Let me start out by saying this. I don't like time management games. These games rely on your notifications to make sure that you're there to collect your gold, crops, space-bucks, whatever it may be. Your phone buzzes, you pull it out, swipe a few times, tap a few times, and put it away again. It doesn't feel like a game to me. I'm not saying they are bad games, or that they aren't fun for some people, I just don't care for them. A few examples of these are Tiny Tower, Tiny Death Star, and Simpsons Tapped Out. That's just a few of them, if you load up the app store you'll find there are probably thousands of these. This is because they are so profitable, so they must be doing something right. The thing that they are doing right is the thing I hate most about them. They make you pay money to make the game play faster. Want to harvest your crops now? 200 gems, what's a gem, who knows but you get 42 of them for a dollar, so you don't really know how much you're spending without doing some math.
Imagine the eye rolling that must have happened at my house when I found out that Fallout Shelter was coming. Todd Howard had just done a real reveal of Fallout 4, he'd gotten us all giddy with excitement about visiting a vast open world of post apocalyptic Boston, and then he said, "We want you to visit this world right away.(paraphrasing) And showed us Fallout Shelter. I fully expected to be disappointed, but I decided to take one for the team. That means you. I played a free game so you don't have to. So that begs the question. Should you play it? I mean its free why not?
I can't think of a reason not to, the game is great. Let me explain why. First of all, let's start with presentation. The graphics are charming and memorable. I'm not sure how they did it, but when you zoom in, the background seems to zoom less or perhaps more, than the foreground, it really looks like its in 3D when you're moving it around. The sound is also great, The old-timey radio mixed with the sound of vault life are fun and unique. Put those together with the cha-ching of earning some currency a.k.a. bottle-caps and you've got some great presentation in this title.
You play as the Overseer, the man/woman in charge of a vault, an underground shelter built to keep people safe from the dangers of nuclear war. You're job is to keep your dwellers happy. Each dweller has Stats like Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. S.P.E.C.I.A.L for short. As the overseer it is up to you to give the dweller jobs that they excel at. No one wants to do a job they aren't qualified for (well except for politicians) So assigning someone with a high Strength to the Power generation room is a good idea. Each room as a statistic associated with it. Put the right person in the right room and you get a bonus. Put the wrong person in there, they will be unhappy and the room will generate less food/water/power/rad-away. The dwellers even have fun little conversations when you zoom in on a room. It is a nice touch, it doesn't add any thing to game play but its endearing.
Resource management is fun in this. I need to get enough power so I can run the diner and water treatment plant. I need to build enough houses to sustain a large enough population to build new rooms like the scientific research room which makes rad-away, helpful for explorers going into the wilderness. The problem is that increasing the population means I need more food/water production, which means I need to build a bigger power generator. Keeping all of these resources in balance while improving your vault is fun, and somewhat of a challenge. There are a lot of decisions to make and you could do just find playing multiple ways. This means that your decisions matter, not usually the case in the genre.
Now the problem with most of these game is they make things take forever to accomplish, unless you want to pay money. This is not the case with Fallout Shelter. If you want to make things happen faster you can do that for free. Rather than take your money for that, they make you manage risk. You can tap Rush to make a room finish generating its resource right away. The game will tell you the % chance to fail. If you fail, something bad will happen, but it doesn't cost you money. When Todd Howard said that the goal of Shelter wasn't to make money but to get people excited about Fallout 4, I believe him. Because of this mechanic is does become more about managing resources than waiting for cooldowns.
There is a lot more to the game than I've gone over so far. You also have to upgrade your rooms, defend your base from raiders, send explorers out into the wasteland in search of loot. I come to you as someone that does not like this genre. I'm here to tell you that this game is fun. That's not to say that I couldn't put it down for 12 hours or so, but I've played it a little every single day since the announcement, that's far more than I ever spent with other games in the genre. When I do pick up the game I often check it in between commercial breaks on Hulu to see if one of my dwellers has had a baby, or if my explorer is back from his trip into the wasteland. Do I have enough bottle-caps to buy the next room? Has anyone shown up that I can let into the vault and put to work?
So the over all question, if this game is free, and they aren't making you pay to rush things along, how has it become the highest grossing app in the app store? Lunch boxes. You can complete quests in order to get lunchboxes. Quests may be earn 300 water, or have 4 pregnant dwellers at the same time. Doing these will always get you bottle-caps, but sometimes will reward you with a lunchbox, which has very good rewards inside, perhaps a hefty sum of bottle-caps or a shiny new shotgun to equip a wasteland explorer. As overseer you can complete quests for theses lunchboxes or you can pay money for them. I won't pay money, and since they are just loot to make things easier (not faster) I don't feel like the game requires an investment of any kind.
Should you try it? Yes, its a blast, its got great graphics, the game really pops on my iPad screen, and they aren't going to nickel and dime you to death with in app purchases. Not only that, but they also don't inundate you with Facebook Twitter or Google plus messages. They could have easily added social networking in order to get the word out on this title, but they didn't. Bethesda made a really fun game, that is only increasing the hype for Fallout 4, so way to be Bethesda!