In amongst all the shiny things that Bethesda threw at us on Sunday night/Monday morning during their E3 conference, like more Fallout 4 and Doom (yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!), Bethesda surprised us with their new free-to-play iOS game Fallout Shelter. Fallout Shelter is their third iOS title, and first for the Fallout series. And it is just totally and completely utterly adorable and addictive. For realsies.
For those who are unaware of how Fallout games normally roll, here’s the TL;DR version: you begin inside an underground shelter called a Vault, run by an Overseer, and then you get to leave and exit into the post-apocalyptic outside world called the Wastelands. If you’ve ever played games like Mega Mall Story or Tiny Tower, you’ll understand instantly how the gameplay style and mechanics for Fallout Shelter work. I guess ‘Vault Simulator’ could be an apt alternative title, as this is what it really is.
Fallout Shelter places you in the shoes of the Overseer and in control of your very own Vault. Vault creation begins by selecting a number for your Vault (between 0 and 999), and the introduction to gameplay mechanics begins. To start off, your Vault is empty until a handful of Dwellers arrive from the Wastelands, and you begin by assigning them roles within your Vault. A Dweller can either help produce resources like power and food, they can become a soldier and protect other Dwellers from Raider attacks, become explorers out in the Wastelands, or they can just simply exist in the social structure.
Each individual Dweller is a unique person within your Vault, with their own unique selection of skills. Utilising the same S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats system used throughout the Fallout series, each Dweller’s stats makes them more or less proficient at producing certain resources than another. For example, one Dweller may have more Strength (S) than another and would be more efficient at producing power than the other, as creating power is beneficial for Dwellers with high S numbers. Paying attention to the S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats of each Dweller is crucial to ensuring you have timely production and supply for your Vault.
Much like other mobile simulator games, gameplay is centered around the construction and expansion of rooms and levels. As Overseer, you have complete control over the placement of each room, and as well as where and how each and every Dweller contributes to the on-going success of your Vault. There are only a couple of basic rooms unlocked at the beginning (residences and resources), however more unlock as your Vault begins to increase in population.
Increasing population is essentially the main goal of Fallout Shelter, and can be done in two ways: Dwellers can come to your Vault from the Wastelands, lining up outside your door until you let them in as shown during the game introduction, or to put it simply – you can breed them. Remembering that this is simulating a Vault (a design that needs to survive X amount of years underground for the sake of survival), the mechanical-feel to producing babies isn’t that bad. I mean it’s weird, and it feels wrong, but given the context, it’s correct and justified. Again, given the context, all political correctness in terms of same-sex ‘relationships’ and ‘parenting’, is non-existent. Biologically two males cannot produce another baby, which in terms of repopulating for this game’s sake, just cannot be. It should be noted however, that direct ‘family’ cannot reproduce, as in father and daughter, mother and son. Thank god.
To produce babies is simple: put a female and male Dweller together inside a residence, and watch the romance unfold (just like in real life, right?). Some cute and corny pick-up lines are exchanged (try searching #FalloutShelterPickupLines on Twitter), a little jiggy dancing happens, and hey-presto – your female is pregnant. The male then literally runs out with the biggest grin, while the female slowly emerges, hunched over and instantly at full-term pregnancy. Science. Pregnant females can return to the work force, however will run away with flailing arms as soon as a disaster occurs in the same room, so be careful not to have a room filled with pregnant ladies.
After some time has passed, a small child Dweller is born. Its appearance is determined by the parents, but you do get to choose the name, because you’re the Overseer. You can play God a tiny bit when it comes to breeding, as the child’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats reflect the parents’, but that’s about it. Children are unusable until they mature into adults, and just wander around the Vault with their cheeky 2c opinions until that happens. Once they mature into adults, they can be placed into the workforce to help contribute to your Vault’s success, as is tradition in the Fallout setting.
Resources are collected by simply tapping the appropriate room once it has completed. You can rush production if you’re low on one type, however there is the possibility for failure (shown as a percentage before confirming a rush), which can result in either a fire or Radroach infestation. Be sure to quickly attend to these disasters for it can spread and injure your Vault Dwellers!
Room upgrades can be performed by using Caps, the currency in the Fallout universe. Caps can be collected from expeditions into the Wastelands, and can also be rewarded when levelling up Dwellers and resource collection. Upgrades generally affect the resources produced, and Dweller capacity.
Caps can also be collected by completing objectives, which are your in-game achievements. For the most part, your objectives just simple tasks like “Collect 3 Weapons”. Some of the more difficult ones, like “Raise any SPECIAL stat of 7 Dwellers”, are just time-consuming rather than difficult so don’t get disheartened. Once a day you can remove a particular objective to receive a new one, if you so desire. The reward always justifies the effort however, especially if the reward is a shiny Lunchbox. Lunchboxes in Fallout Shelter can either be rewarded to you from objective completion, or purchased in-game for real money. Inside a Lunchbox is four cards that can either give you more Caps, new special Dwellers, or new Weapons and Outfits.
Each Dweller can be customised with different Outfits and Weapons. Outfits can change S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats, while Weapons offer an alternative combat style to traditional fisty-cuffs. Both can be rewarded from Lunchboxes or found out in the Wasteland during expeditions.
Sending a Dweller out into the Wastelands is its own exciting story. By simply dragging a Dweller to the space outside of your Vault, you’re sending them on their merry way. Once they have left, tapping in the same space brings up a screen showing how many Dwellers you have out exploring, what they’re doing, and what they’ve found. Each Dweller has his or her own log detailing their encounters out in the Wastelands, and it’s all just a little bit too adorable. Don’t forget to check up on your Dwellers out exploring – otherwise you have have one die on you! At any time during their expedition, you can recall them and they’ll begin their return to the Vault. The longer they are out, the longer it takes for them to return, however they are 100% safe during their return trip. If you do forget someone and realise that they have died in battle, you can revive them for some Caps. All Dwellers who die in or out of the Vault can be revived with Caps. Or not. You could just leave them as they lay. Totally up to you, Overseer.
Unlike a lot of simulator games, the option to use real money to enhance your gaming experience is not shoved down your throat in Fallout Shelter, which is a nice change of pace from the norm. It makes you feel like they made this game just for the fans, rather than a blatant exploit for your pennies. The only thing that you can buy with real money are Lunchboxes, so perhaps it’s the idea that you’re buying a ‘lucky-dip’ rather than an exact item such as Caps or Weapons, that doesn’t make it feel like a lesser experience by not using real money.
There are some nice small visual touches and finishes in Fallout Shelter that one might not notice immediately, or ignore altogether. Perspective of each level changes as you move around your Vault, uninhabited resource rooms have rats scampering around which quickly escape under the floor when you place a Dweller in there, and you can watch your Dwellers new and old run from behind the hills to your Vault’s front door. When fire breaks loose, not only do the walls and floors of the room show signs of fire damage and ash, but so do the Dwellers inside. In the Water Treatment Plan, your Dwellers tinker with a display and then refer to their clipboard of notes. Even the happiness level of each Dweller is visible on their face; they’re either happy, sad, or just ‘meh’.
Time in this game moves slowly. For those of you that are hoping to just sit there and stare are your screen for ages, not much is going to happen. This is very much a game that you have running while playing other games (*cough* Fallout 4), doing errands, or something to break up the monotonous daily rituals of employment every hour or so.
From my experience so far, here are a few key pieces of advice:
• Don’t expand rooms and levels too quickly; this can take up more power than what you can produce, and higher chances for disasters in empty rooms.
• Make sure to keep each room populated with as many Dwellers as possible; more resources and better chances for disaster control.
• Keep making babies; they take a while to be born and grow into adults, so just keep at it.
• Ensure your Dwellers going out into the Wastelands are equipped with enough Stimpaks; they can go out with no Weapons or Outfits, as they just collect it as they go along.
• Completely close the app when you go to bed; don’t just return to your home screen and leave it running in the background, at least not until you’ve got enough resources to justify the long gap.
• Pay attention to the naming process with newborns. I have one guy simply called Craig. Just Craig. No last name. It annoys me.
I’ve been playing it non-stop since it was released, and needless to say…I’m hooked (I just hit 40 Dwellers, yay!). It’s exactly what I would want from a mobile Fallout title; it retains all quirky 1950’s style art and sounds, it maintains true Fallout continuity, and it really does feel like you’re running a real-life Vault. Maybe this could be considered training for when the world is forced underground due to an apocalyptic event, and you’re in control of continuing humanity. Maybe.
Fallout Shelter is free-to-play, and available now for iOS with plans for an Android release in the future.
Quirky, hilarious quotes from Dwellers, creates a good sense of time-management.
Time can move a bit slowly, children look super creepy.