There have been two games I played recently that have started with a cold open, e.g. one with no tutorial that just sort of throws you into the game. The first was The Long Dark, and the second is a space-sim called Hellion; both are in Early Access and both are survival-based games. So, in a sense, it’s difficult to determine whether either one intentionally set out to have cold opens, or if this simply reflects their current, unfinished states.
There is a lot to be said regarding the power of cold opens. In an age of 24/7 information coming from every angle, it is refreshing to be thrust into an unknown environment without any sort of hand-holding. It absolutely appeals to Explorer-types, and also those looking for more difficulty in their games. Plus, many times it makes thematic sense, say, if you just woke from cryo-sleep in an otherwise abandoned life pod.
Personally, I find cold opens to be exceptionally difficult to pull off well.
The fundamental issue I have is the dissonance between what the player expects and what the designers intend. What ends up happening is that players must essentially “metagame” how the designers actually intended the game to be played.
For example, in Hellion you awake from cryo-sleep inside a life pod without functioning Life Support. While there are a few tablets on the ground which give you a general idea of steps to take, that is basically all the guidance you are given. I searched the area and did not find enough items onboard to repair the Life Support. I found a jetpack without fuel, and supposedly a charging station for said jetpack, but could not determine a way to refuel.
So… what now? Did I miss an item in the search of the ship? Am I supposed to try and space walk without a jetpack? Is it a bug that there weren’t enough items to repair the Life Support? I have mentioned before that I am fine with tough puzzles, as long as I understand where the pieces are. What I absolutely despise is not knowing whether my failures are due to not performing correctly, or because I didn’t trip some programming flag from 10 minutes ago, or some other nonsense.
I had a similar issue in The Long Dark, of which I played about an hour before turning off. It takes 30 game minutes to break a stick into pieces by hand? Okay, fine. But having found a shelter and tools, I saw no particular way to locate food, or reconcile my exhaustion meter with my temperature meter with the time of day, e.g. how was I to sleep and keep warm in the middle of the day and still survive the night? I understand that perhaps the intention is for the player to be constantly on edge in the quest for survival, but again, I’m not even sure how food really even works in this game yet. I have not seen any flora or fauna beyond sticks and snow.
Flailing around in the darkness is not my idea of quality game time.
I’m not saying game designers should go full Ocarina of Time and have Navi pester you for hours. Minecraft has (had?) a cold open that was relatively straightforward once you got over the intellectual hump of punching trees. Don’t Starve is a much better example of how to do a cold open – there isn’t much of an explanation of anything, but I still felt a sense of agency in being able to interact with things.
And maybe that’s just it: I might not be doing the right things, but being able to do something is important.
I dunno. I think the best compromise would be to have cold opens with a fairly robust PDA/AI Assistant/Crafting Menu. Those that want to wander around blindly can, but those who want to know what they can do… well, can.
Short version: survival… underwater.
You know, it’s easy sometimes to get jaded with videogames. Go around the block a few times and it will feel like you have seen it all. Same mechanics, different textures. Then, something manages to catch you by surprise. Subnautica is precisely that something.
The premise of Subnautica is that you are a survivor of a spaceship crash on what appears to be a complete waterworld. Your lifeboat contains a Replicator, a Medical Replicator, a locker, and a damaged short-range communicator. Good luck.
I played version 42313 (Dec-16), and already the game looks goddamn amazing. More importantly, the game feels amazing. This is important because you will be swimming underwater 99.99% of the time. Initially, you are slow and clumsy, and have to stick to the safety of the shallows to find scrap metal to turn into Titanium. Over time, you can craft some swim gear, extra oxygen tanks, and eventually vehicles to travel with greater style.
The surprising part of this game, to me, was how… new everything felt, mechanics-wise. In Minecraft, Ark, Rust, 7 Days to Die, and countless other games, the beginning is always the same: look around, punch trees, collect rocks, build a fortress of doom. I spent the first 15 minutes of Subnautica in that same mindset, and filled my inventory with anything I could grab by left-clicking. Which ended up being a whole lot of relatively useless Acid Mushrooms that, while they can be made into batteries later, did nothing in the survival department right now.
That was when I realized that I needed to let go of what I knew before. Subnautica is its own game.
There is no better example of this than the Subnautica take on weapons. Basically, you have a survival knife. That you have to craft first. As far as I am aware, that is it. Stalkers and Sand Sharks and other carnivores have little issue taking a bite out of your scuba suit, so there is absolutely a sense of danger in the game, above and beyond the mundane (yet omnipresent) risk of drowning. Poking one with the knife will get them to retreat for a while, but this is a game where discretion is pretty much the only part of valor. Which, again, is completely refreshing.
I’m not entirely sure how much of the “game” game is implemented yet, but I am impressed by what I see thus far. I just hit what I imagine to be the mid-game: constructing underwater bases. This allows me to craft where the resources are, instead of having to swim back to my lifeboat each time. The crafting isn’t terribly complex, but yet still feels involved considering your limited inventory, which is limited further by extra oxygen tanks (which take up 4 cells). At the moment, I am trying to nail down additional debris fields so I can scan technology to build better vehicles/base structures.
Overall, Subnautica feels like… a breath of fresh air.
Yeah, I went there. And you should too.
Short version: Survival Horror, with more of an emphasis on Survival.
Right from the start, I just have to say that the Forest is one of the most visually impressive games I have played, and it’s still in Alpha. Specifically, I played Alpha version 0.52
The game starts with you on an airplane with your son. The plane crashes on an island, you see a dude in red paint and loincloth take your son away, and… action. Loot some airplane food for sustenance, grab the emergency hand axe from the body of a flight attendant, and you are in the middle of the forest. Good luck.
While The Forest initially plays out like your standard Survival game, it diverges in interesting ways. For example, most Survival games limit the amount of items you can pick up either by weight, or fitting into grid, or something like that. In this game, you are limited by type. For example, you can only carry 8 sticks… but can also carry 8 rocks, 20+ arrows, a half dozen medicinal herbs, four melee weapons, a few bombs, a bunch of animal skins, and so on.
The other interesting bit comes in the form of logs. Logs are the basic building component for pretty much any structure, but they are much too large to carry around in your inventory. So… you carry them on your shoulders, one at a time. You can craft a “Log Sled” pretty easily, which allows you to store and easily move up to 8 logs, but the physicality of it all adds an unexpectedly potent bit of immersion.
Also, dude must be ripped and/or a lumberjack.
The main hostile force in the game are the cannibals. While I have not spent a whole lot of time testing things, the cannibals are absolutely not the sort of mindless enemy that traditional Survival games utilize. Sometimes they rush at you and attack. Sometimes they rush forward and stop when you don’t make some move to retaliate or run away. Sometimes they just get on their knees and worship you a bit.
As time goes on – and as you destroy the forest around you building tree houses – the cannibals get more hostile. And that’s when you start building traps, walls, and stocking up on armor made of lizard skin and leaves. Or perhaps you chop the cannibal corpses into pieces, and construct a burning effigy to establish your dominance.
It was around hour 10 when I descended into a cannibal cave, confident I had enough supplies and arrows to face what was down there. That’s when I saw it, while I was dangling off the end of 50 feet of rope:
That’s enough Forest for me, for now. I’ll… yeah, I’ll wait for Beta. Or release.
Or the heat death of the universe.
Since that last screenshot is too dark, here is what the creature looks like via an in-game photograph:
Can’t quite tell if it is supposed to be two women fused together, or three. Probably three.
Okay, now I’m (probably) done with 7 Days to Die.
The one thing I really wanted to do was try and succeed at a randomly generated world. Which is kinda weird, since I’m not exactly a huge fan of procedural entertainment for its own sake. The issue in the absence of randomness is that… it’s not random – you know exactly where everything is. The specific loot might vary from seed to seed, but you’ll always know where the police station is, where there might be a gas station, ect.
Of course, random maps often end up like this nonsense:
I almost abandoned my attempt within the first 30 or so minutes, simply because of how annoying it is starting back over. In my prior save, I already had crossbows, iron sledgehammers, and nearly all gun recipes. The real meat of survival games happens in that inbetween time where you are desperately scavenging for supplies while establishing a base. So while it’s fun stepping foot into zombie town for the first time, loot possibilities endless, it’s also highly annoying trying to break down doors with a stone axe. Oh, a gun safe? I’ll just break the lock… ah, right, Stone Age.
I kept at it though, and before I knew it, I had an impenetrable zombie base. Actually, I knew exactly when I had such a base, because I recognized the weird structure that lays atop a “hidden” bunker, and also knew that zombies can’t dig anymore, so the game was effectively over. I mean, there was still the very real chance at death due to zombie dogs, which I encountered several times while venturing about. But as far as Horde Night goes? I could effectively just go AFK while browsing Reddit while it occurred in the background.
Later, I created a zombie cage with bars and spikes such that I could shoot/stab through the bars and even loot while the zombies couldn’t do much. I have yet to encounter the Screamer or Cop Zombie types, so perhaps increasing the difficulty could engender some additional feeling of danger.
Alternatively, I might be effectively done. Which is fine, considering I have been obsessively playing it for the last two weeks and have racked up nearly 60 hours at this point. Not bad for a game in Alpha. Indeed, the next update is supposed to have a Behemoth zombie that will topple structures with ease. Unless they let zombies aim at the ground though, bunkers will still be an I-WIN button.
In any case, I highly recommend this game.
I might also recommend waiting until at least Beta to get the most enjoyment out of it. But hey, if you catch it at $5 or $10, it’s worth the money if you think you might like zombie Minecraft.
I technically wrote my last 7 Days to Die (7DTD) post last week. As of today’s post, I have more than 30 hours in the game.
Things were dicey there for a bit. As mentioned, I had a wooden house on stilts on top of a gas station. While I survived the 7th day zombie horde with ease – whose zombies automatically see you through walls – there was a night where some zombies made it to the roof and were mucking about, seemingly ineffectively.
When I tried to repair a bit of the damage they dealt, I noticed that 3-4 of my roof blocks kept falling down. As I was walking around on the remaining roof tiles trying to figure out why… the entire wooden structure collapsed. Which destroyed my forge and two wooden chests, instantly destroying all of the items inside. Apparently one of the stilts had been destroyed, destabilizing the structure.
It is the nature of these sort of games that such a setback is enough to justify starting a new map.
Although I wanted to give up right then, I decided to pack up what little I could salvage and then strike out into the world. If I was going to give up, I may as well poke around and get some additional experience with the game world, eh? After walking around for a while, I suddenly saw it:
Yep, a football stadium. Score.
Over the next in-game week or so, I holed up in a makeshift structure on the roof of the press box, making traps and speeding along the crafting path. I might have just stayed there permanently, but I had no source of Potassium Nitrate, which is a key component of Gunpowder. While I understand that this is good game design, e.g. not having all resources in the same biome, it was nevertheless extremely annoying. So, I packed up some supplies, and struck out into the world again.
In the course of my journey, I came across a burnt forest biome. While scavenging a destroyed house, I noticed a well. With a hatch. Hmm. Opened the hatch and descended down, only to see a bunch of wooden stake traps in front of a bunker door. I spent the waning hours of Day 21, e.g. horde day, tearing down that metal bunker door with increasing trepidation. I had no backup plan; it was either this or death.
When the door finally fell, I walked in and… yeah: Loot for days.
I created a makeshift barricade down near the bunker entrance, but it did not appear to be especially necessary. The zombie AI had little issue attacking me on top of the gas station or even the stadium, but they have significant issues with underground bases, apparently. Indeed, none of them even really got to the well itself. I have read on the forums that there will eventually be digging zombies or something, but it’s hard to imagine them being able to get through ~10 blocks of dirt and then the concrete bunker itself.
Ironically, this was another logical end point. All my resources were back at the stadium, but I had effectively found a zombie-proof base. It reminded me of the endgame of Civilization matches, where winning is a foregone conclusion and you are left with just the drudgery of going through the actual motions.
Nevertheless, I’m still playing. I ended up leaving the bunker and trekking to a snow biome to finally get some Nitrate. By the time I got back to the stadium, I sat through Day 28’s horde with relative ease. At the point I stopped, I had a mini-bike (7DTD’s only vehicle) all but completed, and was considering the logistics of moving all of stuff to the bunker, including fertilized dirt since the burnt forest biome is kinda depressing. But… nah.
Am I done with the game for now? Probably. Maybe. Who knows? Unlike many other #ForeverAlpha games, 7DTD’s forums have active developer commentary and updates scheduled. The next build, for example, is supposed to include electricity, wires, automated traps, and some base-destroying behemoth zombies for all your endgame needs.
The game is fun and compelling in a visceral way for me, but I’m definitely heading towards the tail-end of novelty and optimization. If I play some more, I’m abandoning the default seed (of which I downloaded a map; cheesy, I know) and heading to randomly generated worlds. I’m just worried that this game will go the same way as Minecraft: a fantastic sandbox that I play in Alpha/beta and then never go back to, even after they add all the good stuff by release.
In short: zombie Minecraft.
7 Days to Die (7DTD) is a fairly robust post-apocalyptic survival sandbox game that features deformable terrain, zombies, and the titular over-the-top weekly attempt on your life. I played version 15.1, and the game itself has been in alpha since December 2013. I just purchased it in the recent Steam Winter Sale for $10.
As with most survival games, you start out mostly naked with limited supplies. Run around, punch some trees, craft a Stone Axe that will be your primary tool for most of the game. The nice thing is that just about every single thing in the game world is able to be manipulated or destroyed. Craft a Stone Shovel early on and you can pretty much dig to bedrock. Or just dig a large moat around your future fortress. Then fill it with wooden spikes.
The zombies in this game are fairly standard walkers and runners, at least as far as I have seen. There is supposedly a “heat” system in place that determines whether the zombies will be attracted to your location, and the zombies themselves apparently can hear you (including the noise you make opening your inventory). Oh, and smell you too, if you happen to be carrying any meat. In practice, there will basically be zombies around at night no matter what you do.
Speaking of zombies, there is an interesting interaction with them and the game world. Everything is destructible, remember? That also means by zombies. While they can certainly try to break their way through windows and doors, there is nothing stopping them from literally banging their way through the walls either. Even elevated positions are not immune, as zombies with readily take their rage out at anything near your location, including any sort of support structures.
Oh, and have I mentioned that there are (rudimentary) physics in the game? Alpha is alpha, so there are some goofiness like floating candles and such, but buildings can absolutely come tumbling down if enough supports are destroyed. (Cue ominous foreshadowing.)
Mechanically, the game is… in an interesting place. The early game feels fantastic. Looting feels extremely rewarding, as you can get some rather extreme rewards from any random pile of garbage. Things get weird in the mid-game though, around the Iron stage of crafting. At that point you are going to need a standard, defensible base to craft a forge, and then start harvesting a ton of resources. If you haven’t looted some critical tools before the Forge though – such as a Cooking Pot – you almost might be better off resetting the game. You can craft such things, but it is so far along the “tech” tree that most of the benefit is moot.
Speaking of tech trees, there is a rudimentary leveling system in the game, somewhat similar to Ark. Honestly, the implementation needs some considerable iteration, as it is not intuitive at all. There are some “big” skills that cost 10 points per rank, and grant you thinks like faster Stamina regeneration or bonus damage to blunt weapons. There are also skills that only cost 1 point each, such as Mining, which are naturally raised by performing the skill in-game, but can be purchased outright. Then there are other ones, such as Leather, which just straight-up grants you the ability to create leather. But there are also schematics in the game that are required before you can craft certain items.
Like I said, the Skill/Leveling system needs some work. It feels good seeing your crafting skills naturally improving, but you also run into the Oblivion problem of incentivizing, say, crafting a hundred wood clubs to power-level your way to the next unlock. It also irks me a bit that Iron and Steel take the same materials, with the latter just being kinda arbitrarily locked behind “Construction Tools X.” Some kind of progression system is good, but I’m not sure this one is the right one.
Overall though, I am both impressed and pleased with 7 Days to Die thus far. I put in around 10 hours in two days, and will probably be stopping here. On my second character, I built a sort of wood treehouse on the roof of a gas station, and survived the 7th Day horde attack with relative ease. As I started digging a moat around the perimeter in anticipation of the next one, it occurred to me that playing any further was likely to result in me extracting all of the fun out of the game before it is fully implemented/tweaked.
In Starbound, I have officially surpassed the number of hours I spent playing Terraria. And I am more convinced than ever that Terraria is the superior game.
Simply put, Starbound is a game of multitude of systems that have zero synergies with each other. Dig dirt, mine for ore, create armor, and so on. Pretty basic stuff, right? Not really. The actual crafting mechanics in Starbound are terrible, as are 99% of the items you can craft. Your “tier 1” armor is made from iron and woven fabric (made from plant material), but tier 2 is made from tungsten and cotton wool. Not only does this skip Copper, Silver, and Gold ores, but I’ve been playing 20+ hours since the 1.0 release and have encountered a grand total of three (3) cotton plants.
I can understand if the cotton bottleneck was intentional. But it’s not: the interplanetary gas station sells every fabric type other than cotton.
You can’t explain that.
Indeed, it seems like the devs simply abandoned any attempt to structure progression in the face of a billion procedurally generated worlds (filled the same three enemy attack types). Matter Manipulator modules are a sort of upgrade currency that can be found in nearly every box, everywhere. So are the tech cards, which unlock double-jumping and the Metroid-esque ball rolling. Getting those upgrades early kinda sorta maybe trivializes a lot of the content that comes later. And it’s not as though you get more of them in more dangerous areas – the algorithm basically puts one in 25% of all containers.
Then there is the fact that the best items are drops, full-stop. I mean, I get it, trying to balance gear progression around both player crafting and dropped loot is hard. But the fact that there are effectively zero good weapons from crafting means that that entire element is gone from the game. So your whole desire to dig for ore is reduced to the amount you need to craft the next tier of armor. Without the desire to dig though, you don’t, which means you’re just exploring the surface of the world and missing out on all the dungeons/set pieces that exist beneath it.
“But what about building bases and such?” Yeah, that’s still there. Given the default “survival” mode requires constant eating, it makes sense for even a story-focused character to stake out a simple farm. But honestly? It’s about a million times easier just coming across an already-built set piece randomly, and then planting your flag on it. Or tearing one down and transplanting it elsewhere, as opposed to crafting the individual components.
I don’t know. There are a million more things going on in Starbound than Terraria, but Terraria actually has synergy between what its got. In Terraria, the houses you build unlock NPCs you need, and the act of building settlements attracts monsters and even bosses. The deeper you dig, the more dangerous stuff appears. You can actually craft cool shit in Terraria. All the pieces fit together into a cohesive whole. In Starbound? Not so much.
Well, for one thing, I never buy anything for MSRP.
The coverage for Black Desert has been extremely interesting. As noted over on Dragonchasers, a lot of the blog posts read really similarly: being overwhelmed by the map, the quest structures, the crafting, etc. Bhagpuss struck out on his own, of course, with a series of very compelling exploration posts. But perhaps the most intriguing point to be made came from Syl’s observation that:
If we are thinking more longterm however, there is one thing on the forefront of my mind since the beta: BDO is very playing alone together. There is not just very little opportunity to cooperate with other players, the game actively discourages player-to-player interaction on several levels
Nearly 100% of the coverage I have been reading has been solo-exclusive. Which… makes sense, considering this is a sandbox slash sandpark. But even though I feel a strong twinge to jump into Black Desert to fiddle with the AH – Bhagpuss mentioned a particular weakness in the player-made furniture market that got my AH senses tingling – the seeming lack of “endgame” focus somehow dampens my enthusiasm. What do you do on the regular at the end? Amass more wealth? Gank high-level players? Or, god forbid, “whatever you want?”
I have not actively participated in an MMO endgame in probably five years… but the possibility that I am able to is important to me. For some reason. Damned if I could tell you why.
Still, the game is on my radar and will be procured eventually. At something less than full price.
Game: Fallout 4
Recommended price: $25
Metacritic Score: 84
Completion Time: 22-100+ hours
Buy If You Like: Fallout 3, FPS Skyrim, Post-apocalypse recycling simulators
After 95 hours of gameplay, I have come to one conclusion: Fallout 4 is one of the strangest games I have ever played. It is simultaneously brilliant and baffling; moving the franchise forward and pulling it back again; an unfinished and undocumented disaster packed with the most intricate of details.
Like I said: strange.
The main thing to understand right away about Fallout 4 is that it is almost a direct continuation of Fallout 3 (in terms of feel), and not Fallout: New Vegas. While many people say that New Vegas was the pinnacle of the (3D) series – and that may well be the case – it was also developed by an entirely different design team. Fallout 4 is a Bethesda game, not a Obsidian game, and so it has more in common with Skyrim than anything else.
From a gameplay perspective, Fallout 4 is the best that the series has ever been. The gunplay and FPS elements have been refined to the degree that it is now entirely possible to play the game without using the VATS system at all. Indeed, even when using VATS, time no longer freezes, but simply slows down, always keeping the player in the middle of the action. The addition of Legendary enemies (and their assorted loot) keeps enemy encounters relevant and exciting throughout the entire game. Many of the staple monsters in the game have received a conceptual facelift, such that Feral Ghouls, Deathclaws, and even the Sentry Bot feel both “new” and like they should have been that way all along.
Then there is the crafting. Oh, the crafting. Every single piece of post-apocalyptic debris is now salvageable into crafting components to support the Settlement-building part of the game, or the gun modding. This one “small” change completely shifts one’s exploration perspective, as now suddenly all the empty rooms you might encounter are full of the priceless treasures that are typewriters, office fans, and aluminum cans. Indeed, this might almost work too well, as it is easy to get distracted with salvaging these things rather than seeking out other, more hidden loot.
By the way, let me just say that Bethesda seriously nailed the ambiance and setting in general. Boston felt like a real (ruined) city, and not just a series of loading screens and skyboxes. Even the surrounding cities and suburbs felt like actual towns. Putting aside their gameplay elements, the addition of Settlements really went a long way in making the wasteland feel populated by real people, rather than simply being trash heaps from which raiders and enemies spawn.
That said… a lot of the rest of the game just feels off.
The Lockpicking and Hacking minigames are back, directly lifted from their original incarnations, unexplained in any real way in-game. Speaking of unexplained, the Settlement system has one of the worst UIs I have ever seen in a videogame. The Perk system overhaul is similarly ugly as sin, giving the illusion of depth but none of the functionality. Perhaps the Skill point system wasn’t all that much better, but at least each level felt like it had tangible progress towards a goal.
The voice-acting is extremely good, but the dialog itself (and the choices given) all seem rather bad. Indeed, this was the first Fallout game I have played in which the main story quest felt inconsequential, incomplete. Several times I had to look up what the main quest even was, as the “find your son” narrative receded into the background radiation of the wasteland.
All told, I played Fallout 4 for 95 hours and still ended up skipping a tremendous amount of the game. In all that time, I never got around to doing any quests for the Brotherhood of Steel, or visiting Salem, or even really poking around the bottom-right part of the map. There is so much more that can be done… and I’m unlikely to muster the drive to see it through. Does this indicate the game is deficient in some (many) ways? Perhaps. On the other hand, what right do I really have to complain about a game that generated 95 hours of entertainment?
The bottom line is that Fallout 4 is a game worth playing, whether you are a fan of the series or if this is your first Fallout title. I don’t think Fallout 4 is possible to become anyone’s favorite game, but there is more here than in 99% of the other games you could be playing.
Just now picking up Fallout 4? I envy you.
Here is all the spoiler-free info I wish I had before I started playing.
The Baseline SPECIAL
If you are new to the series or just want a character build that works, I consider this the baseline:
The leftover points can be put wherever, but you’ll probably want to get Endurance to at least 3.
Why is this the best? Simple: it unlocks the largest amount of the best Perks in Fallout 4.
Strength – 3
Unlocks Armorer, the first rank of which will let you squeeze out some extra mileage from whatever armor you manage to loot; Armorer also becomes important if you decide to go the Power Armor route. The rest of the Strength tree is useless for anyone but melee character builds and can thus be ignored. Note, however, that Strength impacts your Carrying Capacity.
Luckily, Companions are easy to come by and can carry ~200 lbs of wasteland junk.
Perception – 4
Unlocks both Rifleman and Locksmith. Rifleman is probably one of the more absurd Perks in Fallout 4 simply because it increases the damage of pretty much all the weapons in the game: sniper rifles, shotguns, laser muskets, etc. Meanwhile, Locksmith will, of course, allow you to pick locks. Two things of note though: bobby pins are pretty common (no reason to take Rank 4), and you can recruit a companion that can unlock Master-level locks. As in, if you take that companion, you won’t need Locksmith at all. You’ll miss out on the XP and other companion banter however.
As an aside, Perception governs VATS accuracy, so you might want to dump some extra points in if you end up using VATS a lot.
Endurance – 1
Basically, there aren’t really any good Perks in this tree other than Toughness, which only needs Endurance 1 anyway. You should be able to easily reach your health regen needs via farming, resting, and so on.
Optional: Endurance 3 will unlock Life Giver, the third rank of which grants passive regeneration at level 16. Since you’ll probably want Endurance to be higher than 1 anyway just so you won’t be one-shot by grenades and such, this isn’t much to ask.
Charisma – 6
This is technically optional, but Charisma 6 unlocks Local Leader. The first rank of Local Leader makes it so that all of your Settlement Workbenches becomes shared stashes (for components only). Basically, if you want to engage with the Settlement minigame with any kind of seriousness, you’re going to need this Perk. Charisma also improves prices when buying/selling stuff with vendors by about 5% per point.
Optional: Charisma 1, if you are fine either Fast Traveling all the time, or otherwise don’t plan on doing much with Settlements. Just note that Charisma impacts your dialog success rates. You can generally cheese these with chems and reloading saves though.
Intelligence – 6
This is enough to unlock Science, Scrapper, and Gun Nut, e.g. the crafting trifecta. While it is possible to just get Gun Nut at Intelligence 3, you will be hurting for screws, a crafting component that is otherwise sparse in the wasteland; the first rank of Scrapper will get you screws for days by salvaging crappy pipe guns that drop from 99% of the NPCs you kill. Meanwhile, the first rank of Science will unlock a plethora of both gun mods and Settlement options.
Agility – 3
It’s enough to unlock Sneak. Keep in mind though, that Sneak is less useful in Fallout 4 than in games past, because non-aware hostile mobs do not show up on the compass ribbon. You can certainly hear them talking to themselves, but the likelihood of you actually using Sneak successfully indoors (for the delicious Sneak Attack Criticals) is pretty small. Outdoors, Sneak is almost superfluous as you can generally just crouch and snipe from afar.
Luck – 2
It has been said that Luck is one of the more powerful stats in Fallout 4, and that may well be true. However, unless you are willing to commit a lot of stat points, two is enough to unlock the first rank of Scrounger, which will pretty much solve your ammo problems for good. Plus, sell your unneeded ammo for cash.
Optional: Luck 8 for Grim Reaper’s Sprint or Luck 9 for Four Leaf Clover. Grim Reaper’s Sprint has always been pretty powerful in the other Fallouts, and it’s technically possible for you to unlock it at level 2, if you wish. Going all the way to Luck 9 will allow you to leverage a pretty absurd amount of Perk synergy: Four Leaf Clover procs will give you an auto-critical, which you can bank for whenever with Critical Banker, which do an impressively high amount of damage with Better Criticals, and will likely kill your target and possibly proc a full AP bar via Grim Reaper’s Sprint, letting you pump out more bullets and restart the process with Four Leaf Clover.
Been around the Wasteland a bit, eh? Okay, here are my observations from playing the game:
Free Stat Points
The stat Bobbleheads are back again, and picking them up increases the relevant stat by 1 point. In other words, if you have a specific character build you are going for, you can budget your SPECIAL stats accordingly. For example, my baseline recommendation has Charisma set to 6 for Local Leader. If you don’t anticipate using Local Leader until after you find the Charisma Bobblehead, you can set Charisma to 5 and use that extra stat point elsewhere.
Also, there is a “You’re SPECIAL” book laying on the floor in your former house in Sanctuary. Pick it up and you’ll get a free stat point you can place wherever you want.
Advanced Stat/Perk Planning
The Baseline I recommended originally simply gives you complete access to most of the best Perks right away. If you instead follow the Bobblehead route (e.g. relying on the free stat to meet requirements) though, you can do some goofy things… like this:
Or maybe not put it all in Luck, but split it into Perception and Agility. Or whatever.
In fact, you can go even further down the optimization route with the understanding that not only will there be “dead levels” in there where your best Perk choice will just be leveling up a stat, but also that you don’t necessarily even need a particular Perk until later in the game. For example, Science won’t be used for much until you start routinely encountering enemies with laser weapons. You won’t want to unlock Local Leader until you have a decent stockpile built up, so maybe use Charisma as a dump stat until the end of your 20s.
Collect that Junk… Intelligently
Nearly every piece of lootable debris can be broken down into useful crafting components, which will be important if you engage in the Settlements system at all. There are two tricks here that you should pay attention to though.
The first is “Tag to Search.” If you open your Pip-Boy and browse over to the Junk tab, one of the options should be Component View. This will show all the components your currently held Junk will break down into. If you notice any with Aluminum, Screws, Leather, Oil, Adhesive, Copper, or whatever you might be low on, go ahead and tag those. Within a few hours, you’ll start to have a Pavlovian response to Office Desk fans, Lighters, and similar items.
The second tip is to not just rely on scavenged items in the world. Vegetable Starch is a Cooking recipe that makes 5 Adhesive per batch. Cutting Fluid is a Chem Station recipe for Oil. But also do not discount your everyday friendly shop keepers in Diamond City and beyond:
I used to have a Leather problem. Then I realized that I can get Moe to part with 6 Baseball Gloves for 5 caps apiece. That’s 18 pieces of Leather for 30 caps. The other vendors are not as lucrative in say, Oil or Aluminum, but it certainly beats revisiting already-cleared factories scrounging the floor for cans or spending an insane amount of caps for “shipments of X” at several thousand caps apiece. Do a little browsing each time you offload your raider loot, and it will all add up.
After doing some weapon upgrading, you might notice your inventory filling with random-seeming weapon mods. What is actually going on here is that whenever you replace one mod with another, the old mod is not destroyed, but removed and stored. You can take advantage of this fact to both access better mods than you may be able to craft, or even use it to bypass the need for Gun Nut entirely (although you’ll want it for other reasons).
If you come across a weapon with a mod you want – say, a Silencer – head over to the crafting table and act like you are creating a new mod for that slot. In fact, that is exactly what you are doing: replacing the current mod with hopefully the “None” or “Standard” version. Voila! Now you have a Silencer despite not having Gun Nut maxed out. Just keep in mind that mods are base-weapon specific. A Silencer for a Pipe Gun is different than a Silencer for a rifle.
Keep a Charisma Suit Handy
Caps are more important in Fallout 4 than they have ever been, and Charisma is your ticket to getting more of them. Before offloading your latest haul of raider loot, equip your Charisma Suit, e.g. all the items with bonuses to Charisma. It should not take you too long to find clothes with at least +2 Charisma, and you can stack two additional points from both Sunglasses and Pompadour wig. Each point of Charisma improves prices by about 5%, which absolutely adds up over the course of the game.
Speaking of Charisma, vendors, and caps…
Better Living Through Grape Mentats
One of the most insane chems in Fallout 4, Grape Mentats are a craftable variation on the standard Mentats that provides you with +5 Charisma and a 10% buying/selling bonus from vendors. Whether you stroll into Diamond City laden with raider loot or are eyeing a vendor’s Legendary equipment selection, you will want to take some Grape Mentats.
How much of a difference does it make? This much:
- At Charisma 9: item costs 2331 caps.
- As above + Grape Mentats: item costs 1366 caps.
- As above + Cap Collector perk: item costs 1301 caps.
As you can see, Grape Mentats “stack” with Cap Collector, but not very well. Which is fine, because Grape Mentats are easy to make and have no prerequisites. The ingredients are: Hubflower x2, Mentats x1, Whiskey x1. Given that the latter two are everywhere in the game (including on vendors), the only difficult part is actually getting Hubflowers.
Luckily for you, I have found a few good locations:
The circled areas generally have 4+ Hubflower nodes in a small area. Said nodes do respawn eventually, on an unknown timetable.
Avoid the Designer Perk Traps
Certain Perks have always been hit-or-miss in the Fallout series (Nerd Rage! is still awful), but there are some that are worse than others this time around specifically due to decisions the designers have made.
For example, rethink your desire for a Sneak build. Sneak Attack Criticals are still in the game, but achieving them is incredibly more difficult this time around, and almost entirely superfluous. Non-aware enemies no longer appear on compass ribbon, so you almost have to make some noise to even know enemies are present. Sneak also requires heavy investment before you can move faster than an agonizing crawl, and you are likely to be instantly spotted indoors anyway. Making matters even worse, Fallout 4 has Legendary item prefixes that will double the damage of the weapon when used on enemies with full health, and another that adds an additional projectile. Why run around slow all the time when you can have a gun that basically gives you Sneak Attack Criticals by default?
Another subtle trap is Nuclear Physicist in the Intelligence tree. Take it if you want the Radiation weapon damage boost, but do not take it for the Fusion Core boost. Getting 25%/50%/100% longer duration on Fusion Cores sounds like something you’d want for a Power Armor build… right up until you realize that Fusion Cores can easily be bought from damn near every vendor in the Commonwealth. With Grape Mentats, I can buy Fusion Cores for 240 caps. So at Rank 3 of Nuclear Physicist (which requires level 26), I’ve spent three Perks all so I can… buy Fusion Cores for 120 caps. Rank 2 Cap Collector will get you infinitely more caps for two Perk points in comparison.
Other traps include Sniper and Penetrator in the Perception tree. While they perform exactly how they are described, the point is that they sound cool, but aren’t actually that useful. For example, if you are in a position to use a sniper rifle, you will typically be much better off waiting for your target to peek their head over cover and shoot them outside of VATS anyway.
Power Armor Decision
After one of the first quests in the game, you are given your very own suit of Power Armor. Deciding on whether or not you are going to try using it full-time is one of the more important decisions you can make. And, yes, you can use Power Armor all the time throughout the entire game. The only limiting factor is Fusion Cores, which aren’t actually that limiting at all in practice. But the question, again, is whether you want to use Power Armor all the time.
The benefits are pretty clear: an insane amount of armor right off the bat, allowing you to tank damage and most non-water sources of radiation. Additionally, Power Armor automatically sets your Strength to 11 with a corresponding increase to Carrying Capacity. The individual pieces of Power Armor do take damage and need repair, but it generally only takes a few pieces of steel to get them back up and running again. From a mechanics standpoint, Power Armor can’t really be beat.
…unless you don’t like skipping most of the other gameplay.
While in Power Armor, you do not receive any of the benefits of other armor you might be wearing. For example, I came across a piece of Legendary leg armor that increases my movement speed by 10%. I bought a Legendary arm piece that reduces damage taken by Human by 15%. Incidentally, this is why I say you’ll want to make the Power Armor decision early: to prevent you from spending 2000+ caps on gear instead of Fusion Cores. Running around in Power Armor all the time basically means all those items – and any you might pick up along the way – are functionally useless.
The more damning for me personally though, is simply how Power Armor feels while playing. You walk slower, all the time. Power Armor doesn’t impact your Sneaking ability from what I can tell, but you will certainly hear your own mechanical footsteps all the time. A large part of your screen will be taken up by the Power Armor UI, even if you aren’t wearing the helmet piece. And if you do wear the helmet piece, 100% of your character’s spoken dialog will be filtered through the face mask. At first, it’s amusing, but you lose a lot of the voice-acting nuances and emotion this way IMO.
It’s a tough decision, so take your time. It’s not the end of the world if you change your mind – you can command your companions to don the Power Armor in your stead (assuming they don’t already have their own suit) – but there is no real reason to “level up” both paths.