Bethesda made quite a show at this years E3 briefing. Fans were excited to see the first gameplay footage of Fallout 4, giving them an idea as to what Bethesda would be aiming for in the future. It was then that they announced a new mobile game, Fallout Shelter, with a timed exclusivity to iOS devices (though the title is hitting Android very soon). Using the iconic Vault Boy art style, this game was meant to be a game-changer for free-to-play games. Well Bethesda, while Fallout Shelter may not be a completely original idea, the way the game is handled deserves utmost admiration.
Fallout Shelter starts with players creating their own vault, getting to pick their own three digit number and starting with a handful of dwellers. Players are introduced to building new rooms, gradually taught the importance of resources, mainly Power, Food, and Water. There are also the series’ trademark bottle caps that are used as currency for building rooms. Every dweller has their own S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, giving them strength for various situations. Power generating rooms are more effective if a dweller has a strong Strength stat while diners would do well with dwellers with a high Agility stat. Water treating facilities require a higher Perception stat, and the water resource might be the most important, as clean water keeps dwellers from getting radiation poisoning. These resources collect over time and that time diminishes with more dwellers added to the room. Players also have the opportunity to earn bonuses by selecting the “Rush” command, which bypasses the timer and relies on the Luck of the dwellers to earn the resource. Failing will either cause a radroach infestation or a fire, but success brings not only the typical rewards but extra experience for the dwellers and a bottle cap bonus.
The balance of resources work rather well, as even though water might keep dwellers from a quick death, power is required to keep all the rooms in the vault running. Food may perhaps be the lowest priority, though given that it also helps to keep dwellers alive, it would be wise to keep this resource maintained as well. The resources have a bar that is set based on how many dwellers or rooms the vault has, and if resources drop below that bar, that is when the resources start losing their effect. If power goes below the bar, then rooms furthest away from power generating rooms will start shutting off entirely, making that room (and the dweller inside it) stop functioning. The dweller inside the room can be relocated, but the priority would typically be to keep the power going so that all rooms can function, so relocating them might not help much.
Other special stats don’t exactly link directly towards resources, but rather other factors of the game. One of the easiest ways to gain more dwellers is to have a male and female dweller meet in the living quarters, and depending on how high their Charisma, this determines how quickly they “get busy”. Eventually, the female dweller will become pregnant and will still be able to do work in the vault until their baby is born. Babies will have no immediate use for doing work, but they do help to increase the population of the vault, which helps unlock more room types like the Radio Station, another Charisma based room that helps to contact people outside the vault to join up. Dwellers can still show up at the door on their own, but it becomes a pretty rare occurrence after the first few people show up, leaving babies to be the easiest option.
Players will want to build more living quarters as their population increases, as adding living space increases the capacity of dwellers the vault can have. It also doesn’t hurt to upgrade rooms, which can either be done by merging the room with another of the same type, or simply by tapping on it and spending the bottle caps to improve the stats of the room. There are also storage rooms, which don’t seem to need a dweller to maintain, though for some reason it is associated with the Endurance stat. Regardless, storage rooms increase the amount of items that can be stored in the vault. Those items would be outfits, which increase stats for dwellers, or weapons, which will give them better attack power for when radroaches break out in a room, or when raiders storm the vault.
Raiders will typically attack from time to time, trying to break down the door to the vault and eventually breaking through to attack any dwellers inside. It’s possible to set up guards at the entrance that will be the best defense for raiders so that they don’t get too far into the vault. It can be a fun distraction, though it doesn’t happen too often and only becomes a problem when the vault is low on resources. Going back to the subject of items, players can send dwellers out into the wasteland, giving them the ability to find more outfits and weapons. It’s best to equip these dwellers with a supply of medkits and RadAway to help them survive longer on their journey. Exploring the wasteland is tracked by a timer and dwellers will take damage over time, so it’s best to send the strongest dwellers to get the best gear, and recalling them at the last moment will keep them safe, as they take no damage on the way back to the vault. If a dweller happens to die out in the wasteland, it is possible to revive them by spending bottle caps.
The game also issues frequent objectives, up to three at a time ranging from things like leveling up a number of dwellers to collecting a certain number of resources. These challenges can reward players with bottle caps or even the more valuable lunch boxes, which are essentially booster packs of four cards. Cards can be weapons, outfits, resources, bottle caps, or even new dwellers. It’s even possible to get legendary items; basically stronger weapons or powerful gear, as well as legendary dwellers, which are supposed to be characters from the upcoming Fallout 4. Objectives can grow addicting, as players will typically want to complete as many as they can to earn more lunch boxes, as the only other way to gain lunch boxes are through micro-transactions, or through weekly bonuses. The game ranks players on their dwellers happiness throughout the day, and each day, caps are rewarded based on the rank. A complete week however rewards with a free lunch box, so it pays to keep your dwellers happy.
Fallout Shelter gets a lot of things right with the whole casual game concepts, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be improvements. There is a place in the game to trade in outfits and weapons that players don’t want for caps, but it usually would be better to just hold onto them and provide them to the growing amount of dwellers in the vault. Even though players have the option of selling, it would be nice to have the option of buying. Perhaps have random traders arrive to the vault, selling a selection of items that changes each time they visit. This would make for good variety to give a more positive visitor rather than the raiders that just come to be an annoyance for a few seconds.
The game also has some flaws with the touch screen interface, as progressing through objectives brings up a little notification that touching will bring up the challenge list. It gets a bit annoying and doesn’t help improve the experience. Sometimes a dweller might also have trouble responding to being dragged to a new room. They can be highlighted but sometimes they can’t be moved, and it can be a bit frustrating trying. It would also be nice to see more variety of events that can happen in the vault, as there are really only three, which luckily, some of the challenges are based on taking care of these events.
Despite some of these flaws, Fallout Shelter remains a fun time, though after unlocking the final room, the Nuka-Cola plant, which becomes available when 100 dwellers are acquired, there isn’t much left to do outside of collecting more dwellers. It would be great to see more content added to this game, as it is a solid formula, and it is clear that Bethesda had a lot of fun making the game. It makes a nice compliment to the Fallout series and shows a more cheerful side of the brand, so hopefully it isn’t the last endeavor Bethesda takes into this territory with their franchise. Bonus points for not shoving micro-transactions down the players throat to make any progress, as that is perhaps one of the best things about the game.
Final Score: 8 out of 10