Game review: Fallout Shelter for Android

Let me begin this review with a bit of full disclosure: I do not like Bethesda games. I’ve given almost all of them a try because my husband buys them, usually even multiple copies so he can have one for his computer and one for our console. So yes, I give their games a trial run, and each time, what amazes me most of all is how very little effort they put into anything they do, and how very rabid the fan base responds to their games. “Game of the year!” they cry, despite the fact that a dozen other candidates come out with better graphics, game play, writing, stability… *takes deep breath*

So anyway, hubby found an app called Bluestacks that allowed him to download and play Fallout Shelter on his computer, and after playing it a few days, he said I should check it out. I watched him play, and because I’d been standing behind him for nearly an hour, he said, “It’s kind of hypnotic, isn’t it?” And it is, so I decided to download it and give it a try. What I found is a game that I simultaneously like and loathe at the same time. All the reasons I hate it can be summed up in the same way, that it’s a Bethesda game, and like all their games, they put just enough effort into it to make sure it didn’t crash constantly. But beyond that? Beyond that, it’s a wonky piece of shit.

I have a long, LONG list of complaints about this game, but I should get out of the way the things I liked, which were strong enough to keep me playing until I finally unlocked the Nuka-Cola plant, the last room you can build in your vault. For starters, I like the basic premise of building your own vault and either luring in dwellers or convincing your people to mate and make new dwellers. I like the gathering of resources, and as my hubby says, it becomes hypnotic to just click on items as they become available, or to ding through the various objectives assigned for the rewards of bottle caps (the game’s currency) or lunchboxes (the random loot crate that can be won for free or purchased for real money. More on that later, and on why you should NEVER give money for these boxes.)

I like the graphics, from the cute designs of the dwellers and their enemies to the rooms in their three levels of production quality. I like how detailed everything is when you zoom in close, and I like how the rooms have a kind of depth and perspective that changes as you move around the screen. I like the goofy conversations the dwellers have with each other and how the same questions or comments often have multiple responses to keep conversations from getting stale too quickly. If all the game involved was gathering resources and watching dwellers interact with each other, this would probably be the first Bethesda game that I grudgingly called good.

BUT, right off the bat, it must be pointed out that the controls are fiddly as fuck, and while this mostly isn’t a problem while playing the Sim-Vault resource collection game, soon the vault is being attacked, and then those controls are a pain in the ass. If I need to move the background around to find a specific room or dweller, I can be sure I will somehow grab a random dweller and drop them in a another room without meaning to. If I need to move a dweller to shore up my defenses quickly, I will see them highlighted sure enough, but then the background will move, and the dweller won’t. I can do this several times for the same dweller, usually up to the point where the situation has become dire and I’m losing other people in the next room due to the game’s refusal to let me drag one stupid motherfucker half an inch over.

Even in situations where I don’t need speed, the interface is a joke. As resources are made available, they flash big green icons over the room. But more often than not, tapping those icons actually selects the dweller underneath or on either side of it, or even more bizarrely, from the next room over, even if it shouldn’t be possible from that angle. I’ve even tried clicking the edge of a room with resources ready for harvest, only to select a dweller TWO ROOMS OVER. Each time this happened, I was reduced to baffled utterances of half words like “Buh wha da fuh?”

Rooms can be built as a single space to accommodate two workers, or they can be merged to allow you to add four or six people and in some cases double and triple production. I say some because the rooms for making Stim-Packs (health potions) and Rad-Away (mostly useless for everyone except people you send out of the vault) make exactly the same amount regardless of room size. As an added gotcha, the first of these rooms gives you storage for 15 items, while every room after that only gives 10. Upgrading these rooms does nothing to improve storage. Why? Fucked if I know.

For the other rooms, merging two or three rooms may be better for productive efficiency, but it puts you at a tactical disadvantage in any fight. This is because in a single room with two dwellers, when a threat enters the room, your people will generally stand on opposite sides of the room for most of the fight, making it easy to see their health meters and apply health packs as needed. In merged rooms, the extra space available to your dwellers is meaningless because they will always cluster up in one spot. This means that you cannot see the health of anyone but the guy closest to the foreground, and you cannot heal anyone but him either. While it’s true that death is forgiving and you can revive people for caps, that shit gets expensive in a hurry, and it’s aggravating to be unable to move people around just so you can heal the one dweller who desperately needs it. It’s like the game makers are actively trolling you with every fight.

Even in single-room fights, it’s possible to have people cluster up and prevent you from selecting one or the other. It’s also possible that the game will glitch and decide not to show the health of anyone in the room. Or it might glitch and not let you select anyone. Oh, and did I mention that when you click on someone, it might not select them at first? Yeah, so you have to click, check to see if they got selected, and click them again if it didn’t work. You might also have to do this while they’re moving, and you’ll go to click on them right as someone else runs in front of them and heal someone who didn’t need it. While you’re chasing around that poor schmuck, he’ll die, leaving you gurgling half formed cuss words.

I know I’m not alone is this anger because I can tell exactly when the same thing happens to hubby even from the next room. He starts growling and cussing for the same reasons, and I’ll walk over to see him fuming while his people hump into a clusterfuck in one corner of the room.

This game is a half baked piece of shit, nothing more, and nothing less. Until the last update was added, the equipment, stats, and level of dwellers was meaningless. A level 40 dweller with high stats and combat armor could be placed in a room with a level 1 dweller with flat stats and no armor, and they would lose health at the exact same rate. This game has been running for a while now, and no one reviewing it at release felt compelled to mention this glaring oversight? And yes, it works differently now, but that’s after I’d already been playing it for two weeks, and I’m coming to this game a lot later than most reviewers. That shit should have been fixed before it shipped, yo.

Let me say something else about my first two weeks in the game. Initially, I did the objectives given to me regardless of what they asked. Well they asked me to mate my dwellers over and over and over, and I couldn’t supply enough weapons to all those people. So when the death claws showed up, they ripped through my vault of defenseless dwellers and murdered everyone top to bottom. I spent hours earning the caps to revive everyone, and I’d just gotten back enough caps to think about adding a training room for all these dumb little dwellers when the death claws showed up again. I still didn’t have any guns to stop them, so I said fuck it and I started a new vault. That second time through, I got real fucking tired of the objectives. Get X dweller females pregnant. Deliver X dweller babies. Get X male and females couples to dance. (Because dancing is basically foreplay.) The game started to sound like a neurotic mother-in-law with a barren womb. “MAKE ME MORE BABIES! FUCK YOUR RATE OF SURVIVAL MAKE ME MORE BAAAAABIEEEEEES!!!!”

I did not move ahead in recruiting or making more people until I had a small cache of weapons, and wouldn’t you know it? Once you ignore the game and play it right, all the threats become meaningless because guns. Got any problem in life? More guns must be the answer. Why? Because guns, that’s why.

Oh, and the game’s tips on the loading screen are actively lying to you. Stats affect how your people do in the wasteland? No, not really. The longer a dweller spends in the wasteland, the better equipment they’ll find? Also bullshit. You can send a complete novice with no armor and no gun out, and they can luck out and find something awesome. You can spend days or even weeks fluffing the stats of a dweller and send them out at a high level, and after 48 fucking hours in the field, they’ll still be finding rusty B.B. guns. Hubby was particularly dismayed to find that after sending out his best guy for 50 hours, the biggest weapon he found was an ultra rare…armor piercing B.B. gun. Even the name is fucking trolling him.

Then there’s the sexism. It first became apparent when hubby found a “Mayor Suit” that could only be worn by men. He told me about that, and I said, “So, what? Women can’t be mayors? That’s kinda sexist.” At the time, though, I hadn’t been playing long enough to unlock any of these special outfits to know how far reaching the problem is. And it’s pretty fucking huge. Women can’t be ninjas, or wrestlers, or clergy, or royalty. There are women’s-only outfits as well, and they all look about like you’d expect. Which is to say stereotypically sexist. Hubby, hoping to quell my anger, said, “Well, but both men and women can wear the nightwear.” YEAH, ABOUT THAT. When men put on the outfit, it’s a full set of pajamas that cover everything but their head, hands, and feet. When women put it on, it’s a teddy and a fucking garter belt.

“But Zoe,” you say, “It’s only a costume.” That’s exactly my point. It’s just a set of clothing that magically alters the stats of the wearer. A clergy uniform is not supplied by a church. It’s just some shit one of your people found in a storage locker. So why can’t a women wear the clergy uniform? Why can’t they be a ninja, or a wrestler? Why can’t the dudes wear the dresses? It’s all just clothing, so what gives with the enforced sexism? And why the fuck does the same set of pajamas look so radically different on women than it does on men?

It gets worse, though, because women who become pregnant default to the behavior of children. When threatened in any way, they will run screaming from the room and hide in the nearest quarters. Were there even any women involved in the design of this game? And if yes, why didn’t any of them go, “Hey guys, some of these ideas are really bad”?

And the game is a sausage fest. In all the time I played, not once did I unlock any women characters from the lunchboxes. I know there has to be some because one of my friends online bragged about getting Amata as an early lunchbox draw. But in my game, and in hubby’s, I have never seen a woman character appear from a lunchbox.

In my game, not only did I fail to get any women out of the lunchboxes, but the few dwellers who arrived from outside were all dudes. I had three full generations of dudes come from mating, and at this point, I snapped and decided to form a militant matriarchy. I grabbed every last dude with a bald head or a comb-over, stripped them of guns and outfits, and sent their sorry asses naked into the wastelands to die. Then I set up a radio studio, and any time a dude showed up, I took him into the first room, turned his ass around, and sent him right back outside to die. If a dude was born who was bald or had a comb-over, I sent that poor bastard out to die. There’s only one guy I let back in because he survived with no health packs for 9 hours and managed to go from level 10 to level 25 while picking up an outfit and a great gun. His sheer determination not to die impressed me, so I called him back in and let him live.

Before I conclude this, I need to talk about lunchboxes, which are given randomly for completing objectives or can be bought for real cash. DON’T DO THAT. The ads in-game tell you that every pack is “guaranteed to contain a rare card.” Well my friends, 500 bottle caps counts as a fucking rare card, and while that shit might seem useful when you first open the game, by the end of your first week, 500 caps is motherfucking chump change, and it’s an insult that you might have paid real world cash for that shit. It’s no less aggravating when you get it for free, but at least then you aren’t wasting your money.

I need to stress this point. DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON LUNCHBOXES. The lunchboxes might very rarely have a really good gun or armor that would take you forever to find in the wasteland, but more often than not they give out food, water, Stim-Packs, Rad-Away, and caps. This is all shit you’ll produce on your own easily. If Bethesda had wanted to make buying these boxes a worthwhile investment, they should have made them drop only weapons, armor, and dwellers. That they added useless shit, and that 9 out of 10 boxes contain all useless shit, only helps to bolster my theory that the company is actively tolling its own fans. “Yes, please give us money. We guarantee you’ll find something rare…oh look it’s rare garbage! HAHAHA! Thanks, SUCKERS.”

I finally unlocked the Nuka-Cola plant, and now I’m shutting down the game and uninstalling it. I have zero desire to ever touch this hot mess again. I thought perhaps I might be alone in my feelings, but looking at the comments of several articles about the game revealed that this has left even dedicated Bethesda fans feeling more than a little “meh.” They have good reasons to feel that way. The basic premise of this game is good, but it’s thrown together with little thought, no depth, and with an obvious ploy to get people to open their wallets and be ripped off for their troubles.

To me, that makes it a typical Bethesda game. This is the company that releases a buggy mess with shit graphics and game play and lets the modding community fix their shit to make it playable. So am I surprised that their free-to-play game is shit? No. The only thing that’s surprising me is that the die-hard fans I expected to call it GOTY are instead going, “Wait, that’s it?”

I give Fallout Shelter 2 stars and all of my undying contempt. Play this if you are bored and waiting for something else to come out, but do not spend money on it and encourage these people to pursue this business model with another half baked piece of shit.