I’ve been a devout fan of the Fallout franchise since well before Bethesda got their hands on it, so naturally, I was pretty excited when Bethesda’s Todd Howard announced at E3 that the company was releasing their first-ever mobile game, Fallout Shelter. I was not, however, happy about the delay we Android users would need to endure: three months is now officially the longest I’ve ever needed to wait for a Fallout release, going all the way back to the very first Interplay game. Now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on the game, with extensive play-time on both my Samsung Galaxy and my PC (thanks to the Bluestacks Android emulator), I can finally confidently write a review of Fallout Shelter. And holy smokes, this game is definitely worth a download.
In Fallout Shelter, you assume the role of a vault overseer. If you aren’t familiar with the Fallout franchise… well, first, shame on you, and second, a vault is basically an enormous underground bunker, where civilians hide out during a nuclear war. As the overseer, it’s your job to build the vault how you see fit, connecting various rooms together and upgrading them to your liking, while also assigning your little vault dwellers to those rooms, where they’ll spend their time toiling away for the betterment of the vault. Some of those rooms produce various resources (power, water, food, radaway, and stimpacks), while others can train your dwellers to increase their SPECIAL, an acronym familiar to Fallout fans which stands for the game’s RPG stats (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck).
Throughout the game, your vault will occasionally fall victim to random disasters, some of which can truly devastate your vault and even wipe out all of your dwellers, especially if those disasters aren’t dealt with quickly and effectively. Fires, radroach and molerat attacks, and raider invasions all happen sporadically throughout the game, and if you aren’t keeping your people well-fed and hydrated, the results are quite disastrous. For instance, while stepping away to make a sandwich earlier, a fire broke out in one of the rooms of my vault that didn’t have dwellers assigned to it. The fire quickly spread throughout the vault, and when I returned, only a few of my surviving dwellers were left to battle the raging inferno that had befallen Vault 13. Of the 42 dwellers my vault had prior to the fire, only 15 survived.
You can also gear up one of your dwellers and send them beyond the breach and into the wasteland. Doing this increases the likelihood of raider attacks and, later in the game, deathclaw attacks. If you aren’t familiar with a deathclaw, just imagine the worst thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Give that thing fangs and claws and enough physical strength to make Schwarzenegger blush. That is a deathclaw. At any rate, your dweller will run off-screen and explore the wasteland, until you order them to return. While they’re out exploring, they’ll find bottle caps (the currency used in all of the Fallout games, with the sole exception of Fallout 2), guns, and clothing outfits, all while engaging in random encounters. Just be certain you don’t let them roam too long, because the cost for reviving a dead dweller can get pretty steep the higher in level those dwellers get.
Fallout Shelter has pretty great visuals for a mobile game, which Bethesda built around the aesthetic qualities of Vault Boy, also sometimes referred to by fans as “Pip,” the franchise’s mascot. The lighthearted, cartoony visuals are matched with a generic, but high-quality, soundtrack of big band music, immediately familiar to any fan of the franchise, with sound effects that are better than what you’d expect from a mobile game.
All of this sounds lovely, I’m sure, but Fallout Shelter does have its problems, beyond the limitations of being a mobile game. It feels like Bethesda was throwing every ounce of their creativity at Fallout 4 (or at least, I hope that was the case), and didn’t have much left in the tank when they started work on Fallout Shelter. It’s a game begging for updates based primarily on implementing new ideas. For instance, exploring the wasteland is nice and all, but why can’t I send my dwellers off on big, epic quests, where they’ll meet companions and whatnot? Why can’t they locate towns familiar to fans of the franchise, like The Hub, New Reno, Megaton, etc., and set up trade routes, where those towns will pay my vault in caps each hour so long as I provide so many units of food or water? And where in the hell is Dogmeat?
It really feels like this game could, and definitely should, be the precursor to something much more exciting. Something Fallout fans have wanted for many, many years… a proper Fallout strategy/ RTS game. I’m not talking about the lackluster Fallout Tactics from 2001, or anything remotely resembling that. I mean a proper Fallout RTS game, more along the lines of Stronghold 2, where you build your own post-apocalyptic town, battle raiders, and spread out as your own faction, like the NCR. Bethesda is nefarious for avoiding genuine creative risks in their game design philosophy, but in the hands of the right conceptual designer, something like that would quite frankly dominate the RTS market.
Fallout Shelter is a great game. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing it thus far, and I’m looking forward to checking in on my vault again once this article is done. Bethesda does fall slightly short in certain aspects of the gameplay, however, most notably with regards to exploration and the lack of real interaction with the outside world, but they mostly make up for their lack of creativity in those aspects with genuine ingenuity in other areas of the gameplay. All told, this is a very fun and highly addictive game. It’s free, so why aren’t you at least giving it a try?
Final Score: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay = 7
A good well-rounded game, but needs more content
Story = 5
Although this is primarily a resource-gathering game, exploration should be more interactive and feature a wider variety of events, and there’s no reason why the game can’t throw in quests, either (finding a water chip or wiping out a deathclaw nest to prevent attacks)
Ingenuity = 9
A highly creative take on the Fallout franchise, with innovative gameplay mechanics and a fresh style not really seen in mobile games
Visuals = 10
Visuals are perfect for the style and genre of the game, and familiar to anyone who loves the Fallout franchise
Audio = 10
Music and sound effects are clean, non-repetitive, and perfectly mesh with Fallout canon
Learning Curve = 10
Fallout Shelter is astonishingly easy to pick up and jump straight into for anyone with even mild experience in resource/ strategy games
Online Features = 4
The game falls short in offering online features. Players could, for instance, visit each others’ vaults to collect resources for them, and earn a small percentage of those resources as compensation. An auction house of some sort might also help players trade out goods in a more effective way
Community = 10
The Fallout community is, and has always been, one of the best in the gaming world. Players are helpful, courteous, friendly, and engaging. It’s extremely easy to make friends with fellow wanderers, especially the pre-Bethesda crowd
Developer Trust = 8
Bethesda is a well-established company, but I’m taking two points away: the first is for failing to be remotely courageous with adult content, bringing the franchise more in-line with Fallout 1 and Fallout 2. The second point they lose is for Harold. #neverforget
Wow Factor = 10
My expectations for this game were blown out of the water within a few minutes of playing it. I’m genuinely impressed with the way Bethesda brought Fallout to life in the mobile space, and despite the game’s flaws, I’m very much looking forward to seeing where they take Fallout Shelter in the future