A mushroom cloud of hype erupted with the announcement of Fallout 4, a sequel 7 years in the making. It promised one of the most detailed worlds in video games, so big even director Todd Howard hasn’t seen it all. It showed improved shooting mechanics, an expansive weapon crafting system and the chance to truly restore the wasteland with settlement building and management. Colors beyond green and brown were prominently featured. It also overhauled the SPECIAL system, and a notable absence was found on the Pip-Boy tabs:


Skills have been replaced. War changed.

Admittedly, that’s a lot to infer from a trailer that only featured a minute or so looking at the Pip-Boy display. Bethesda’s thirty minute presentation lingered longer on the real-life Pip-Boy included in the collector’s edition. However, the lack of a skills tab is difficult to ignore, especially when paired with the seemingly omnipresent prompt for the Perk Chart in most menus featured.

Intelligence, the dominant stat point for players who desire a multifaceted character, left skills completely out of its description, a first for the SPECIAL system:


In addition, it seems to now help the player character level up more quickly, assuming experience fulfills the same role as previous games. While it makes sense realistically that an intelligent person would gain more knowledge from an encounter, Fallout is a series where American culture stagnated with McCarthyism and Jackson’s Chameleons mutated into hulking apex predators. A bit of believability is a worthy sacrifice for superior gameplay. Bethesda has a strong commitment to level-scaling in their games, so a character with high intelligence could pass through the early game too quickly and face enemies their combat skills or weapons aren’t equipped to handle. In previous Fallouts, intelligence determined how much you could advance a character’s skills with each level up. Now that it looks like it might be merged with perks, they could be proposing a hybrid system where characters get a choice between adding a point to their SPECIAL, advancing ranks in their perk chart or some combination of the two. The former seems likely from this still, as the player begins with 28 points, unlike the 40 offered in Fallout 3:


Hopefully this isn’t a full move to the skills system used in Skyrim. That one is a solid character growth engine for most of the experience (and much more streamlined than its predecessors), but having to manually level up skills through repeated use can be exhausting. Especially in the later stages of the game, when one might want to develop another combat or armor skill from scratch, but can’t because it has no discernible effect on level 20+ enemies. Alternatively, the player can spend the GDP of several developing nations training through various NPCs to expedite the process. This isn’t much of an issue in Fallout, since spare points can be added in advance of it being needed. Not to mention the pumps offered by bobbleheads and the Tag! perk. It does look like some perks will function as skills, since there were perk requirements displayed during the weapon crafting portion of the trailer:

The SPECIAL system is a venerable institution, and has stayed largely unchanged from the first Fallout to New Vegas. It would be a shame to see the skill portion be removed entirely, as a lot of fun can be derived from finding the right combination of equipment and drugs to boost your character just enough to pass a skill check in dialogue or when picking a lock. However, there’s a way to make this work without going full Elder Scrolls. Howard professed that combat would be greatly improved, so gone are the days of assumed incompetence, where a character with low Guns skill won’t inexplicably miss despite a target being right in the cross-hairs. Combat skills could level up organically and feature a proficiency system, like in Borderlands. This could free up perk ranks for bolstering the character’s crafting, diplomacy and stealth abilities on level ups, with added SPECIAL points coming every few levels, like perks in previous games. Equipment and drugs that pump skills would only need to change values to +1 or +2, instead of +5 or +10. Less math is always a good thing.

Of course, that does present a similar combat over-leveling issue as Elder Scrolls, but there could be perks and items present that can temporarily or permanently boost one’s proficiency in a weapon class. Having 50 base weapons (likely ten each for Explosives, Energy Weapons, Guns, Melee, Unarmed) could allow players to build up an affinity for specific weapon types, and not have to commit to the entire range. A combat knife and a silenced sniper rifle for stealth kills, plasma rifle for heavy damage and grenades for groups. Then a riot shotgun, just because.In previous Fallouts, it could have taken most of the game to use all of those items effectively. Should this be the direction Fallout 4 takes, it may lead to a greater freedom of play seen in this wasteland, or any other.

Like what you read? Rob’s got a lot more where that came from on his podcast, Co-Op Required.

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