Whoops. It’s been two weeks now, and I was supposed to have written a review for this. I’ve just been so busy with making my vault dwellers dance (literally) for my amusement that I got carried away. I’ve enjoyed my time immensely with the game, bugs and all (and yes; it wouldn’t be a Bethesda game if there weren’t bugs on release). I’d love to continue playing it, but I don’t own an Apple device and it’ll be several months before the Android port’s release. My biggest gripes with Fallout Shelter are largely due to its platform availability and how Bethesda has handled it, but the game itself is still pretty solid for a mobile title. Mobile games aren’t usually my thing; it’s rare that one gets its hooks into me the way Fallout Shelter has, and it’s done so with gusto. It says “across at least ten hours of gameplay,” at the bottom of this review – that’s a severe understatement, to say the least.
Mine was like this but prettier.
Fallout Shelter is a base management game that places you in the role of a Vault Overseer, complete with your choice of vault number. (Naturally, I started with Vault 069. Then 169. 269. You get the idea.) You require power, food, water and, of course, people to keep your vault running and the game largely revolves around maintaining these resources. You’re challenged with the occasional disaster in the form of Rad Roach infestations, Raider attacks, or things just plain ol’ catching on fire. You use your dwellers to help you handle all of this, and they utilise a basic version of the Fallout SPECIAL stats system that determines how well they perform in particular rooms. When you get tired of lookin’ at ’em, you can send them out to explore the Wasteland and scavenge for caps, or items that you can equip your dwellers with to boost their stats.
All in all, Fallout Shelter is pretty swell, at least as far as mobile games go; it’s very reminiscent of XCOM’s base management system, with wait times replacing the need for missions. The wait times attached to rooms are determined by many factors, such as the level of the room, whether there are adjacent rooms of the same type and the stats of the dwellers inside. There’s no way to pay for wait times to be lowered or canceled out, nor can you pay to have your stats immediately upgraded. It’s an “idle-clicker” game, and one of the best I’ve seen to date. The wait times aren’t obscene, and when they are it’s often a case of balancing or poor planning on the part of the player. The design is almost nefarious in the amount of instant gratification that it provides whenever you open up the game after just a few minutes of waiting.
Tap the rooms. Tap them. TAP EVERYTHING.
A lot of the fun of Fallout games is creating your own stories with a unique character and not just by following one of the many main narrative branches. The games provide a lot of freedom of choice, allowing you to roleplay as either a shrewd merchant, a bounty hunter for hire or just a deranged psycho who cuts anyone who looks at ’em. Well, Fallout Shelter doesn’t have a main narrative, it barely has any story elements at all, and only goes as far as explaining that you’re the Overseer of your vault. It provides a blank canvas with which the player can paint their own narrative, however sordid it may be; being able to name every single newborn in the vault is just gravy.
The first lot of Wasteland wanderers that showed up to my vault contained a plucky young man, with a higher Charisma than most, named Istvan. Istvan quickly became Istvan the Impregnator as he set about spawning an entire generation of vault dwellers with every last female available. This decision was more than just power-madness, the use of only one male in breeding meant that I could maintain a minimum, consistent, all-male workforce to maximise my resource output. His cucked male dwellers were forced to toil in despair, knowing that they were nothing more than drones in this cage of steel while Istvan created his next harem of wives. Everything was going according to plan and Istvan was set to become the sire of countless generations of my disgusting, soon-to-be Mutant Vault Empire.
“I’m at least in the top ten… right?”
Turns out my plan was ruined before it had even started; Bethesda thought ahead on this very subject and stopped family members from being able to breed. The first time I tried to copulate Istvan with The First Generational Bride of Istvan (actually Sandy Hicks, but this is my game) it ended… Disappointingly. They stood there doing nothing for twenty minutes until I zoomed in to see Istvan cheerily saying how great it was to spend time with his family. I’m sure there’s something in there, somewhere, about the necessity of maintaining genetic diversity in your vault being a main mechanic of the game to increase difficulty. Probably. I was rather bitter though when my smutty, amoral empire was torn asunder by the white hat so-n-so’s that can’t understand the need for sacrifice in an apocalyptic wasteland.
Even though Fallout Shelter leaves you to your own devices for a story, there are still a lot of classic Fallout story elements that get dropped for fans of the series throughout gameplay. Aside from the obvious references with the vaults, the resources that you so desperately need, and the presence of Nuka Cola, the game sometimes digs deep into the series’ past. The Lunchboxes, which are the only item in the game purchasable with real money, contain occasional bonus resources, weapons, armor, and dwellers. These last three things can be as unassuming as a pistol, jacket and Dave, or they could be a Fat Man, a Ranger’s Duster, or Elder Lyons from the Brotherhood of Steel. I won’t give anything away, but the readouts of the dwellers’ adventures in the Wastelands can also yield little tidbits for people who care to trawl through them.
Or bloody, visceral death. Whichever comes first.
True to form, as previously mentioned, the game has a few bugs, and they range from briefly frustrating to hilariously perverted. Incest between vault dwellers might be frowned upon though any characters that you get through lunchboxes that happen to be related are fair, filthy game. (Thus my dream would eventually be realised, just not as I had originally imagined. Help me.) Even I have my limits though, so while I don’t know how it’s done, I have heard it said that you can glitch adults and children into breeding with one another. There have even been player reports of the dead remaining extraordinarily happy even while their fellow dwellers start moping about the corpse in the room. Rarely are these issues ever game breaking, at least they never have been for me, and it’s hard to stay mad at them when they’re so damn hilarious.
Certainly the platform, however, seemed to cause a lot of performance issues, such as the game speed slowing down to slideshow framerates. Particularly towards the end of my last playthrough, once my Vault was starting to reach seven or eight levels and with nearly all of the available room types, the lag was awful. It made dealing with the disasters promptly almost impossible, allowing them to become much worse before I could deal with them at all. As mentioned previously, I don’t own an Apple device; I had to borrow an iPad to play the game for review. This device was connected to my friends’ personal details, and I wasn’t able to connect it to the internet to update the game; so, these issues may have been fixed since release.
Seriously Bethesda, months?!
One bug I will comment on, in particular, is that my game was totally silent the entire time I was playing. I had thought this intentional; it was a mobile game after all and sound wasn’t strictly necessary, so I put it down to lazy design. After a while, I started to think about all the great Fallout sound effects that could have been used for Fallout Shelter and how unlikely it would have been for them to be left out. Sure enough, after I did some searching, there have been reports of the same problem though I’m still unclear on whether it’s because of the game itself or a problem with Apple devices. I don’t know, Bethesda, I guess I’ll re-evaluate this part when I get hold of the Android version in a few freaking months.
As I said earlier in this review, mobile games aren’t really my thing; I don’t enjoy gaming on the platform, by and large, and they don’t often interest me in the first place. They never really go anywhere and that’s equally true of Fallout Shelter – the game has no end scenario, you just continue to cultivate a vault over time, forever. I’m honestly okay with this though; one of the features of Fallout 4 that I’m looking forward to the most is the ability to build and populate outposts. This is essentially a smaller version that I can carry around with me wherever I go (eventually). At the very least, it’s a solid base management sim design with a great Fallout theme, addictive gameplay, and bugs that are more frequently amusing than they are annoying. It may not be perfect but I love it with all my wretched heart.
DISCLAIMER: this game was downloaded on iOS, and reviewed on an iPad across far too many hours of gameplay.