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During its E3 show, Bethesda spent several minutes on their big news: Fallout 4 will be available this November and will be even bigger than its predecessors. But after this announcement, the company had another piece of news. As the audience watched in surprise, Todd Howard showed footage of a mobile game set in the Fallout universe, Fallout Shelter. Everyone cheered when he announced that it would be available immediately after the end of the show for iOS devices.
Fair play, Bethesda. But is the game actually any good? Let’s find out!
Download: Fallout Shelter on iOS
Peace, Freedom, and Bacon ‘n Eggs
Fallout Shelter is a life sim for iOS devices set in the Fallout universe. You play the Overseer of a Vault-Tec Vault, building and expanding it to keep its residents, or Dwellers happy. The art style of the game is based on the Vault-Tec cartoon people you see in illustrations scattered throughout the remnants of civilization in the full Fallout games.
It’s a click-and-drag game, where you click on your characters to see how they are doing; and drag to put them in different rooms where they can work, relax or spend quality time with a significant other. You can zoom in with a double-tap, and there’s a kind of primitive 3D to the rooms. It’s a little cumbersome even on a relatively large iPad screen, as it’s very easy to snag a character unintentionally when you were trying to click on the one next to them.
Todd Howard compared it to Little Computer People and that’s pretty close to the mark. When someone appears at the Vault door, you check their S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats to see if they have any particular talents, and you can assign them to rooms where they’ll be most useful based on these skills. While this isn’t particularly intuitive (Why do the most agile people belong in the food prep areas?), this is the closest thing to careers your little people will have.
The needs of your Vault Dwellers are simple: They require food, water, and energy. To that end, you build rooms for generators, water purifiers, and diners. Once you get more Dwellers, you can build other rooms such as medbays, gyms, game rooms, and various other things that will raise your characters’ S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats.
Repopulate Our Great Nation
The thing that keeps the game going is the idea of building these extra rooms and making your vault bigger and more extravagant. However, the thing that keeps you from building those is the amount of Vault Dwellers you have. Unfortunately, you’ll sometimes hit inexplicable roadblocks that seem to prevent you from recruiting the needed number of Dwellers.
In one of the three vaults I built, I made it to 13 Dwellers and then couldn’t seem to recruit anymore. This was particularly annoying because that was one less than the needed number to build a medbay. I had to wait three hours for one of my pregnant women to give birth before I would meet the number requirement.
That’s another thing: You can pair up any man and woman in one of the Vault’s residential spaces, and they’ll eventually create a new life. There’s something a little unpleasant about the idea of breeding your Vault Dwellers, especially since there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to who can pair up and what difference it makes to their offspring.
War Never Changes… Bethesda Does
I don’t mean to seem like the sort of overzealous fan that exists to pick nits, but I don’t think this game looks or feels like a Fallout game at all. If I hadn’t seen Bethesda introduce it themselves with great pomp and circumstance at the show, I would think it was something made by a third-party developer whose only experience with the series was playing the first ten minutes of Fallout 3.
It’s very bright and colorful, for one thing. The Vaults begin small, but if you play it right, they can become little cities; as opposed to the miserable little pits held under the sociopathic sway of Vault-Tec’s scientists we know they are in the series.
Maybe that’s it: Maybe this is supposed to be an elaborate game within a game, something the Vault-Tec people would install on everyone’s Pip-Boys to keep them preoccupied. Or maybe it’s something that was thrown together as a cheap tie-in to hold us all over until November.
Also, I don’t really see what the point of the game is for Fallout fans. Granted, I’ve not put weeks of time into the game yet, but I don’t see anything that will be an in-game reward for Fallout 4.
Lunch box = $0.99
I suppose the final question would be, “Is it fun?” Yes, it is fun, if a little bit slow. Granted, it picks up steam once you’ve got enough caps to do stuff besides provide for basic needs. You can build new rooms, breed new Dwellers, or equip your people for jaunts into the Wasteland.
You can also complete little objectives to get caps and sometimes lunch boxes. The latter are loot containers which give you items, resources, and occasionally a special Vault Dweller — I got Amata and I saw someone else with Three Dog.
But about those lunch boxes: You remember that part about how this mobile game is supposed to be free? Yeah, it’s not really free. There’s a little in-game store where you can buy these loot lunches for various prices. You can probably get through a great deal of the game without ever needing to purchase one. But the mere fact that it’s there rather belies the idea that it’s a completely free game.
Though I will say, for a free-to-play game, Shelter works pretty well, even on my older iPad. It runs a little slow if you have any other apps running in the background, but at least it works.
Fallout Shelter is pleasant and functional, if a little tedious. It bears little resemblance to its parent series, but if that doesn’t bother you, then you’ll find the experience fun and painless.
Download: Fallout Shelter on iOS
Have you played it? If so, let me know what you thought in the comment section below!