At Bethesda’s first-ever E3 showcase on Sunday, the Maryland developer not only announced the release date for the long awaited Fallout 4, but they also rewarded fans with a brand new Fallout-centered strategy mobile game. Fallout Shelter so far has been downloaded 13,000 times by my last count; for free by fans new or loyal to the franchise. While I have yet to complete the game — I’m not even sure it actually has an ending — I have spent a fair bit of time with it, and would like to share my first impressions.
Let me begin with a clarification — I am not typically an avid mobile game fan or aficionado. I’m not going to pretend to know a lot about the medium, as I only currently have about three games currently on my phone: KOTOR, Fruit Ninja, and Fallout Shelter. This isn’t to say that mobile games aren’t a viable form of entertainment, in fact they can be quite enjoyable, and very convenient to access on the go.
My general problem with mobile games is my own inability to dexterously utilize the device’s touchscreen. I have large hands, with awkward gorilla fingers that make it difficult to navigate your typical iPhone screen. Since I don’t currently own a tablet, I’ve had to resort to playing mobile games on my phone like a common peasant. A pudgy, good for nothing peasant.
Self deprecation aside, it leaves me with little desire to try nearly any mobile game. Sometimes, however, something special comes along that demands my attention. Fallout Shelter was one of those games.
In Fallout Shelter, you are given the position of an Overseer (those who “oversee” the operations of the vault), and are tasked with building rooms, gaining followers, and keeping them happy. This is no small task, mind you — as this is not an easy game. Don’t be fooled by the adorable, art-deco inspired cartoonish appearance. There is a hidden complexity hidden within this game that I’m not used to experiencing in typical mobile offerings.
Strategy and time-management are critical in running a successful vault, and these are skills that I still have yet to master after maybe about 15 hours of total play time. I’m not afraid to admit that I have abandoned at least three vaults in that amount of time; getting overwhelmed by the amount of carnage and misfortune my numerous vault dwellers were experiencing. The game is deep and enjoyable, but requires a considerable amount of patience and forethought to get things just right.
I have picked up several nuggets of useful knowledge throughout my hours of failure. Power is crucial, and without it, your other rooms will not be able to be utilized by your tenants. Building a room directly next to one of the same kind increases it’s size, and also it’s efficiency. Each dweller will have S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes that will make them better suited to operating within particular rooms. I’ve also learned that it isn’t necessary to get a ton of followers as soon as possible, but much more important to ensure your rooms are upgraded and operating at optimal capacity. You can spend precious caps by upgrading your rooms to increase their effectiveness.
Time moves pretty slowly, minute by minute. Each room has a time limit that you have to wait through before you can collect the desired and crucial materials, but you are also given the opportunity to rush the process one room at a time. Be careful, though — rushing a room utilizes back end dice rolls, with the likelihood of success decreasing by certain percentages each time you fail. It’s a high-intensity game of chance, which awards you with satisfaction and goods upon success, and punishes you with increasingly dangerous obstacles and hazards if you fail. I always try to wait until after I’ve just mined a room for it’s goods before trying to rush it, as the difficulty percentage doesn’t increase, and the potential rewards are hugely beneficial. Still, rushing is a tricky game, and in many cases can end up setting off a cataclysmic chain reaction that will destroy your vault, and doom the inhabitants inside.
There are also dangers from the outside world that can make their way into your precious abode. Raider attacks are frequent and irritating, but are easily defendable if you upgrade your vault door, and properly arm your tenants. You can also equip one of your more resilient dwellers and send them forth into the treacherous wasteland. While you can’t control your little champion while they brave the wilderness, you can monitor each of your vault dweller’s stats and safety, which makes it easy and helpful to know when to call them back home. To make things a little easier, your brave little explorers don’t take any damage on their return trip, which limits having to micromanage them too much.
The user interface is very easy to navigate, and very reminiscent of Fallout’s style. Everything is easy to find, and is in quick reach if you need to access menus on the fly. Also, the graphics are pretty, and evoke the charming style of Vault-Tec’s Pip Boy, which keeps things light when things can get frustrating. It says a lot that I haven’t wanted to quit the game since I’ve had to restart it so many damn times, and much of this can be attributed to how just plain cute it is. I just want to pinch the game’s squishy little cheeks.
There is a lot there to encourage you into playing just a little bit longer. You’re provided with objectives to meet throughout the day, and meeting them rewards you with bottlecaps used for necessary upgrades. Even better, you can even unlock lunchboxes that are filled with random gifts, from weapons, to stat-increasing outfits, to even souped-up and experienced vault dwellers. You can pay real dollars to unlock these goody boxes if you so choose to save time and energy, but Bethesda does a good job of not shoving it in your face. The game is actually of super high quality considering it’s low, low price of absolutely free. You can’t argue with that.
As far as mobile games, you can do a lot worse than Fallout Shelter. The hours melt away while you are building and managing your own community. You feel like a true God among ants, and like you control the fate of your little, subservient followers. There are times of stress, but also times of great reward. It’s freshly challenging, but it’s light tone helps to calm what would typically be immense frustration. Do yourself a favor and download this game now, but I would recommend it for a larger display, like an iPad. The tiny characters can become easily lost on screen the deeper you delve into the earth, so it behooves you to take advantage of the iPad’s bigger real estate. I’ve yet to lose interest in the game after hours of play, but I’m also speaking from a huge bias. I’m as big a fan of Fallout 3 and New Vegas as they come, but I still think those new to the franchise can find a lot to love here.
Similar to: Fallout 3, Sim City, The Sims, Rollercoaster Tycoon
Suggested substitution(s): FALLOUT 4, come November 10th. In November, my social life is as good as over.