the accomplishments of the grind as your house physically remodels is a good start. The problem in the end is the multiplayer component that is effectively a dice roll. Vigor being tied to these microtransactions leads to a problem with long-term replayability.
The potential is there for Vigor, but as it stands, the beta showcases several weaknesses that Bohemia Interactive needs to iron out. Ultimately, it is too easy to be indolent in the game, a huge problem for any free to play multiplayer experience.
A beta code was provided by the developers for this preview. The game was played on the Xbox One and will be available next year.