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Bethesda’s Fallout series is all about the dropping of bombs, so it comes as no surprise that the developer would have a shell or two to unload during its presentation last night at the Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow. The biggest surprise of the night was Fallout Shelter, a previously unannounced free-to-play game for iOS (coming soon for Android) that has players overseeing one of the Vaults that housed the remnants of humanity after nuclear war turned the planet into an exciting and dangerous wasteland.
Continuing the shocks, the game went live immediately following the presentation, and it might just be the best free-to-play game out there.
What you’ll like
Running a Vault is rewarding, challenging, and deep
I never owned an ant farm growing up, but I get the feeling that if I had, Fallout Shelter would have reminded me of it.
You get a cutaway side view of the mountain that your Vault inhabits, and the first thing you do is start placing your inhabitants. Every Vault Dweller has their own strengths based on Fallout 3 and Fallout 4’s “S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” stats system, and each type of room in your Vault is tied to a specific characteristic. For example, the food-producing diner is an Agility-based room, so you want to put your most agile Dwellers to work in there for maximum output.
Of course, rebuilding society means that you have to grow your population. New residents will show up at your door randomly, you can build a radio room to attract them, or you can do things the old-fashioned way by placing two of your Dwellers into your living quarters to see if they hit it off. If they do, you’ll start to have children wandering around your Vault just waiting to mature into fully grown and productive members of your subterranean society.
Running a Vault means making a lot of interesting decisions, and it’s not just deciding where the kitchen should go. You can level up rooms to produce more goods, combine identical rooms into larger versions, level up parts of your Vault like the door to offer better protection from raiders, arm your Dwellers to defend their home, and even send people out to explore the Wasteland and gather resources. Your population will gain experience points and level up as they complete tasks, and all of this gets you more bottle caps (the in-universe currency) to expand and improve your compound.
It’s a ridiculously nuanced, addicting, and still easily managed system that has no shortage of stuff for you to do.
It’s actually free
Bethesda promised during the reveal that it wouldn’t hide any content behind a paywall; when you build something, it just appears. And that’s true. The only in-app purchases available are for optional gear, but you’re getting so much stuff all the time anyway that you never need to pay for anything.
You have to wait for your resources to generate, obviously, but you do have an option to speed up that process if you’re in dire need. And while most free-to-play games would use this as a money trap, Fallout Shelter sidesteps that by letting you use the rush option any time you want, but you have a certain probability of failure, which could lead to a fire or another mishap.
It’s nice actually playing a free-to-play game that lives up to the name without hiding content behind microtransactions and endless countdown timers.
The nuclear wasteland has never looked this cute
You’d expect people scraping to survive while the world withers and dies mere feet from where they live would be a little downtrodden, but Fallout Shelter draws its art style from Vault Boy, the optimistic Vault-Tec Corporation mascot from the main games. Everything is light and fun, and these characters are so incredibly cheerful that they even smile when they’re fighting off random infestations of radioactive cockroaches.
I mean, maybe that’s fun; I couldn’t tell you because Radroaches haven’t been invented yet.
Regardless, Fallout Shelter has charm and personality coming out of its perpetually smiling teeth, and it manages to incorporate itself into the main series while still standing as something entirely its own.
What you won’t like
The endless notifications may wear on you
If you own an Apple Watch, do yourself a favor an don’t let it mirror your notifications for Fallout Shelter. And while you’re at it, maybe turn the alerts off completely. Otherwise, it’ll bombard you with news every time you can collect resources, level up a character, and name a baby.
With notifications on, the game becomes needy and clingy, always clamoring for your attention. And that’s kind of the opposite of what a pick-up-and-play title should be. The whole point is that you pop in to harvest your stuff and take care of business, and then you leave again until you have another free moment to check in. It should be at your pace, and these endless updates get grating after a while.
But you can turn them off, luckily, and you should. It will make you like the game more.
Fallout Shelter is an endlessly engaging mobile title that gives you plenty to do without overwhelming you with menus and meters. It has both of those things aplenty, but you’re always in control. This game will charm you while challenging you, and while it may not be Fallout 4, it will definitely hold you over until November.
Fallout Shelter is out now for iOS.