There’s a single moment of joy in Fallout Shelter. It comes right at the beginning, having freshly installed the game, when you relish the prospect of designing and maintaining your very own bunker. Give it a day or two, however, and you’ll feel like walking out into the wilderness and never returning.
The initial rush of inhabitants, bottle caps and reward-stuffed lunch boxes will slow the waning of that initial smile, but pretty soon Fallout Shelter reveals itself to be little more than a reskinned Tiny Tower, and a particularly incessant one at that. Starting with a vault door, a lift shaft and some basic living quarters, you must expand your compound while maintaining the happiness and health of those in your care.
Having enough to eat and drink, as well as not being irradiated, are all sources of cheer for dwellers, but they also prefer roles that suit their SPECIAL stat makeup. Someone with a high Agility rating is well-suited to working in the cafeteria, for example, while those full of Charisma are best assigned to a radio studio. The latter attribute also affects how quickly a couple are likely to procreate when placed in living quarters together – one of a handful of ways to increase the population of your shelter, and unlock new room types.
With only a few charges in your care, the brittle illusion of personality is maintained, but as soon as the population starts to spiral, you’ll quickly forget any affection and view everyone as a resource. Admittedly, so did Vault-Tec, but here people are dully reduced to a means to fill meters, and you’ll regularly be pestered to dip in and tap rooms in order to keep power, water, food and meds topped up. Fallout Shelter’s one innovation within F2P convention seems to be that you can rush a room for free and chance disaster for the payoff of nearinstant production. Fail, however, and you’ll have to deal with a fire or, illogically, a Radroach infestation.
There are also raiders to deal with, who’ll need to be quickly struck down because production ceases during an attack. While squishy at first, all violent threats escalate quickly, soon needing bullet after bullet before they’ll fall. These encounters were a good opportunity to introduce some gameplay into Fallout Shelter, but your influence only goes as far as arming dwellers and moving them to the room they need to defend.
Ironically, sending dwellers out into the wasteland is the most entertaining the game gets, if only for the haul of goodies and the logs that document their adventures. The wait for them to return is less thrilling, but it says much that reading those logs will make you pine to be out there with those brave few who can venture beyond the administrative purgatory of the vault.
You’ll spend a lot of time tapping on rooms and people, but there’s little else to do. While there are some familiar visual notes, it’s just wallpaper over the default free-to-play spreadsheet tripe that plagues the App Store