In Fallout Shelter you play as the overseer of a vault which, depending on your decisions, can serve as either a self-sustaining stronghold or inescapable deathtrap to its inhabitants. Along with the Fallout series’ standard currency of bottle caps, it’s essential the vault generates power, water and food in order to provide functionality, and this is achieved by having vault dwellers work in the relevant rooms (power station, water plant and cafeteria). Dwellers’ stats are based upon the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system from the series and you’re required to assign your populace to rooms that match up with their favoured stats. For instance a dweller with high strength will be most efficient in a power station as it’s a ‘strength stat’ room. The matching of stats to rooms also comes into play when monitoring your vault denizens’ happiness levels – which will decrease if they’re deprived of basic necessities or assigned to an ill-matched room.
Rooms can be upgraded to be more efficient although the cost per increment rapidly stacks up. Resources are collected after an on-screen timer counts out and there’s the option to ‘rush’ the process and be quickly rewarded with instant resources, bonus XP and bottle caps but this carries a significant risk of either fire or radroach infestation. Both hazards will delay further resource collection and can be outright deadly if not dealt with immediately. This is a welcome mechanic and it’s refreshing there’s no monetary charge for speeding up the game as has become standard practice in many mobile titles.
At this point, the only optional way to spend real-world money is to purchase lunchboxes that are packed with items such as caps, equipment and sometimes additional and stat-boosted dwellers. These metallic packages of loot provide one of the game’s positive feedback loops and seem to drop often in the beginning but much less so after a few days’ play and are then dropped only upon completing a specific goal.
Once you’ve acquired equipment such as armour, guns, stimpaks (health) and radaway (for the treatment of radiation sickness) – you’ll need to send your dwellers into the wasteland to gain experience, additional caps and equipment for the vault. Their exploits are documented via text display and they’ll explore until you either recall them or they fall victim to some foul danger, left to be picked over by carrion feeders. The exploration allows you to vicariously explore the familiar trappings of the wasteland but the exploits are made up of everything series players have already experienced – it’s a shame there’s not the odd nod to any of Fallout 4’s forthcoming content (although this now looks like a possibility). Thankfully, if any of your vault’s denizens perish, you’re given an extended time-period where you can pay a few hundred caps to revive them. This mechanic effectively allows you to take well-earned breaks without being unfairly punished for it.
Wasteland stragglers will wander up to your vault looking for refuge and you can also attract new members with radio broadcasts, provided your station’s manned by dwellers with enough charisma to entice folks like a tractor beam of charm. The other essential way to gain new dwellers involves pairing male and female dwellers together and hoping they hit it off, dance and then take the necessary steps to produce offspring – which will grow into full-sized humans at roughly the same rate as a chestburster grows into a xenomorph.
Other than defending occasional raider attacks, the goal is to expand the vault downward and increase your population. The amount of potential building space is massive and the population cap is 200 which means there’s weeks if not months worth of playtime to get out of Fallout Shelter. The experience is enjoyable but once the basic formula has been established it’s just a case of repeating what’s come before on an increasing scale. The vault requires constant attention and it’s unlikely there’ll be a time you’re not rapidly tapping or swiping the screen. Unless you’re unable to break contact or feel vault-concern when your device is switched off – the game’s initial edge sheen soon becomes dulled with the grind. With that in mind, the challenge of getting back into your overseer’s seat and finding your vault in disarray and having to streamline everything to be efficient again is actually rewarding. This is an engaging, addictive, but saccharine title that achieves its purpose of fueling the newly ignited Fallout fever from this year’s E3.