Wasteland survival guide: Getting started in Fallout 4

The latest game in the Fallout series is bigger than ever before. It's so big, in fact, it can be a little daunting. Here are some tips to get your Sole Survivor through the first few hours of Fallout 4.

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
7 min read
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Bethesda/Luke Lancaster/CNET

Even though it was only announced at the start of June, it feels like we've been waiting for Fallout 4 for longer than some people have been taking shelter in Vaults. That long, dark nuclear winter is over and the game has finally arrived .

So, whether you're preparing to pop a few radroaches with your first BB gun or if you've already been measured for your bespoke Power Armour, read on, and get ready for the wide, weird, wonderful Wasteland of Fallout 4.

A face with real character

You can alter almost every aspect of your character's face in the ridiculously detailed character creation system, along with body shape, hair, skin tone and much more. Don't fret if you notice something not quite right once you start playing. You'll have opportunities to change your appearance later on.

The biggest difference your character's gender makes is that female characters can choose an ability called Black Widow (male characters get the equivalent Lady Killer) which offers a bonus to damage and some extra dialogue with the opposite sex.

Your attributes are determined by the SPECIAL system (a rating of 1 to 10 in each of Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck). You'll have an option to reassign your SPECIAL and abilities when you leave the starting area.

Early on you'll see your character's pre-war house again, so make sure to find the copy of the children's book "You're Special," which Fallout 3 alumni will no doubt recognize. Grabbing it will offer a bonus attribute point right off the bat.

Goodbye skills, hello perks

Character abilities were divided into skills, traits and perks in previous Fallout games. In Fallout 4, all abilities now all fall under the banner of perks.

Take Lockpicking as an example. Any character can try and pick a novice-rated lock. But to open an advanced lock you'll need the Locksmith perk, which requires a Perception attribute of at least rank 4. If you want to try picking expert locks, you'll need to upgrade the Locksmith perk, which becomes available when you reach level 7.

You get points to spend on perks each time you level up, but those same points can be used to increase attributes if you don't quite meet the requirements for the perks you want. It's also worth noting that bonuses granted by your gear aren't factored in to unlocking perks. Popping on a fedora boosts your Perception from 4 to 5, but you won't get access to perks that need rank 5 in the attribute.

The perk tree it might initially look a bit linear, but you don't need to unlock a perk before accessing the one below it. You can buy any perk you meet the requirements for, no matter how far down it is in that list.

Early on, I'd recommend you spend some upgrade points on Gun Nut, Armourer, Science and Scrapper.

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A room of one's own: settlements let you have a place to rest and craft your gear, plus much more if you want.


Workshops and settlements

Fallout 4 also introduces the ability to build new settlements. You'll need to use workshops you find in the Wasteland to dismantle existing structures and debris and start building anew.

Your settlements can be as basic as few wooden shacks and assorted mattresses, or it can be three story metal buildings with automatic security turrets and power to every room.

It's actually quite complex and the best bit of advice we've got is to remember that you don't have to do it if you don't want to. There's only one settlement that you need to enhance as part of an early quest. After that it's actually quite optional (or at least has been in the time I've played).

The workshop is also how you'll turn random junk into components for your settlements and gear upgrades. After a while you no longer see a desk fan, you see a collection of gears, screws and steel just waiting to happen.

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This began life as a .38 calibre pistol. Ok, not quite.


Armour and weapons

Unlike previous Fallout games, your weapons and armour won't ever break or deteriorate in Fallout 4.

Instead, there's a very complex and detailed upgrade system for your weapons and protective gear. Even a basic 10mm pistol allows you to modify the barrel, receiver, magazines, grip, sights and muzzle. Basic modding is just about having the mod you need or the parts to make it, but as mods gets get more complex (and useful) you'll need perks like Gun Nut.

Armour now comes in five sections (chest and individual limbs), rather than one single piece. These can be heavily modified as well. Are you a pack rat? Make sure your armour is pocketed for extra inventory space. Like to sneak around? Ensure your apparel is shadowed. Armour pieces don't have to come from the same set either, so add that metal armour leg to your raider chest piece if you want.

The one notable exception is the series' iconic Power Armour, which still needs repairing. Modifying it requires a Power Armour station, an extraordinary array of rare materiel and the kind of dedication normally seen in people restoring vintage cars back to new. It's not for the faint-hearted.

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For Sale: T-51 Power Armour. One owner from new. Remnants of previous owner may need to hosed out before use.


Meeting new people

The gentle art of conversation has changed from the earlier games, with each chance to respond granting you four options. Additional options based on your Speech perk can also pop up, providing extra rewards or story paths if you're successful. These are colour-coded to let you know how difficult they are.

Because Charisma is so important to speech and bartering, I'd recommend having a special outfit for when you're in a town as opposed to on the open road. Plenty of outfits offer bonuses to Charisma when worn, so find a nice suit, pop on some fashionable glasses and maybe even add a hat. You'll be charming the caps out of people in no time.


When words fail and the weapons come out, the major thing to watch out for is your critical meter. Using the VATS aiming mechanic will let you pause the game and automatically line up some shots. Once you fill your critical meter by using VATS, you can choose to launch a critical attack to deal some extra pain.

The new weapon-based perks are pretty broad. The Gunslinger perk, for example, gives a bonus to all non-automatic pistols. This group includes .44 revolvers, 10mm guns, laser pistols and pipe guns.

It pays not to specialise too much in the early stages. I'd recommend at least having something that's reliable at a distance, like a sniper rifle, and something that packs a punch up close, such as a shotgun or high-caliber pistol.

Reading Material

Back in Fallout 3, a book would give you a permanent upgrade to a skill, while in Fallout: New Vegas a magazine would provide a short-term boost.

This time around most magazines work like a perk, adding a permanent bonus to a particular gameplay element, with further issues giving extra ranks. So each issue of "Grognak the Barbarian" adds five percent critical hit damage for unarmed and melee combat.

Other magazines give you a different perk for each issue. Issue 1 of "Astoundingly Awesome Tales" has you regenerating 1 point of health per minute, while issue 10 gives you a small amount of radiation resistance. Some magazines can unlock new customisation options, such as paint jobs for your Power Armour or different hairstyles.

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Oh, what a wonderful world! Just watch out for the raiders, the mutants, the ghouls, the radroaches, the yao guai...


Out and about

The Wasteland is big, and you're going to spend a lot of time walking around until you unlock fast travel points on your map. When you first exit the Vault tutorial area, I'd recommend that you head to Concord. You'll unlock a few more gameplay elements there, meet one of the game's many factions and get your first suit of Power Armour.

You can also recruit companions to your cause. A companion can carry your things, offer perks if they like you enough and help out in combat. Only one companion will follow you at a time, but you can send companions back to a settlement and try someone new for a while when you meet them. They also can't die, which is pretty handy.

If you see people moving around a new area and you haven't been spotted yet, try targeting them in VATS. If they're enemies, their health bar will show up red and you can skirt around or come in guns-a-blazin'. If you're having problems with landmines knocking the legs out from under you (literally) then VATS is your friend as well. It'll auto target mines when you activate it.

Too much?

Feeling overwhelmed? Fallout 4 is a massive game, not only full of new elements, but slightly tweaked older elements that can confuse even the most experienced Fallout fan. The settlement crafting alone could practically be a standalone game. On top of all of that, your Quest log will fill up so quickly it'll look like the Nic Cage section on Netflix.

But remember, this is an open-world game. You're free to set your sights at any point on the map and just start walking. Adventures will occur no matter where you go. There are people to meet, raiders to kill, gear to collect. It's a wide open Wasteland out there and it's just waiting for you to make it yours.