Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fallout Shelter, a free to play done right

Fallout Shelter
Grade: C
Platforms: iOS, Android
Genre: Resource management

Site: http://www.falloutshelter.com/

Fallout Shelter is an excellent example of the often rightly hated free to play model done right.  It's also a fun enough little resource management game.

Made to help generate hype for the upcoming release of Fallout 4, Fallout Shelter is enjoyable on its own even for people who have never played a Fallout game, though presumably most people who download it are Fallout fans.  There's not much to the game, no real objectives beyond collecting all the costumes, weapons, and special characters.  Like many mobile games it is intended to be played in brief bursts, not over long period.  There isn't much difficulty.

The graphics are based off the classic Vault Boy design and have a nice cartoonish look that clashes pleasantly with the gruesome violence of the universe, just as the original Vault Boy design was intended to.

Gameplay consists of assigning the characters with the right attribute to the various jobs, balancing training attributes vs. producing resources, fighting off the occasional raider or deathclaw invasion, and dealing with random infestations of radroaches, molerats, or a fire breaking out, and sending properly equipped characters out to scour the wasteland for guns, costumes, and occasionally special characters.

Like many burst play style mobile games, Fallout Shelter has a timer attached to most events. To have even a roughly 1 in 10 chance at getting the extra special goodies from the national guard depot you must have a character exploring the wasteland for 60 real life hours, and then have them spend 30 real life hours trudging back to the vault.  Rooms produce resources at a rate that varies depending on the stats of the Dweller assigned to that room, but it ranges between slightly less than a minute and fifteen minutes.

Unlike most free to play mobile games, there is no way to exchange real world currency to sidestep those timers.

In fact, you can buy exactly two things with real life money.  The first is Mr. Handy, everyone's favorite hovering betentacled flamethrower armed robot, who will wander the floor where you place him collecting resources so you don't have to.

The other thing you can spend real money on is extra lunch boxes.  You can get lunch boxes through normal game play by completing randomly generated assignments.  The lunch boxes contain a tiny assortment of resources, and a rare or semi-rare character or item.  It's those last you really care about of course.  The lunch boxes you buy are superior to the ones you get through playing, purchased lunch boxes are guaranteed a rare character or item, while the ones you get through playing occasionally only have normal things.

The only major objection I have is that on the Android there is no pause function other than quitting.  When you switch away from the game it continues to run in the background, your vault dwellers continue to consume resources, but since getting resources requires you to tap the room where they are generated they quickly run out and starve if you forget to quit instead of just hitting the home button.  If you have a Mr. Handy on all the resource producing floors that's actually a kind of good thing, as you can let the game run in the background and stock up on things without having to bother with the tapping.  If you don't have a Mr. Handy then it results in unhappy vault dwellers, and possibly a deathclaw attack ripping through your vault and killing everyone.

Since it can take upwards of thirty seconds to a minute to load once you've quit, frequently quitting is annoying.

My biggest minor objection is that using stimpacks on your dwellers before they die during attacks is sometimes frustrating because they clump together making it hard to tap the right dweller. I suppose you could argue that's an intentional design choice to increase difficulty, I suspect it's just a mistake on the developer's part

Overall, it's a perfectly enjoyable way to kill a few minutes while you wait for the bus and I have no doubt that other fans of the Fallout series will enjoy the in jokes.  If you're like me, you'll become obsessed with collecting all the canonical characters available (so far all from Fallout 3 except for a couple of Fallout 4 preview characters, but doubtless New Vegas and 1 & 2 characters are on their way).

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