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Fallout Shelter (PC) artwork

Fallout Shelter (PC) review


"That's our Bethesda!™"


Fallout Shelter (PC) image


It's weird to me that Fallout has gotten as big as it has. I still remember the days of Fallout 1 & 2, clunky and awkward turn-based RPGs that were relatively unknown; they were certainly less popular than concurrent sword n' sorcery titles such as Baldur's Gate, for example. Nevertheless, their aesthetics, premise and role-playing mechanics were decidedly fresh and I loved them to death anyway. I guess you could say that I liked Fallout “before it was cool”. I know its roots, and it weirded me out when the series blossomed into its current FPS modus operandi. While I have not disagreed with every design decision Bethesda has made since they got their hands on the franchise, there have been times where I have thought to myself: “This isn't Fallout,” while playing Fallout 3 and beyond. In the same vein, Fallout Shelter is about as divergent and unfaithful to the original games as you can possibly get (perhaps with the notable exception of the disastrous Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel), and I fully expected to dislike it. Colour me surprised, then, that I immensely enjoyed playing it.

You play as the overseer of a Vault, a self-sufficient shelter designed to protect people from the ravages of nuclear war. You build it one room at a time, digging deeper into the earth, and must manage the various facets of daily living for your dwellers within. You must ensure that they have enough power, food, and water to survive. You must also keep them protected from raiders, ghouls, and other post-apocalyptic horrors that will try to batter down their door. Their isolation will also make them a bit anxious, and naturally they will want to get busy with one another. Like a proper Big Brother figure, you get to decide who breeds with whom. Eugenics, anyone? All is possible in your Vault. You are in command.

Fallout Shelter (PC) image


Fallout Shelter is a tap game. That is to say that it was originally designed for mobile devices, which means that there is a lot of clicking required to get things done. When your diner crew has prepared a batch of food, you must click on it to add it to your stocks. When your workshop has crafted a new weapon, you must click on it to get it added to your inventory. When a baby is about to be born, you must, ridiculously, click on its mother to grant it permission to come into the world. While this constant tapping might seem boring or even obnoxious, there's something strangely satisfying about it. It probably stimulates the reward center in our brains or something. Did you know that many of the larger video game companies have psychologists on staff precisely for this reason? Makes ya think, don't it.

Anyway, if Fallout and The Sims had a baby, the result would pretty much be Fallout Shelter. I greatly admire both series, so that's okay by me, though there is some give and take between the two. Unlike The Sims, your dwellers don't really have personalities. They differ only in appearance, stats, and equipment. They can be trained, customized and outfitted, there really isn't a lot of depth to them beyond that. They will become unhappy if conditions in your Vault are rotten, which will put a frown on their face and give them a penalty to their production, but in most respects the “simulation” aspect of Fallout Shelter is quite thin. This leaves room for the RPG part of the equation to round things out, however. Dwellers will level up as they work or fight, they can be sent out to the wastes to scavenge for supplies, and they can be assembled into teams to tackle story-driven quests.

Fallout Shelter (PC) image


While it is fun to get your dwellers to the level cap and outfit them with sweet gear, the RPG mechanics fall a little flat when you realize that the combat system is not all that good. Combat zones are essentially a series of procedurally generated rooms, which all tend to look the same, and you have very little control over what happens in them. You can tell your dwellers which rooms to search and collect loot when you find it, but when your dwellers get into a fight, you basically have to sit there and watch the battle play out. Aside from assigning different targets, healing your dwellers when they get injured, and triggering critical hits when prompted, there isn't a lot you can do. You will probably get some satisfaction from watching your carefully-cultivated team of adventurers kick ass the first few times you send them out, but this will get old by the 50th or 100th battle you witness. You will probably find yourself twiddling your thumbs or alt-tabbing to Facebook while your dwellers get the job done. I will also warn you right now that the writing for the quests isn't stellar. In fact, I would say it is markedly sub-par for a Fallout title.

This is mostly fine though; you are usually overseeing the operations of your Vault, and this is the most satisfying aspect of the game anyway. Training your workers, optimizing their production, and designing more efficient room layouts is a hell of lot of fun. You will also likely grow fond of your dwellers, and they will end up have stories of their own attached to them in time. In the case of my own vault, one of my very first dwellers reached a sort of untouchable matriarch status, as she had had provided at least fifteen children for the Vault since the beginning of the game and eventually refused to breed with anyone anymore, as she was basically related to everybody. Certain other special dwellers, who had enjoyed success as scavengers, became my mainstays for doing the dirty work above ground, and were thus awarded with the best training, gear, and the most memorable names. Bloodlines also matter here, as children have a chance of inheriting their parents' stats. I ended up having several different clans taking over different areas of my Vault as a result. The Hicks clan were a bunch of eggheads who took over the medbay and science lab, whereas the Ivanova and Stevens clans were brawny idiots who were better suited to work in the power plants. All of this stuff could be pretty inspiring for some vault-based Fallout fanfiction, if one was so inclined.

Fallout Shelter (PC) image


There does not seem to be a way to win at Fallout Shelter; or if there is, I haven't found it. I imagine that the story quests will run out at some point, but a supply of daily and weekly quests seem to be continually added to the list to ensure that you always have something to do. Despite that, an inevitable realization of pointlessness will set in at some point, especially if you are playing on “casual” difficulty, as you can easily revive dead dwellers by spending a small sum of caps. Ultimately nothing matters; it's akin to watching fish swim around in a fishbowl. In all fairness, that isn't a huge divergence from The Sims, as this game is simply about watching ongoing life in your Vault, but once you've gotten things running perfectly, you might just want to start a new game. In fact, once you've gotten your feet wet with casual mode, you might want to switch over to “survival” mode, where the option to revive dead dwellers is not available and a fail state is a real possibility, especially if a herd of Deathclaws decides to break into your vault and wreak havoc. This is probably the “proper” way to play Fallout Shelter in all honesty, but I never got that far. I invested well over 30 hours into my casual scrub Vault and grew far too attached.

There are a few major flaws to Fallout Shelter beyond what I've already mentioned though, one of which lies in its business model. It is a shameless free-to-play cash grab with a host of questionable microtransactions available for purchase. These include Nuka-Cola, which speeds up the rate of production and dweller training; Vault-Tec Lunchboxes, which contain a selection of useful loot; and pet carriers, which contain helpful critters who can accompany your dwellers on quests. Since it is possible to earn most of these things in-game, I found that I had zero desire to purchase most of it, but I sure was tempted a few times. The dwellers' skills, for example, can take anywhere from a few minutes to over ten hours (of real time) to train, and spending some money on those frosty Nuka-Colas is a convenient option to speed that process along. The good news is that Fallout Shelter is a game that never really turns off, so if one of your dwellers is training a skill and it's going to take sixteen hours to complete, you can simply log out and leave her there overnight, and she will be done training in the morning. The microtransactions simply seem to be there to allow the rich kids to play all night, as they are wont to do. The rest of us have to play Fallout Shelter in stints.

Fallout Shelter (PC) image


At first this angered me, but eventually I realized that this was fine, too. Fallout Shelter really isn't the kind of game that you would want to play for long periods of time anyway. Returning to the fishbowl analogy, your Vault is simply something you will want to take care of, akin to a Tamgotchi or a NeoPet. You load it up, water and feed your dwellers, solve a few emergent crises, smile at the new arrivals being born, build a few more rooms, then turn it off and do something else. It's a bookend between other games. It's not meant to be the main course, and that's fine. It does that job well.

I will admit to having spent a few real dollars on Fallout Shelter. The single and only purchase I made was the “Vault Starter Kit” (limit one per Vault), which gave me an edge in the early game. My crappy dwellers, with their rock-bottom stats, were struggling hard to survive against the weakest enemies in the wastes such as mole rats and roaches, and the destruction of my Vault seemed nigh. Interestingly, once I bought the kit and had the benefit of a few “Legendary” dwellers joining my Vault and holding the fort, everything went smooth as silk. I imagine Bethesda engineered it this way quite deliberately. Fair enough, I thought to myself – The starter kit only costs $5 USD, and that seems like a fair price tag for the game overall, but buying anything beyond that really felt like cheating to me.

Fallout Shelter (PC) image


The other problem is that Fallout Shelter has a big, bad, game-crippling bug in it. It seems that it keeps only a single save file for your Vault, and if that save file gets corrupted for any reason, it's potentially curtains for your Vault. The game does not keep reliable cloud saves to help you restore your progress, so this means that any time – or money – you sink into your game could potentially vanish in a puff of smoke. While it is possible to manually back up your save file, it seems that having a corrupted save associated with your account will cause the game to glitch out and fail to launch even if you do a clean reinstall (which is exactly what happened to me). Bethesda support will not help with this, and I have heard that Steam is largely unsympathetic in this regard as well. I got the game from the Windows 10 app store instead, and my attempt to get support from Microsoft was a lengthy and cumbersome process. Ultimately they could not save my Vault, but they did give me my $5 back. Whoopdy-doo.

To sum up, Bethesda successfully got me interested in a goofy and divergent Fallout title, only to fuck it all up. It is unconscionable for Bethesda to make a game like this only to have it break so easily. And from what I've read, it's not a matter of if it will break, it's a matter of when. I cannot imagine how frustrated someone would be if they invested a considerable sum of money and time into it before losing everything. I only sunk $5 into it and I was pissed enough. Which is a shame, because I really want to give Fallout Shelter the four-star rating it deserves. It's a great game and it really is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, in its current state, I can only give it a hesitant recommendation with some very strong caveats attached. It is worthy of a look if you're interested, but be aware that it will probably crap out at you at some point. Any money you throw at it will potentially be wasted. Perhaps with enough patches things will be fixed in time, but this is Bethesda we're talking about, so I'm not going to hold my breath.

2/5

Nightfire's avatar
Featured community review by Nightfire (July 01, 2017)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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Suffice to say, it does not adequately live up to my namesake.

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Zydrate posted July 03, 2017:

I played this on an app emulator for my computer. It was decent fun for a time but I am terrified of my vault getting nuked, whether by glitches or just bad management. Or a deathclaw I wasn't prepared for (Never saw one).
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honestgamer posted July 03, 2017:

Why would you have to resort to an app emulator, though? There's a free-to-play edition of the game readily available on Steam? That's the route I would probably go, were I to play it.
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Nightfire posted July 03, 2017:

It wasn't available on Steam or elsewhere for at least a year after its release. I believe the game was released on mobile in 2015 but the Steam release didn't show up until mid-2016.
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Zydrate posted July 03, 2017:

Yea I forgot to mention I did it like, years ago. It's only RECENT on Steam.

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