Fallout 4 Guide: S.P.E.C.I.A.L., Perks and Character Build Strategy Guide

With the arrival of Fallout 4, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. and perks system in Fallout has completely changed. Skills have been omitted, and the perks are now organized according to what SPECIAL attribute best describes their purpose.

The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system is not unlike Dungeons & Dragons; your player character has a number of strengths and weaknesses and this will hinder or help them as they go on adventures. For every level you gain in Fallout 4, you will be given one point to invest in a Perk. There are a total of 70, with additional subranks that bring the total to over 200. Some of these subranks are opened when you reach a certain level. Others are unlocked when you collect the correct corresponding Magazine. Still others are gated by the investment level of its associated SPECIAL attribute. Most will improve the performance of the perk. Others will open additional effects. For instance, the first two ranks in Mysterious Stranger increase the frequency with which he shows up. The third however will fill your critical hit meter every time he appears and makes a kill.

Character build is very important in Fallout. It determines what options and solutions are available to you in the game, whether it’s in dialogue, in combat, or while solving a problem. It can be hard to maintain a well-rounded character, as the points you are initially given to invest in S.P.E.C.I.A.L. are low. You may wish to pursue one strength in particular until you are further in the game. However, if you neglect other areas, you may miss out on a skill that makes your life substantially easier in the wastelands. Maxing out all the S.P..EC.I.A.L. stats may seem impressive, but upon checking the Perk chart, you may decide the additional bonuses available to you aren’t worth the point investment and could have been better spent elsewhere. Here are the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats and each of their associated Perks, in the order of the point investment in S.P.E.C.I.A.L. you need to unlock them. You do not need to unlock them in the order they are listed, you may skip around as you please provided you have the point investment or character level needed to access them.

Table of Contents

The star denotes the number of subranks the perk has. For the most part each subrank improves the performance of the perk, but some special exceptions have been singled out for attention.

STRENGTH

Strength is a measure of your raw physical power. It affects how much you can carry, and the damage of all melee attacks.

This is the trait to pursue if you wish to play as an Unarmed character. You can also unlock a perk to give you more carrying weight, which is particularly useful in Fallout 4, as you need to carry more random items and components for your settlements and your armor and weapon mods.

1 Iron Fist

Punching attacks do 20% more damage to your opponent.
5★
Useful Subranks: #2 allows you to disarm your opponent. #5 will allow you to paralyze them.

2 Big Leagues

Do 20% more melee weapon damage.
5★
Useful Subranks: #5 allows you to “grand slam” your opponents head off.

3 Armorer

Access to base level and rank 1 armor mods.
3★

4 Blacksmith

Access to base level and rank 1 melee mods.
3★

5 Heavy Gunner

Heavy guns do 20% more damage.
5★

6 Strong Back

Gain +25 to carry weight.
4★

Useful Subranks: All of the subranks of Strong Back are quite useful and you should try to invest in all of them. #2 gives you +50 additional weight, #3 allows you to run using Action Points when you’re over your carry weight, and #4 allows you to fast travel even when you have too many items.

7 Steady Aim

Hip-fire accuracy is improved when firing any gun.
2★

8 Basher

Gun bashing does 25% more damage.
4★

9 Rooted

While standing still you gain +25 damage resistance and your melee and unarmed attacks deal 25% more damage.
3★

10 Pain Train

While wearing power armor, sprinting into enemies hurts and staggers them. Robots and oversized enemies are immune to the stagger.
3★
Useful Subranks: If you favor using Power Armor, this is the perk for you. #3 will even allow you to knock enemies down when you sprint into them, and you can inflict further damage with your impact landing.

PERCEPTION

Perception is your environmental awareness and “sixth sense”, and affects weapon accuracy in V.A.T.S.

Perception involves a variety of useful skills. Pick and choose from its associated perks as you see fit.

1 Pickpocket

Picking pockets 25% easier.
4★

2 Rifleman

Attacks with non-automatic rifles do 20% more damage.
5★

3 Awareness

You can view a targets specific damage resistances in V.A.T.S.
4★

4 Locksmith

Your nimble fingers allow you to pick Advanced locks.
4★
Useful Subranks: I would suggest investing in at least the first three subranks of this perk. This will allow you to pick locks up to the Master level, which is necessary in some of the more heavily guarded locations of the Commonwealth.

5 Demolition Expert

Your explosives do 25% more damage and you can craft explosives at any chemistry station.
4★

6 Night Person

Gain +2 to Intelligence and Perception between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
2★

7 Refractor

Instantly gain +10 energy resistance.
5★

8 Sniper

You have improved control and can hold your breath longer when aiming with scopes.
3★

9 Penetrator

In V.A.T.S. you can target an enemy’s body parts that are blocked by cover, with a decrease in accuracy.
2★

10 Concentrated fire

In V.A.T.S. every attack on the same body part gains +10% accuracy.
3★

ENDURANCE

Endurance is a measure of your overall physical fitness. It affects your total Health and the Action Point drain from sprinting.

Endurance is one of the better SPECIAL traits to invest in if your goal is to give your character the best shot they have at resisting or avoiding damage out in the Commonwealth.

1 Toughness

You now have +20 damage resistance.
5★

2 Lead Belly

Take less radiation from eating or drinking.
3★
Useful Subranks: Stimpaks are scarce, you will need to eat more food and drink more water than in previous Fallout games. Invest in all the subranks, as #3 will allow you to eat and drink without any radiation damage at all.

3 Life Giver

You instantly gain another +20 maximum Health.
3★
Useful Subranks: #3 will give you the ability to slowly regenerate your health.

4 Chem Resistant

You’re 50% less likely to get addicted when consuming chems
2★
Useful Subranks: #2 will free you from chem addiction forever.

5 Aqua Boy/Aqua Girl

You no longer take radiation damage from swimming, and can breathe underwater.
2★
Useful Subranks: Both subranks are very useful if you frequently use the water to escape enemies. The first allows you to swim without taking radiation damage, the second will allow you to become undetectable if you are completely submerged.

6 Rad Resistant

Gain +10 radiation resistance.
3★

7 Adamantium Skeleton

Reduce limb damage by 30%
3★

8 Cannibal

Eating human corpses restores health.
3★

9 Ghoulish

Radiation now regenerates your lost heath.
3★
Useful Subranks: This perk is already pretty important because of the potential in terms of boosting your radiation immunity, but subrank #3 also will allow random Feral Ghouls to sometimes become friendly to you. Sure beats getting your eyes clawed out!

10 Solar Powered

Gain +2 to strength and endurance between the hours of 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM
3★

CHARISMA

Charisma is your ability to charm and convince others. It affects your success to persuade in dialogue and prices when you barter.

Charisma may be less important than some of the other traits with regards to combat and defense, but it’ll open up a whole new world to you in dialogue. The element of control that it provides your player character will allow them to manipulate all manner of men and beasts to do their bidding, even to the point of combat.

1 Cap Collector

Buying and selling prices at vendors are now much better.
3★
Useful Subranks: If the limited amount of money in each vendor’s purse is bothering you, subrank #3 will allow you to invest 500 caps into each merchant so as to raise their buying capacity.

2 Lady Killer/Black Widow

Women/men suffer +5% damage in combat, and are easier to persuade in dialogue.
3★

3 Lone Wanderer

When adventuring without a companion you take 15% less damage and carry weight increase by 50 .
3★

4 Attack Dog

Your faithful canine companion can hold an enemy, giving you a greater chance to hit them in V.A.T.S.
3★

5 Animal Friend

With your gun, aim at any animal below your level and gain a chance to pacify it.
3★
Useful Subranks: This perk is actually pretty impressive, allowing you to incite an animal to attack with subrank #2, and give it commands with subrank #3.

6 Local Leader

You are able to establish supply lines between your workshop settlements
2★
Useful Subranks: #2 will allow you to build stores and workshops in your settlements, which is vital to their growth.

7 Party Boy/ Party Girl

There’s no chance you’ll get addicted to alcohol.
3★
Useful Subranks: Alcohol doesn’t provide as many boosts as it did in games past, so you may not be using it as often as you once did. But take note that subrank #3 of this perk will cause your Luck to go up by 3 points when you drink booze. Not bad!

8 Inspirational

Your companion does more damage in combat, and cannot hurt you.
3★
Useful Subranks: All three of these subranks are vital. #1 prevents you from being damaged by friendly fire from your companion. #2 prevents your companion from being damaged by your own gunfire. And #3 will allow your companion to carry more items, another necessity in the craft-heavy Commonwealth wastes.

9 Wasteland Whisperer

With your gun, aim at any wasteland creature below your level and gain a chance to pacific.
3★
Useful Subranks: This is the same perk as Animal Friend, but with creatures instead of animals. You may wish to invest in all three subranks.

10 Intimidation

With your gun, aim at a any human opponent below your level and gain a chance to pacify them.
3★
Useful Subranks: See above.

INTELLIGENCE

Intelligence is a measure of your overall mental acuity, and affects the number of Experience Points earned.

Intelligence is perhaps one of the most important SPECIAL traits of all. Within this set of perks lies some of the most important skills you will need in the Commonwealth.

1 V.A.N.S

The path to your closest quest target is displayed in V.A.T.S.

2 Medic

Stimpaks now restore 40% of lost Heath, and Radaway removes 40% of radiation.
4★
Useful Subranks: Each subrank increases the percentage of restored health and diminished radiation, however, #4 will ensure that each dose will heal the player completely.

3 Gun Nut

Access to base level and Rank 1 gun mods.
4★

4 Hacker

Knowledge of cutting-edge computer encryption allows you to hack Advanced terminals.
4★
Useful Subranks: You should at least invest up until #3, which allows you to unlock Master terminals. As with lockpicking, you need this skill high to access all the areas and buildings in the Commonwealth.

5 Scrapper

You can salvage uncommon components like screws, aluminum, and copper when scrapping weapons and armor.
2★
Useful Subranks: Of particular use is #2, which will highlight items that have components you are searching for, as well allow you to salvage rare components like circuitry from your scrapped weapons and armor.

6 Science!

Access to base level and rank 1 high-tech mods.
4★

7 Chemist

Any chems you take last 50% longer.
4★

8 Robotics Expert

Hack a robot, and gain a chance to power it on or off, or initiate a self-destruct.
3★

9 Nuclear Physicist

Radiation weapons do 50% more damage and fusion cores last an extra 25% longer.
3★
Useful Subranks: If you’re focused on using Power Armor, you will want to invest as far as subrank #3, which will allow your Fusion Cores to last twice as long.

10 Nerd Rage

When your health drops below 20%, time slows and you gain +20 damage resistance and do 20% more damage with the effect last.
3★

AGILITY

Agility is a measure of your overall finesse and reflexes. It affects the number of Action Points in V.A.T.S and your ability to sneak.

Agility bonuses vary in their usefulness. As with Perception, pick and choose as you see fit and as it best supports your play style.

1 Gunslinger

Non-automatic pistols do 20% more.
5★

2 Commando

Your automatic weapons now do 40% more damage, with improved fire accuracy.
5★

3 Sneak

You are 20% harder to detect while sneaking.
5★
Useful Subranks: In general you should invest a lot into sneak because it is such a useful tool in the game. However, of particular note is #4, which will allow even distant enemies to lose track of you once stealth is engaged.

4 Mister Sandman

You can now instantly kill a sleeping person. Your silenced weapons do an additional 15% sneak attack damage.
3★

5 Action Boy/Action Girl

Your action points regenerate 25% faster.
2★
Useful Subranks: Since AP is now used for sprinting in addition to VATS, and Jet no longer boosts AP, it’s more important than ever to invest in anything that boosts your Action Points. The two subranks of this perk boost the regeneration of AP and you should invest in both.

6 Moving Target

Get +25 damage resistance and +25 energy resistance when you’re sprinting.
3★
Useful Subranks: If you have points to kill, you may wish to invest as far as subrank #3, which reduces the amount of AP that sprinting uses by 50%.

7 Ninja

Your ranged sneak attacks do 2.5x normal damage and your melee sneak attacks do 4x normal damage.
3★

8 Quick Hands

You can reload all guns faster.
2★
Useful Subranks: #2 will ensure that reloading your weapon will never cost you an action in VATS.

9 Blitz

V.A.T.S. melee distance is increased significantly.
2★

10 Gun-Fu

Do 25% more damage to your second V.A.T.S. target and beyond
3★

LUCK

Luck is a measure of your general good fortune, and affects the recharge rate of Critical Hits.

1 Fortune Finder

You find even more bottle caps.
4★
Useful Subranks: Given the scarcity of money and wealthy vendors in the Commonwealth, this perk is already very helpful. However, investing in subrank #4 will result in your enemies sometimes exploding in a shower of caps during combat!

2 Scounger

You find even more ammunition in containers.
4★
Useful Subranks: All of them increase the amount of ammunition you find in containers, and I would suggest investing in all four. Ammunition is exceedingly scarce in the Commonwealth.

3 Bloody Mess

You now inflict +10% damage in combat.
4★
Useful Subranks: I usually don’t invest in this perk because it’s a bit frivolous, but subrank #4 is too good to pass up: when one of your enemies explodes in combat, other nearby enemies may suffer the same fate.

4 Mysterious Stranger

The mysterious stranger will appear occasionally in V.A.T.S to lend a hand.
3★
Useful Subranks: I consider Mysterious Stranger a must for the Fallout 4 experience, especially before you get to Diamond City and continue to follow the main quest there. #3 is particularly helpful, as an appearance from the Mysterious Stranger will fill your critical hit meter.

5 Idiot Savant

Randomly receive 3x XP from any action, and the lower your Intelligence, the greater the chance.
3★
Useful Subranks: If you invested so many points in other areas that your character is low on Intelligence, you may enjoy the subranks of this perk, which only gives you more damage boosts the stupider your character is.

6 Better Criticals

Criticals do 50% more extra damage.
3★

7 Critical Banker

Save a critical hit to be used in V.A.T.S when you need it the most.
3★
Useful Subranks: This perk is a must-have, but especially all three subranks, which allows you to store up to three spare critical hits.

8 Grim Reaper’s Sprint

Any kill in V.A.T.S. has a 15% chance to restore all action points.
3★

9 Four Leaf Clover

Each hit in V.A.T.S has a chance of filling your critical meter.
4★

10 Ricochet

An enemy’s ranged attack will sometimes ricochet back and instantly kill them. The closer you are to death, the higher the chance.
3★

Suggested Character Build

With all this advice in mind, here is what I suggest you focus on for your character build to ensure you get the most important perks and benefits and access from the game. I personally suggest focusing a little more on Luck, as it has some of the best miscellaneous little perks you will need for survival, as well as open up Mysterious Stranger, which is a fun and vital part to the Fallout 4 story. Of course, you will need to invest additional points in your SPECIAL traits, and you may not be able to fully upgrade every single one of these with the 70 points offered in total.

Remember that you can add one point to each SPECIAL trait with Bobbleheads, which you can find in our official guide. If you wish to boost a SPECIAL trait up to 10, do not do so until you have collected its Bobblehead.

Suggested Perks

Blacksmith (and all subranks)
Armorer (and all subranks)
Strongback (and all subranks)
Locksmith (at least subrank #3)

Lead Belly (and all subranks)
Lifegiver (and all subranks)

Cap Collector (and all subranks)
Attack Dog (at least the first subrank, the rest are up to you)
Local Leader (both subranks)
Inspirational (and all subranks)

Medic (all subranks)
Gun Nut (all subranks)
Hacker (to at least subrank #3)
Scrapper (both subranks)
Science! (and all subranks)

Sneak (all subranks)
Action Boy / Girl (both subranks)

Fortune Finder (and all subranks)
Scrounger (and all subranks)
Bloody Mess (and all subranks)
Mysterious Stranger (and all subranks)
Critical Banker (and all subranks)

That leaves us with a suggested character build of

STR 6
PER 4
END 3
CHR 8 (or 6)
INT 6
AGL 5
LCK 7 (or 6 or 8)

If you need more Perception because you’re unable to detect enemies on your compass efficiently, or you want more Endurance to as to better sustain damage, keep an eye on the armor pieces that your enemies drop, particularly Legendary items, as they can provide the SPECIAL boosts you need without requiring you waste a point in S.P.E.C.I.A.L. that you don’t need for perks. Chems like Daytripper, Buffout, and Mentats can also help but be aware they post an addiction risk and might necessitate other perks that you may not have spare points to invest in.