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OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

Optimizing Character Creation in Fallout 4

Kyle Hinckley

Utah Valley University

OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

Abstract
In Fallout 4, players must consider the basis of their in-game characters carefully in order to
maximize effectiveness. Equipment effectiveness is dependent on character perks, and likewise,
perks are dependent on SPECIAL stats. A character's effectiveness can be measured in many
ways depending on which play-style the player chooses to adopt. A character's given damage in
combat can be maximized by focusing on stealth, melee weapons and the Blitz perk, while
survival is most highly augmented with the use of heavy power armor. These styles of gameplay
do not work well together, and so a player can use legendary automatic weapons to deal
comparable damage to a sneak-attack with Blitz. This will allow a character to focus on survival
first and damage second. Regardless of which play-style the player adopts, the Idiot Savant perk
should be taken early on, if not immediately, in order to maximize experience gain and character
growth.

OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

Optimizing Character Creation in Fallout 4


Role-playing games have been around since the 1970s, and though the original pen-andpaper games used dice and charts rather than digital simulations, the concept remains the same:
the player controls a character, and this character grows with experience. Success in RPG games
has always hinged on how well the player understands the rules. This paper will focus on
character creation methods in a relatively new game, Fallout 4. Players around the world have
been struggling to discover the most effective strategy for character creation since Fallout 4 came
out in November of 2015. I intend to demonstrate this: a character based on the prioritized tenets
of survival, damage, and growth is the most effective character possible throughout the game.
As I present different strategies, I will explain gaming concepts and how the mechanics
of Fallout 4 work. Because the character creation in Fallout 4 is so expansive, I will narrow
down my choices by min-maxing, a universal RPG concept; a character is most effective by
maximizing power in a small number of areas, while ignoring the remainder (Savage, 2014).
Survival
Survival is the single most important aspect of a character in any game, especially in
Fallout 4. Character death is the only real failure Fallout 4 offers. While it may be easy to simply
begin from a previous save, a character who dies is backtracking and losing progress.
In the spirit of min-maxing, there are really only two kinds of Fallout 4 characters: those
who use stealth, and those who do not. In terms of survival, stealth seems to be the best choice. A
character who remains undetected can avoid life-threatening situations altogether, and a series of
perks can be used to multiply weapon damage. This is seen as a soft defense.
Characters who do not use stealth have more options for character focus, especially

OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

through the first half of the game. A min-maxed character who does not take advantage of stealth
can focus on a wider range of skills and, most importantly for survival, a hard defense.
It may be helpful to think about these different kinds of characters as the Lord of the
Rings characters Gimli and Legolas. Gimli is a heavily armored and hardy dwarf who fights in
the thick of melee. Legolas is a lithe and fragile elf who makes strategic sneak-attacks against his
opponents.
The Fallout community has always favored stealth-based character builds, but the issue is
more divided with the release of Fallout 4. I sent a straw poll to my Twitch stream viewers on
April 8th, 2016, asking them if they prefer to use stealth. Of the 107 viewers, 43 responded. 25
votes were cast in favor of using stealth, with 18 votes against.
On the same day, I interviewed a Fallout 4 streamer from New Zealand named Mike

Tekeu (T_Ronix on Twitch). He originally played without stealth until his viewers persuaded him
otherwise, and now he relies on stealth builds to complete the game without dying on the highest
difficulty. While his methods are good, I believe there is a single most optimized path to
character creation in Fallout 4, and to explain it I will need to begin with SPECIAL stats.
Survival in Terms of SPECIAL Stats

OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

SPECIAL is the Fallout equivalent of physical statistics. Each letter stands for a different
stat: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. When a player
begins a game of Fallout 4, their SPECIAL stats are set to 1 and they are allowed to place 21
points into any combination of stats. This is a vital portion of character design, and it is
unfortunately presented to the player before they understand the full consequences of SPECIAL
stats. For instance, players who focus on survival should invest heavily in either Endurance or
Agility.
Endurance dictates a character's health. Health is expressed as HP in Fallout 4. When this
reserve of HP is depleted, the character dies. With each point of Endurance, a character's HP
reserve increases. The major advantage to focusing on Endurance is the ability to absorb damage
from enemies. However, a character who avoids combat is, in theory, more likely to survive. Any
character who relies on stealth will need to invest in Agility instead.
Agility is the basis for stealth. A player can have his character crouch-walk and remain
undetected. In this state, a character can avoid combat or eliminate enemies with large damage
bonuses. A character with high Agility is presumed to be able to clear hostile areas from stealth
and thus avoid all danger.
While a character who uses stealth is able to avoid detection in average gameplay, there
are times when the character enters a cinematic sequence. Occasionally, these sequences enter
them directly into combat. In addition, a character with high Agility will still be detected often
throughout the first third of the game because of the nature of perk level limits.
While SPECIAL stats dictate many aspects of a character, the most important role they
play is in access to perks. Each SPECIAL stat governs 10 different perks, for a total of 70, and

OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

these have varying degrees of rank. Each rank can be activated as the game progresses to grant a
special bonus.
Survival in Terms of Perks
Perks are central to a character build. The most appropriate way to design a character
build is to determine their play-style, choose appropriate perks, and adjust initial SPECIAL stats
to accommodate those perks.
A player who has chosen to focus on stealth will want to select the Sneak perk, which
falls under Agility. Each rank in Sneak will make the character harder to detect. This perk is the
sole reliance of a stealth character, because being detected often requires a dangerous retreat. On
the other hand, a character which has focused on Endurance rather than Agility has more
opportunity to grant survival bonuses with Endurance perks. These include Lifegiver, Ghoulish
and Solar Powered, all of which grant bonuses to HP reserves, HP regeneration, or both. These
perks can all be accessed on a single character to reverse damage in real-time. In tandem with
armor, a character who uses these perks can often out-regenerate enemy damage. When it comes
to survival, Endurance is the most reliable solution.
Survival in Terms of Equipment
Fallout 4 has 6 categories of items: weapons, armor, aid, misc., junk, and ammo. My
focus here is on a character's armor, which is the major provider of damage resistance. All armor
has varying degrees of resistance for ballistic, energy, and radiation damage. Ballistic and energy
damage lowers a character's HP directly, and radiation damage temporarily lowers a character's
HP reserve. Other types of damage are present in the game, but cannot be directly prevented.
Items have in-game weight, and armor is no exception. Heavier armor makes it more

OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

difficult for a character to use stealth. For this reason, a character who has been designed for
stealth will want to either wear light armor (such as leather) or no armor at all. As with the Lord
of the Rings character Legolas, this will make the character faster and more stealthy at a cost of
vulnerability. Gimli, on the other hand, prefers to wear the heaviest, most protective armor.
Fallout 4 is set in a post-nuclear America, and has many science-fiction elements. The
Fallout equivalent of heavy armor is power armor. More armored vehicle than clothing, power
armor is a fusion powered full-body steel suit. Previous installments of the series saw power
armor as a reward for diligent players late into the game, but in Fallout 4, this is not the case.
Indeed, the first set of power armor is casually handed to the player almost immediately.
Providing exceptional levels of ballistic, energy, and radiation damage resistance, no other set of
equipment will provide nearly as much defense. The Vault Dweller's Survival Guide (Hodgson &
Esmarch, 2015) lists the damage resistances of most power armor sets (p. 80) as being higher
than even the most powerful enemies in the game (p. 47), and this is before upgrades.
Every weapon and piece of armor can be modified and upgraded in Fallout 4 using junk
items and specific crafting workbenches. A notable disadvantage to using power armor is the
need to take the Armorer and Science! perks in order to fully improve it. This will require
investments into Strength and Intelligence. Power armor also requires repair and fuel, a trait no
other item in Fallout 4 shares. Even with these disadvantages, however, power armor is the
obvious choice for survival-based characters.
Damage
While survival is the key component of an optimized character build, the Fallout 4 player
will need to consider dealing damage to their enemies as well. Just as there are stealth and non-

OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

stealth characters, there are 5 weapon types. Unarmed and melee are the close-quarters weapon
types, while rifles, pistols, and automatics are the ranged weapon types.
In the interest of min-maxing, an effective character build should only focus on a single
weapon type. Each type of weapon is boosted by different perks across the SPECIAL spectrum,
and the weapon type a player intends to use should be taken into account before selecting their
initial SPECIAL stats.
Blitz and VATS
The Fallout franchise has a unique mechanic called VATS, or the Vault-Tec Assisted
Targeting System. VATS comes standard on all characters, and allows the player to slow time to
a crawl in order to choose an order of attacks which are then made automatically. This way, a
player who has no experience with first-person shooter games can still effectively use a ranged
weapon. The chance to hit an enemy in VATS is affected by the Perception stat, as well as
various perks. However, a skilled player will typically not need to use VATS. Taking VATS into
account when designing a character build will take away from their pure defensive and offensive
capabilities. The only exception to this rule is a very specific perk called Blitz.
Blitz allows a player to use a melee or unarmed VATS attack on an enemy at the
comparable distance of a ranged weapon. In conjunction with other perks which boost a sneakattack's damage, a Blitz-based character can actually eliminate any enemy in the game, even at
the highest difficulty setting, with a single blow.
A sneak-attack is an attack on an enemy who has not detected the player's character. The
maximum sneak-attack multiplier with ranged weapons is 585% (Kosire, 2015, para. 5), but a
melee or unarmed weapon sneak-attack can be multiplied to over 1000% for attacks approaching

OPTIMIZING CHARACTER CREATION

45000 damage (Kelsper, 2016, para. 10). To put this data in perspective, the most HP an enemy
can have is 1900 (Hodgson & Esmarch, 2015, p. 45).
Technically speaking, a character who ends up using Blitz with power armor is the best
possible character, both offensively and defensively. However, there is no clear min-maxed route
to this point, which means an optimized Blitz/power armor build will be less effective than most
until about halfway through the game. Luckily, there is an alternative to Blitz.
Legendary Affixes
Instead of focusing on a range of damage multiplier perks, I have explored possibilities
with special weapon properties called legendary affixes. Legendary items (both weapons and
armor) are gained by eliminating legendary enemies.
Legendary enemies are rare even at the highest difficulty level, and their legendary item
is assigned randomly based on character level. Designing a build around the hope of finding a
particular random legendary item is unrealistic. However, certain legendary items are always in
the same place in Fallout 4. One in particular stands out among these, a legendary automatic
weapon called the Spray and Pray. A caravan merchant named Cricket will always have this gun
in her shop at the beginning of the game, and can be reached very early.
The Spray and Pray has the explosive affix, meaning each bullet does extra explosive
damage. This bonus damage is considered AoE (area of effect) damage. Every shot deals ballistic
damage to the point of impact, and also deals bonus explosive damage to all other targets in a
certain radius. Because each enemy in Fallout 4 has a separate HP value for arms, legs, torso, and
head, damage is applied to a single enemy several times. Explosive damage on an automatic
weapon adds up quickly, and makes short work of most enemies.

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10

The Spray and Pray is considered both an automatic weapon and an explosive weapon,
and so its damage will be boosted by both the Demolition Expert and Commando perks. At all
stages of the game, a character which integrates these perks with this legendary weapon will do a
great deal of damage.
Some enemies are highly resistant to both explosive and ballistic damage. While a
character can use the Spray and Pray effectively throughout the game, some enemies can be
handled more easily with a different type of legendary weapon. For this reason, an optimized
character should also be on the lookout for a gun which is (or can be modified to be) automatic,
and has the wounding affix.
Wounding weapons do a special kind of damage called bleeding damage. This is similar
to poison damage by dealing damage over time. A Reddit user named Talrivian (2016) has shown
wounding to be the most powerful affix on an automatic weapon because bleeding damage
stacks (which means it is applied on top of itself continuously), and there is no resistance to
bleeding damage in Fallout 4 (para. 14).
In other words, a gun with a high RoF (rate of fire) and the wounding affix will do
exponential damage over time. A powerful and highly armored enemy will take little damage at
first, but their HP will begin to drain more and more quickly as they take wounding hits. An
automatic weapon with this affix will allow any character to eliminate any enemy in 5 seconds or
less, regardless of character level, perks, enemy level, or enemy damage resistance.
Legendary affixes and unique legendary weapons allow a player to build a character with
a focus on survival first while allowing for comparable damage to other perk-heavy builds which
focus on VATS, stealth, and/or damage multipliers.

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Growth
Characters grow in effectiveness through experience. Nearly every action in Fallout 4
grants a certain number of experience points, which accumulate until the character levels up. At
this point, the player can decide to either put another point into their SPECIAL stats, or into a
single perk rank. An optimized character build will have these decisions laid out before they
begin playing, because all perks have SPECIAL prerequisites. In addition, the first rank of any
perk can be taken at any time, but all subsequent perks require the character to be a certain level.
Because of this, a player cannot design a build to apply maximum damage from the beginning of
the game. Character growth is thus the final focus of an optimal build.
Experience gain rates are affected by the Intelligence stat and a perk called Idiot Savant.
Experience gained from a single source has a base rate which is multiplied by an experience rate.
This rate ranges from 103% at Intelligence 1 to 130% at Intelligence 10. The Idiot Savant perk,
which grants a random experience multiplier, activates based on the character's Intelligence stat.
Lower Intelligence increases the odds of an Idiot Savant bonus.
Reddit user Minusra (2016) has demonstrated in a test of over 5000 experience-gaining
actions the benefits of Idiot Savant. Even at 10
Intelligence, the Idiot Savant Bonus will grant a
significantly higher average gain of experience
(para. 1). Any optimized build should have this
perk included, in order to increase character
growth over time.
Because an optimized build includes the use of power armor, I have discussed the need to

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12

take certain crafting perks. The Science! perk requires at least an Intelligence level of 6, meaning
Idiot Savant will not be as effective. My solution to this problem is to take Idiot Savant at low
Intelligence as the first perk in the build. As this character grows, a player can slowly raise
Intelligence to use of the Science! perk. Once this perk is in place, power armor can be
augmented with junk items to increase its damage reduction. This sacrifice of net experience for
survival reflects the prioritization I have put forth.
Conclusion
New players should explore options within Fallout 4, as no two characters are alike, and
no two game experiences are the same. However, when dealing with the highest difficulty levels
and most dangerous enemies, no build is more continuously effective than one based on power
armor and highly over-powered, legendary automatic ranged weapons.
My research has shown, despite the historic popularity of stealth-based characters, a build
which rejects stealth in order to focus on survival will be more effective throughout the entirety
of Fallout 4. Alternate strategies and builds will emerge as new content is added to the game, and
new items may call for altered strategies of optimized build design, but the core tenets of
character optimization in Fallout 4 should always be survival first, damage second, and growth
third.

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13

References
Hodgson, D. S., & Esmarch, N. V. (2015). Vault dweller's survival guide. Indianapolis,
IN:DK/Prima Games.
Kelsper. (2015, November 24). Melee damage/strength optimization - capable of 90k+ sneak
attacks. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from
https://www.reddit.com/r/fo4/comments/3u2ntt/melee_damagestrength_optimization
_capable_of_90k/
Kosire. (2015, November 24). Fallout 4 Sneak Attack Math? Retrieved April 10, 2016, from
https://www.reddit.com/r/fo4/comments/3u15ta/fallout_4_sneak_attack_math/
Minusra. (2015, November 12). I tested intelligence, Idiot Savant, and experience gain in
general; I performed over 5000 actions. Here's the results. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from
https://www.reddit.com/r/fo4/comments/3siw35/i_tested_intelligence_idiot_savant_and
_experience
Savage. (2014, October 16). Min-maxing. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from
http://www.giantbomb.com/min-maxing/3015-128/
Talrivian. (2015, November 20). Useful info inside on game's mechanics after a lot of time spent
testing! Retrieved April 10, 2016, from https://www.reddit.com/r/fo4/comments/3tjngh/
useful_info_inside_on_games_mechanics_after_a_lot/

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Glossary

Agility A SPECIAL stat that affects a character's ability to use stealth.


AoE (area of effect) Damage that affects all targets within a certain radius.
Armor Apparel which grants damage resistance.
Armorer A Strength perk which allows for more advanced armor upgrades per rank.
Automatic A type of ranged weapon with a high rate of fire.
Bleeding damage A special kind of additive damage over time that cannot be resisted.
Blitz An Agility perk that allows a melee or unarmed VATS attack to cross large distances.
Character The player's in-game avatar in Fallout 4.
Commando An Agility perk which increases automatic weapon damage by 20% per rank.
Damage The number calculated against combatant armor from an attack to reduce HP.
Damage resistance A property of armor which reduces incoming damage, by type.
Demolition Expert A Perception perk which increases the damage and radius of explosives.
Difficulty level An in-game setting which increases the difficulty of combat.
Endurance A SPECIAL stat that affects a character's HP reserves.
Experience A reward for completing tasks that accumulate into character growth via levels.
Explosive affix A ranged weapon modifier that adds explosive damage to each attack.
Ghoulish An Endurance perk which grants HP regeneration in radioactive areas.
HP The health reserves of a character or enemy, or other in-game actor.
Idiot Savant A Luck perk which multiplies random experience gains 300 to 500%.
Intelligence A SPECIAL stat that affects a character's experience gain.
Legendary affix A special property added to a basic weapon or armor item.

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Glossary

Legendary item An item with a legendary affix.


Level A character's progressive growth which increases incrementally with experience.
Lifegiver An Endurance perk that adds HP and, at rank 3, HP regeneration.
Melee A close-quarters weapon.
Min-maxing Designing a character to maximize certain powers while ignoring the rest.
Multiplier A bonus which is based on the original value.
Perk A character upgrade or bonus, unlocked through character experience.
Player The actual human being playing a video game.
Power armor A highly armored and fusion powered mobile suit.
Rank A perk level, which can be increased from 2 to 6 times with additive results.
RoF (rate of fire) The rate at which a weapon can attack.
Science! An Intelligence perk that unlocks various upgrades, including power armor upgrades.
Sneak An Agility perk that decreases a chance for a character to be detected.
Sneak-attack An attack made against an enemy who has not detected the character.
Solar Powered An Endurance perk which increases Endurance and Strength in sunlight.
SPECIAL The physical statistics of a Fallout 4 character.
Spray and Pray A unique legendary sub-machine gun with added explosive damage.
Stealth The act of crouch-walking to avoid enemy detection while dealing multiplied damage.
VATS A feature of Fallout 4 which allows a player to queue up attacks with a chance to hit.
Weapon An item a character can equip to deal damage to enemies.
Wounding affix A legendary affix that adds bleeding damage to a weapon.