Fallout 3 - Combat - Skill Development
This is one of our posts on tips to optimize your Fallout 3 experience -- giving you the best gameplay experience through a careful mix of cheats and mods. For the full index, click here.
After you've played Fallout 3 for a while, you should first consider your overall game experience and set your Combat Difficulty. In this post we will discuss skills to develop toward combat.
Overall, I recommend aiming for Sneak ~70, Small Guns ~50, then Repair ~95. I typically develop Lockpick 95, Science 70, Repair 40, and Science 95 after Sneak 60-80 because those benchmark levels get me past locks, terminals, and traps instead of having to remember where I left something undone.
If you are willing to do more fighting to get loot, and come back later for locked containers, then don't worry about these skills for a while. Plot-related barriers all have keys and traps can mostly be avoided instead of disarmed for loot.
Your target number for skills need not be 100 since you can typically get skill-enhancing gear for +5 (e.g., Vault 101 Utility Jumpsuit for +5 Repair and +5 Lockpick), and (if your related SPECIAL is less than 10) a non-addicting Statistic enhancer of +1 (e.g., Pre-War Baseball Cap for +1 Perception, which in turn gives +2 to Energy Weapons, Explosives, and Lockpick).
- This is probably the most important skill for combat because it lets you choose which fights to avoid, and it can get you out of trouble. In short, with enough Sneak, you get to choose fights instead of fights choosing you.
- I highly recommending getting this skill up quickly to at least 60 at the very start of the game (once you leave Vault 101 anyway), at the expense of all other skills. Once it is 60-70, interesting things start to happen. For example, in interior spaces, you can be in dim lighting and right in front of the enemy, and they might not notice (especially if you don't even turn to look around, which the game counts as "movement").
- This said, if you were to delay Sneak, doing so early in the game is probably the best time because the enemies are weaker in the first few levels and you can probably get away with shooting your way out of trouble.
- Sneak Attacks on enemies that are not aware of you are automatic double damage critical hits. This typically translates to 8x damage on a head shot, but it has important consequences when using a shotgun outside of VATS, because the critical hit damage bonus is applied per projectile, not per shot.
- At night, even though default Fallout 3 night is quite bright, the enemy has a much harder time locating you, so with a fairly high Sneak skill you can walk right into their midst and wait for one to separate from the group and then take them down. An unarmed or melee weapon attack is considered silent, so you can usually get in maybe 1-2 hits before nearby enemies are alerted.
- Sometimes, if two enemies are close together, you can use VATS and hit both of them with Sneak Critical Hits. This is, however, chancy as it is highly reliant on getting in the second hit before the second enemy is fully aware of you.
- Fallout 3 favours Small Guns greatly, and throughout the game you will find a lot of weapons in this category. Energy Weapons appear by around level 10, by which time you may have already a significant investment in Small Guns.
- An alternative is to jump-start at level 10-20, to see more of the game without a huge boost to your skills. See our post on Difficulty Settings on why you might want to try this and how to do it.
- Developing a ranged weapon skill gets you more damage per shot and more accuracy in VATS -- both of which you can do in some other way:
- Improving your Repair skill essentially gets you more damage with every weapon type since repairing a weapon improves its damage toward the maximum.
- If you manually aim, VATS to-hit percentiles are meaningless. Also, the range at which you can use VATS is limited, so you are handicapped if you rely on VATS for sniping. Range also very quickly reduces your chances to hit, all out of proportion compared to manual aim.
- Having a good Sneak skill means you can get closer and set up an easier shot, which again negates the importance of VATS.
- At Skill 100, there is no weapon sway and minimum bullet spread. That is, when you aim, your weapon doesn't wander (especially when using a sniper scope). Bullet spread is the area in which your bullet (or pellets, in the case of shotgun shells) might fly. As your skill increases, this area decreases; other ways to decrease this are to not move, to crouch, and to take aim (hold down right mouse button).
- A nice mod that shows you your bullet spread is Dynamic Crosshair.
- With considerable weapon sway, the sniper scope is basically useless since it wobbles about so much. And since at range VATS is also pretty useless due to low hit percentages and the maximum range at which you can use VATS, you may want to manually target with a Hunting Rifle or even a pistol until your gun wobble reduces to a more acceptable level around skill 80-100.
- The semi-automatic Energy Weapons start with a fairly small spread, which goes down even more when you aim. They therefore make good early-game sniping weapons if you can't get close enough to your target to diminish the effect of spread. At closer ranges, spread makes less of a difference if your shot will hit somewhere on the target anyway. If you need a head shot at medium range, then Energy Weapons are far superior at a low skill level.
- If you have a good hiding spot (and especially if you are playing x1.0 real time instead of x0.25 Bullet Time) you might want to make chest shots instead of head shots, since even with bullet spread your shot might still hit. You won't get the extra double damage from a headshot, but Sneak attacks do double damage automatic critical hits to begin with.
- Critical hit kills with Energy Weapons will disintegrate opponents. In regular Fallout 3, this has no effect on loot. If you are using a mod like Marts Mutant Mod, disintegration means losing some body-part loot.
- This is typically a late-game skill because weapons are hard to find in the early game. What you do get (the Rock-It Launcher) has very big spread to its shots and at any useful range will need arcing to shoot far enough (or VATS, which auto-arcs your shots for you).
- Many of the weapons here have heavy and pricey ammunition that's hard to find. Most of the weapons are not really worth the trouble. Those that are actually powerful for all their disadvantages are best saved for the most durable adversaries in open combat. The rest can be taken care of with Small Guns or Energy Weapons.
- The main difference between the player using Big Guns and enemies using them is that enemies have unlimited ammunition -- even rockets and missiles. Plus, they don't really care about friendly fire.
- If you insist on using Big Guns, feasible early-game ones can be found in the Rock-It Launcher (schematics of which can be bought from Moira Brown); and the Bethesda Ruins, where two raiders carry Flamers. Flamer fuel is probably the most common Big Gun ammunition.
- The Apocalypse Armory mod introduces many big guns as well, but their appearance with enemies also corresponds to regular Fallout 3 (meaning not until you are mid-levels, around level 10-12, unless you know of specific enemies that always carry them).
- This is a tough weapon group to use, but when it works, it can do a lot of damage, especially with the schematic-built ones (Nuka-Grenade, Bottlecap Mine).
- That said, the basic one (frag mines and frag grenades) are more trouble than they are worth, and probably better used for auto-kill assassinations with Reverse Pickpocketing.
- This skill also has some strong perks, such as Demolition Expert (+20% to +60% extra damage, but not with the Nuka-Grenade) and Pyromaniac (+50% with fire weapons).
- With Pyromaniac, you have fairly early access to one of the best hand-to-hand weapons in the game, superceded only much later with the Deathclaw Gauntlet (plus Iron Fist perks). For various reasons, having a solid hand-to-hand attack is very useful; we discuss this later in this post.
- 60 Explosives is a sizable commitment in the early game, but if you started with a high Intelligence and also took the Educated perk, you can comfortably reach it by the minimum level to take the perk (level 12) while still having other critical skills at a good level.
- Grenades are almost useless in real time combat because enemies can close on your position quickly, and also react quickly to dangers like grenade throws.
- From the time they land, there is a short time delay before explosion, which further allows enemies to detect and react. Typically they will at least be aware of it and you thereby lose the possibility of a Sneak Attack Critical.
- You can throw grenades further by arcing them high and holding down the attack button for a more powerful throw, but all these factors make the landing point very hard to estimate without considerable practice.
- They are best used from a hidden position where you can use VATS to calculate your throw for you, or you can bounce them around a corner. VATS grenade explosions are also instant on hit, increasing the chance of a Sneak Attack Critical. However, VATS grenade throws have all sorts of complications.
- Mines are basically traps, but you can also shoot them for instant detonation. This can help if you are trying to use them on fast-moving creatures such as DeathClaws.
- It appears to be possible to Sneak Attack with mines, by basically laying them where the enemy will walk over them unawares. Thereafter they usually go into alert, so laying a line of mines won't get you lots of Sneak Attacks.
- This skill also helps you against landmines by giving you more time to disarm them.
- There are remarkably strong weapons here, and this fact allows you to delay increasing either skill here with level-up skill points for a very long time. Improve Repair instead to squeeze more damage from your weapons, and to delay having to choose between Melee and Unarmed.
- In the early game, three Iron Fist ranks plus the Spiked Knuckles (typically easily gotten from Springvale School) gets you a remarkably strong melee weapon that can one-shot many common enemies with a Sneak Attack Critical, or make short work of an enemy in VATS with a few hits.
- An investment in getting the schematics for the Shishkebab is another route you can take: The Blood Ties quest is available early and is fairly safe to complete; and duplicate components (which can be used to repair the Shishkebab) are easily gotten. You can further peak its usefulness by level 12 with the Pyromaniac perk.
- There is a huge difference between fighting in and out of VATS. In VATS, you queue attacks based on Action Points, but outside of VATS, many weapons can swing quite quickly per second. Also, their swings per second outside of VATS often do not correspond with what you can do in VATS.
- For example, you can queue 4 Spiked Knuckle punches in VATS at Agility 10, but only three swings with the Shiskebab. Outside of VATS, Spiked Knuckles swing more slowly than the Shishkebab.