Editor’s Note: Kyle Waro looked at the iOS version of the game while John Breeden played on the Android platform. Both contributed to this review.
Fans of the Fallout series from Bethesda, as well as fans of the The Sims, will enjoy Fallout Shelter, which is available completely free for both the iOS and Android platforms from Bethesda. Players get to create their own post-apocalyptic fallout shelter deep underground and inhabit it with people that will work in select areas. The graphics are cute and cartoonish and 2D, which balances out some of the more grim aspects of the surviving in the wasteland.
In the game, players earn bottle caps to purchase rooms for their shelter. Room options include: a generator room, a living area, a dining hall, and a water purification center at first. More room choices unlock as more survivors come to the vault. Eventually you will have access to advanced rooms like radio stations, training facilities and even a Nuka-cola bottling plant. Each room has its own purpose. The generator room for example provides power, the water room provides water, the dining hall provides food, and the living area makes it so you can have more people living in your shelter.
The gameplay is straightforward. As you build the rooms, people will be at your door wanting shelter, at least at first. As the game goes on, fewer and fewer people will just stop by wanting to join your community. Instead you will need to grow your population by assigning males and females together inside living areas. Eventually they will mate and after some time with the woman being pregnant, a new baby will be born. Children can’t hold jobs in the bunker, but after a longer while they will grow up and can join your workforce.
A radio station can also bring in people from the wasteland, though this is a slow process with a few negatives, such as also attracting unwanted attention from the outside world in the form of raiders and deathclaws who break in and try to steal your stuff.
You have to place people in the various rooms to work, which is done by dragging and dropping them into place. As they work they will generate power, water and food to sustain living in the shelter. Advanced rooms can produce things like stimpacks and radaway bags. And there are advanced resource-producing rooms too, like a nuclear reactor or a luscious garden which do better than the lower-tier rooms. Every room can also be upgraded to better versions of itself, which is expensive but probably worth it in the long run.
One thing to keep in mind is that shelter dwellers all have SPECIAL stats just like your character from the Fallout games. It’s important to assign dwellers to rooms where they can do the most good. Strong characters work better in the power plants while intelligent ones make good scientists and medics. Uniforms can also be acquired that add points to certain special traits, so putting on the right gear and sending people where they can do the most good is a key to success. Eventually you can build training rooms to boost one of the SPECIAL aspects, and having at least one for each stat is highly recommended so that you can add efficiency to your whole operation. The important thing is to have your workers balanced so you always have food, water and power.
To improve your situation in the vault, you may also send people out of the shelter to grab supplies such as more bottle caps, those important uniforms described earlier and bigger and better weapons. Unlike most other aspects of the game, sending someone out into the wasteland continues even when the game is turned off. What happens is that every few minutes, the explorer will encounter something in the wasteland, normally a monster but sometimes other people.
Depending on your explorer’s SPECIAL stats, equipped weapon and armor, they will either be killed or defeat the challenge, or possibly be able to proceed without combat, such as when using their charisma to talk out a solution. If they win, they earn experience and possibility a weapon, outfit or caps. They just keep walking, even when the game is off, until you send the command to recall them. If you have equipped them with stimpacks, they will use them when they get hurt. They will also upgrade their uniform and weapon if they find something better.
Eventually, you will need to recall your wanderers. They have unlimited carrying capacity for found items (though you might need to expand your vault storage capacity to store it all), but you can’t use any of those items until they get back to the vault. The longer they walk, the better gear they will find. We started finding high value weapons and armor after they had traveled out for about two days, though you will need a tough survivor with a high SPECIAL, maximum stimpacks and a great weapon to make it that far and start to collect the good stuff. We also think the quality of gear they find has something to do with their luck stat. Once you hit the recall order, they will be safe and not have to face any more encounters, though it can take a very long time for them to return. If they die, you can pay a penalty in caps to revive them, and then should probably immediately issue the return order.
Back at base, things are not totally safe either. Things can catch on fire and you can be attacked by molerats or radroaches. Dwellers will respond as best they can, but every vault dweller should be equipped with a weapon, which is another reason why wasteland scavenging is so important. Fists can be a last resort, but are ineffective against higher level attackers like raiders and even deathclaws, which will try and break in and rampage through your vault. You never know where the radroaches will attack, but you can repel raiders and deathclaws sometimes by having tough dwellers assigned as guards to the vault door area, where they always arrive first.
In addition to uniforms and weapons, you will need money, which is bottle caps in the wasteland. To increase the number of available bottle caps you have, you can complete random daily challenges or level up the people in your shelter by completing missions. When rooms produce (food, water or power for example) there is a chance that you will get caps as a bonus, which is based on the luck scores of the people working the room, which is why it’s important to train that up alongside the primary stat needed to work each room.
Fallout Shelter is completely free, but you can purchase lunchboxes that contain at least one high value (rare) item. Each lunchbox has four cards that give you resources, gear or even people with high stats who can join your vault community. However, you don’t really need to buy them as many of the challenges you are given have lunchboxes as rewards instead of caps (which most of them offer). We built up huge vaults with powerful dwellers and never had to purchase a lunchbox. But if you really enjoy a free game and want to put 99 cents into buying better gear, then the option is there.
In the end Fallout Shelter is a post-apocalyptic town-builder but on a claustrophobic scale, and I mean that in the best possible way. Sustainability wins the day in this game so watch those resources closely. This is a must download for Fallout fans, and pretty much anyone else who likes town-building and resource allocation games. Obviously Bethesda put out the game to keep interest high in the pending Fallout 4 game, but who cares. This is an amazingly fun, quality title that is being given out absolutely for free. And we don’t get to say that very often.
Fallout Shelter from Bethesda earns 4.5 out of 5 GiN Gems.