A Beginner’s Guide to Fallout 4

on November 11, 2015 2:00 PM

Fans of the post-apocalyptic Fallout series have waited years for the highly-anticipated Fallout 4, and this week it’s finally out in the (nuclear) wild. So, once you’ve left Vault 111 and started venturing out into Boston’s Commonwealth, what do you do next?

We’ve spent a lot of time playing Fallout 4 (a LOT of it), and while those that have previously-played other Fallout titles (especially Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas) will find many of the series’ core gameplay mechanics carrying over, those diving in to Fallout 4 shouldn’t feel lost.

To help those that are just starting out in creating their Sole Survivor and heading out to explore every inch of the Commonwealth, our latest edition of A Beginner’s Guide is here to help get you started in experiencing Fallout 4.

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Welcome Home

Fallout 4, developed by Bethesda Softworks of previous titles like Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls series, is a mixture of first-person shooter and RPG gameplay with a big dose of its own post-apocalyptic flavor added in. From the early days of the original Fallout titles in the 1990s/early 2000s as an isometric strategy RPG, Bethesda Softworks took over the series with Fallout 3, and along with it molded the series into a deep, dense open-world RPG with a sci-fi tinge.

In the game’s opening, players are introduced to a pre-apocalyptic Boston and create their character – from there and a series of extenuating circumstances later, players awaken 200 years into the future following a nuclear war and find the world in ruins. After opening Vault 111, Fallout 4 pretty much lets go of the player’s hands, leaving you with an entirely huge world with so many possibilities.

Like Bethesda’s other titles on such a huge and epic scale, Fallout 4 can be daunting: it’s CRAMMED with quests to complete, places to explore, and things to find and uncover during an experience that can easily last 100+ hours, and will likely go well beyond that for the most dedicated players.

Combining the fast-paced action of a shooter with a deep and rich level of customizing your character and their stats, Fallout 4 offers an incredibly varied role-playing experience like its predecessors, but also brings along some of the “quirks” that the series is known for (such as its notorious bugs and glitches).

However with our Beginner’s Guide, below you’ll find a bunch of tips to help you get started and give some insight into some of the series established mechanics like VATS, Perks, leveling up, and more, while also delving into plenty of the new gameplay ideas introduced with Fallout 4 such as its extensive crafting system, Settlements, and much, much more. Don’t worry if this is your first time out in the Wasteland: we’re here to help make the post-apocalypse that much easier.

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So, You Want to Feel S.P.E.C.I.A.L.?

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. is more than just a catchy acronym – in Fallout 4, your character’s stats and build are governed by each of the seven attributes that S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attains to: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck.

From the start of the game after you finish creating a character to your heart’s content for their physical looks, players will then be given a select amount of points to dole out at the beginning to their S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. As your character grows and gains levels, you’ll gain additional points that you can put into S.P.E.C.I.A.L. which especially becomes important later on in getting additional Perks (we’ll go into detail on this later): however, in the game’s beginning it’s important to figure out how you want to initially build out your character.

Figuring out the best way to start out your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats at the beginning is not an exact science – that’s largely going to depend on how you tend to play when given a completely customizable character. If you’re going for a character focused more on physical prowess and ability, focusing your points on Strength, Endurance, and Agility will help your character achieve greater success against enemies early on.

In my personal playstyle, I usually opt more for a stealthy/quick character, so while I usually end up sacrificing some points early on for things like Strength or Luck to help make combat easier, I usually find Agility, Perception, and Intelligence to be some of my favorites early on to equip my character’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats with.

The one attribute I do suggest trying to get as many points into as possible early on, however, is the Charisma stat. Though it doesn’t provide the same level of immediate bonuses as something like Strength or Agility do in helping make your character stronger or faster, Charisma plays a huge role in helping determine your relationships with other characters in the world and, more importantly, opens up new dialogue options. Charisma won’t help as much as a faster run or stronger hits, but it does help having some new dialogue options that can get you out of a sticky situation, or opening up entirely new speech options or paths that you wouldn’t have access to any other way.

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It’s All About the Perks

Compared to the previous system in Fallout 3 and its limited level cap, Fallout 4 has opened up character leveling and its Perks system in a way that’s streamlined and simple, but opens up the real meat-and-potatoes of how you can customize your character and build them to your exact liking.

After gaining enough experience to earn an additional level, you’ll get a notification in Fallout 4 (inside your handy dandy Pip-Boy) that you can use a leveling point to boost one of your character’s attributes in the Perk Chart – it’s pretty lengthy and massive, but here’s a breakdown of the chart and what it means.

At the basic level, the Perk Chart breaks down each and every one of the “Perks” that your character can attain throughout the game: specialized abilities (both passive and active) that give your character new attributes, skills, and more. Perks in Fallout 4 break down into a huge variety of talents and skills, from more “passive” abilities like Lead Belly (which reduces the amount of radiation you take when eating or drinking out in the wasteland), to other more combat-focused abilities like Bloody Mess, which boosts your combat damage, or Mysterious Stranger, which calls upon a (you guessed it) mysterious cloaked figure to aid you in combat.

Each time you level up, your character gains one point that you can assign to either unlock a brand new Perk, or level up and boost the powers of one of your existing Perks. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, though with over 250+ available Perks in total (including their leveled-up bonuses), it can be a bit daunting to figure out which ones are best, though that also depends largely on your playstyle, which the Perks system aims to accommodate for pretty much all types of players.

For series veterans, leveling and Perks have had a bit of a change-up. In previous games, players would level up and get several points per level to assign to their S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, and then be able to select a few Perks to build onto their character. Here in Fallout 4, Perks are now tied and unlocked based on your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, so having higher levels in each of the seven attributes not only affects their stats, but also the number of Perks they have access to.

Like S.P.E.C.I.A.L., building out and picking Perks is going to be based heavily on how your particular character is meant to play, as many of the Perks in Fallout 4 can be utilized in very specific circumstances: one Perk for example provides a 15% bonus to combat strength for players that journey without a Companion following them, while others boost your sneaking ability for more stealth-minded characters.

However, there are still plenty of all-purpose Perks that are useful to any type of character: in particular, the ones that I heavily recommend getting leveling points into quickly are the Perks pertaining to your Lockpicking/Hacking abilities, along with those that open up new weapon and armor modifications. You’ll quickly run into Advanced, Expert, and Master-leveled locks, safes, and computer terminals in the Commonwealth, and either losing out on the opportunity to find great loot (or have to backtrack later on with a higher skill level) can be remedied by having higher proficiency in those skills early on.

Likewise, crafting in Fallout 4 has seen an extensive overhaul for weapons, armor, and much more, and putting points into Perks like “Gun Nut” are extremely useful in having access to new and crazier weapon/armor modifications, and helping to boost the power of your arsenal to their max potential.

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The Handy Dandy Pip-Boy

More than any other menu or area in the game, the wrist-mounted Pip-Boy will (most likely) be one of the areas that you spend the most amount of time inside in Fallout 4, as the portable device acts as your one-stop shop for all of the game’s major components, such as checking your stats and inventory, following the next step of a quest, or loading up a holotape or radio station to find a new mission/get information.

Accessing the Pip-Boy freezes the game and allows you to accomplish a variety of things at once, so taking some time in the beginning to familiarize yourself with the Pip-Boy is certainly worth a short amount of time to figure out all it has to offer.

It’s a crucial piece of equipment in your journey that you get right from the very beginning, and from there you can do a lot. The Stat menu will give you an overhead glance at your characters traits, skills, abilities, and even limb damage to see how your body is holding up out in the wasteland. Inside the Inventory, you can check what equipment you have on hand, how much gear you can carry (and drop gear if you’re overencumbered), and scroll through by item type (Weapons, Apparel, Ammo, Junk, etc.).

Aside from just inventory management and character stats, the Pip-Boy also provides a host of other services and features – checking the Map not only can show you where to go or what to do for your next objective, but by clicking on a particular location (given that you’ve already discovered it), you can easily fast-travel between locations and cut down on the time walking to your next objective.

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Combat Evolved

Combat in Fallout 4 from a first-glance looks much like you would see in Call of Duty or Destiny, as the game mostly relies on first-person shooter mechanics when fighting enemies out in the Commonwealth. However, underneath the hood there is far more at work with a deep RPG-like system of statistics that not only rely on the stats of your character and the enemy you’re up against, but also relying on the chance that you can successfully make a shot, etc.

The crux of Fallout 4‘s combat lies in “VATS,” known in the series as the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, allows players to momentarily slow-down time when fighting enemies and target specific portions of their body for maximum damage or range. VATS, however, is meant to be used strategically, as each shot locked in VATS uses a specific amount of “AP” (Action Points) that the player’s character has available to them: that makes it crucial to make each shot in VATS count as best as you can make it.

Whether you choose to aim for the headshot or go for the legs to slow down and hinder a target, Fallout 4 enhances VATS’ usability by also adding in a new critical damage meter: by building up successful shots with VATS, when the meter fills you can then unleash a hugely damaging critical attack on an enemy. Using VATS and critical hits strategically is highly beneficial against enemies with star or skull next to their name, denoting some of the more difficult/Legendary enemies that will surely put up a fight against you, but also provide tons of rare or exclusive loot you can’t find anywhere else.

VATS is one of the core components of Fallout 4‘s combat system, though those coming from the previous games will be delighted that the game also improves the combat system tremendously from the days of Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Thanks to improved controls and tighter feedback from both weapons and enemy damage, the gunplay of Fallout 4 has never felt better, and in many ways you can find just as much success relying on your instincts and quick reactions as much as you can with VATS in specific combat scenarios.

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Be a Post-Apocalyptic Hoarder

Item and weapon crafting had a limited appearance in Fallout 3 and New Vegas through in-game Schematics you could collect to create specific new items and gear, though with Fallout 4, Bethesda Softworks have upped the scale of weapon, armor, and item crafting up to 11 with so many more options than ever before being available to players.

With Fallout 4, various resources and junk found throughout the Commonwealth can be collected by the player and used as specific workbenches and crafting stations to create, modify, and enhance your current weapons and items. While Fallout 4 still imposes a more traditional system of finding and collecting loot that nabs you even better weaponry and armor at your disposal, crafting helps to extend the lifespan of your favorite gear, and most importantly, completely tailor a weapon to your specific style of play.

Every single piece of junk or items in the environment, once dropped off inside of a workbench, can be utilized, scrapped, or broken down into basic elements to use with crafting, such as wood, steel, screws, and aluminum, and even through to more complicated (and rare) items for crafting like nuclear material, crystal, etc. The crafting system of Fallout 4 will take a bit to get used to, but after tinkering and toying with it at weapon or armor crafting stations, you can find so many possibilities for your best (or favorite) gear. With a few modifications or changes, your favorite shotgun can have a silencer and a bayonet attachment or quiet, close-up kills, or you can enhance your sniper rifle for greater range or bullet penetration.

The biggest piece of advice I can give for the crafting system is that even against your better judgment, don’t be afraid to be the post-apocalyptic equivalent of a hoarder. Even though you can easily just grab new weapons or armor you find in the environment, grabbing simple things like aluminum cans, gas containers, glass frames, and more can be useful toward crafting or modifying your weaponry, making pretty much everything count toward newer, more powerful gear. Even in the face of being overencumbered (or close to it), grab whatever you can and bring it back to your home base: even in the wasteland, everything you find can have a purpose.

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Suit Up with Power Armor

The iconic Power Armor of Fallout has done more than just grace the artwork of each major Fallout game – they also act as vital pieces of hulking, unstoppable walking battle tanks, and now more than ever Fallout 4 is letting you customize and use Power Armor in new ways.

In previous games, Power Armor was more of just a super-powered (and super heavy) subset of armor, though Fallout 4 has extended its crafting and customization systems to Power Armor as well. In the designated Power Armor crafting stations, you can mix and match different pieces and styles of Power Armor while tinkering with each component to your heart’s content in building your own personalized, menacing battle armor, including jetpacks, stealth modules, and much, much more.

Once it’s assembled, customized, and powered up by a Fusion Core, you can climb into your Power Armor and live out your Iron Man fantasies by roaming into battle all suited up, and that’s where Power Armor plays the biggest role in Fallout 4. The Fusion Core inside Power Armor acts as its battery, so Power Armor isn’t something you can use all the time: instead, it’s best saved only when necessary and when you know what you’re up against.

If you’re going up against a particularly big or Legendary enemy or about to embark on a very combat-heavy segment of the game, Power Armor is extremely useful, especially when coupled with some of the game’s heavier weapons like a Minigun, Missile Launcher, or the devastating Fat Man that launches miniature nuclear bombs at enemies. The Power Armor boasts incredibly high defensive capabilities and also completely shields players against radiation, making it a vital tool to help in some of the game’s bigger combat sections.

While weapon and armor degradation that Bethesda has been previously known for is not a part of Fallout 4, Power Armor does degrade and takes damage after use, and will require repairs as back at a Power Armor crafting station before its next use (or at least will be severely damaged until repaired). Likewise, certain actions like sprinting and using the built-in flashlight will drain the Fusion Core of a Power Armor suit more quickly. Generally taking things slow and steady while frequently repairing and maintaining your Power Armor will help ensure that it’s always battle-ready in the next fight.

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A Place to Call Your Own

Even to the extent that Bethesda Softworks expanded with crafting and gear in Fallout 4, one of the largest new additions to the series comes with the introduction of Settlements, which allows players to build, modify, and establish entirely new communities that they can recruit members to and set-up defenses.

Those that have a passion for Minecraft will find a lot to like here, and Fallout 4‘s Settlements system offers more than enough options, decorations, items, and more that you can use to establish a killer homebase for yourself, or set up the beginnings of a thriving, prominent community.

Settlements are limited to specific areas of the Commonwealth that will vary in size and scope, from the small Red Rocket garage you first find in the game to helping Preston Garvey and the Minutemen establish Sanctuary Hills into a thriving, sprawling community. Inside the actual Settlement-building menus, you can use whichever resources you have on hand or stored in your workbench to construct new buildings, defenses, structures, and more, while also modifying adding on to existing structures.

It’s a pretty robust system that may take a little getting used to, and may not be something you can get satisfactory results from right away. It takes a lot of resources to get started and especially when getting into the more complex items you can build, like generators to help power buildings or setting up elaborate defenses against roving bands of enemy raiders. But, for those looking to invest in building a settlement (and which is completely optional to the main game experience), you can find tons to work with out of the gate.

A helpful protip for starting out a settlement: scan the perimeter and trash any unused or unneeded items, trees, etc. around the settlement area: not only will it help you build a settlement on a clean slate, but you can also get a huge supply of resources for building with just by going around and doing a trash sweep.

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Winners Use Drugs, and Chems

Contrary to popular belief, drugs are extremely helpful and are (more often than not) a life-saving necessity in Fallout 4, with many of them a huge asset in helping keep your character alive in the irradiated Boston while also providing other useful help like radiation resistance, defensive buffs, and plenty more.

Fallout 4 provides many different “chems” that the player can both find out in the Commonwealth or purchase from local town “shopkeepers” (I guess that’s the nice way of calling drug dealers), though all joking aside knowing of the different types of chems available and how to use them will be incredibly helpful in your wasteland adventures.

On the top of the chem foodchain are Stimpaks and RadAway – they’re easily the two most helpful chems you’ll find out in the wasteland and the ones you’ll both want to keep the biggest/most consistent supply of, and also in making sure to use them only when absolutely necessary.

The syringe-like Stimpaks are one of your primary sources of quick and effective health regeneration in a pinch, making them incredibly vital during your exploration in Fallout 4. You can use Stimpaks either from the Inventory screen in your Pip-Boy, assigning them to one of the equipment hot-keys, or also use the short available from the Stat screen in the Pip-Boy as well.

RadAway is one of your vital tools in the game to ward off radiation (or “Rads”) from severely damaging your character out in the wasteland, as RadAway instantly reduces the radiation your character has accumulated during your journey. Seen as a small red mark on the right-hand side of your health bar, radiation affects (and decreases) your character’s maximum health over time when exposed to highly-irradiated areas, while also proving lethal in extremely high quantities. RadAway solves that by removing radiation from your character, while other chems like Rad-X can raise your radiation resistance while exploring a toxic area.

Aside from those main two, a host of other chems are available with various effects, like Buffout providing boosts to your character’s endurance and strength, Jet, Psycho, and many others that can impact your character’s stats for a short duration of time. The one caveat, however, is that even the most tolerable survivor can succumb to addiction by using chems too frequently, causing detrimental effects to your characters stats or abilities while under the effects of a drug addiction, requiring either a trip to a local town doctor or the use of Addictol (another chem) to treat your character’s drug addiction.

It’s said winners don’t use drugs, though in Fallout 4 that isn’t entirely the case. Chems and the various drugs you encounter in the game are incredibly powerful and useful in helping get you out of some sticky situations, but the line between a casual chem user and an intense drug addict can be broken pretty easily in Fallout 4 if you aren’t careful.

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Companions Are Your Best Friend

Offering a dozen or so different buddies to aid you in your travels, Fallout 4 offers a variety of Companions that can aid you in your journey across the Wasteland, giving you some pretty valuable excuses to reconsider taking on the wasteland all by yourself.

From your first companion Dogmeat and to the many more you’ll meet along the way, companions in Fallout 4 provide valuable assistance for you in your travels not only in combat, but in pretty much every other aspect as well. If you’re overencumbered, you can transfer some of your gear or found loot to them to help carry some of the burden. You can even customize your companions and give them armor, weapons, or even just trendy accessories to stylize them a bit: even Dogmeat can use a pair of handy goggles out in the wasteland.

Some even have more practical skills and abilities they can bring to the table, whether it’s in Dogmeat being able to distract or mangle an enemy, allowing you the perfect opportunity to get some great shots in through VATS for more damage. The synth-detective Nick Valentine is especially useful in helping crack difficult safes, locks, and terminals that you may not have immediate access to or a high enough skill level to unlock yourself.

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Save Early, Save Often

While all of the previous tips up above are the crucial know-how tips to keeping your character in tip-top shape and how to find/craft new gear, making sure to save often is one particular quirk that you might have to adjust to while playing Fallout 4, and especially to avoid losing large amounts of progress while playing.

As a particular piece of advice for Bethesda’s games like the previous Fallout or The Elder Scrolls games, saving (and saving often) is really important to avoid losing minutes (or hours) of progress, especially in regard to situations where an unfortunate bug or glitch could cost you a bit of progress. Luckily, there are multiple options to making sure that happens.

Three variations of saving are available in Fallout 4 through either manual saves, auto saves, or the “quicksave” right at the top of the menu. Generally, you’ll be able to find smooth-sailing through auto-saving most of the time, which you can adjust in the game’s options to however frequently you like, though auto-saving usually only triggers from within accessing your Pip-Boy.

Quicksaving is quick, easy, and simple – by hitting the “Quicksave” option in the menu, it creates a fast save file from your most recent quicksave, and it’s good practice to do this every few minutes to avoid losing progress. However, a quicksave overwrites the last one (as there is only one quicksave file), so I wouldn’t grow too attached to relying solely on quicksaving.

Finally, manual saves let you save at any point where and when you please, offering the most flexibility. The only downside is that manually saving generally takes a bit more time than the quicksave or auto save, but by having a steady (and staggered) stream of saves between all through, you can ensure that even if you make a mistake or something happens, you won’t lose hours in the Commonwealth wasteland due to a fault of the game.

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Wandering Through the Wasteland

Bethesda Softworks has been known to make big, no, HUGE games, and Fallout 4 easily ranks as one of its biggest yet. It’s been a long time coming since the days of Fallout 3 and New Vegas over five years ago, and to many that have come to know and love the games in that time since, Fallout 4 will offer so many new and exciting options for longtime fans of the series to explore, create, and wander to their heart’s content.

However, don’t let the “4” in the title stop you from enjoying it, even if you’re a first-timer coming to the series. Though the games share a connected universe and setting, the story of each Fallout title can be enjoyed purely on its own merits, and Fallout 4 is no exception to those looking to wander through its post-apocalyptic Boston. The wasteland of Fallout 4‘s Commonwealth is big and expansive, and open to pretty much anyone that’s willing to explore what it has to hide, to both veterans and newcomers alike.

Fallout 4 is available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

 /  Features Editor
Ryan is the Features Editor at DualShockers, with over five years' experience in the world of video games culture and writing. He holds a BA in English & Cinema from Binghamton University, and lives in New York City.