I’m having a bit of a crisis with Fallout Shelter right now. I’m doing well; my vault dwellers are happy, they’re all fed and watered with suitable living conditions and plenty of variety in their living space, but I’ve got into some bad habits.
Cast as the overseer of a Vault, the whole point of the game is to expand further into the ground, making a really expansive living space while simultaneously attempting to keep all of your dwellers happy. But I’ve just realised that I’ve stopped building for a while, instead hoarding caps and using what I do spend on purchasing upgrades for current rooms. I’m starting to question what the point of it all is, and yet I can’t quite seem to get away from it.
It’s very reminiscent of other idle games, such as Cookie Clicker, where you’ll often leave it running in the background for a while and then come back to make some changes. The ultimate objective is simply to progress further, with the end being so far off in the distance that you’ll likely never reach it. Fallout Shelter goes much deeper than these games traditionally do, though.
Each dweller is a character with their own SPECIAL traits and level of happiness, and they’re each represented by an avatar reminiscent of the Vault Boy Fallout mascot. Their traits decide how well they’ll do at a job, whether that be looking after the power room with strength, working in a lab with intelligence, or using their agility to serve food in the cafeteria. It’s a rather neat system with plenty of familiarity for any Fallout fan.
The vault itself is like looking into an open doll’s house, though it’s perhaps more like observing an ant farm in reality, with a similar visual style to the base from the latest XCOM game. The subtle use of gyroscopic controls to give a three dimensional effect as you move your device around, as well as the attention to detail in the dialogue between characters when you zoom into the room really makes the presentation – it’s a really quirky and brilliant style.
It’s all about the resource rooms, which produce food, water, or power resources every few minutes – though the time varies depending on the skill of the workers – and if you have the game open then you’ll have to click these regularly to collect them, otherwise your dwellers will stand idly by. You can also rush rooms for instant rewards, but this can lead to hazards such as fires and radroach infestations if you fail.
You have to manage a very delicate ecosystem then, keeping people in the right jobs and sometimes moving them into the living quarters to meet potential partners and create new life – after a string hilariously cheesy chat-up lines. Pregnancy is a rather quick turnaround, and several hours later your population will have grown by one, and then it’s all about waiting a few hours more for them to grow into adults, which doesn’t take much longer.
This works in tandem with how you develop your vault. Having more residents means more workers, and new types of rooms will be unlocked as the population increases. It’s a really good form of progression, and this all works really well with playing the game in small doses, leaving it in the background and then returning when you feel as though it’s necessary to check up on everyone.
It goes even further than that as you progress, as you collect weapons and stat-boosting clothing, sending out your dwellers into the Wasteland to explore and collect more loot, with a high risk of them not making it unless they’re well equipped. You always have to be careful in the Vault itself too, and make sure that you’re prepared for any raider attacks, which happen randomly as you play, alongside other hazards.
My only real gripe is the lack of other random events – if two residents were to have a falling out for example, it could add some more personality to proceedings. There’s also a distinct lack of novelty vault creation, where you could make something much more outlandish than the standard shelter, as we’ve seen upon discovering certain vaults in the main Fallout games.
It’s the three cycling objectives which really keep you going, ranging from collecting X number of weapons or outfits to completing more specific tasks, and for these you’ll be rewarded with either caps or lunchboxes. Lunchboxes offer loot, resources, and even special dwellers who you might recognise as characters from the Fallout series.
With these lunchboxes, comes the only part of the game in which you’ll be able to spend real money. There are absolutely no paywalls or anything actively hindering your progress, and the allure of getting more loot is all that Bethesda are relying for in terms of revenue. It seems to have been a successful venture, with the game currently making more money than Candy Crush as it nears the top of the iOS App Store’s top grossing chart – an Android version of the game is planned, but this is currently an iOS exclusive.
Fallout Shelter is a fantastic little game which manages to feel rewarding, even if there is no real purpose beyond carefully expanding your vault and collecting more caps and characters. With a really smart and completely ignorable form of in-app purchases, other developers could learn some lessons when deciding how to promote their upcoming AAA title. This is a brilliant game in its own right, and it only makes me more excited to see the wasteland of Fallout 4, rather than sending my vault dwellers off into it.