Fallout Shelter is a relaxed management game that goes heavy on the Fallout 50s kitsch. The game puts you in the role of an Overseer and tasks with with building and running a fully functional vault. XCOM veterans will find the interface instantly familiar. Fallout Shelter is also free to play. This can often be a euphemism for limited gameplay (think Pokemon Shuffle’s hearts, or Candy Crush’s lives) and premium content hidden behind paywalls. Fortunately, Bethesda have deftly sidestepped these options and crafted a fun little experience that is entirely free.
Advancing through Fallout Shelter primarily involves attracting more Dwellers in order to unlock more buildings, which in turn help to manage the Vault and gaining further newcomers. Objectives and achievements are there to help gently guide players in the right direction, and completing them yields caps and lunchboxes — which are also available as the game’s only real-world money purchasable item. A lunchbox contains four shelter cards, which confer boons on the Overseer: more food, water, caps, equipment, and special Dwellers are what I have found so far. The game keeps objective completion steady, so it is easy to accumulate lunchboxes to open during even a short session.
Not everything in Fallout Shelter is about your Vault going from strength to strength. Disasters both within and outside the walls of your Vault occur at random. Bandit raids, Radroach infestations and fires are all serious challenges to the stability of a fledgling Vault. Diverting Dwellers to deal with them can unbalance resources and send the Vault into a spiral that takes both time and effort to recover from. Dwellers can also be tasked with exploring the surrounding Wastelands, which involves both high risk for high reward.
The blend of Pipboy-style graphics and simple 3D environments works effectively, creating a cute, clean-feeling look. Artifacts in these screenshots are the result of a jerry-rigged transfer between iPad and PC, as the game looks good regardless of zoom. It would also be a terrible shame to not mention the game’s delightful soundtrack, which varies depending on the room you are viewing. A zoomed out view of the base produces only ambient wasteland noise, keeping musical interludes short and sweet. As with everything else Fallout, the music is era-appropriate, reflecting pop and jazz standards of the time.
Fallout Shelter’s game speed feels a little strange. I found myself not building and upgrading constantly, but also not able to look away from the game due to the need to harvest produced goods. As a result, a lot of time in the game is focused on nothing in particular happening. Multitasking while playing is possible, but limited by the frequent need to check back in. Bethesda have taken steps to compensate for that, by writing plenty of short exchanges between Dwellers. These can be listened in on by focusing on individual rooms.
Dwellers will also inform you of their needs and their happiness, based upon how well suited they are to their jobs. Matching Dwellers with jobs is easy enough — each building you place has a predominant stat. Assigning Dwellers with high scores in that stat increases production speed and job satisfaction. Job skills also have levels, which give bonuses of their own and places importance on conserving skilled Dwellers. Unskilled Dwellers make good candidates for roaming the Wasteland for supplies and experience — provided that you equip them well.
Vault 56 has become an industrious little place. That’s the number of my little slice of underground heaven, which takes its designation from an experimental vault in the Fallout canon. Even as I write this, I’m sparing glances over at my little Fallout Shelter empire. Right now, a man in a hockey mask is shooting Radroaches. With the infestation under control, he runs to the elevator, puts his gun away, and hastens back to his shift in the diner. A dweller whom I thought had been killed reappears, holding a baby, who grows into a boy and immediately begins to ask for baseball cards.
When he’s a little older, I’ll give him a gun and a mission instead.