1. Use V.A.T.S, always use V.A.T.S
You may have read somewhere that Bethesda took inspiration from Bungie’s ever-expanding, never-ending, MMOFPS, Destiny, when designing Fallout 4’s combat system. Ignore that. Yes, you can tackle the game as a straight-up FPS, ducking and diving in and out of cover, and engaging in heated gun-battles. But don’t. Instead, use V.A.T.S, or Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. The clue is in the name, it’s an assisted targeting system. But it is so much more than that.
V.A.T.S’ biggest benefit is that it enables you to slow time; not in a Matrix-y kind of way, more in a “let’s systematically rip this radroach to shreds” kinda way. It also allows you to plan your battles strategically, to prioritise enemies, to scout ahead, and to pull off devastating critical attacks at regular intervals. But most of all it allows you to play Fallout 4 in its purest sense, the way in which it is intended to be played. Chances are you’ll find V.A.T.S a little clunky at first, a little unwieldy, but stick with it, and it will become your greatest ally.
2. Don’t go near the water
Think of Fallout 4’s rivers and streams as like the water in your toilet bowl. On the surface it looks fine, and it probably won’t kill you, but you’d have to be very, very thirsty, and very, very stupid, to drink it. All of the water in the Wasteland is toxic, whether it’s the cute little brook on the outskirts of town or the vast lakes and rivers further afield. Drinking this water may replenish your health, but it will also give you the first stages of radiation sickness. This extends to swimming, or in some cases even setting foot in the water. Just avoid it completely, it’s much safer that way.
War never changes, and neither does capitalism. But with no mints around to process government-approved, legal tender, a new form of currency has had to be created: Bottlecaps. This is your gold, your silver, your credits, your loot, whatever you want to call it. In the game’s early stages you will most likely find some just lying around, waiting to be picked up. Take it and cherish it, because it won’t always come so easy. Earning capital in Fallout 4 is incredibly difficult, and most of what you do earn will invariably be spent on important, but dull, supplies. So you need to be thrifty, frugal, a bit of a miser really. Then one day, if you’re lucky, if you save up enough and don’t get robbed by a comely maiden, you might be able to buy yourself something nice, like a new rocket launcher.
4. Focus on Endurance, Agility, and Strength
All of the game’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes have been created equally, and the further you progress the more you will learn about each and every one of them, but at the outset some are more equal than others. It’s all very well emerging from the Vault as a charismatic intellectual with the luck of the Irish, but that will count for nothing when you’re tasked with facing down your first group of hostile forces. In order to negotiate these early encounters you will need to be physically tough, you will need high Endurance, high Strength, and high Agility.
Endurance affects your hit points, the amount of bang for your bullet (or your bat if you take the melee route) as it were. It also dictates how much damage you take from the shrapnel flying in the other direction. Agility governs the accuracy of your shots, which is pretty self-explanatory. The amount of items you can carry at any given time is determined by your character’s Strength. During your first forays into the Wasteland you’ll be pocketing all sorts; rusty irons, old shoes, bubblegum, books, sticks, guns, you name it. But you can only carry so much. If you find yourself over-encumbered in the middle of the Wasteland with nowhere to deposit those irreplaceable items, you’re going to have some difficult decisions to make.
5. Hunt, but mostly gather
Yes, there’s a lot of old rubbish knocking around the Wasteland. Or is there? On the face of it things like toasters, bars of soap, and scissors appear to have little or no monetary value, but in Fallout 4 everything has at least some worth, and almost everything can be used to some end. Crafting new weapons, enhancing your old ones, building settlements, even preparing hot meals; all of these things are done by utilising the stuff you find on your travels, the little trinkets and baubles you pocketed on a whim. In time you will learn which items can be used for what, but early on just take it all – provided you have enough Strength to carry it of course.
6. Don’t worry about perks, at least not yet
We’ve already discussed S.P.E.C.I.A.L and how best to utilise its attributes in the early stages of the game. But what of perks? My advice: Don’t stress yourself with them, at least not yet. The ability to buy perks unlocks when you reach a certain level in one of the main attribute categories, so if you level up your Strength to a certain point you will be given the option to add one of the perks associated with this attribute. But unlike the main attribute categories, these perks can be switched around depending on your circumstance or playstyle. Think of them as a little bonus, a way of enhancing the overall gameplay experience. Have fun with them and experiment, because if you stick with the game long enough you will probably end up unlocking them all anyway.
7. Drugs are good, m’kay?
There’s a lot of drugs in Fallout 4, but unlike their real-life counterparts very few of them are used for recreational purposes. Psycho, Turbo, Buffout, Hydra, Jet…they all have their benefits; some will increase your damage resistance, others will give you a temporary energy rush, most will aid you in battle, and all are dangerously addictive. Yes, that’s right, these drugs are good, but only in moderation. Abuse them and they will enslave you, rendering you incapable of surviving without another hit until you can get to the nearest pharmacist for the post-apocalyptic equivalent of a quick detox. The same goes for cigarettes. They’ll make you look cool, and possibly help attract the ladies, but they come complete with raspy coughs and decreased lung capacity.
8. Play dress-up
You’ve seen the pictures of the big mean men in power armour, and they look great, but don’t get betrothed to the idea of having the biggest, meanest armour available. Try on everything you can find no matter how incidental it may appear – think of it as being finally allowed to play Barbies, but without the shame and self-loathing. You may think your legs look awful in that tight-fitting sequinned dress you just pilfered, but the boost to your Charisma suggests otherwise. Style comes a distant second to substance in this instance, and it will often be the case that the more ridiculous you look, the more powerful you actually are.
9. Use the quick-menu function
As good as the Pip-Boy is – and it is very good – it can also be a bit of a pain. Nothing takes the excitement out of a gunfight like a slow and steady trawl through your inventory in search of a healing agent. At the game’s start you will have three slots available in your quick-menu, each of which can be accessed via the D-pad. The first, and most important, item in your quick-menu should be your Stimpaks. These are your standard health boosters and you’ll need to have them close to hand at all times. Alongside them go your secondary weapons, the aforementioned drugs, and anything else which might offer a boost to your health (Nuka-Cola and InstaMash for example), and as more and more spaces open up you can swap and change items at your leisure.
10. Save often
There’s something quite retro about the notion of saving your game manually. I mean, who does such a thing in this day and age? Well, you do, or at least you should do. While Fallout 4 has an auto-save function which regularly updates your progress, it’s still wise to add a few save slots of your own. Death is only ever a couple of seconds away in the Wasteland, and a cheery jaunt through a relatively harmless plain can suddenly turn into a balls-out, hellish tête-à-tête with an aggressive enemy force. And once the guns come out, you can’t pause the game to save it. You must fight on and hope that you survive not only to see another day, but to ensure you don’t lose the last hour of your life.