Fallout Shelter Review – It’s All My Vault

Gimme shelter! That’s another bad joke I could have used as the headline for this review.

01

Developer: Bethesda
Publisher: Bethesda
Format: iOS
Released: June 14, 2015
Free-to-play, with items purchased by myself

With a surprise announcement and release at E3, Fallout Shelter was delivered unto iOS devices to tide us all over until the November launch of Fallout 4. If my current addiction to the thing is anything to go by, it’s doing a great job of keeping me occupied until I can personally blast Mole Rats in the face.

Shelter places you in the role of Overseer, giving you your very own vault to maintain and run. Inspired by the likes of Tiny Tower, it’s a resource management game in which you craft your own little Wasteland sanctuary, building rooms to keep the lights on and water free of radiation, drawing new inhabitants into your community, and sending folk out to forage for money and equipment.

While doing nothing particularly fresh with the idea, the Fallout flavor lends an inescapable magnetism to the whole thing. Its cartoon style is based on the series’ mascot Vault Boy, with vault dwellers represented as cutesy characters sporting big heads and dead eyes. A fifties-era aesthetic adorns in-game text and menus successfully mimic the Pip-Boy look.

02

Like most titles of its kind, Fallout Shelter is a game of accruing and balancing resources, pretty much for its own sake. You need to build a power plant to keep other rooms operated, a water pumping station so dwellers don’t get poisoned, and a diner to produce food. These three resources – power, water, and food – require constant production to keep the Vault going, and each room regularly produces them in batches over time.

Each room needs dwellers working in it, with assignment being a simple drag-and-drop command. Assigning the right people to the right place is important, too. Every citizen has its own SPECIAL rating – the vital stats familiar to anybody who’s ever played a Fallout game – and assigning workers with the correct attributes can improve your production rate. Dwellers with high strength, for example, are best at maintaining the power plant, while the diner suits those specializing in agility.

Other rooms are unlocked as the game progresses, each with their own unique uses. Science labs and med bays produce RadAways and Stimpacks respectively, which are used by dwellers in the field to heal up after encounters. The radio station can attract new occupants to the vault, while various training rooms improve the SPECIAL stats of your citizens.

Living quarters are where dwellers can be sent to get to know each other, and its common function is the production of babies. By sticking a man and a woman in this room, they’ll flirt with each other until enough time passes, at which point they’ll disappear behind closed doors for a few seconds and get some pregnancy happening. The woman, now with child, can perform most of her duties (though sadly runs around uselessly in the event of disaster) and will eventually give birth to a child who eventually grows up to be another useful worker.

03

Naturally, all these rooms can be upgraded to boost efficiency. Production facilities may also be “rushed” in order to produce resources faster. By rushing your production, you’ll gain a monetary bonus and fast access to materials, but there is a percentage chance of failure. On a fail, the workers will have to put out fires or fight Radroaches, losing health in the process.

That’s not the only disaster to worry about, either – Raiders occasionally invade the vault, and you’ll want well-armed dwellers to rush to its defense. Fighting is performed automatically by whoever is in the room with aggressors, and you’ll need to drag reinforcements to the battle yourself. While initially exciting, combat is a little frustrating due to the fact that dwellers won’t chase Raiders who leave the room. You have to constantly re-assign your fighters to keep chasing them, and the whole thing comes off as a little sloppy.

New outfits and weapons can be obtained by sending your toughest hombres out into the Wasteland itself. By dragging a person’s silhouette outside, you can send them to explore, assigning them weaponry and healing items before letting them roam. Progress of those in the field can be checked up on thanks to handy and entertaining diaries, detailing their encounters with monsters and any loot they pick up. Those who spend too long outside risk death, so it’s a good idea to recall anybody who’s stumbled upon valuable stuff – though those who are killed can be revived for a price.

04

Speaking of prices, there is only one form of currency in the game – bottlecaps. While most free-to-play games use a premium currency alongside a more worthless form of funds to psychologically trick players into opening their real-life wallets, caps are enough in Shelter to pay for everything – they’re used to buy and upgrade rooms, revive fallen dwellers, and remove buried rocks to expand the vault’s potential size. They’re earned fairly liberally, too – earned by successful rushes, foragers in the Wasteland, and dwellers who gain new experience levels through work.

There is no paying to rush production, which is itself regular enough to never feel like an overbearing restriction. Rather than gate progress behind a paywall like many popular mobile games, Shelter does not attempt to exasperate you into stumping up your cash to pass some arbitrary gates. Any rooms you build are instantly implemented, too – none of this “pay us a few bucks to use the room now” garbage.

That said, there are things to buy. Lunchboxes contain special cards that unlock gear, caps, and resources. While they might be earned in-game by completing objectives, they may also be bought for roughly a buck a box. Cards can contain rare and valuable items, too – from unique vault dwellers based on popular Fallout characters, to powerful armor and weaponry, such as Charon’s Shotgun or the King of the Wasteland outfit.

07

Shelter is perfectly playable without having to spend money, but I have to confess that I want to spend money on it. It’s fun to unlock new cards and attract the likes of Mr. Burke or Butch to your vault, and there’s something exciting about buying a handful of boxes and seeing what you get. Unlike other “freemium” games, however, I’ve never felt forced to buy things. I’ve done it because I’ve enjoyed the game, not because I’ve felt stuck and harassed into purchasing stuff.

In this manner, Fallout Shelter is everything Dungeon Keeper Mobile could – and should – have been, had Electronic Arts not gotten so blinded by greed that it created one of the most offensive abuses of the free-to-play mechanic in gaming’s history. It’s still manipulation at its core – that’s the nature of the F2P beast – but it’s more empowering and less sleazy than its peers.

05

While it is, by design, a game based around cooldowns and waiting to acquire things, it’s not exorbitant by any means. It’s meant to be played in small bursts, though every time I’ve stopped playing, I’ve gotten a notification very soon after that a production facility is ready to collect from. There are no ridiculous 24-hour waiting periods here.

Most of the problems with Shelter stem from problems of the genre itself. There’s not a lot of interactivity once you’ve gotten your vault in working order, and progress is fairly formulaic. You’ll spend most of your time tapping all over the screen to collect your resources or level up your dwellers. This isn’t bad, but for a game with the Fallout name, I’d have loved more.

While playing, I found myself longing for things such as merchants arriving at the door, more ways to interact directly with my dwellers, and more dilemmas to face outside of fires, roaches, or raiders. Most importantly, I wish there were ways to create your own Vault-Tec style experiments – famously, the vaults of Fallout were less about protection and more about screwing with the inhabitants to observe their behavior. That there’s no way to play your overseer as, well, an overseer in the Fallout universe feels like a missed opportunity.

06

Shelter looks gorgeous with its cute art style and slick animations. I especially love how there’s a sense of depth to the world, as scrolling through the vault causes the walls and floors of each room to shift perspective. When zooming out as far as possible, dwellers seem to freeze as animation shuts down, but otherwise it moves gorgeously and runs fantastic on an iPad Air 2. Each room has its own distinct visual style, jammed with references – from Nuka Cola bottles in the living quarters, to the first-aid boxes in the med bay.

I find the sound a little lacking, however. When zoomed in on individual rooms, there can be some nice music and sound effects, but otherwise the sound of the vault is an unappealing wall of churning noise. Some music options or more dynamic sound as you scroll through the vault would have been nice.

Fallout Shelter may not do much to stand out from the pack in terms of interactivity, but it’s still a game that gets its claws deep into you WITHOUT using the blatant psychological beatings or cynical paywalls employed by far too many mobile releases. It’s a fantastic example of how to do a free-to-play game correctly, and the fact it’s made so much money already through the carrot rather than the stick only goes to show what happens when you don’t treat your audience like cattle.

8.5/10
Great

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Fucking spot on.

It’s a bit cringy at times, e.g. the pregnant women becoming utterly useless or the children walking around in the same room as people making babies, but this is one of the best mobile games I’ve played in a long, long time.

Plips
Guest
Plips

Damn shame they didn’t include a small Fallout radio station for background music. They could even have made a fun little radio screen where you scan frequencies and since it’s just a mini spinoff they could have included Thee Dog and Mr. New Vegas as radio hosts reporting on what your vault dwellers are up to when you send them out or something. Overall though I’m glad this game exists. I like these stupid freemium time waster games, but I won’t pay for them so I always have to quit when the wait gets too long. If they didn’t lock… Read more »

gaving7095
Guest
gaving7095

Brilliant, perfect review of what is probably the best freemium “time-sink” game to-date on any platform.
More power to Jim, and more power to Bethesda.
Fuck EA & double-fuck Dungeon Keeper mobile – if only it had been one fifth the game that this is…

CaitSeith
Guest
CaitSeith

I’ve played it for a while, and I’m my second Vault, I managed to keep it running smoothly without running out of resources. My advice for battling the Raiders: have a three spaces wide room (I put a dinning room) in the top floor, put 6 fully armed dwellers there, and don’t put any dweller in any room between them and the outside. If done right, the Raiders will attack that room first, and the dwellers will dispatch them fast enough for none of them leaving. If the Raiders run to another room, it’s faster to unequip some of the… Read more »

Satsuoni
Guest
Satsuoni

In case it is not obvious, I should point out that this game is an example of Unity engine used well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to run well on older devices. I apologize if it was already mentioned.

Sperium
Guest
Sperium

A tie-in mobile game that doesn’t suck or tries to rip you off? What sorcery be this?

iamagiantcat
Guest
iamagiantcat

It would be nice for an android version, or a flash version so I could play it.

This does seem like an actually good mobile game (and a free one at that) so this is promising that actual good things can be put on my phone

psycholobster
Guest
psycholobster

Fianally a good mobile game that not a free to play con. Praise the sun.

David
Guest
David

Clearly, a TWOM rip-off. And this one is branded as Fallout franchise game. In my opinion, after playing a while, this game deserves 6/10.

Dabir
Guest
Dabir

So it’s advertising for Fallout 4 that’s also kind of like propaganda about what vault life is like? That’s pretty clever actually. On the other hand, I’m kind of astounded that Bethesda have moved into an entirely new genre and people are still describing the combat as “a little sloppy”.

AnnaHawkins
Guest
AnnaHawkins

This game is too involved for my small iphone 5s’ screen. I love Best game Fallout Shelter. Let’s hope it comes to Android soon do I can play this on my tablet 😀

TheExtraGuy
Guest
TheExtraGuy

I remember the days when these games were PC Management Sim Games that you could play for hours and hours before you realised what time it was. Free to play/management sim games have really gone down hill, the’re not even “games” just digital pictures that you buy that resemble the game in question. I guess this is a snapshot of what can be achieved if a developer puts “effort” and actual management mechanics into their mobile titles.

hikari
Guest
hikari

The need to micromanage the dwellers during raids is my one major annoyance with it so far. That and one of my child dwellers disappeared when she hit adulthood with explanation as to why (I’m assuming it just glitched out).

I did luck out on one of my freebie lunch boxes though and got Harkess. He’s pretty badass when it comes to sending him out into the wasteland.

Chlor
Guest
Chlor

Well if I ever got bit by the mobile bug and got myself a tablet, I’d give this a try.

tylerstravis
Guest
tylerstravis

I loved this game, but when I got to 66 people the game crashed one final time and I have not been able to get back into my vault. It crashes on load every single time now… Yes, I have tried 20+ time 🙁

Pedro Polanco
Guest
Pedro Polanco

8.5 for this tiny tower ripoff? I mean, it sure looks good, but not 8.5 good. Even Dungeons II got an 8 and i actually enjoyed that game.

I think the “fallout” name hyped you more than what it shouls. You were more generous than you usually are.

Whimsy
Guest
Whimsy

Just proves the point I’ve argued all along, the slightly counter-intuitive idea that people will spend much more money when they don’t feel like it’s required to spend money. In a game like Dungeon Keeper Mobile or the worst of the Zynga games, you feel like you can’t enjoy the game to its fullest without spending money. The most savvy of us will quit when they hit that pay wall, but even the people that go on will often realize that there’s no end and a lot of them will quit too just to spare themselves from digging themselves in… Read more »

Matt drew
Guest
Matt drew

This game is too involved for my small iphone 5s’ screen. Let’s hope it comes to Android soon do I can play this on my tablet

Arlo
Guest
Arlo

I recommend NOT playing on an iphone 5. The games crashes often, and the screen is too small.

Mika Rose
Guest
Mika Rose

Looks great. Now hurry and release it for Android.

Jables
Guest
Jables

Seems. . . unoffensive. Which is pretty nice. November feels far as hell with “F-You we want Fallout 4” looming. I don’t have anything to play this on. Which is why I scooped up Fallout 1, 2, and Tactics as a set for around ten bucks. Worth it in my opinion. Having never played the originals before, I was a little worried that switching back to the isometric roots of the series would some how feel like they were, I don’t know. . . lamer than fallout 3 and New Vegas. That and I tried to go back to Baldur’s… Read more »

Derkasnake
Guest
Derkasnake

“Most importantly, I wish there were ways to create your own Vault-Tec style experiments – famously, the vaults of Fallout were less about protection and more about screwing with the inhabitants to observe their behaviour. That there’s no way to play your overseer as, well, an overseer in the Fallout universe feels like a missed opportunity.”

Ah, but that’s the brilliance of this game: The Vault isn’t experimenting on the vault dwellers, it’s seeing if you’ll spend money on a free game! YOU’RE NOT THE OVERSEER, YOU’RE THE EXPERIMENT!

WOOOOoooooOOOOO *Theremin sounds*

Battenberg
Guest
Battenberg

Now all they need to is release on android so everyone else can play as well.

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

“don’t treat your audience like cattle.”

Missed opportunity to insert a brahmin reference. 😛
Otherwise, really glad to see a review for this game. To see a “free to play” Fallout game done so well just increases my excitement for how great Fallout 4 could be. Hopefully!

craigtheintern
Guest
craigtheintern

I’m worried this will affect other Mobile Developers in a negative way. Fallout Shelter is creating an unrealistic standard of quality that other mobile developers cannot achieve without using questionable, even harmful methods. Things like “effort” and “thought” were NEVER necessary to create a mobile game before. What kind of message are we sending to our children when we say “This game is good because they put effort into it.” It will make those children believe that things like quality are more important than whaling. Think of the children.

Think of them.

The children.

Fuck Dungeon Keeper Mobile.