This is a guide for new Fallout New Vegas players who want to maximize their characters effectiveness right from the start of the game. Hopefully it also helps older players try new and perhaps more effective things. Here you will learn what stats will most effect your desired playstyle, and what you could do without. Your SPECIAL stats all start at 5, with 5 points to add to any stats. You may also add/deduct points from any stat when creating your character VIA the Vigor Tester (The machine you edit your SPECIAL stats with at the beginning of the game).
SPECIAL stats are:
Strength (Governing stats: Melee Weapons. Also determines which weapons you can effectively use, inventory carry weight, and melee combat damage.)
Perception (Governing stats: Energy Weapons, Lockpick, Explosives. Also determines compass range.)
Endurance (Governing stats: Unarmed, Survival. Also determines hit points and radiation resistance, and number of implants obtainable.)
Charisma (Governing stats: Speech, Barter. Also determines companion nerve.)
Intelligence (Governing stats: Medicine, Science, Repair. Also determines the number of skill points gained upon levelling up.)
Agility (Governing stats: Guns, Sneak. Also determines action point regeneration.)
Luck (Luck governs all skills slightly, affects your critical hit chance, the chance of enemy mishaps and your luck with gambling.)
Note: Never start with more than 9 in any given stat; implants (+1 to any SPECIAL stat) may be bought to increase your desired stat from 9 to 10. Each added SPECIAL stat will raise the governing stats by 2.
Let's start with the most fun stat to explain: Intelligence. The number of skill points gained each level is based on the formula 10 + (0.5 * INT per level, including level 1). This means you will be gaining 10.5 skill points (every level up) at 1 INT, and 15 at level 10. The half skill points do cross over, meaning you will gain 10.5 points upon reaching level 2 with 1 INT, and 11 points when you reach level 3, then back to 10.5 for level 4. The highest perk requirement for INT is 7, but if you want a lot (not all) of perk options, 5 is all you need. The perk "Educated" (obtainable at level 4) will boost your amount of skill points gained per level by 2, making the maximum number of skill points earned per level 17.
On a personal note, I believe the absolute highest INT you need is 5, 4 being a better option. With 4 INT, you gain 404 skill points from level 2 to 30 (with educated taken at level 4), as apposed to 10 INT where you gain 491 skill points (with educated at level 4). So at level 4 INT, you can max out 4-5 stats and also have higher alternative SPECIAL attributes (most perks only require 4 INT anyway). The extra 87 points will allow you to max out one more stat, but is that necessary? You can just replay the game with a different character build, and max out a different 4-5 stats if you want to experiment with everything.
It is possible to get the INT implant before you reach level 2, making a starting INT level of 3 acceptable. (Stealthboy past deathclaws from Goodsprings to Camp McCarren on Very Easy, take NCR uniform and board the monorail into New Vegas [Free!], give Mr. House 2 snowglobes for 4,000 caps, buy implant!) If you accidentally get a level with 3 INT before you buy the implant, make sure you wait on buying it until you get one more level (Otherwise you waist the .5 points you gained from the first level!)
This stat is slightly easier to understand, and is much less debatable. The highest perk requirement for Strength is 7, but most perks that require you to have 6-7 strength boost melee effectiveness. Each STR point gives you an extra 10 pounds of carrying capacity (from 160 to 250), an extra .5 damage with melee weapons (.5 to 5), and increases your melee weapons skill by 2 (+2 to +20). If you're playing a melee/tank character, strength will be important for holding all that extra weight in armor (Notably power armor) and dealing extra damage with your weapons. I suggest starting with 9 STR if you're a melee/tank character, or 5 if you're anything else. Weapons handling perk (Decrease all weapons STR requirements by 2) and the STR implant will be enough to hold most weapons, and for the mini-gun (STR requirement of 10), you could start at 6, use the implant and weapons handling, and wear power armor (Power armor increases STR by 1 for as long as you're wearing it).
Perception is mostly used to see ticks on your compass from certain distances away, short distances if low perception and long if high. Perception also makes the use of energy weapons more effective, increasing their damage. The highest perk requirement for perception is 7, and contrary to what designers said pre-release, perception has no independent effects on ranged weapon accuracy. Instead it effects the distance at which the computer draws AI. A character with 1 perception will not be able to see as far as a character with 10 perception. A perception of 5 (6 with implant) is suggested, as it mostly works for spotting red ticks on your compass before the baddies spot you. You will also be able to wear a hat (very commonly found) to increase your perception by 1 for as long as you wear it (Caution: not every hat in the game has this effect).
The "Four eyes" trait you can pick at the beginning of the game will also increase your perception by 1 as long as you're wearing glasses, which is good because you can wear a hat and glasses at the same time. (Glasses can be found in the room you start the game in, on the desk) If you choose a starting perception of 7, take the implant making it 8, and wear glasses and a hat (Assuming you took the "Four eyes" trait), you will have the max of 10 perception.
Alternatively, if you don't care about the perks that require perception, you may decrease it all the way to 1 at the beginning and pick up the companion ED-E as soon as you can (Found in Primm). ED-E adds the "Enhanced Censors" Perk when ever he's with you, making your compass range as good, or better, than it would be with 10 perception. So, with ED-E and 1 perception, you can enjoy the perks of having an outstanding compass range while having all those SPECIAL points utilized in a different stat. Careful though, if you're playing on Hardcore mode, ED-E can die and you won't be able to get him back.
The highest perk requirement for Endurance is 7. This skill also adds to your total number of health points, your natural RAD resistance, and the number of implants you can take on (with 1 END, you can only get 1 implant, with 9 END you can get every implant available). The END implant does not effect the total number of implants you can take on. A high END is suggested on any character build, as you do get attacked a lot in this game and you will most likely want a lot of implants. I suggest 5 or 6 END for most character builds (6 or 7 with implant - the perk "Rad Absorption" requires 7 END and is very helpful) however if you're planning on being a melee/tank character, starting with 9 END is recommended.
The SPECIAL stat Charisma determines companion nerve as well as the barter and speech stats. The highest perk requirement for charisma is 6. Each point in charisma boosts your companions damage and armor by 5, up to a maximum of +50 at 10 CHR. If you're not planning on relying on your companions for support in combat (Which you will likely do on "Very Hard", not Hardcore), it is perfectly ok to have a CHR of 1. You may raise your speech level very high without having a high CHR (Pretty important in this game, I suggest getting speech to 50). Regardless of barter or speech level, some interactions will not be available if your CHR is too low, however these interactions are mostly cosmetic and have no adverse effect on your gameplay.
Agility increases the number of action points you have, and contrary to popular belief, has no effect at all on the speed of your characters walk/run. Instead it effects the speed at which you draw/holster your weapon, and the damage you do with Guns. The highest perk requirement for AGI is 7. AGI is most important for builds that utilize guns as their main instrument of death, and I suggest starting it off at 9 if you like lead based weapons. On the other hand, if you're an energy weapons guy, 5 perception (6 with implant) is all you need as it unlocks some nice perks and perception will be more important to you (Perception governs energy weapons). If you want to be a guns guy, a ninja, a sniper, or all three, AGI is your best friend.
Luck determines enemy mishaps (I don't notice them, don't increase luck just for this), gambling effectiveness (Also undesirable, there are much better ways to get money than gambling) and critical chance (I personally LOVE critical chance. Every two luck points increases all stats by 1. So with a luck of 1 or 2, all stats are increased by 1. With a luck of 3 or 4, all stats are increased by 2, etc. I suggest 9 luck [10 with implant] just for the critical chance it gives). The highest perk requirement for luck is 6. Each point in luck gives a 1% critical chance boost. With 10 luck, most weapons you use will have a 10% (Or 15% with the perk "Finesse", which gives +5% critical chance) chance of critically hitting your opponent. That's 1 in every 10 shots being a critical hit (Or 1 in every ~7 shots with Finesse)!
It is also possible to get a 100% critical chance with some weapons such as the sniper rifle or unique varmint rifle, the "Ratslayer" because of these weapons having a x5 critical multiplier. This is doable by having 10 luck (+10%), the Finesse perk (+5%), and Boones 1st Recon Beret (+5%) (Obtainable from Boone's quest "One for my baby", also able to equip with glasses on at the same time in case of the "Four eyes" trait). 10% + 5% + 5% = 20%, 20 x 5 = 100%. Even without useing a sniper rifle, a 20% critical chance means you'll be scoring a critical on average every one in five shots. This is very important to have while playing on the harder difficulties. Even though I like luck, I believe you should either stick with either 1 luck or 10. If you don't care about critical chance, your SPECIAL points are better spent on a different stat.
Here I'm going to list a couple character builds you may want to refer to. I hope this has helped some people be a little smarter about their character builds, I hope you have a great time playing this excellent game!
- Starting stats - STR: 5 PER: 4 END: 9 CHR: 1 INT: 4 AGI: 8 LCK: 9
Traits: Four eyes (+1 PER), Small frame (+1 AGI)
All stats boosted +1 with implants
- Final stats - STR: 6 PER: 6 END: 10 CHR: 2 INT: 5 AGI: 10 LCK: 10
- Starting stats - STR: 9 PER: 1 END: 9 CHR: 7 INT: 4 AGI: 1 LCK: 9
All stats boosted +1 with implants
- Final stats - STR: 10 PER: 2 END: 10 CHR: 8 INT: 5 AGI: 2 LCK: 10
Sources: Fallout wiki, My own experiences. Guide created: November 3rd, 2010 Created by: FatherMyles