Fallout shelter

Fallout Shelter Review


Last week I wrote about a game that uses mobile mechanics in some unexpected ways. But what happens when a more traditional game company brings its intellectual property into the mobile space? We got a good look at that a few days ago with Bethesda’s surprise release of Fallout Shelter.

Over the last few years, Fallout has gone from “iconic late-80s roleplaying game” (then called Wasteland) to a beloved franchise. It has a distinctive look and feel that parodies the nuclear paranoia of the 1950s while still providing challenging gameplay.

After several roleplaying games and a couple of tactical offshoots, the world of Fallout is rich enough to support almost any kind of game. It’s not too surprising that Bethesda came to mobile with one of the stalwarts of the platform: a builder game.

In Fallout Shelter, you are the Overseer of your very own numbered Vault. (Never afraid of a cliche, I unhesitatingly went to Tommy Tutone to get my number from the wall.) Starting with a few residents and a little power, food, and water, you collect Nuka-Cola bottle caps and spend them to build the facilities your adorable little Vault dwellers need to survive. Your Vault grows and more residents show up. Repeat building, growing, and fighting off the occasional giant mutant cockroach infestation until you get bored and move on to the next game.

Sheltering in Place

Standard stuff, right? The builder genre is well-established on mobile, and any professional game production team should be able to get the basics right. Bethesda… mostly does.

The game looks great. The Vault rooms are colorful, full of the objects and technology that you expect to see in the Fallout universe. The Vault dwellers are a diverse and likeable cast of characters. Someone wrote a lot of dialogue for them, and it’s fun to just sit in a room and watch their chat bubbles. The monetization system is unobtrusive, but offers plenty of  value to players who want to spend money. (Those who don’t can accelerate resource gathering with the Rush system, which is a nifty push-your-luck mechanic.)

Unfortunately, the game is also kind of dull. Once you get your initial group of Vault dwellers established, there’s a long waiting period before more show up. You need two dozen dwellers to get things cooking again, and the cheap and quick way to get there is to get everybody pregnant. Putting couples together in a dorm room is cute the first couple of times, but quickly gets Immortan Joe creepy.

Fallout Shelter
Hurry up, dear, the next couple
needs the room in 30 seconds.

Aside from that, there’s not much to do other than watch your Vault dwellers stand in one place doing the same animation over and over again. The best builders are like an anthill or aquarium; it’s fun just to see what’s going on. There’s not enough going on here to keep you engaged, but the short harvest cycles make you feel like you’re missing out if you put the game down and come back in a few hours. There’s no eight-hour crop to help you schedule and optimize your play of the game.

Fallout Marketing Tactics

There’s a lot of incentive for big companies to get into the mobile gaming space. Modern development software like Unity makes it easy to use assets in different games on different platforms, and a small team can leverage a popular existing IP into a mobile game with just a few months of work. A successful mobile game can dramatically change the fortunes of a game company or turn it into a major media company, and a game that’s just okay will still put the IP in front of hundreds of thousands or even millions of eyeballs.

Bethesda’s entry shows the path to mobile success is not that simple, though. Bringing the Fallout universe to mobile was a great idea, not least because it helps whet players’ appetites for the upcoming Fallout 4. But Bethesda is still new to the mobile game design arena, and as a result Fallout Shelter just misses the mark.

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