Fallout 4's character system makes important changes to the way perks work in the game.
As in previous entries in the post-apocalyptic open world role-playing game, Fallout 4 uses seven SPECIAL stats and associated perks.
The first choice you make, early in the game, is the starting value from one to 10 of your seven SPECIALs: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck.
(As an aside, Bethesda has been releasing videos focusing on each of the SPECIALs over the last few weeks.)
You have 28 points to assign, which means you can start with a 10 in one SPECIAL if you neglect others.
This is similar to how Fallout games have worked in the past, but in Fallout 4 you pick your SPECIALS early, before the bombs fall. However, the game lets you change them when exiting the Vault into the Wasteland, "after you've played a little", the developers said in a post on Bethesda.net.
As in Fallout 3, Fallout 4 has experience point-based levelling. It's unlike Skyrim, Bethesda Game Studios' fantasy open-world RPG, which uses a skill-based system from levelling.
But, levelling speed in Fallout 4 is "closer to Skyrim", Bethesda said, and not as slow as Fallout 3. So, you will get more opportunities, especially early on, to level up and select a perk.
Meanwhile, Fallout 4 does not have a level cap, whereas Fallout 3 has an initial level cap of 20. "We've balanced the game to keep the content and challenge going for higher levels," Bethesda said.
Now, onto perks. When you level up you select a perk from a new perk chart found within the game. It's there on the right.
Each SPECIAL has a perk assigned for each rank of the SPECIAL, from one to 10. You can select any perk up to the rank of your SPECIAL. So, if you leave the Vault with a 10 in Charism, you can select the Intimidation Perk, which lets you manipulate human enemies into doing your bidding, from early in the game.
This system sounds like it would create balance issues, but Bethesda said it had put a lot of effort into balancing the perks among each other, regardless of the SPECIAL rank required.
"The higher the SPECIAL requirement, the more focused or exotic the perk was for that playstyle," Bethesda said.
The idea is each of these perks is a mini-perk tree, with multiple ranks that also do new things.
For example, the Agility 10 Gun Fu perk (your second target in V.A.T.S. takes 25 per cent more damage regardless of weapon) allows more damage the more targets you select, increasing to instant Critical Shots. Gunslinger has ranks that up the range of pistols, add a chance to disarm enemies, and even instant limb crippling shots.
The additional perk ranks require your character to be a higher level. "This allows us to make some powerful perk ranks that reward your investment in a certain SPECIAL as well as that individual Perk," Bethesda explained.
Perks from previous Fallout games have been folded into Fallout 4's perk ranks. Fallout 3's Paralyzing Palm (paralyze enemies through hand-to-hand), for example, is the rank five perk for Iron Fist. But you'll need to have chosen the previous four ranks of Iron Fist and be level 46 to make it available.
Old perks now do new things at higher ranks. Higher ranks of Strong Back, for example, let you fast-travel while encumbered, or run while encumbered at the cost of Action Points (both of which should be useful for those who like to pick up everything they see in the game, like me).
So, with each SPECIAL having 10 perks, there are 70 base perks. But with perk ranks, it increases that number to over 270. That's a lot of perks.
"The previous Skill system had some confusing parts and ended up spreading your choices too thin," Bethesda said, explaining the changes.
"Some of you had questions like: 'What's better, the Charisma SPECIAL, or the Speech Skill? Why are assault rifles in Small Guns?'"
In Fallout 3, many perks raised associated skills. For example the Gun Nut perk in Fallout 3 increased two separate skills. But in Fallout 4, the ranks of Gun Nut act as gates for modifying and crafting weapons.
In Fallout 3, Sneak was a skill, and you increased its value. In Fallout 4, Sneak is a perk that makes you harder to detect, and wraps in previous perks such as Silent Running and Light Step into its ranks.
"By wrapping these systems together, it keeps the emphasis on your SPECIALs and the level-up choices more rewarding," Bethesda said.
And lastly, you can get separate perks from the in-game magazines you can find in the game world (there are over 100). Some grant an individual perk, others up the rank of a perk associated with that magazine.
For example, each book in the 10-issue run of Grognak the Barbarian gives you an additional rank of the Barbarian Perk, which raises the critical damage of melee attacks.
"Through the many years of Fallout 4 development, and the countless hours of playtesting, we think you're going to love this system in action," Bethesda said.
"We experimented with other systems, but found this one to be the most flexible and intuitive. Balancing all of the ranks, their individual efficacy, SPECIAL rank, and player level has been a huge task."
That's a lot of information to digest. Thankfully, Bethesda Game Studios chief Todd Howard sums up the changes in the video below, which is worth a shot because it shows off how we'll see the Pip-boy in-game, and the new perk animations.