For your leader, one of the most powerful abilities is the one that allows you to never require sleep. This saves bed space, time, and allows you to do more at your shelter. (They still need to rest to heal.) Bonus XP traits aren't really that helpful in the long run.
For followers, some good traits are ones that lower water use: either 25% less thirst or the hygiene one are very good for the early game when water is extremely scarce. Deep Sleeper is also quite good.
It's very helpful to start with at least one character with the highest INT you can get (5). This will help you build items that don't break down as quickly and require as much time to repair. TIP: If your highest-INT, crafter character also has the Tidy trait, they will make much less mess creating items around the shelter, saving you lots of cleaning time.
When it comes to starting stats, all stats are relatively easy to level, so that is less of a concern. However, your starting stats will also affect your maximum possible stat. This is another reason to start with someone at max INT: so you will be able to eventually get the highest possible INT, which will be useful your entire game.
Upon first entering your Shelter, one of your first priorities is to get hold of more materials. Your shelter will not start with much and it is imperative you send out expeditions as often as possible to obtain useful materials.
The building materials required for early construction is a lot of pipes and wood with a few hinges, valves and metal so these are high priority for your first scavenging targets. Anything that can be recycled into metal or metal scraps is a priority.
It's highly recommended to unlock Tier 2 construction as quickly as possible (check your faction goals for how to do this) and focus on getting the makeshift recycler since this will allow you to get A LOT more from your junk items and all other things you recycle.
Explore to get rid of the fog of war, find new scavenging locations and expand your base steadily with necessities. Water will be your next major concern, since the game has seasons which will affect how much rainfall occurs. You will need at least 200+ water storage to help last through the drier seasons, depending on your shelter population, but upgrading the shower and toilet to use less water will make a big difference as well.
Build a bookshelf early as well, and be sure to have at least one character who has a high INT: this allows you to build better quality materials and more durable items. Its alos highly recommended to level your expedition Leader's Perception as soon as possible, which will help you to find Blueprints
Finally, don't neglect the other factions! The New Order, in particular, is required for the highest-level crafting, and doing jobs for one faction (randomly determined?) also works toward a goal that increases rep gained from every job. It's best to either start doing their jobs ASAP - or wipe them out as quickly as possible.
But the other hurdles your shelter can encounter depends on your own playstyle and what you focus on. Best of luck, survivor!
Tips & Tricks
- You can right-click the fuse-box to instantly turn on and off items that use electricity right from the start of the game, reserving fuel. The weather vane and water purifier, in particular, don't need to be on all the time.
- Finding laptops early on really helps out with components for the recycler as they give a circuit board and transistors.
- Try and conserve ★★★ materials as these will be hard to find and replace. Crafting will prioritize lower quality items, but will consume higher quality if needed.