Fallout Shelter : How To Progress and Keep Your Sanity

How ironic that the long history of Bethesda Softworks should come down to this point. Recently bought by Microsoft, its future is uncertain but almost assuredly not up to its potential. Having tumbled through a series of lucky accidents since the 1980s, it always had a main franchise to anchor it. This was the Elder Scrolls series, and later the Fallout series, which basically piggy-backed on the former game’s engine. Later after that, they inherited the Doom / Quake crown when they bought id Software.

All that begat the mobile platform casual game Fallout Shelter, which has since become the company’s last major accomplishment. Given the handicaps on the rest of Bethesda’s works – poor portability, buggy even after patches and updates, troubled launches and controversies like Fallout 76 – this mobile game might turn out to be Bethesda’s most enduring legacy. It’s certainly the most accessible, since it’s free.

Fallout Shelter Overview:

Fallout Shelter is currently ported to iOS, Android, XBox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC on Steam. Typical for a Bethesda game, it breaks many genre boundaries. It’s best described as a simulator / management game, where you manage an underground shelter (called the “vault”) housing a colony of humanity in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. It has elements of tycoon games (building, planning, and managing resources) but also RPGs (your minions can get outfitted and go out on quests).

Since every new game begins with an annoying unskippable tutorial, you get railroaded through your first few choices. Try to resist against the cookie-cutter way the game forces you to lay things out, because you may even want to tear this part out and rebuild it later.

Fallout SPECIAL Stats

The Fallout stat system is a slightly modified version of the standard RPG stat set-up. You have these stats which have the following uses in assigned jobs:

  • Strength – Power generation, and best fighters
  • Perception (AKA wisdom) – Water treatment
  • Endurance (AKA constitution) – Bottling Nuka-Cola, additional hitpoints, make the best explorers
  • Charisma – Radio broadcasting and mating
  • Intelligence – Science lab and medical bay
  • Agility (AKA dexterity) – Kitchen diner and gardening
  • Luck – Just a general affinity for earning caps and succeeding at a Rush

This is arranged to spell the acronym “S.P.E.C.I.A.L.,” (you’re so very special, but I’m a creep…) but if you substitute the AKAs I put up there the system is exactly the same as any six-stats RPG template with “luck” thrown in just for the heck of it.

Characters (called “dwellers”) are “rolled” first with random stats, usually a few extra points allocated here and there. They can train skills to add stat points and can also be granted stats from their equipment. Dwellers also come in three ranks:

  • Common – 12-13 stat points, your basic starting grunts
  • Rare – 28 stat points, acquired through later events or pulled from Lunchboxes
  • Legendary – 40 stat points, awarded by special quests or breeding pairs of exceptional dwellers, or acquired from Lunchboxes

Regardless of their starting status, all dwellers can be improved by training. In addition to the base stats, dwellers always have a happiness quotient, a health bar, and a general ranking level.

So let’s talk about those jobs…

Fallout Shelter Rooms

The rooms are what your vault is made of, so plan them carefully. Over time you will need a good balance of rooms to provide stable function levels. Be careful not to overbuild, because rooms left empty tend to attract disasters. Most rooms can be expanded to 3 sections wide and later upgraded. Rooms can be categorized by function, thusly:

Utility rooms – Required for vault function.

  • Vault door – You get exactly one, always on the top floor at ground level. Staff your two most butch fighters with their best weapons here to guard against invading raiders.
  • Elevator – Chained together to make elevator shafts. You will want two elevator shafts eventually as your vault builds up, to provide maximum mobility.
  • Overseer’s office – An unoccupied room which serves as your mission control room for quests. Unlocked at 18 dwellers.
  • Living room – The amount of living room space you have determines your maximum dweller capacity, even though dwellers will rarely spend time here.
  • Storage room – Just increases your inventory. Unlocked at 12 dwellers.

Production rooms – Necessary resources for the vault’s survival. Note that power, water, and food can only be capped at your max facility’s storage limit, so building an extra square or two of these can increase your storage capacity, preventing service disruptions.

  • Power generator / Nuclear reactor – Makes and stores power. Start with the former, unlock the latter at 60 dwellers.
  • Diner / Garden – Produces and stores food. Start with the former, unlock the latter at 70 dwellers.
  • Water treatment plant / Water purification plant – Creates and stores potable water. Start with the former, unlock the latter at 80 dwellers.
  • Nuka-Cola bottling plant – Supplies both food and water needs in one room, unlocked at 100 dwellers.
  • Medbay – Produces Stimpacks for health maintenance, unlocked at 14 dwellers.
  • Science lab – Produces RadAway packs for radiation treatment, unlocked at 16 dwellers.
  • Radio studio – Dwellers working here attempt to entice passing survivors into joining your vault, unlocked at 20 dwellers. Also ambiently increases your dwellers’ happiness slightly.

Training rooms – Rooms for your dwellers to work out so they increase stats. You start unlocking training rooms at 24 dwellers and unlock the final one at 45 dwellers.

  • Weight room – Trains strength.
  • Athletics room – Trains agility.
  • Armory – Trains perception.
  • Classroom – Trains intelligence.
  • Fitness room – Trains endurance.
  • Lounge – Trains charisma.
  • Game room – Trains luck.

Crafting and customization – Nice stuff to have, but not essential to start.

  • Weapon workshop – Crafts weapons. Unlocks at 22 dwellers.
  • Outfit workshop – Crafts clothing. Unlocks at 32 dwellers.
  • Theme workshop – A place to customize your vault’s rooms’ appearance. Unlocks at 42 dwellers.
  • Barbershop – A place to customize your dwellers’ appearance. Unlocks at 50 dwellers.

There’s a few frustrating aspects of the Fallout Shelter room plan which you will have to play around:

  • Primary production rooms (power, food, water) need to be tapped to harvest their resources. They aren’t just “set and forget.” Later you do get a bot which helps with automatic collection, but only a couple of these which service one floor each.
  • Raiders attack from the vault door and proceed down through the vaults until they are stopped. Thus, you want your most prepared fighters up front. That means you should avoid placing production rooms at the top since this will disrupt resources. But rooms ideal for acting as pseudo-guard rooms, like the training rooms, aren’t unlocked until later.
  • Living quarters are a liability. You won’t have dwellers hanging out here unless you’re mating and having babies, so it will be empty space asking to catch on fire or breed radroaches later. You want living rooms broken up so that there’s a nearby occupied room to help fight emergencies. You also want to leave space to expand because, duh, you can’t max out dwellers without them. And you don’t want these in the way of an invading raider team because pregnant dwellers flee here to hide.
  • Thus, all the rooms you want to keep lower are the rooms you start out with, so you want to shaft down a couple levels when you’re starting out, then backfill the top floors with more advanced rooms later.
  • Your production rooms also serve other rooms based on proximity, so you don’t want them all huddled at the bottom either.
  • Generally, you never want to have just solid floors of any one room function.
  • You NEVER want two or more adjacent empty rooms. This allows hazards like fire, radroaches, radscorpions, and mole rats to spread.

On the other hand, vault layout is intended as one of the challenges of the game, so it’s fair that it would work as a kind of puzzle. There’s as much theory to it as any other strategy factor. Here’s one guy’s layout for an example:

Setting priorities in Fallout Shelter

You may not want to build every single room as soon as you get it. Surely the cosmetic rooms (theming and barber) can come dead last, after you get the necessities taken care of.

The crafting rooms are a minor priority because the crafting system is a royal pain and barely worth the effort compared to running quests and earning Lunchboxes. Nearly everything that you can craft can be found on quests eventually. Furthermore, crafting items requires raw ingredients (“junk”) scavenged from other resources, and blueprints (“recipes”). Say you want a hardened shotgun; that takes 3 duct tape, 3 globes, 2 fans, 250 caps, and at least 2+ hours in-game time to craft – not to mention staffing the weapons workshop with 6 dwellers selected for endurance (yes, dwellers with different stats are adept at crafting different items).

Or you can send somebody out to explore and they’ll trip over one and bring it home. Or pull one from a Lunchbox, it’s only a rare. You get a steady stream of Lunchboxes just for clearing objectives.

Training rooms can also be categorized as a luxury, because a dweller in training isn’t doing anything else productive. You do want some training because that’s how you level up stats, but likely just want to start with a couple small rooms devoted to this purpose. Remember that empty, unused space breeds pests who can invade and destroy your vault.

Now about that radio station: It does attract new dwellers… and it ALSO attracts enemies! It will attract raiders and later deathclaws too. If you’re getting pounded by constant attacks, shut down the radio until you have your team trained up and better equipped to handle invasion.

Likewise, there’s a couple other pitfalls with leveling up. Leveling up rooms make them more efficient alright, but also makes them attract stronger threats (rats and roaches). Leveling up your dwellers earns caps and makes them stronger, but when threats start appearing, they will be stronger to match the level. Pace both of these cautiously so you don’t get overwhelmed.

You do not need an Overseer’s office to start sending dwellers out to explore. As soon as you have a dweller with nothing to do, swap people around until your highest endurance dweller is free, then send them out exploring. You want somebody exploring constantly. Be sure to call them back within 90 minutes so they don’t die, then heal them up and send them out again. Later have teams of explorers, one always heading out while the other is returning. You will need these dwellers on quests anyway.

You almost never want to scrap a weapon or an outfit. Outfits can increase stats to make dwellers more efficient at their tasks, and you want your entire population armed. The only time you want to scrap a weapon is if it does just 1 damage, because even bare fists do that much.

SPOILERS: A Very Light Fallout Shelter Walkthrough

Use this for a general progress template. It’s important to pay attention to how many dwellers you have (shown in the upper left corner green gear) and your progress in other matters. That’s because certain events only happen after certain populations are achieved. We’ll cut this into breakpoints by head count:

1-to-15 Population

At your beginning, you will get a handful of about 6 to 7 dwellers right away for the tutorial, plus more stragglers showing up at intervals of a few minutes each. Dwellers who will be useful in production can go right to generating power, water, and food. The rest should be equipped as best as you can provide and sent out to scavenge. Remember that explorers are not in the vault consuming food and water.

You will not get any raiders until pop 16, so use this time wisely and take as much time as you need. You don’t have to worry about guarding the vault door. Pile up as much stuff as you can, sort things out to where everybody is geared with the best possible weapons and equipment.

At population 14, build a Medical bay and start cranking out Stimpacks. You will now be able to send your explorers out for longer stretches of time – they find better gear the longer they are out – and heal them up when they get into mishaps. However, you will still have to keep an eye on their radiation levels, which can’t be repaired until you get RadAways but can decrease over tiem spent recovering in the vault. Stay below 16 population for as long as you can.

16-to-35 Population

As soon as you unlock them, build a Science lab to make RadAways, and a Quest Overseer room to begin manning quests. This is a fragile time because you will also need to deal with regular raiders. Keep your strongest fighters at the vault with your best weapons. Raiders at this level will be too weak to deal much damage and will drop some equipment and caps for your resource pool.

Do not bother with the radio station at pop 20 nor the weapons workshop at pop 22. The radio station will attract more enemies, and the weapons you will be qualified to craft right now are peashooters compared to what you can haul in from exploring, quests, and Lunchboxes. Instead, breed more dwellers using the bedrooms. Keep a couple high-charisma outfits around to equip onto the current lucky couple, which will speed up the process.

Begin gingerly doing quests, picking only those that suit your relatively low abilities right now.

From population 24 to 35, build training rooms as soon as you unlock them and start training your dwellers. You will want to again pause for a long hiatus at population 35, because 36 begins to unlock bigger and meaner enemies. Population 35 will allow you to train the most important stats anyway, everything but charisma and luck. Rotate between training, quests, exploring, and maintaining the vault until you have some high-level dwellers and heavy duty equipment ready to greet the Deathclaws beginning from population 36.

36-to-49 Population

Now you will start getting Deathclaws instead of ordinary raiders, so from here it feels like an uphill battle. Pack your toughest marines up front to repel the attacks, and make sure to stay stocked up on Stimpacks. This is also why training was important up to this point; you will easily be able to conquer shortfalls in production by rushing rooms, which will be more successful with higher-stat dwellers.

You should also be seriously up into your mid-level quests. This is the part where you can devote some thought into building that Radio station and crafting stations. If you can stand up to the Deathclaw raids, you have no further worries, while you should have enough junk, blueprints, and trained dwellers accumulated to make crafting weapons and outfits worthwhile.

50-to-100 Population

RadScorpions become your new nemesis. Be advised that they drain power while attacking your base, so have a plan to vanquish them as soon as possible. If you have a trained-up and well-armed population and never leave two empty adjacent rooms, they should be a cakewalk.

You can start crafting rare gear at pop 55, so your crafting stations should definitely be online by now. Advantages from crafting begin to pile up fast, letting you carry out more quests and continue expanding your vault. At 75 pop you can start crafting legendary gear, and it’s smooth sailing all the way until population 100 when you unlock Nuka-Cola.

After population 100, you can almost consider the game beat. You will meet some tougher boss fights at the end of some quests, but outside of that you’re leveling off the challenges. Enjoy the quick trip to population 200, which is where you are now capped.

Final Thoughts

It’s not that the game is deliberately set up to be hard, but try to avoid making bad decisions that will cost you just to clear an objective. They do offer DLC and Lunchbox bonuses for cash after all, so they want to motivate you to spend money. However, this guide is written with the assumption that you will not spend a dime. Just play through the daily grind.

Fallout Shelter balances between idle play where you check in once per day, and engaged play when you’re building up the vault or clearing quests. It is mostly a management sim. Be a benevolent overseer to your little surviving band of humanity, and they’ll stay happy and productive for you.