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Fallout 4's perk system explained — but still full of hard choices

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Fallout 4 launches Nov. 10, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. There is a zero percent probability you will create an optimal build for your character that first day.

Even longtime fans who played Fallout 3 and New Vegas, drawing on their experience and taking cues from the ongoing SPECIAL series, don't have any idea what's coming down the line without reading the Prima Guide and spoiling the rest of the game. Perks are a big part of that, as this video from Bethesda Softworks explains.

Broadly speaking, for each of the seven SPECIAL attributes, there will be 10 perks — and if you have a 10 in any attribute, the top-level perk is available, no matter your overall level. From there, some perks will have multiple ranks of effectiveness, offering 275 choices for the player as he or she levels up.

Note, this governs perks. This detailed explanation from Bethesda Softworks makes no mention of traits, the one-shot modifiers chosen at character creation. But it does contain a more comprehensive explanation of the progression and leveling system. Also, the skill books return, offering an instant one-rank bonus to perks. Collect them all!

This is all very important because in Fallout 4, there's no level cap, and the game proceeds infinitely even after completing the main storyline. Whether all ranks of every perk are attainable in a single character, it's not clear. Past editions of Fallout have offered a perk that allows players to increase a SPECIAL attribute by 1 on the spot ("Intense Training") which, if available, would be a gateway to 10s across every SPECIAL characteristic in an uncapped game. (Other games have offered SPECIAL augmentations).

Still, this video offers a little extra intel about how to start the game. Something tells me I'll still be agonizing over whether to take a speech or lockpicking perk around level 7 as opposed to some kind of offensive/critical hit bonus to overpower main storyline missions while enemies are lower powered. For more on Fallout 4's character progression, check out the sneak preview Bethesda offered at QuakeCon.

Fallout 4: Debut trailer

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