Friday, 14 August 2015

Preview: Fallout Shelter First Impressions (Android)

With the big release of Fallout 4 crawling slowly closer, Bethesda decided to give old fans and new players alike the chance to reply the classic older titles with the Fallout Anthology collection, but more surprisingly they have also released a mobile platform title called Fallout Shelter. Released back in June on iOS devices, Android users were forced to wait a whole 2 months to get their radiation ravaged hands on it.

So it is here now, released this morning and I have already put a few hours in so figured I should give a first impression of it. I am no mobile gamer, if anything on the most part I cannot stand mobile phone games but being a big Fallout fan I decided to give it a whirl and have been pleasantly surprised at the results.

As many mobile gamers may lament, most mobile platform titles are of a very specific type where you build things, set minions on tasks that can take a frankly insane amount of time if you don’t pay (I'm looking at you Simpson's: Tapped Out) and pretty much rinse and repeat the formula until you have built all the stuff. Fallout Shelter follows a similar route but with some major changes where they are most important.

First of all, once you install the game you do not need to be online to play it, this is a big change for the platform and being able to play offline means you won’t miss out on a crucial event due to not having 3G or WiFi connection, for me personally who only uses WiFi it is a big plus. The flip side of it being an offline title means things happen in real time when you don’t have the game open, bandits attack, fires break out and the balancing act of resources can fail without you even noticing. This adds a layer of a certain kind of excitement, you don’t know what has happened to your wasteland explorers or even their Vault until you open it.

Moving on to the biggest bane to the genre that Bethesda has fixed is the pay to win aspect. Most titles will force you to hand over real cash in order to speed up productions or to even have access to certain characters. Fallout Shelter does it differently, it gives you the option to buy lunch-boxes which give 4 cards and a guarantee that at least one is going to be rare or better. These lunch-boxes are at a fairly reasonable price of 77p each with reductions on bulk purchases, this tops out at £15.35 for 40 if you wish. Considering many similar titles will try to get you to pay in excess of £100 for similar items (Again, looking at you Simpson's: Tapped Out) Shelter does it at a bargain price. But the best part is you don’t NEED to buy these, you will be given plenty of them through challenges you complete and you have a decent chance of these rare characters just parking up outside you vault without a single penny being spent. Even better you get to speed up productions with a rush feature that rather than charging you, it simply adds a risk element that a disaster might strike by doing it, this risk is shown by a percentage before you accept the rush.

Next are the gameplay mechanics themselves, building up your vault is done in a way very reminiscent of XCom: Enemy Unknown where you use the caps that you have earned to buy new rooms, tacking them on with a tap on a grid. Building the same room in either pairs or 3 in a row will create linked and better versions allowing for better productivity. This leads to a slight although not difficult balancing act of creating rooms, bringing in new dwellers, having babies while managing your resources of Food, Water and Electricity. Expand too quickly and your rooms will start shutting down because of a lack of electricity, or productivity will go down because you don’t have enough dwellers to man those rooms. Bring in or breed too many dwellers and your food/water supplies will dwindle quickly leading to health loss of dwellers and an inability to defend themselves if an attack or disaster should strike. I personally am very much enjoying this balance without it buzzing every few minutes to tell me to open the game and collect those resources.

Dwellers can be sent out to explore the wasteland which results in them leaving your vault and a menu shows their progress, detailing their adventure with how many caps they have found, exp they have earned and their health, you can recall them at any time but the longer they explore the greater the rewards, and even if they die they can be brought back to life in exchange for large amounts of caps if you want. Keeping your dwellers happy is another part of your job as the vault overseer, this is easily completed by just watching what your dwellers talk about and taking the appropriate action to resolve their worries.

Graphically it is what you would expect for a game of it’s type with bold colours and cartoon like animations. This works pretty well but it isn't the prettiest game to ever grace a mobile screen. The highlight for me is the familiar Fallout styled loading screen.

Sound is much the same with little bursts of sound when dwellers level up, challenges are completed and resources are collected. When attacks and disasters happen music plays while you try to deal with it and occasional bursts of combat sounds make it minimalistic overall but enough to keep most people happy.

I have been playing on an LG G3 Android phone. I have found the performance to be nearly flawless when actually playing, but there is an occasional lag when tapping to see what my explorers are doing. The other performance issue is the loading screen when you open the game is fairly long for a mobile game. A couple of times when I had fully closed the app it took almost as long to load as I actually spent playing, hopefully this will be fixed with the future updates that have been promised.

A little tip for new players though is to make sure you quit through the menu when you are finished playing. If you just put it into the background like you would with most apps it will continue to play as if you were there. This can have deadly consequences if you return to find your vault a very unhappy place or worse your dwellers all dead. When the game is completely exited it stops resource use and collection, bandit attacks and disasters, however explorers in the wasteland will continue to explore, pregnant women will still give birth and their children will grow up to be productive members of the vault.

In conclusion I very much recommend giving Fallout Shelter a go, especially if you are a fan of the Fallout series on a whole, it is a small distraction that does the genre justice and will give many fans their little daily Fallout fix until 4 arrives in November.

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