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5 Tips For Surviving Fallout Shelter Survival Mode

by Katy Preen 7 months ago in pc

Or just the regular game if you’re a n00b.

Fallout Shelter is one of the best desktop mini-games available. It’s fun, challenging and infinitely replayable. Plus there’s no pressure to actually spend any money on it. No, all this game will take from you is precious, precious time. And time is money, so… this game will probably make you poorer anyway. But it’s so much fun – so are you really worse off for wasting your life on it?

It has that cheery, wholesome Vault-Tec sheen that belies a dark and ruthless interior, and it’s still suitable for most ages. That’s how to prepare for the nuclear apocalypse – get ‘em started young. I didn’t start playing it until I was 32 – an age I’d be unlikely to reach in the Fallout universe – and I was totally rubbish at it. But practice made perfect, and I’m now an expert in Vault resource management.

It wasn’t easy getting to my superior level of competence, though. I played on Easy Mode for ages (literally a number of years) before I was ready for Survival Mode. I tried it a few times, but it would always end up with my whole Vault dying before I got to 20 Dwellers, and I never reached any of the more engaging elements like Quests and Dweller training. While there’s an element of ‘losing is fun’ to this game, it’s also really annoying to not be able to get on to all the exciting stuff like Quests and crafting because everyone dies before they get to fulfil their potential.

So I stuck to Easy Mode and I did alright. But of course I got bored after a while. It was too easy, and Survival Mode was too hard. Literally no happy medium. I needed to figure out ways of getting my Vault past the initial hurdle I was hitting every time. After many, many hours playing this game, I came up with five strategies to get your Vault properly established, and hopefully sustainable. No more head-desking from boredom or frustration – here are five ways to keep your Vault running and your dwellers alive.

1. Keep your women barefoot and pregnant

In the Fallout universe, it’s the survival of the fittest. And there’s so much out there (and in the Vault) that can kill you, there’s no time to dismantle the patriarchy. Due to your Dwellers’ short life expectancy, you’re going to need a lot of replacements. And so your female Dwellers have to become incubators as well as devoting 100% of their energies to the welfare of the Vault.

This is even more important in Survival Mode, and while you’re building your Vault up it requires a constant state of pregnancy for anyone with a womb. But there are additional benefits to this exhausting breeding programme, besides the availability of new Dwellers to step into their recently-deceased predecessor’s roles.

No wonder they look so miserable.

Pregnant Dwellers are immortal for the duration of their pregnancy (as are child Dwellers, until they become adults). They achieve this by running off and hiding at the first sign of trouble. This is definitely a survival strategy I can get on board with. Only the brave menfolk and the unimpregnated are left to clear up the mess, and if everyone in your Vault is pregnant the whole thing can burn down and everyone survives!

As soon as you begin your Vault, you must get your Dwellers into the bedroom, as you’ll need new residents quickly. The occasional wanderer might stop by at the start of the game, but in the long run you’ll have to assist the process along a bit to keep your Vault numbers up. Don’t worry about compatibility; if you leave male and female Dwellers in the Living Quarters for long enough, the magic will happen!

If a new Dweller does appear, they will provide valuable genetic diversity to your Vault. Even Vault-Tec isn’t screwed up enough to allow inbreeding. Yes, I have checked. My excuse is that it’s difficult to keep track of all these Dweller relationships and who’s related to who. There’s definitely a role for a Vault Genealogist.

The only problem with breeding Dwellers (that’s relevant to this article, I mean; there are a whole load of issues with operating a human farm) is that if they spend too much time getting jiggy, Vault resources run down as there’s no-one to produce food, water and power. Vault Dwellers like it with the light on, so you have to at least keep the power running while they’re getting some action.

2. Don’t fear the wasteland… in small doses

You probably feel apprehensive about sending your first Dwellers out into the Wasteland straight away, and with good reason: it’s mega-dangerous out there. Unfortunately, it’s also necessary.

In Survival Mode, your Vault will be subject to more frequent attacks, and you need some decent weaponry to fight them off, pretty much from the start of the game. There’s only a few ways you can get hold of weapons – from Lunchboxes, the corpses of Raiders and while exploring the Wasteland.

You could craft yourself some weapons, but you’ll need Junk for that, and guess what… yes, it can only be found in Lunchboxes and in the Wasteland. So however you go about arming your Vault, you’ll need to get out in the open – and quickly – to pick up precious and deadly items.

On day one, you’ll have a bunch of Level 5 Dwellers carrying crappy guns. That’s still better than no weapons, so don’t feel bad about sending one of your Dwellers out with a BB gun. But don’t leave them out there for too long. As your dwellers level up, acquire new skills and find better weapons and outfits, you can send them out for longer.

Good luck - you're going to need it.

The idea is to go little and often at the start of the game, slowly extending the time you leave Dwellers out for. Of course, at the beginning of the game you’ll be sending out these first Dwellers without any Stimpaks or Radaways, so you’ll need to monitor them closely. It’s difficult to keep track of them, but it has to be done. You can’t take your eye off the ball - a brief distraction can be deadly, and Dwellers in the Wasteland are still vulnerable if you log out of the game (more on this in No. 5 below).

It’s OK to send a Dweller out for even just a few minutes – sometimes you get lucky and they’ll find something valuable early on in their Wasteland adventure – and it’s probably worth sending them back straight away, because Dwellers, especially low level / S.P.E.C.I.A.L. ones, can deteriorate quickly. And before you’ve realised it, they’re dead and all their collected goodies are lost – because death is permanent in Survival Mode! You can always send Dwellers back out if they come home early, anyway.

95% of accidents happen in the home, and it’s true that the Vault is a dangerous place. But at least you can keep an eye on your Dwellers there. In the Wasteland, you don’t know if a Dweller is in trouble unless you check on them.

3. Optimise your Vault for Dweller safety

The layout of your Vault can save Dwellers lives… or condemn them to an early grave. Incidents spread to adjacent rooms if not dealt with swiftly (and if you’re planning on running away from danger, you’ll be leaving chaos behind you for others to clean up). But they will only spread if they are horizontally or vertically next to other rooms. If you build your Vault in a lattice configuration, incidents will stay within the room, or cluster of rooms, where they begin.

If you have a single room connected by elevators only diagonally to other rooms, then any incidents in there will just burn themselves out and disappear. But this method uses a lot of elevators, and they get expensive quickly!

Each level in this Vault is separated from the others - disasters cannot spread between levels.

You need the gaps and the elevators to completely isolate individual rooms or clusters, and incidents can even spread horizontally across lobbies, so watch out!

Ideally, you want your dwellers to not have to run away from everything. But it’s a tactic that can save valuable Dweller lives in Survival Mode. You want to reach the point where your Dwellers are able to stay and fight. Oh, the pride I felt when I fended off my first Deathclaw attack, rather than running around the Vault in circles from it!

As the game progresses, and your Dwellers level up and acquire weapons and armour, you can fill in the gaps with other rooms. But just while you’re trying to build your Vault up and not die horribly before you’ve really gotten started, a bit more circulation space really helps to contain damage.

Build a Medbay as soon as you can. You’re going to need Stimpaks basically from day one, and a day without them is a day fraught with peril. Seriously. A Medbay is far more important than a Science Lab, although you should build one of those fairly soon after. To avoid bouts of overwhelming radiation sickness (because that’ll kill you if the fires and infestations don’t) you also need to make sure your Dwellers have enough Purified Water. Keep your Water Treatment rooms running at peak output!

It’s also a good idea to build more rooms than you need, using what I think of as Spacer Rooms. These are things like Living Quarters and Storage Rooms; places that don’t serve as resource rooms, and don’t normally have people in them. If you’re going to help your Dwellers to escape danger, you need somewhere for them to run to. A full Vault is a dangerous Vault!

If you only build rooms with exactly enough spaces for Dwellers, or if you have more Dwellers than there are spaces for them, you’ll find it difficult to grab and move them when an incident happens. It’s possible to avoid Dweller deaths just by switching Dwellers between rooms while the disaster is going on, but you need quicker reflexes than what I have.

When building surplus rooms, you must also ensure you have enough Power rooms to supply them, and enough Dwellers to run them; or your Vault won’t be able to produce resources, your Dwellers will get weaker, and you could lose that way. Or you’ll just spend the whole game running away from stuff. In the dark.

Of course, you could build some training rooms to strengthen your Dwellers so that they run the Power rooms more efficiently. But all that stuff will come in good time, assuming everyone lives long enough to benefit from the Vault training program.

If you choose your Vault layout wisely, you can use it to determine the best places for your Dwellers in terms of defending the Vault. Which means you need to think about more than just engineering your Vault…

4. Rotate your dwellers

Think like Vault-Tec… you’re producing Dwellers to run the most efficient Vault possible. Everyone has to have a purpose and they must fulfil it. It’s time for some social engineering!

You’ll have to be tactical and ruthless. Use your Dwellers' strengths and weaknesses to your advantage, and remember that if you run out, you can always breed some more! They said that Cards Against Humanity was a game for horrible people, but this one rewards megalomania (and/or eugenics)!

I cannot stress enough that you are going to be needing a ton of medical supplies. Nuclear bombs have gone off all over America, and the survivors have been reduced to limited lives underground. That sort of thing is going to affect one’s health. Build your Medbays and Science Labs big, and have a few of them. Train your Dwellers in the Classroom too, if you can. Everyone does like a smartypants in the post-apocalyptic future.

Your Vault can only hold so many Stimpaks and Radaways, remember. So any returning Dwellers with left over medication will only be able to add it to your supply if there is room in the Vault. If you have room for surplus medication you’ll be glad of this, and if you don’t then you either don’t need any extras, or you might want to think about building more Medbays and Science Labs.

Women and children first!

If you’re running out of medical supplies, it’s best to move Dwellers before medicating them. Only use valuable medical supplies on those you can’t move in time, or are better fighters that you want to keep in place.

Your top row of the Vault is best occupied by higher-level, healthier Dwellers with the best weapons. This isn’t always possible, but you should aim for it. Remember that you only need to move non-pregnant Dwellers out of harm’s way, and that pregnant Dwellers don’t need sophisticated weaponry as they refuse to join in any fights. A room with half its Dwellers pregnant saves you half the time it would take to successfully grab and move them elsewhere, so build this in to your Dweller placement.

Send out your highest-level Dwellers to the Wasteland and get lower-level Dwellers to take their place in production rooms. This way everyone gets trained up, and you get better stuff and fewer deaths in the Wasteland.

Having weaker Dwellers occupy the lower levels of the vault is usually a safe strategy. They’re at risk of fire and infestation wherever they are, but at least they’re less likely to be mauled by Deathclaws or shot by Raiders. Remember that connected rooms could cause issues if you’ve built up your Vault within the lattice layout – this is how I usually end up losing a whole generation of Dwellers. Be careful!

5. Bide Your Time

If you’re brave enough to take on Survival Mode, you really are playing the long game. You start off small, and you’re really up against it. You might find that things are going great, and then disaster strikes and you have to build it all up again. But more than that, just building it up in the first place takes a lot of patience. Things don’t really start falling into place until you have enough Dwellers who’ve lived long enough to build up a bit of resilience. And it’s the very things that can kill you that make you stronger!

Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is to walk away… and by that I mean log out of the game. Things will continue to progress in the background, so even though you thought you were omnipotent it turns out the Dwellers do have a life outside of your overview. While you’re away, rooms will be producing, Dwellers will age and gain skills, and pregnancies will gestate. By the time you log back in, you could have gained a few thousand Caps, some child Dwellers, and a medicine cabinet full of Radaways and Stimpaks.

I know you just want to play the game, but spend too much time on it at the start and endure too great an onslaught in the hope you can overcome it… and you will end up with a load of dead Dwellers. Yes, you might get a few more turn up from the Wasteland, but if you don’t use a little patience and allow your Vault to develop organically, you’ll be all haste and all waste – never getting beyond more than a handful of Dwellers, and all of them dying before they’ve really achieved anything.

Think carefully before rushing a room. While you might desperately need the resources and Caps, be sure that your Dwellers will make it out alive if it goes wrong. Many an empty Vault has been created from impatience.

It frustrates me how long it takes for my Dwellers to find any items or Caps in the Wasteland. But that’s just how it is. You might also have played the same Vault for 30 minutes or so, and be bored with how long it’s taking for anything to happen. Your dwellers are slow to level up, there’s constant power outages, and you’ve got no weapons or outfits to help hurry things along. It’s best to just log out because all the while you’re trying to progress with no decent stuff, you’re running down your Dwellers’ health.

Vault-Tec Funeral Services will be right on it!

You can use the down time to your advantage. How long does it take your Vault medics to create a Stimpak? 5 minutes and 47 seconds, you say. Great, just log out for now and log back in to the game in 6 minutes time. It’s not the sort of game you’re meant to play for a long stretch anyway, so you can game your downtime to maximise the production of resources.

The chemistry not happening between your bedroom Dwellers? Log out for a bit and see what happens while you’re away. It's great to come back to a Vault with new Dwellers and a stash of new supplies waiting, and it sucks to return to a bunch of dead Dwellers, no stuff, and the need to start again.

There’s something to be said for allowing new Dwellers to build up their resilience in the Vault before sending them out into the Wasteland. If you can, only send Dwellers over a certain level out – which might mean sending the same people out until others catch up. But they’ll be able to stay out for longer, get better stuff, and fight off worse attackers. Win-win-win!

Time spent in the Wasteland is time full of danger. Sure, your Dwellers are out collecting goodies while you’ve got your mind on other things, but you do need to check on them often. Definitely don’t leave them out for hours away from the game, unless they have the right survival skills and experience, and the maximum medical supplies they can carry.

It does take longer to build up your Vault in Survival Mode, and you’ve got to limit yourself to measures that won’t run the risk of death for your crew. But patience and restraint pay off in the long run, and you get a new and interesting way of playing.

All’s fair in Love, War, and Fallout Shelter

You expected me to say ‘War Never Changes’, didn’t you? Well, that too. The pretty graphics, 1950s-era chic, and simple dynamics make it seem like a cute little time-waster. But if you think about what’s really happening, this game is a horrifying glimpse into a future created by genocidal maniacs. Have fun playing Fallout Shelter!

In Survival Mode it’s a tough game and one that you might think twice about investing your time in as it’s ‘only’ a mini/mobile game. That’s a rubbish attitude to have, and one that limits you as a player. Mobile games are just as valid, and the fact that Fallout Shelter was conceived as a promotional tool for a ‘real’ video game (Fallout 4), and is still awesome, just reinforces that. Rather than being secondary to the console games, Fallout Shelter is something else entirely, and an ambassador for mobile games as a worthy medium in themselves.

Fallout Shelter is great fun, but in Survival Mode it takes a few specific tactics to get your Vault sustainable. It’s then that the extra challenge becomes enjoyable. No-one wants to stick around for Vault after Vault of dead Dwellers. But once you’ve got past that, it becomes more than just a pointless game; you have to plan ahead and think of your Dwellers even when you’re not there to tell them what to do.

These five tips should help you get your Vault established and past the annoying stage where Dwellers die like flies and you can’t seem to progress your Vault. The setbacks will still annoy you, but they won’t be catastrophic. In the Fallout Universe, life is cheap and easily replaced. And even if you totally mess up, everyone dies and your Vault is nuked (I don’t think this is possible, but hey), you can always click the “New Vault” button and start again.

Katy Preen
Katy Preen
Read next: Pitch Ya Game Round 2
Katy Preen

Research scientist, author & artist based in Manchester, UK. Strident feminist, SJW, proudly working-class.

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