Better Living, Underground!

After spending a year with Fallout Shelter, I look back at the first time I started playing and how much it has improved since launch.

Quest team fighting raiders in Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter is a free to play mobile game developed by Bethesda Game Studios, available on iOS and Android devices, and now also on PC. It was also my first introduction to the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout as a game franchise, with its current flagship entry in the series being Fallout 4.

Fallout Shelter was released for iOS back in June 2015, and I remember there being a lot of buzz about it in my Twitter timeline. It looked fun to play, was available for download for free from the Apple App Store and came at a time when people were hotly anticipating the release of Fallout 4 in November 2015 and needed something to whet their appetites while they waited.

I had no experience with Fallout games back then, but Fallout Shelter captured my interest. Unfortunately, my old iPhone 4 was too underpowered to handle it. Tauntingly, it was able to download and install, but ran at painfully low FPS before stalling and crashing.

Gearing up to play

At the time, a new phone was just too expensive and my existing phone was working fine (just old and unable to handle newer, more demanding software). But while I was browsing options, I noticed that an iPad was only half the cost. I had desired to have a tablet device for some time and this was the tipping point. I bought an iPad!

I use my iPad for a lot of handy things – I’m writing this post on my iPad, for example. But the first thing I did when I turned it on and finished the setup process was download Fallout Shelter and start building my first vault.

Mobile liberation

It’s a surprisingly addictive game – partly because of its mobile nature which I hadn’t experienced since the old days when I had a Nintendo GameBoy (a first generation black and white version!). I was no longer tied to my desktop – I could take the game with me over to the couch or lie in bed playing or anywhere, which felt quite liberating.

The gameplay also engaged me. Building out my underground vault and caring for vault dwellers reminded me of both The Sims and Sim Tower, both old games I loved and was getting a nostalgic vibe from in Fallout Shelter.

The game also takes advantage of the mobile platform and can send you push notifications while in the background, giving you status updates. It reminds you about things like checking on your explorers who might have been out in the wasteland for too long.

Awkward situations

Populating my vault became a serious business of tracking the genealogy of my dwellers. My initial population had spawned families which were becoming so intermingled that I started a Google spreadsheet to keep track of their relations. I’ve only had one accident so far where I unintentionally moved a guy to a room with three other women and the gods of random chance decided to pair him up with his first cousin. Awkward.

Fortunately that no longer happens. A steady stream of new dwellers arrived from outside the vault, bringing my vault population to the maximum cap. Of course, this leads to a new awkward situation when someone new arrives and there’s no space left, resulting in me evicting anyone I don’t find useful or with a weird name. Harsh, I know.

Keeping it fresh

Since filling up my vault and building every room type available, with nothing left to progress on I stopped playing for a while and went back to regular gaming. But interestingly, development of the game continues. It’s now over a year old and it has received several updates. New room types, a crafting system, more variety in enemy attack types, for example. But the most recent update has included something impressive which I had to check out – a questing system which finally lets you follow your dwellers to new locations outside of the vault while they explore the post-apocalyptic wasteland!

There are even a few quest chains which are tied together with a loose storyline. It’s a fantastic addition which has injected a new life into the game. I’ve played through two quest chains so far, and will probably run out. But it seems like a feature that’s expandable. The developers could easily release more quest content in future updates to keep the game fresh.

Single player PC or console games usually get a few expansions or DLC packs to introduce new content and extend their shelf life. MMOs usually get continuous development, constantly needing new content refreshes. I guess the fact that mobile games also needed that shouldn’t have surprised me. Fallout Shelter, while free to play, includes microtransactions. These are mostly convenience and vanity purchases – you can buy crates of pets, robot servants or random loot boxes. None of these are mandatory – the cash shop is unobtrusive enough to ignore if you’re not interested and everything on sale is obtainable through normal gameplay – I’ve have quite a few pet crates and robots from quests.

Parallels

Before returning to Fallout Shelter for the questing feature update, I managed to get Fallout 4 and play through that game. It certainly explained a whole lot more about the Fallout universe and deepened my appreciation of some little things the games share which parallel each other. The familiar art style of Fallout Shelter and the iconic Vault-Tec Vault Boy. The musical jingles in Fallout Shelter and the 50s themed radio music in Fallout.

One of the most fun things I noticed was in Fallout 4’s Vault-Tec Workshop DLC, which lets you build your own vault similar to the way Fallout Shelter does. The vault dwellers will sometimes engage in conversation, and the lines they say are lifted right out of Fallout Shelter word for word. It made me chuckle hearing a line voiced in Fallout 4 that I recognise.

Some of the rarer dwellers you can encounter in Fallout Shelter are also characters from Fallout 4, such as Preston Garvey, Piper and even your faithful hound Dogmeat. There’s a lovely borrowing of things the devs have been able to work into both games.

Prepared for the future!

It’s been announced that the upcoming Nuka World DLC for Fallout 4 is the last planned to be released. So I don’t know how long Fallout Shelter will continue to be updated, or for how long it will continue to hold my interest. But right now, I’m enjoying it while it lasts. If new stuff should happen to appear in the future, I’ll certainly be prepared to give it some deserved attention.

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