Earlier this week, after much fanfare, Bethesda’s Todd Howard showcased the long-awaited Fallout 4 at this year’s E3 conference. Amidst the cheering, he also announced an entirely new game in the franchise on a previously unexplored format for the company: mobile devices. Fallout Shelter, available just hours after its announcement on all iOS devices (but only playable in real terms on those released in the last 3 years or so), represents not just a change of venue for the Fallout series, but also a refreshing change of game genre. Rather than blasting their way through a barren wasteland, the player is tasked with maintaining the lives of underground vault dwellers. As “overseer” of the vault, players must expand their dwellings, add rooms from water-processing plants to radio stations, and send exploration parties above ground into the Fallout world we already know and love in order to scavenge clothing and weaponry for the folks back home.
As with all things Fallout, the key differentiator for Shelter is the level of detail. Overseers need to handle the big things like maintaining enough food, water and electricity to keep a growing community alive through the end of civilisation. Mere survival isn’t really what’s been keeping an almost unbelievable number of players face down in their smartphones and tablets for the last week though. Players must also fend off attacks from raiders, unexpected fires and giant cockroach infestations, all the while making sure their vault dwellers stay happy .Thankfully, as well as invading horror, there are a range of different rooms that can be added to keep your residents in shape and smiling. From gyms and storage rooms to radio stations that attract new apocalypse survivors to the vault, the scope for building and managing your game is huge.
As well as keeping them vault-secure, any good overseer will realise early on that each and every vault dweller uses a streamlined version the same levelling and skills system as Fallout 3. The more burly dwellers, with high Strength and Endurance make great security guards, power station workers and explorers. If need water purification workers, scientists or doctors you need high Perception or Intelligence. As in our world though, it’s the people with the high Charisma that have all the fun. If you’re trying to get more topsiders to join your utopian underground, send the charmers to the radio station to tempt them below via the airwaves. If, on the other hand, you’d like your residents to boost vault popultion the old-fashioned way, send a charismatic couple to the living quarters. They’ll trade flirty dialogue for a while, followed by a little dancing, and then they’ll “disappear” to the bedroom. Soon, the female partner returns pregnant, and shortly afterwards you’ve got another little vault dweller, ready to be sent to work for the greater good in whatever way you see fit.
One subtly brilliant addition to the game is actually an omission. Most games that are free to play rely on in-game purchases of extra goodies or resources in order to be financially viable. Yes, Fallout Shelter does give the option to purchase goody bags of items and resources in return for real world currency in iconic “lunch boxes” . Unlike most games of its type, however, the option to purchase isn’t constantly screaming at the player. The lunchbox store isn’t ostentatious or annoying. If you want to show some financial appreciation for Bethesda’s free toy (or simply get your vault growing a little more quickly) you can do so. If you don’t, that’s fine too. While various games will have invasive advertising that you can remove for a fee, pop-up reminders of the perks available to buy through micro-transactions, or – worst of all – forced social media sharing in order to progress, Fallout Shelter feels less like a constant begging bowl and more like a no-strings gift. This game is clearly no cynical attempt to cash in on hype, but rather a genuine thank you letter from developers to fans.
Not only has Bethesda succeeded in making the jump to an entirely new game format, it has done so while successfully retaining the dark humour of previous instalments. For the core gamer that would normally see this type of game as just the realm of the “filthy”casuals, it provides enough familiar content to feel a part of the Fallout family. For the casual gamers that may have seen more than a few city-management type games before, the ability to send residents into the wasteland as well as an excellently balanced difficulty curve below ground make for a highly enjoyable – if not ground-braking or massively innovative – time killer. There is however bad news if you’re looking to play on any iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with less than a full gig of RAM (sorry, 4S users) – none of these are supported by Bethesda, so you’ll be able to download from the app store and even play for a little while. At about 30 population you’ll start to experience game-breaking stability issues that ultimately render the game unplayable. While there is currently no android version, it’s safe to say there’ll be one along this side of Christmas. Bethesda’s promise that the exciting companion app for Fallout 4 has been promised for both formats shows that they’re not going to simply abandon every non-Apple user in the long-term.It’s easy to play both for a little while and hours on end, which is ultimately the goal of any decent mobile game. As we now reach the last lap of the wait for Fallout 4, Fallout Shelter will keep the fans extremely well entertained until launch this November and beyond.
Download Fallout Shelter for iOS here
Jimi is the editor of Soapbox. You can get in touch with him here.