Surviving Survival: A Guide To Enduring Fallout 4’s Hardest Difficulty

It’s been about a month since Fallout 4 dropped like an atomic bomb, drawing millions of players back into gaming’s most prominent apocalyptic wasteland for the first time since 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas. Like many gamers, I dove right back into the wasteland with reckless abandon, eager to explore Bethesda’s latest open world. As soon as I heard that the new ‘Survival’ difficulty would be jam-packed full of Legendary enemies that drop unique loot more often than on lower difficulties, I knew I had to take the plunge and give it a crack. Here’s what I learned.

Plan Your Build

Before even getting into the game, it’s important to have a sense of the character you want to design. Fallout 4 accommodates many different types of character, from melee brawlers to stealthy snipers, but spreading points too thin will make it difficult to deal with the strengthened enemies of Survival. Nukahub has an excellent character builder that can aid in this task, but here’s a few quick tips:

First, it’s best to get an idea of the main playstyle you’re going for. With the elimination of the skills from the previous games, SPECIAL stats in Fallout 4 are more important than ever, and allocating points properly is essential. If you’re leaning towards melee, then Strength is a clear choice, but less obvious is the necessity of Agility, which unlocks many essential perks for a close-range fighter and improves VATS. If you want to favor guns, things get a little more complicated; Perception is an easy choice no matter what, but different trees have perks for different kind of weapons, so it’s important to find the one with the ones you want (Agility for pistols/automatics, Strength for Big Guns, etc). Also notable is the fact that Endurance, after extensive testing, feels like a bit of a dump stat. I never raised it above 2, and didn’t miss any of the perks it offers. There’s plenty of food to be found, plenty of easy ways to cure radiation, and simply playing well can avoid most damage.

On top of that, it’s very advisable to pour points into either Intelligence or Luck. You don’t need both, but the experience boost from having high intelligence or the 5-point Perk ‘Idiot Savant’ greatly accelerates the leveling process, and since FO4, unlike its predecessors, has no level cap, this never stops being useful. Personally, my survival build was based around using long-range firearms and staying in power armor (more on that later) as much as possible. With the ‘Nuclear Physicist’ talent, this eventually became 100% uptime, allowing me to worry less about immediate danger and more about laying down damage.

No one was prepared for the power of the Synth army's kung fu chops.

No one was prepared for the power of the Synth army’s kung fu chops.

Crafting Perks Rule

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the relevant crafting perks for each character build. Customizing armor and weapons is an in-depth and powerful way to boost your wanderer. For some builds, it’s easy enough to pick these perks up on the way to others–Blacksmithing and Armorer, for example, both designed to accommodate melee builds, are in the Strength tree. Others require a bit more planning. For firearms, you want the Gun Nut perk in Intelligence. Also in this tree is the Science perk, which is used for Energy Weapons and Power Armor. This is why, while luck builds can certainly be viable as well for sharpshooters, at least a few points in Intelligence are mandatory, if not more. As far as what crafting does–just about everything. Modifying stocks, firing rate, and even ammunition type can vastly alter the way a gun handles, and some weapons, such as plasma rifles, can even be transformed into things like flamethrowers.

Carry An Arsenal And Conserve Ammo

If you’re a melee type, this is a simple, but still essential tip. It’s good to have a hard-hitting, slow weapon for enemies you need to bring down hard and quick, and then a faster, weaker one for dealing with the likes of hordes of weaker enemies such as mole rats and ghouls. For gun users, carrying a varied arsenal is both practical and necessary. There are many types of ammunition in Fallout 4, and a good number of them are quite rare, especially early on; it can be difficult to stock up on anything but .38 ammunition, which is only used by the weakest pipe guns. Even if you have better weapons, it can be a smart choice to save those for tougher enemies than the dime-a-dozen raiders and ghouls. With crafting, even a basic pipe rifle can become potent enough to dispatch the most common foes, giving you time to store your ammunition for your better weapons.

I don't have any Survival tips for this thing. I'll miss you.

I don’t have any Survival tips for this thing. I’ll miss you.

North By Northwest

Unlike Fallout 3, Fallout 4 doesn’t use complete level scaling, though there is some present. Instead, the strength of enemies is closely correlated to location. The northwestern parts of the map, where you first emerge from the Vault, are where the easiest enemies hang out. The further east and the further south you go, especially on the opposite side of Lexington and Concord, are where things get rough. If you’re just starting out, take advantage of this and pick up some easy levels and loot clearing out the locations closest to the Vault. Then, once you’re stocked up and a bit more experienced, gradually work your way southeast.

Fallout, We Need To Cook

In a similar vein to crafting, cooking–both food and chems–can be a lifesaver in the Survival-difficulty Wasteland. Even without perks (though those such as Chemist and Chem Resistance can be amazing) drugs are ridiculously powerful. Popping Jet, or any of its variants, grants plenty of bullet time, which makes getting head shots easier and provides plenty of opportunity to empty an entire clip into said heads. Meanwhile, considering that a lot food can be made rad-free through cooking, and that stimpacks heal very slowly, keeping a good storage of edibles on you can save on medical supplies.

All in all, I found Survival quite the challenge early on, but it’s very manageable if you go in with a plan and don’t try to dig southeast too early. If you have any tips of your own, why not share them in the comments below?