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Fallout 76 guide to leveling, SPECIAL and Perk Cards

Leveling up is different here than in other Fallout games — here’s how it works

Fallout 76 beta - two wanderers Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Fallout 76 is the latest in Bethesda’s role-playing game series, but it comes with a twist: It’s the first one that’s multiplayer. So Fallout 76 will handle leveling up and character advancement differently from what many Fallout players are used to.

The choices and considerations can be a little confusing at first. This guide will help you through that early process.

The basics: SPECIAL and Perks

SPECIAL and Perks have been part of past Fallouts, but here they relate to each other in a different way.

Basically, each time a player gains a level, they will get to assign one point to one SPECIAL attribute (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck).

Then, at periodic times, players will unlock Perks, represented here as Perk Cards, and apply them to that attribute.

Perk Cards correspond to one SPECIAL attribute — “Lead Belly” (take less radiation from drinking dirty water) for example is tied to Endurance. The number of cards a player may equip depends on how high that attribute is. A player with 4 Endurance would be able to equip a maximum of four Endurance Perk Cards in their loadout.

This loadout may be changed at any time, not just when a player levels up. Keep this in mind as you enter specific situations. You can always equip a lockpick card, pick a safe, and then switch it out for something more generally helpful after you’re done.

Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

What SPECIAL to level up first

Early on, this is a very easy question: Every player starts with a 1 in each SPECIAL attribute, so just pick whatever seems right; you’ll be adding another point to your SPECIAL soon enough.

In past Fallouts, many players spent a lot of time allocating a pool of points into an optimal starting build before even beginning the game. In Fallout 76, they will have to work to build up a character that suits their playing style, while enjoying greater flexibility to change that style.

SPECIALs will generally improve several things within the game — hit points, action points, weapon accuracy, melee damage, chance of critical hit — as they always have. So there is some usefulness in boosting up an attribute even if there is no card to lay on it.

  • Strength will increase the damage a player causes with melee attacks — which are very useful early on as ammunition is scarce and must be crafted. Strength also increases the amount a player may carry, which is useful for those who will be more into crafting and building.
  • Perception increases weapon accuracy within VATS, the combat targeting system used in Fallout 76. It also increases awareness of enemies and others nearby. Perception and Agility often work together for a stealth build.
  • Endurance will increase hit points, will allow players to sprint longer (clicking left thumbstick while moving) and increases disease resistance. In Fallout 76, disease plays a much greater role in day-to-day survival.
  • Charisma has a new use in Fallout 76 because of multiplayer interactions and the lack of human NPCs with dialogue options. Beginning at 3 Charisma, a player can share the benefits of a Perk Card with every member of their group. Charisma also affects the awards one gets from group events. Those who intend to play a lot of multiplayer with Fallout 76 should consider ranking up Charisma.
  • Intelligence will affect the condition and durability of items you craft, and likewise may be a good general improvement for those with a crafting bend to their activities. It also affects how much material is produced from scrapping junk, and hacking computer terminals.
  • Agility affects the player’s Action Points (both how many attacks can be made within VATS and how long they may sprint) and the ability to sneak undetected (by crouching, with a click of the left thumbstick).
  • Luck mainly affects the condition and durability of looted items; better luck — better things found. Better Luck also means a faster recharge to the Critical Hit rate within VATS combat.

For every level gained, players may increase a SPECIAL attribute by one, to a maximum of 15. Players stop increasing SPECIAL at level 50.

first perk selection screen
Picking your first perk in Fallout 76
Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

How to get more Perk Cards

Every time a player levels up, they choose one Perk Card. Note that this only unlocks it for use in the SPECIAL loadout. It doesn’t immediately apply it to that loadout. It’s important to know what your SPECIAL numbers are before you choose one of these Perks, to be sure you have the slots to equip it.

After a few levels you’ll get a pack of Perk Cards. This pack contains four Perk Cards chosen at random (and even a stick of gum that marginally reduces hunger). All of these cards go into the player’s collection; not all will be immediately available. Random draws may sometimes give players a card requiring them to be a higher level than they are.

Card packs are then awarded at levels 6, 8, 10 and every fifth level thereafter. They are obtained only by leveling up; they’re not for sale (for virtual or any other currency) and are not an item found in-world.

How to Choose and Rank Up Perk Cards

In the early goings, players should pick Perk Cards they know they can play, to get the most value out of a limited collection.

However, acquiring duplicates of a single card (by choice or randomly out of a pack) allow players to rank it up if they so choose. This results in one new card carrying better effects. But this choice needs to be made carefully.

For example, this player had a rank 1 First Aid Perk Card equipped. A duplicate First Aid Perk Card was found in the fourth-level card pack draw. They chose to combine the two into a higher-ranked card.

However, they only had 1 in Intelligence, which is the slot for this Perk. The higher ranked card needs at least 2 Intelligence. So choosing to upgrade here put it back in the player’s collection until their Intelligence could be leveled up.

Veteran Fallout fans should note that some base skills in past games, like lockpicking, hacking and targeting limbs in VATS, are accessible only with a Perk Card. However, as one’s card loadout may be changed at any time (from within the Pip-Boy), players may build according to their play preferences and then swap in a skill as the situation calls for it. Joining a multiplayer group is also a good time to switch up Perk Cards, especially if you have a high Charisma, allowing some perks to be shared.

A player will continue to acquire Perk Cards after level 50 even if they can no longer increase their SPECIAL.

But I Still Don’t Know What to Do!

There is still plenty to discover about Fallout 76, but the way Bethesda Game Studios has designed level advancement, it seems they want to get players into the game right away. The system encourages experimentation.

The Perk Card system can be confusing at first, but it allows for players to change their style of play without having to completely start over to see other aspects of the game. Don’t make hasty choices. Go through all the options available, particularly with Perk Cards. In the selection screen, it’s always possible to see every Perk Card that is available for your character to use.

For Fallout veterans, make your SPECIAL choices according to your normal style of play and interests. Then consider supplementing them with Perk Cards chosen for other areas. Radiation resistance, or food and water replenishment, will be more important in Fallout 76 than in past games. Those who prefer gunplay should remember that melee damage is very important against fast-moving feral ghouls and mongrel dogs.

But, above all else, try to have fun. There’s no perk choice that’ll doom your character. Just go with what feels best to you and your needs.

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