Versus Series: Fallout Shelter PC VS Mobile

While I haven’t been playing many new games lately, I have still been playing a lot. To give an idea how much, I had to buy a paint pen to redraw the button letters and symbols for both my PC controller and my PS4 controller because I wore the old ones off. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to play newer games like Elden Ring, either. It’s just that right now, my PC’s graphics card can’t handle newer games, and the bare minimum card is priced just a hair over 700 euros. (Thanks, crypto-bros.) On the PS4, I’d have to get PS-Plus, and we’ve managed to have a financial disaster every single month for a year and a half. The latest is an eye infection that almost blinded my dog, and who now needs weekly visits to the vet to make sure she won’t need surgery.

So…no PS Plus, and no money for a graphics card has me playing my older games, quite often to answer random questions that I hadn’t considered before. For example, what happens if I “kill everyone” in Fallout New Vegas? (The answer is kinda meh, as lots of NPCs respawn after a set number of days, doing anything even remotely nice breaks each faction’s karma system to the point where they don’t react to being massacred, and Mr. New Vegas doesn’t have any scripted content for the rapidly vanishing population aside from Benny, Mr. House, and Caesar. Even the ending is broken, with the narrator praising The Courier for building a “truly independent New Vegas” before the faction montage proceeds to list all the casualties.)

This kind of experimentation led me to start playing certain games together to answer the question, which is better? For this first entry in the series, I got started playing Fallout Shelter on my phone, and after a couple days, I wondered how it compared to the PC version. One download and two rage quits later, I have an answer, and…the results may surprise you.

Let’s just get the clickbait answer out of the way with super speed, yes? Yes. The mobile version, with its ad-incentivized features, is hands down the better version of the game. I can’t even believe I’m writing this because I normally consider ads to be the bane of the entire mobile gaming market. I very much prefer paying for a game to get rid of ads, only now the latest scam is paying a monthly fee to lose the ads rather than a single payout. And yes, paying Google or Apple for their curated games also counts as part of the scam. Both companies created this toxic market, so them asking for money offering a solution to a problem they invented is the very definition of a scam.

Setting that aside, Fallout Shelter’s implementation of ad-services is the least aggressive, most optional offer I’ve ever seen. What’s more, the ads give tangible incentives to take that 20-30 seconds watching the usual shovel-ware ads. There’s one ad option that refreshes every five hours which will gift players with caps, loot boxes in three flavors (lunchboxes, pet carriers, and Mr. Handy units), or Nuka Quantum. It’s that last option that really begins to pay off with just a few ads, because with a steady supply of “fast forward juice,” it’s possible to bypass a lot of the game’s most tedious timers. Need to speed up a new dweller’s training? Use some Quantum. Want to skip the wait and get right into a quest? Quantum. Need a new gun in a rush? Quantum.

The constant influx of caps also means there’s no boringly slow wait times to build new rooms. On the PC version, I had to wait whole days to get the funds to build and upgrade a clinic, just so I could start making Stimpacks. On the mobile version, I had that and the science center to make Rad-Away up and running on the first day. The difference in time saved is massive.

There is another ad on tap for vault dwellers exploring the wasteland, an actual fast forward button that speeds up their progress by thirty minutes. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can often result in explorers picking up an extra gun or outfit just by watching an ad. And again it’s optional, so if you’d rather not bother with the offer, you can happily ignore it.

Those are the main ways the games are different, and both versions had implemented some changes that I had highlighted in my original review. For one thing, in the original release, any raid in the vault made dwellers lose health at the same rate, regardless of their level or Endurance level. Now each dweller takes damage slower or faster depending these factors. I admit it’s still ridiculous that everyone in a room is losing health to, say one radroach, but it’s still a big improvement that makes upgrading SPECIAL stats more meaningful.

Another welcome change is that armor actually seems to do something, both during vault raids and in quests. Before, the difference between a vault suit and power armor just felt like a costume swap, but putting someone in that armor now will greatly mitigate health loss. It’s a pity that so much of the best stuff is lock away in blueprints, because I want to dress all my people in the sturdy versions of their uniforms, and I still haven’t found the plans for any of them on either mobile or PC.

One problem that I had with the game is also still present in both the PC and mobile versions. Clicking or tapping on a vault dweller is supposed to pop up a card with their stats and equipment, but that may not work in one of two infuriating ways. Sometimes, when trying to click on one dweller after another to administer Stimpacks, I will often have to click them twice to get their card to pop up. More infuriating than that is how often a click will move the camera across and down just slightly enough that it’s interpreted as a command to send the dweller to the floor below, and also sending someone up from the corresponding room. To fix this room swap, I have to send one dweller to a living quarters or warehouse, send the other back to the proper room, and then return the displaced dweller to their assignment. This happens at least once per session, and has occurred multiple times in sessions to the point of causing curse-filled rants. It’s seriously the worst part of both games.

I mentioned at the start that I ended up rage quitting the PC version twice, and both times were for the same reason. One of the loading title cards states, “Leaving a dweller to explore the wasteland longer will result in them finding better gear.” THIS IS A LIE. I have left people out exploring for forty-eight fucking hours, only to have them return with the same shitty rusty b.b. guns and .32 pistols. The real way to get better gear is by crafting it or by going on quests. On the mobile version, having that steady supply of Quantum meant that when the raids got progressively harder, my dwellers had the appropriate gear to manage their disasters. On the PC, most of my people still had shit guns as the raider parties gave way to feral ghouls, and then to deathclaws.

But the cherry topping that sent me running away from two separate vaults was the radscorion raids. This a two part problem, with the first being how the game prioritizes Stimpacks over Rad-Away. As the radscorpion attacks, it deals massive radiation damage, which is implemented in the Fallout 4 style. The health bar turns red, covering up the green health instead of being a separate meter like in Fallout 3 or New Vegas. This would be fine if the game requested Rad-Away first, but it instead pops up a symbol for the Stimpack first, then Rad-Away, and then asks for another Stimpack. This massive drain on resources is compounded because radscorpions have a ridiculously high pool of health. They can wander through as many as four rooms per raid, and with each room having four to six people, trying to make it through one raid can mean losing an entire supply of Stimpacks. Just when I get half of my supplies back, hey look, it’s another radsorpion raid. I got to the point where I would load the game to check on a quest timer and INSTANTLY trigger another radscorpion, and so in both vaults, that was the point when I said, “No, fuck this, fuck Bethesda, and fuck everything!”

By comparison, my vault on the mobile version is simply better equipped to handle all threats, including the reviled radscorpion. Only the newest arrivals to the vault have crap guns, and my definition of crap is raised to assault rifles and enhanced shotguns. On both the PC vaults, well over eighty percent of my folks were still using repeating rifles and sawed-off shotguns. The slow, slow drip feed of junk made it damn near impossible to craft better weapons, and the fucking timers for gear crafting is criminally offensive. (No, nine fucking days for a single laser rifle is not acceptable, especially when I have to suffer through raids every five minutes, hobbling along with dwindling resources and watching explorers return with another thirty shit guns.)

So the conclusion to this first experiments is a shocking endorsement of the ad-incentivized version. While I normally consider ads an invasive menace to gaming, in this one very specific instance the loot provided by accepting the ad bribes actually makes the game fun because I’m spending more time playing, and less time watching timers trickle my life away for no good God-damned reason. Yeah, games are by definition time wasters, but there is good time wasting, and there’s watching an actual timer count down, the whole time wishing you could be doing something fun. The mobile version, with its generous offers of Nuka Quantum, ensure that you can have that fun and skip the timers all the time. So get that vault on your phone, and play the game the way it should be played, instead of suffered through.