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How Fallout 4 handles romance, character progression and more

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Fallout 4's character upgrade system and companion interactions were just a few details to come out of the game's QuakeCon 2015 demonstration.

The panel, which was led by game director Todd Howard — who, despite being under the weather, garnered a standing ovation upon entering the stage —  gave a brief overview for a few game mechanics not touched on during Bethesda's E3 2015 presentation. That means we didn't get any more info about the game's weapon crafting and base building mechanics, but we did learn about some other ways to kill time in Fallout 4's post-apocalyptic wasteland.

The biggest new piece of information was how character progression will work using the series' returning SPECIAL system — an acronym which stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. As always, you'll distribute a pool of points between those seven statistics at the start of the game, but they'll have a much larger impact on how your character develops this time around.

SPECIAL stats affect everything this time around

In Fallout 4, every time you level up you're able to unlock or upgrade a perk, giving your character new abilities and proficiencies. The perks you're able to unlock are directly tied to your SPECIAL stats — each stat has 10 perks corresponding to the 10 points you're able to allot to that stat. The more points you have in a given stat, the "deeper" you're able to go: If you have eight strength points, you'll be able to choose between eight of Strength's assigned perks when you level up.

That means there's 70 base perks in Fallout 4 to choose from, including some familiar faces — like a perk that increases the odds of "gibbing" your foes — and some newcomers. The series' Skills system is also tied into the tree, according to Howard. Most perks will also be upgradeable; with those additional ranks included, the progression system offers 275 things to unlock.

The best thing about the system is its visual representation: All of the perks and upgrades are displayed on a Vault-Tec poster, with every node showing an animated Vault Boy demonstrating that perk.

fallout pic 2

"When you're coming out of the Vault, if you've decided to go right to the 10 on a stat, and lower on your other ones, you can be picking some really cool perks," Howard said. "And we've found that playing the game over time, this gets us some really cool play styles, and it changes what you want to pick when."

During the panel, we met a new companion you'll be able to explore the wasteland with: a woman named Piper. During the demo, she and the player worked their way into Diamond City — a settlement built inside the ruins of the Red Sox's Fenway Park — using some crafty dialogue options. She's the editor of a newspaper distributed in Diamond City called Public Occurrences, and it looks like she'll have plenty of story assignments for the player's vault dweller to seek out.

"...it can even lead to romances, and that is regardless of whatever gender you're playing."

Piper is the fourth companion you'll be able to take with you into the wasteland — we've already met Dogmeat, the (occasionally foul-mouthed) robot butler Codsworth and Preston Garvey, a laser rifle-toting member of Boston's Commonwealth Minutemen. There will be about a dozen companions to meet and befriend — and maybe even form deeper relationships with — during your time in Fallout 4.

"You can have one [companion] at a time, and we wanted to have a lot of different archetypes and we track how they feel about you," Howard said. "With the humans, it can even lead to romances, and that is regardless of whatever gender you're playing."

fallout preston

During an extended gameplay demonstration, the vault dweller and his loyal companion Dogmeat explored the town of Lexington, an area that had been ransacked by Raiders and mutated Ghouls. The demonstration was designed to "give you a look at how the combat and looting plays out, and what it looks like and feels like to play the game," Howard said.

The 10-minute demo featured countless firefights, gory executions and exploration to recount in full, but here are some of the highlights:

  • The demo showcased a ton of different weapons, from sniper rifles to wind-up laser shotguns to the returning "Fat Man," a mini-nuke launcher. They all look and behave differently, and the makeshift weapons are particularly eye-catching — one rifle featured a player-made scope that was simply a short section of pipe with two screws drilled into its sides, forming a crude focal point.
  • In the 10 minutes this demo ran, I'd estimate maybe a dozen heads exploded. I wasn't sure if it was ramped up for the QuakeCon crowd, but it certainly seemed like the Bloody Mess perk was in full effect.
  • There are some familiar ways of getting around and interacting with the world that don't involve bashing someone's head in. During the demo, the player activated a helpful security bot by hacking into a computer terminal, who dealt with his foes for him. Stealth is also a viable option, letting you sneak around foes or get the drop on them.
  • The lockpick system looked identical to how it functioned in Fallout 3.
  • Pitting different enemy factions against one another seems like it's going to play a big role in your survival in Fallout 4. At one point the demo, the player watched as the Brotherhood of Steel, a band of Raiders and a few unlucky Ghouls fought among themselves.
  • Your dog companion arches his back and growls when enemies are near, making him a particularly handy alarm for Ghouls, who will try to get the drop on you from ceilings and through windows.
  • Radiation seems to have a much more direct effect on the player in Fallout 4 — the more radiation you're exposed to, the more your maximum health is reduced, until you can purge it from your system.

Fallout 4 launches Nov. 10 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. For more, you can watch the entire 20-minute presentation on the game from Bethesda's E3 2015 press conference.

Fallout 4: Debut trailer