(Disclaimer: this review is based on playing the game on a 5th generation iPod Touch. We acknowledge that the game may be better optimized for newer model phones, however, this review will cover points based on playing on older generation hardware. Please keep this in mind as you read the review. Thanks.)
When it comes to Fallout, it’s needless to say that loads of people enjoy the series (or at the very least the third one). So, when Bethesda dropped the trailer for Fallout 4, and then demoed the game for everyone to see, a lot of people, including myself, were really impressed, and are most definitely excited to see the game come out this November. During the Bethesda conference, I was surprised when they unveiled their free-to-play iPhone and Android game Fallout Shelter. After the company’s pitch on what kind of game it was, I was immediately eager to try it out that very night when it was to be released. After nearly a week and a half of playing this game, how did it fare out?
To start off, the game is a vault management sim, reminiscent of The Sims or SimCity, mixed with the structure building of X-COM, the combat of FTL, and a little bit of Tamagotchi elements thrown in as well. You play as the Overseer, the person that all the dwellers look to for guidance. As the Overseer, it’s your duty to make sure that all your dwellers have a purpose, a place to live, food to eat, water to drink, and that they’re all happy.
The first thing you’ll notice right away is the game’s presentation. All of the characters you acquire have the art style of Vault Boy, the iconic mascot of the Fallout games, which gives the game a cute vibe. However, the game is all but cute when juxtaposed with the happy looking dwellers living out their routines, and the harsh reality of attacking bandits, rad roaches, firefights, fires, radiation poisoning, and death. It contrasts in an odd, but charming way.
While it’s not at a Crysis level of detail, Fallout Shelter looks good for its platform, especially considering how most mobile games use a 2D look. All rooms, like the dining rooms, living quarters, power plant, and the rest, look like locations from the Fallout games, which is good. And the 3D definitely gives the vaults a lot more dimension for the look of the game. And overall for a mobile game, it looks good when compared to your Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies and such.
As for Fallout Shelter’s gameplay: the game is pretty solid all things considered.
The gameplay mainly revolves around building structures to support the needs of your vault dwellers, ranging from things like generator rooms to produce electricity so other rooms can produce materials and keep the lights on, water purifiers to produce clean water for people to drink, dining rooms to produce food for the dwellers to eat, Medbays to heal, science labs to produce RadAways, radio rooms to keep dwellers happy, etc. (All rooms cost bottle caps to build, naturally.) All the rooms do as you would expect, as each room tells you what they do and gives you the necessary tips on what attributes are best suited for them. This makes building rooms and assigning dwellers self-explanatory and easy to do, while maintaining an element of strategy where you have to consider which dwellers work best with which room.
When it comes to things like keeping your dwellers happy, at least at the start of the game, you will probably notice most, if not all, of your dwellers losing their happiness very quickly. This sucks, because at the start of the game you don’t have the necessary rooms such as science labs to cure your dwellers’ radiation (which will happen), or Medbays to heal your dwellers. This problem stinks because unhappy dwellers means slower production, which, in turn, makes an unhappy player at first. However, when you finally get all your necessary rooms unlocked and start healing and curing your dwellers, things will get better for you and your dwellers. So it’s not all bad.
Completing certain tasks in the game will grant rewards, like extra bottle caps, or the now-well-known lunch boxes which give you four random cards with ranging rarities from generic, to rare, to legendary. Most lunchboxes typically consists of bottle caps, the game’s currency; outfits, which grant bonus stats, weapons; and vault dwellers with high stats. In my playthrough, I ended up with Fallout 3’s Three Dog as a gift from one of my lunch boxes, naturally giving me that edge to “Fight the good fight!” as he would say.
It’s always a joy to see what goodies you’re about to get when you get a lunchbox. It’s the same way you feel when opening booster packs from certain card games like Magic: The Gathering. While it’s a luck of the draw situation, earning that rare character or a really awesome weapon and then going to your friends and bragging to them never get’s old.
Dwellers, in typical Fallout fashion, all have stats to keep track of that level up as you play, and specific stats will increase based on what they are working on. While the stats your dwellers have are a more simplified version of Fallout’s RPG stats, they are generally easy to understand and contextually make sense. While some may wish there was more complexity to the stats, or maybe hoped that there would be a perk system–which in recent Fallout games you earn by leveling up your character–the game’s simplified stats at least work well on a portable level. And honestly, a more complex stats system would make the game more complicated than it needs to be.
While placing certain dwellers in specific rooms to work in will improve that particular stat over time, it is wise to place a dweller with a higher stat into a room that would suit their talents. For instance, a person with a high perception will be able to produce water faster than those who don’t, adding a good strategy element to the game. This works well, making you think about who would best be suited to explore the wasteland to find goodies and protect the vault from bandits and rad roaches, and who would be best at producing med packs and so on and so forth.
Overall the game is pretty solid, and the free-to-play model doesn’t get in the way at all. While the timers definitely will lead you to leave the game every so often to wait, I never felt that was a problem. And ultimately, when you get your vault up and running, build enough rooms, and breed more dwellers, you will have a constant flow of materials and will earn bottle caps in no time.
You can buy lunchboxes with your hard-earned cash to make you life a little more easier, however it isn’t necessary as you can earn lunchboxes in-game by completing certain tasks. But the option is available for those who desire it.
Now, while the game overall is pretty solid, it’s performance, well, to put it lightly, is similar to that of a typical Bethesda game, which means it’s buggy, and it’s stability is questionable.
Stuff like tapping on workers and rooms, at times, feels like a chore, and sometimes feels like it’s not working properly as it should. The game also has the habit of locking up on you for no reason, forcing you to quit the game and restart, or worse, to simply crash on you, which is always less desirable.
The game also has some bad lag as well. The game, at certain points, like when you fail or succeed at rush events, makes the frame rate take a nosedive off a cliff before reverting to normal. The game has lag issues which needs to be fixed, and, apparently, isn’t a problem only I had, since others have experienced these issues as well.
Also, tapping on workers and structures at times, for no reason, has the unintended side effect of throwing your camera to places you didn’t want to be, like the center of the earth–it’s happened to me more than once.
While it’s probably safe to say that Bethesda will release a patch sometime soon, I really do hope that they fix these issues, as they can really effect your enjoyment of the game. But even with its issues, the game can be addicting and fun, and would be even better with these issues resolved.
Overall, during my time playing this game, I really enjoyed it, even with the lag and the spontaneous crashes and bugs. It’s is a satisfying game that I will definitely play for hours to come. If you love yourself some Fallout, or you just want to tide yourself over while you wait for Fallout 4 to drop this November, or you just want to kill some time while on the go, Fallout Shelter is a great way to do it. And the best part: it won’t cost you a single cap.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have some lunchboxes to open and some structures to build.