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Fallout: Shelter Review
You’ve travelled the Wasteland as the Courier or the hero from Vault 101. You’ve killed Super Mutants, mutated animals and insane robots (maybe even hiring a few as crazy companions) and now you’re finding ways to pass the time until Fallout 4 comes out. Sound about right? Luckily Bethesda have a fantastic new way to kill time and get your Fallout fix – Fallout: Shelter, their first mobile title that was announced and released at their E3 conference this year. Shelter puts you in the role of Overseer, with the lives of many dwellers in your capable hands. Their survival is all down to you. No pressure, right? To be honest, you can’t really do worse than most of the already-existing Vaults, so it’s all good fun!
When you start playing you’re greeted with many familiar aspects from the Fallout universe, and just in case you’re not a die-hard fan they provided a tutorial to ease you in to Vault-running. Building and expanding your vault is simple: click the lovely 3D room you want to build, click where you want to place it and (provided you have enough caps) then room is instantly built. Rooms are split into 3 kinds: production rooms (which produce clean water, food and power), training rooms and living quarters, and you unlock more as your population grows. The game quickly becomes a resource juggling act after that, as it’s your responsibility to make sure the vault has enough food, water and power for all the dwellers. If your production falls into the red, your dwellers start to suffer (as I found out with Vault 304 when I came back and everyone was nearly dead and irradiated. Whoops!) To ease the burden resource rooms can be built together and upgraded, to increase their efficiency and production. It’s always a struggle with a new vault, and it may be a while before you manage to balance everything out properly, but that’s all part of the appeal! Training rooms train a dweller’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats (wouldn’t be a Fallout game without that appearing) and living quarters are used for rest, relaxation and (to quote Will Smith) “getting jiggy with it”.
The dwellers, all designed to look like the Pip Boy mascot, are the most important part of the game. Without them your rooms are effectively useless, there’s no Wasteland exploration and your population will be stuck in the low numbers. Breeding new dwellers is as easy as dragging a male and female into the living quarters, sitting back and grabbing a cup of tea. The two folks will hit it off and you’ll get to watch a fantastic array of corny chat-up lines and ‘dad dancing’ before they knock vault boots together. The best part is they will always produce a baby! It’s a lot easier than relying on wanderers joining the vault, and you get the warm fuzzy feeling of providing for them socially. I actually had a flow chat going to map all relationships and kids so there weren’t any mix-ups or inbreeding. Granted I haven’t seen any negative reactions to multiple partners, etc, but I like to keep it straight and simple. Call me weird.
When they’re not bumping boots, dwellers work in the production rooms. It’s all based on the S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats: each room relies on one particular stat, so dwellers with a higher value work faster and are generally happier. For example the power plant relies on strength, so to produce power as quickly as possible you should assign people with an S stat of 2 or higher. Production rooms also have a chance of giving a Cap bonus when you collect, so that’s another reason to produce faster. While they work away dwellers are gaining EXP – once they have enough they will level up and their health increases. It’s useful if they’re out exploring, or defending against raiders, but that’s pretty much it for a growth system, which makes it a little redundant. Levelling up could be used to increase dweller S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats, say one point per every 5 or 10 levels, which would make it a far more useful feature.
Finally your little workers can be sent out to explore the Wasteland. It’s not quite as exciting as going yourself, but it’s always interesting to see what troubles they’ve run into (and what goodies they’ve found). I actually have a team that I rotate sending on expeditions, and it’s not a bad source of income really – simply arm your dweller with supplies, drag them outside the vault and they’ll happily wander off. Dwellers can find caps, weapons and outfits, as well as earn EXP for themselves, and it all plays in real-time. Because of this, it’s always important to remember when you’ve sent dwellers out. I forgot at one point and had someone out for 6 hours – the poor little guy was nearly dead when I called him back! The good news is that they don’t take damage on the way back. Handy for my guy anyway. The further they travel, the worse dangers they will face, and it’d be nice to see whether they can find any deserted vaults or towns while they’re out and about!
Now that you’ve built your basic vault, got people exploring and working in the production rooms, what else is there to do? The answer is not much. Like a lot of mobile titles, you spend an awful lot of time waiting for things to happen in Fallout: Shelter. Production rooms take time (quicker or slower depending on the total stat value of the room), having babies and watching them grow into adults takes time, and exploring takes time. Luckily your production rooms can be sped up using the Rush feature, which will instantly finish a room and give you a special bonus, but this is best used sparingly to reduce the chance of an incident occurring. While the gameplay is enjoyable and the dweller interactions are funny, it’s probably best played in shorter doses. Otherwise Fallout: Shelter risks becoming boring quite quickly. Trust me on this one: I played it for a week pretty much non-stop before writing this review and, as much as I enjoyed it, there were times where I thought “why am I bothering?”
Conveniently Fallout: Shelter contains objectives and negative events to keep the gameplay from becoming monotonous. The objectives are reasonably simple, and reward you with either Caps or Lunchboxes (I’ll get onto these in a second). The negative events, or incidents, occur randomly throughout the gameplay and can also be triggered by failing to Rush a room. At the moment there are 3 incidents that cycle around: a Radroach infestation, spontaneous fires and Raider attacks. Each has a chance of seriously injuring dwellers, so you’re further incentivised to keep playing with the fear of death. Awesome, huh? Successfully dealing with an incident gives your dwellers an EXP boost, and they help with the moral of your vault. The only downside to having 3 is that they can become predictable. I’m REALLY hoping for an update that will introduce more incidents (there’s no shortage of nasties in the Fallout universe) and give you a new reason to fear for your dwellers’ lives. After all, anyone would worry about a Deathclaw invasion, or Feral Ghouls.
Back to lunch-boxes: these are sometimes reward items for completing objectives, and can also be purchased for real money. They’re pretty awesome to be honest, and give you 4 items ranging from resources to special dwellers and weaponry. My two best pulls from a lunch-box were a Guided Fat Man (great against Radroaches, but maybe a tad overkill) and my doctor, James. You don’t need them to progress or enjoy the game, but they’re nice extras that make life a little more comfortable.
To sum it all up, Fallout: Shelter is a great base game, and it’s fantastic if you have loads of time to kill or want to multitask (I was playing this and Fallout 3: New Vegas for a while).The gameplay is enjoyable but can become monotonous and boring with excessive playing, so it’s definitely enjoyed best in small doses. The fear of your vault falling apart keeps you coming back, and the interactions between the dwellers are interesting to watch. There’s still quite a lot that could be added to improve its’ longevity and the enjoyment factor, such as trading between player vaults or even some sort of end condition (rather than your vault endlessly existing and becoming scarily self-sufficient), but it is enjoyable as it is. Fans of the Fallout series will love the references and the art style, and anyone who likes micro-managing should love having hundreds of lives to dictate to.
Fallout: Shelter currently only available for iOS devices and you can download it free from the app store now. A warning for people wanting to try it on an older model like an iPad 2: the game will run but, as your vault size and population increases, it will crash more frequently until the game won’t load. An android version looks set to be released in August, so all fans will be able to enjoy the vault-managing experience soon.