First released on mobile platforms back in June, 2015, Fallout Shelter charges the player with becoming Overseer of a new vault, which has to be built up from the ground, well, down! Making the move to Windows 10 in July 2016, it’s now hitting Xbox One as a free to play title, but is it a worthy port, and worthy of your time?
First impressions are good, with the familiar Fallout style and Vault Boy himself gracing the title page, and as I started the game, a cosy sense of familiarity settled over me like a warm duvet. The tutorial tips are all faced with Vault Boy, and the start of the Vault goes swimmingly, with caps a-plenty and no shortage of resources. Once the basics are created, namely the Water Purification, Diner, Living Quarters and Power Generation rooms and the elevators between them, the small but hearty crew of dwellers that have rocked up to your vault can be put to work.
In an adaptation of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. scheme from the main Fallout games, each dweller will have different values for each of the seven stats, and it turns out that each of the rooms requires a different strength to make them a success. As an example, the Water rooms require a good Perception stat, while the Diner needs Agility, and to be successful in the Living Quarters a good Charisma value needs to be in place.
Having dwellers hit it off in the Living Quarters will eventually lead to babies being born, and is a good, fairly easy way to increase the number of dwellers at your disposal. And what do dwellers make? More room types! Indeed, as the Vault grows and more people appear at the door, or are born, better rooms become available, from storerooms to an Overseer office to a radio station. These all give extra benefits to the Vault and its people – the radio station can be set to broadcast inside the Vault to raise happiness, or to broadcast out into the Wasteland to attract new inhabitants to your Vault, as an example.
Unlocking the Overseer’s Office unlocks a new phase of the game. Before it is built, it is possible to send a single dweller out into the Wasteland to explore and bring back resources. In my case, I received a couple items from the cards inside the Vault Tec lunchboxes (more on those later) which enabled me to give my brave explorer (called Steve Martin, as it happens) a set of Power Armour, a high damage flamethrower, and a cat (yes, really) that enabled my guy to have higher endurance.
Once he was off and exploring, I carried on building my vault, and I hesitate to admit it, but I forgot all about poor Steve. So much so, that when I turned on the Xbox again later, he had been exploring for ten hours, and had met his end at the hands of a Giant Radscorpion. His sad tale is related in a stream of text that details every step of his journey. Luckily, he could be revived for 500 caps, so I got him back on his feet and heading back.
This is where the spectre of microtransactions first made itself felt. As you’d expect in a free game, the opportunity to buy small items for small amounts of money is available. One such item that can be bought is Nuka-Cola Quantum, which basically speeds the game up. As Steve was exploring for ten hours, when I recalled him, it would take five hours for him to get back to the Vault, carrying his sweet loot. Or, for only four Quantums, I could have him back immediately.
It’s easy to see why people would feel the need to have these, or to buy the aforementioned lunchboxes, which contain five cards bringing you food, caps, items, resources or just junk that can be sold or recycled into parts, which can then be crafted into new items, in the classic Fallout Circle of Life. As an experiment, I spent £4 on five lunchboxes, which netted me some tasty new outfits and weapons. Lunchboxes and caps can also be earned from completing the various challenges that the game throws at you. There are three of these active at any one time, and they can range from upgrading three rooms, to assigning 15 dwellers to rooms that suit their personalities, all the way up to having ten babies!
Once the Overseer’s Office is built, Wasteland Quests become available. With these, you can select up to three dwellers, arm them to the teeth and give them Stimpacks and Radaway to keep them going, and then send them off on missions to explore, or find lost dwellers, visit other Vaults and hunt down dangerous critters. This is the closest to action that you’ll see in the game, barring the odd Raider attack or Radroach outbreak back home in the Vault. As your intrepid team ventures out into the unknown, the chance to spend some Nuka-Cola Quantum arises again, as it can take hours for the team to reach their destination, and if you are only on the game for a short blast, it can be quite tempting.
After reaching the location of the Quest, you can head into a blacked out building, that you have to explore room by room, either exploring and grabbing hidden resources, or fighting various baddies, such as Feral Ghouls, Molerats or even Raiders. This can be a tense time, as you know that somewhere in this structure there could be a powerful “boss” enemy, signified by a red skull, to defeat, or a room full of loot that could really come in useful back home. After rinsing the place of all its goodies, or doing your best Brave Sir Robin impression and running away, it again takes half the time of the original journey to get home again. More Quantum, sir?
While all the excitement is happening in the Wasteland, back home in the Vault things have to be kept on top of. Dwellers need food, water and power in order to thrive and be happy, so having the necessary generating facilities and the right people in the right place becomes paramount. At its heart, this game is a resource management sim, with a Fallout skin grafted on the top. There is another trick that your busy dwellers have up their collective sleeves, and that is that if you are short of a particular resource, you can get the guys in the room to “Rush”.
Now this “Rushing” involves working faster than usual to give the resources faster, and carries with it a chance of failure. If the Rush is successful, the resources are given to you and a small cap bonus is paid. If it fails, well, it’s not so rosy. The room can become engulfed in flames, or Radroaches can break through the floor and terrorise the inhabitants. I learned early on that it was best to make sure that each dweller, no matter what they do, needs to have a decent outfit and a weapon of some flavour. Even with this rule, if three Radroaches break into a room with a single inhabitant, that dweller could be in a world of hurt, so it’s always best to flood the room with bodies and guns if it happens. The same applies with fire, which can also happen spontaneously, the more people with extinguishers the better. Another tip from me: If the chance of failure on a Rush is more than 40%, quite often it will fail. I was having better success rates with chances in the 30% range, but maybe I’m just very unlucky?
In conclusion then, Fallout Shelter is a game that shows its mobile roots quite strongly. The graphics, although simple, are in the signature Fallout style that oozes charm and get the job done effectively. The sight of two dwellers, both in nightwear to maximise their Charisma, doing the dance of love and then running off to the bedroom is enough to bring a smile to most peoples faces. The game is samey, there’s no two ways about it, and the quest system, while it adds an element of uncertainty, doesn’t take long until it feels like you’ve seen it all. The achievements all seem to be requiring a degree of grind in order to unlock, and so do encourage long term commitment. The Play Anywhere integration with Windows 10 is another nice touch that works well, so you never need to be far away from your Vault. On a number of occasions, I’ve looked up from the game to find it’s midnight, with no idea of where the time has gone, which is a pretty good endorsement!