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Master Fallout 4’s wasteland with these essential starting tips

After years of anticipation, Fallout 4 is finally upon us. Much like its predecessors, the Commonwealth wasteland can be a really punishing place, especially right at the beginning when you’re a fresh-faced vault dweller with nothing but a 10mm pea-shooter and the jumpsuit on your back. You can always turn down the difficulty if the going gets unpleasantly tough, but don’t lose hope yet! These games are meant to be challenging, and a lot of the fun is figuring out how to survive against conditions that seem initially forbidding.

This guide will cover some basic tips and practices that will help you get up to speed, whether you’re a brand new player, or a seasoned veteran looking for a refresher. Let us know in the comments if and in what areas you would like us to expand it, and also please share any hard-earned wisdom that you yourself have found out in the Commonwealth.

Scavenge everything

Scavenge everything, junk is more useful than ever in 4. Items that contain screws and adhesive are especially critical if you’re going to be modding your weapons and armor. Many of the most rare and valuable items in the game, such as ability-boosting magazines and bobbleheads, are tucked away in obscure corners, so it always pays to take your time and thoroughly explore every location that you pass through. Remember the flashlight on your Pip-Boy as well for scanning dark rooms. There is rarely any kind of time pressure with your missions, so you don’t have to worry about the clock.

Stockpile your junk at home

With the addition of the crafting system, you’re going to want to hold onto a lot of that junk you’ve been scavenging for parts, rather than selling it. That means you’ll need somewhere to keep it. Fortunately you can stockpile junk indefinitely at any workshop. Rather than dropping everything off at the nearest workshop as you go, however, it makes much more sense to consolidate it in one home base. If you develop settlements and establish supply lines then the workshops share materials, but even then it’s still useful to pick one spot to keep all your extra items and send all of your companions when you’re not using them.

Fallout 4
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Even if you don’t have any interest in developing settlements, it will pay off in the long run to take a little time and set up a base right at the fast travel point at one of your workshops. Sanctuary Hills is a great option since the fast travel point is right by a bunch of crafting stations already. There is a cooking station down the road and a chemistry station behind one of the houses that you can drag over. Otherwise, all you need is to build a container like a floor safe that can hold items and a bed nearby and you’ll be all set for efficient trips home between adventures. You can also build a new fast travel point to set up you base just right, if the default doesn’t work for you.

If you do want to dedicate time and resources to developing settlements, you will be rewarded. Excess resources that your settlement produces are stored in the workshop, so if you can afford to build the industrial water purifier early, even if you don’t have nearly enough people living there to justify it, you will end up with lots of free purified water ready for you to grab every time you swing by, which can be a great source of healing on the go. The same goes for caps from stores you build and food from crops you plant.

Leveling up: Invest in Intelligence early

Relative to previous games, you seem to gain levels at a much faster rate in Fallout 4. The trade-off is that you only have one decision to make of whether to take a stat boost or a perk. Rather than being oversimplified, like some people feared, the effect is a much more elegant, flexible, and responsive character progression system. Levels come fast enough that you can respond quickly to areas where you find that you need a boost. It’s important to note that you don’t have to spend perks right away if there’s nothing immediately useful to you, and can instead stockpile them for when you need something, or meet a level requirement that you haven’t yet hit.

Unlike in previous Fallout games, there is no level cap. Because of the cap before, many people considered it a waste of a perk to take the experience boost, since you would max it out soon enough anyway. Without a cap in place, it’s useful to invest heavily in Intelligence early, which affects how much experience you gain. Smarten up in the beginning of the game and you’ll burn through levels much more quickly in the long run.

Learn how to lockpick and hack like a pro

After rewards given to you from quests and the drops from legendary enemies, the best loot you’re going to find is usually behind locked doors and/or in safes. You need to invest perks into lockpicking or hacking in order to even attempt more advanced locks and terminals, so those are good early points to spend if you want to minimize remembering and backtracking to the locations of safes and doors you couldn’t open at first.

Fallout 4
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’re going to invest in just one, go for lockpicking. Often doors or safes can be opened either way, and it’s much more commonly just by picking than just by hacking. The additional benefits of hacking are that you can take control of turrets and robots, which is nice, but less essential than entry. Don’t bother with the final level of either perk — if you’re a diligent scavenger, you won’t need to worry about running out of bobby pins, and if you’re careful with hacking, even the master terminals can be solved just with logic within the allotted tries.

When hacking, first scan for groups of letters that come up in multiple words, such as ing, ed, th, or oo. The longer and more frequently occurring the string, the better, since if you’re lucky you can eliminate lots of options at once if there is a smaller resemblance than the number of letters in question.

Next page: Four final tips for Fallout 4

Fallout 4

Save your bullets and carry a variety of weapons

One of the things that makes Fallout so challenging is that ammo is a precious resource in the wasteland, which should give you pause when you want to start spraying bullets willy-nilly at a pack of raiders. Diligent scavenging can help alleviate this, but there’s no guarantee you’ll find the particular type you need, and rarer calibers can be expensive to buy. Always carry a selection of weapons that use different types of ammo, so you have something to work with if you run out of one kind or other. As the game goes on and you run into synths regularly, fusion cells in particular will be plentiful.

As a last resort it’s also always good to have a melee weapon with you. Grognak’s Axe is one of the best in the game, and is easy enough to snag from the ground floor of Hubris Comics near Diamond City. Come in prepared to fight a room full of feral ghouls and then you can pick it from the case behind the counter. If you haven’t found it yet, the Silver Shroud quest from Goodneighbor will lead you there.

Save early, save often

Fallout can be a punishing game at times, so expect to die a fair amount, especially early in the game when you’re more likely to wander into someplace for which you are not at all prepared. It can be extremely frustrating to make your way through most of a building, fighting everyone and meticulously checking every drawer, only to lose focus for a second and die, having to go back and repeat the whole thing. Bethesda games also have a reputation for being a bit buggy. Our experience of Fallout 4 has not been so bad, but it did crash twice in about 40 hours. The quicksave feature is there for a reason, so it’s a useful habit to utilize it regularly.

Let enemies bring the fight to you

If you’re having a hard time with a particularly challenging fight, fall back to a position you can better defend and let enemies come to you. Enemy AI is not stellar, so you can usually just backtrack through a door and wait for them to follow you, one or two at a time, and blow their heads off with a well-timed VATS shot.

Relish the little things, and explore

You could plow straight through the main story in about 20 hours if you really set your mind to it, but what would be the fun in that? The story is fine — better than Fallout 3 to be sure — but isn’t really the main selling point. Fallout is a game for luxuriating in, so relax, explore. Many of the best moments in any given Fallout game aren’t major plot points, but rather are the side quests and the strange little bits of environmental storytelling found throughout the game in tableaus and terminal message logs. Take your time and enjoy all the meticulous detail and exquisite world-building that you will find off the beaten path.

Available at: Amazon | Microsoft

Will Fulton
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Will Fulton is a New York-based writer and theater-maker. In 2011 he co-founded mythic theater company AntiMatter Collective…
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