Why fan service isn't necessarily bad for a video game

Fallout Shelter is a free-to-play base building mobile video game in the famous Fallout universe. Although it could have been construed as a gnawing bone thrown by Bethesda to Fallout fans waiting for Fallout 4, it is actually a solid game even though it violates some universe laws.

I must admit, when I first heard about Fallout Shelter, I had mixed feelings. I love the Fallout universe and I'm okay with what Bethesda did with it in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. I have critics regarding the main plot of both games, but at least the universe in all its colourfulness was perfectly rendered. Still, Bethesda wasn't a name that rang like a mobile game editor, and I was afraid that it would be either a cash machine or a boneless fan service marketing stunt. fortunately, it turns out it's neither.

The setting

After a nuclear war, as a Vault Overseer, your role is to provide shelter, power, food and clean water to an ever-growing merry band or vault dwellers. But life underground isn't easy, and you will have to face resources outages, surface raiders, mutant cockroaches, fire and the unknown by sending scavengers outside on a regular basis. The game is in side-scrolling 3D with 2D sprites looking like the famous Vault Boy for the characters. Other than Power, Food and Water, you will have to manage your wallet full (or empty) of the bottle caps, the famous Wasteland money. This money allows you to extend your underground vault by adding rooms and elevators to connect the different levels.

The vault door breached by invading raiders

A solid and tough game

Drawing its inspiration from games like XCOM [fr], Simcity [fr] and FTL [fr], Fallout Shelter poses a certain challenge to even the most seasoned gamers. Until you grow to about 40-50 dwellers, resources are constantly dwindling when you are actively playing, random catastrophes ruin the precarious respite you somehow manage to scrap, and death, while not completely permanent, is frequently around the corner. Great freedom is given when it comes to organizing the layout of your vault. Namely, you are given the choice of creating small rooms yielding quickly small amount of resources, or combining them to increase the production amount but in significant bigger periods of time, or upgrading them once or twice to save on space at a cost.

Meanwhile, your dwellers are hard at work in the rooms where you assign them, but the happier the better, and their faces will tell you their mood. Each character has numbered stats (following the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck) which deem him fit for a certain kind of room. Charismatic people will fare better in the Radio room, strong people will work wonders in the Power Generator. Later in the game, you can assign dwellers in unlockable specialized training rooms to increase the corresponding stat. The pinacle of the game is reached at 100 dwellers with the unlocking of the last available room, but the never-ending objectives allow the perfectionists to collect rare weapons, outfits and dwellers like a sticker album.

The deviations from the original universe

Of course, Fallout Shelter isn't supposed to be "canon", as in a reference for the universe the way the original Fallout games were. But for the true fans around, here are the details that struck me as departing from the original universe:

  • The money used in the Vault-Tec vaults still are dollars, not caps
  • The S.P.E.C.I.A.L values for most dwellers are absurd. Scaled from 1 to 10, the average human is set at 5. Normal dwellers oscillate between 1 and 2 in each stat, which would render them useless according to the different games' rules
  • Vault were built before the Third World War and before being occupied
  • The Nuka-Cola bottling factories, the ultimate room to unlock, are only found above ground
  • There are no known instances of a running vault sending and welcoming back scavengers
  • There are no known instances of a running vault fending off a raider attack

There, it's off my chest now. However, these don't prevent Fallout Shelter to be a nice honest game, somewhat hard, especially for a free-to-play mobile game, while avoiding the common pitfalls like paywalls and absurdly big countdowns. In the end, it's fun to earn and spend caps, even as a Vault Overseer, being able to build a Nuka-Cola bottling plant is a Fallout fan dream coming true, and raider attacks are the true test of the good management of your vault.

Living the dream

This summer, the action is underground

8/10 Very good

While not accessible to the most casual players around, Fallout Shelter is a recommended pick for established Fallout fan or fan-to-be, providing a real challenge, good graphics and witty dialogs between dwellers.

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