Fallout 4 largely changed how perks worked in the Fallout series. By dumping the traditional skills such as Energy Weapons and Speechcraft and tying perk levels directly to SPECIAL stats, they dramatically changed certain balances the Fallout series had been keeping with the perks for a while. But beyond this overhaul, Bethesda reworked how many, if not, most of the perks worked. In some cases, this was welcome, but in many other cases, the perks simply aren’t good enough or, more often the case, are too blasé. Today, I’d like to look at Fallout 4’s perk system and see the places where Bethesda clearly went wrong and should have known.
Before we get started, I’d like to highlight the fact that Bethesda is not good at perks. In Fallout 3, almost all of the perks were basically useless, providing only a minor boost to skills instead of any substantial change to gameplay. Gun Nut in Fallout 3 just increased Small Guns and Repair by 5 – a boring skill if there ever was one. In Fallout: New Vegas, Obsidian understood how to make perks way more exciting. For example, the perk Shotgun Surgeon lowered the enemies damage threshold by 10 when using shotguns. Gunslinger increased VATS accuracy by 25% for pistols. These are more substantial boots, while also giving flavour to individual weapon types. This encourages trying different perk/weapon combinations and makes the game more repayable. Fallout 4 is a great step up from Fallout 3, but is downright boring compared to New Vegas.
First lets talk about the lack of flavour. Every weapon type has a corresponding perk – Gunslinger for pistols, Riflemen for rifles, Commando for automatic weapons, Iron Fist for unarmed, and Big Leagues for melee. Each of these has five ranks, meaning you can spend five perk points. Each rank increases damage by that weapon type by 20%. There are a few additional effects scattered around the perks per level, but they are largely chance based and, from my experience, have no real effect on gameplay. These perks do little to distinguish between the weapon types. These take up five perks and have no flavour. What Bethesda should have done was have one damage-boost perk with four additional perks that focus entirely on interesting effects, making them substantial so that each weapon type could really shine. For starters, making the added effects much more substantial would be good. Have rifles be able to get a 50% armour piercing perk. Have automatic weapons get a perk that gives a 25% chance of not using ammo per shot. Give gunslingers exclusive use of the Gun Fu perk that is currently in the game. This would be far more fun to play with than just upgrading damage five times.
Next there’s the radiation perks. Bethesda did a great job at making radiation relevant for the first time in Fallout history in Fallout 4. However, that still doesn’t make the radiation perks any good. For starters, Rad Resistance is three perk levels that grant 10% radiation resistance each invested perk. This is embarrassingly bad. Radiation is not that common, and radiation medicine is abundant. A single perk level at 50% radiation resistance would still be terrible and that’s 20% more than the three perk investiture. It’s even worse that Ghoulish, a higher level perk just removes radiation as a concern altogether, making Rad Resistance completely redundant. Rad Resistance should either give you near immunity, or, better yet, give you positive effects on top of radiation, which is exactly what Bethesda did to the Mr. Sandman perk to stop it from being useless this time around. Lead Belly is another radiation perk that is just pointless. Three perk levels and all you get is no more radiation from eating or drinking. There is no purpose to this. It should have increased the power of food like Party Boy/Girl, and only have been one rank.
Then there are the various intimidation perks where you pacify an enemy by pointing your gun at them. I understand the nature of these perks, but they dominate the Charisma tree, making it largely boring. Not only that, but one of the biggest side effects of Black Widow/Lady Killer is an increase to Intimidation chance, despite the fact you need 10 Charisma to unlock Intimidation, which very few players will ever bother with. By having three separate intimidation perk, Bethesda essentially filled the Charisma perk tree with filler when they could have included companion perks that would have made companions useful in the game.
Of course, some perks are just plain worthless. For example, the highest levels of Locksmith and Hacker serve no purpose in the game, yet each is a perk point. Was there no other effects Bethesda could think of for these perks? If not, they shouldn’t have included the fourth level. VANS and Awareness are pointless, but workable if Bethesda had chosen to include more information and effects. For example, Awareness could see intimidation chance, and perhaps even fully stop time during VATS. VANS could allow fast travel when over encumbered. There simply isn’t enough water to justify Aqua Girl/Boy, so it should be cut. Basher has zero point. It improves bash damage, but requires so much strength that anyone using it will have a melee or unarmed weapon that is better. All of these perks could be reworked to be better, but Bethesda left them useless.
Not all Bethesda perks are bad or boring. This article is mostly focusing on the bad, but I want to give some credit where credit is due. Most of the luck line is great. Bethesda’s reworking or criticals in this game has allowed them to tack on some great critical and VATS rewards on to a lot of otherwise boring perks. The various stealth and stealth critical perks are also quite good. Though not strictly useful, most of the 10 SPECIAL stat perks are at least creative and fun to use. And being fun to use is way more important than being useful.
The biggest problem with the Perk tree in Fallout 4 is the waste. Though many perks are important and useful, so few of them are fun or exciting. It’s that spark of creativity that’s missing. Too many of the perks are lazy. Too many of them have boring ranks with no real difference. With a little more time and thought, Bethesda certainly could have created more fun or unique perks, but they chose not to. One final thought before I leave you, why does Bethesda think that investing 500 currency into a store is good? They push it in their games, but it’s never, ever useful. Who keeps bringing it up
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer