Fallout Shelter is something of an anomaly when it comes to mobile games. It says a lot about the current marketplace when the first things that pop into my head when I hear ‘mobile games’ are ‘low quality’ and ‘money grabbing’. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the game, produced by Bethesda, has broken away from the mold set by so many triple-A studios, and actually produced something worth recognition, at least by mobile gaming standards.
The game involves the player building and managing a shelter for residents seeking refuge from the harsh conditions of the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Once residents arrive, a randomized skill set will dictate which job they excel in, but ultimately the decision is up to the player based on their needs. As the shelter grows it will attract more residents which unlocks different rooms. And that’s basically it. There are additional elements to the game, such as sending out residents into the outside world to hunt for rare objects and playing match maker to increase your population, but at its core, it’s a ‘city’ management game.
The game starts out promising, initially providing the player with what appears to be a number of different directions to take. Unfortunately, the game does not progress far past this point. The complexity remains around the same and the new rooms unlocked for the most part, fail to induce much interest. The stagnating state of the game isn’t necessarily terrible (it doesn’t get worse), but a lack of evolution and innovation as the game progresses may be enough to lose a player’s attention after the first initial days of excitement have worn off.
There are benefits that come from being produced by a triple-A studio, and these benefits are evident in the graphics of the game. The game is easily one of the most detailed mobile games out there. Each room is rendered in beautiful 3D, but it’s the little details which make the rooms feel alive and overall pleasant to look at. Nothing is static, there’s always chemicals bubbling, generators spinning and people at work to watch in any brief periods of inactivity, making the game feel a lot more alive. What little music is there is enjoyable, capturing the Fifties style that Fallout is all about – but the game would benefit from more.
What Bethesda really deserves recognition for, is how the game handles micro-transactions. “Lunchboxes” are payable content in Fallout Shelter which come filled with resources, currency, rare items and special residents. A healthy dosage of these are given to the player at the start of the game to get the player going, but two things really separate Bethesda from other major publishers here. First of all, it is possible to obtain lunchboxes throughout the game without paying, albeit rarely, but it is possible. Secondly, they are by no means necessary; there are no natural blocks or time constraints put on the game which nudge you into paying money to get around. The game is perfectly playable completely for free, and a player won’t feel penalized for doing so in the slightest.
Ultimately, Fallout Shelter, originally intended as promotional material for their next big installment in the franchise, has ended up being a half decent game in itself. With any luck, Bethesda’s approach to mobile game design will rub off on other big name publishers who have previously shown their willing to slaughter beloved franchises in an attempt to make a quick dollar (we’re looking at you, EA).
The game may not be the most addictive addition to your games library, but it’s an honest, well planned out game.