TLDR Summary

This section summarizes the four essential basics to creating a universally strong character in Fallout: New Vegas (FNV):

  • Specifying strong choices at character creation that won't gimp you later
  • Rapidly developing the most universally useful skills in your early levels
  • Choosing essential perks in your early levels
  • Heeding early quest/gameplay dos and don'ts

To understand the whys and wherefores of this summarized information, read the entire contents of this page.

Specifying the strongest choices at character creation

  1. Determine your initial SPECIAL ranks by doing some research first! Don't blindly rush in!
    1. Research the weapons that you have a strong desire to use in your character's play-through to determine whether any of them have a Strength requirement. Then take the highest such Strength requirement and subtract 1 from it. Specify the result as your starting value for Strength at character creation, unless you are willing to take "a penalty" for those weapons whose Strength requirement you don't fully meet. (You can still equip and use the weapon, just not get full performance out of it.)
    2. Research all of the Fallout: New Vegas perks to determine which ones suit your playstyle concept, and make a note of the SPECIAL requirements for each one.
    3. Research the SPECIAL attributes that you think are important to max out (based in part on your research in #2 above), to determine the total number of SPECIAL-boosting implants you will eventually want to equip by mid-game. For example, you might not feel that a maxed out Charisma or Intelligence are important to you, so the total number of SPECIAL-boosting implants would therefore be 5. Add 2 to whatever number you come up with. Specify the result as your starting value for Endurance at character creation.
    4. Think long and hard about your starting values for Intelligence, because it plays a more important role in Fallout: New Vegas (FNV) than it did in Fallout 3. Skill points are much harder to come by in FNV, so a higher starting Intelligence might be the only way to acquire all the skill points you will need by level 30 to put you in a strong position to meet challenges in future DLC content. See the "How much Intelligence do I need?" section further below for details.
  2. Determine which single weapon type you want to specialize in for this play-through: guns, energy weapons, melee weapons, unarmed, or explosives. Choose only one of these five; do not attempt to spread yourself across two or more primary weapon types. You can play with other weapon types but in FNV you can really max out only one before the late game.
  3. For your first three "tag" skills specified at character creation, specify one of them as the answer to step #4. Specify the other two as Lockpick and Science.
  4. For your two optional Traits, choose: Built to Destroy and Wild Wasteland (mainly for access to the only Alien blaster in the game).
  5. As in Fallout 3, you'll have a chance to completely re-do your character creation as you approach an invisible border surrounding the town you start in. Therefore, it's a good idea to create a special game save file immediately after your initial tutorial session with Lacey and before you venture too far from town. This way, you can save some time if you ever want to reroll a new character, by loading up this special save file and then heading down the road away from town to trigger the "redo" dialog again.

Rapidly developing the most universally useful skills in your early levels

Choosing essential perks in your early levels

Early quest/gameplay dos and don'ts

What is this "universal" guide?

There is no one "best" way to play any Fallout title, but it is very easy to make early- and mid-game character development choices that can significantly--or severely--limit your choices and abilities (aka "cripple your character") by the late mid-game and late-game. Unlike most character guides that focus on developing a player for a specific play style or role play concept, this guide focuses on explaining some universally strong best practices that will give you the most options and fewest handicaps throughout the lifespan of any character or playthrough.

Gameplay constraints that inform this guide

Fallout: New Vegas (FNV) is different enough from all previous Fallout titles to make character development confusing even for experienced Fallout 3 players, let alone newcomers to the series. The fundamental gameplay constraints in FNV that significantly affect character development are:

Strength is a hard-limit SPECIAL

Certain weapons cannot be equipped unless you have a minimum rank in Strength. (This constraint did not exist in Fallout 3.)

Endurance is a hard-limit SPECIAL

  • Your total possible rank in each SPECIAL is limited by your starting value for Endurance at your initial character creation. Instead of the bobbleheads used to increase each SPECIAL by +1 in Fallout 3, FNV uses a mechanic called implants to increase each SPECIAL by +1.
    • There are 9 possible implants, one for each SPECIAL, granting +1 to each, and two other very desirable implants.
    • To equip all 9 implants you must start the game with 9 Endurance. (To equip 7 total implants, you must start with 7 Endurance, to equip 5 total implants, you must start with 5 Endurance, etc.)
    • You cannot start with 7 Endurance, add a +1 Endurance implant, and thereby increase your total number of implants to 8.

Intelligence is a much more important hard-limit SPECIAL than it was in Fallout 3

In Fallout 3, you could easily sacrifice points from Intelligence at character creation to bolster other SPECIALS, but you cannot do so as lightly in FNV.

  • Skill growth rate is much slower and the max potential cap is much lower than in Fallout 3. Even though FNV starts out with 30 total experience levels, you cannot easily achieve 100 points in every skill like you could in Fallout 3:
    • Skill books can improve each skill by at most +12 points. (Or by +16 points if you take a specific Perk early on). In Fallout 3, skill books could permanently increase a skill by +25 points.
    • Your rank in Intelligence increases skill point gain with each level at a much lower rate than in Fallout 3.
    • On the bright side, a new mechanic in FNV is the use of skill magazines to temporarily boost any skill by +10 (or by +20 if you take a specific perk early on), which can lower the necessary target for permanent ranks in some skills compared to Fallout 3. For example, if you can find a steady supply of such magazines for Science, you could choose to stop ranking up Science at 80 and simply rely on magazine boosts when you must hack a terminal that requires 100 Science.

The designers do not want you maxing out all or even most skills

In addition to the reduced skill points conferred from skillbooks and Intelligence as mentioned in the preceding section, there are very few perks in FNV that add skill points to skills. (This is very different from Fallout 3, which had many such perks.)

Action Points for V.A.T.S. are harder to come by than they were in Fallout 3

There are fewer ways to obtain (semi)permanent buffs to your Action Points than there were in Fallout 3. Also, your Agility ranks are more important to ensuring a higher pool of Action Points, which makes it more difficult to sacrifice ranks in Agility to pad out other desirable SPECIALs. If you prefer FPS-style run-and-gun play over using the V.A.T.S. system, this constraint affects you less, but let's face it: even if you primarily play in FPS mode, V.A.T.S is still very useful in tough situations, is fun to watch, and the +15% crit chance (and even higher when HIDDEN in stealth) is highly desirable.

Maintaining neutrality with all three major factions is highly desirable in your early levels

At character creation, you start the game completely neutral to all three major factions: New California Republic (NCR), Caesar's Legion, and Mr. House. This means you can easily come and go within their territories, which makes it easy to outfit yourself with good gear (and unique weapons) in your early levels.

If you blindly follow the main storyline quests and also complete all side quests as you go along, you'll find yourself quickly achieving hostile status with Caesars Legion by as early as level 4 or 5. When this happens, not only will you actively hunted by tough assassination squads that appear out of the blue, but you'll find it extremely difficult to hunt around in Caesar's Legion territories for unique weapons and other basic gear you might seek. (You can also make early game choices that will make the NCR hostile to you.)

For example, if you just love the look of Chinese stealth armor and want to wear it throughout most of the game, you can easily acquire this armor in the very earliest levels of the game as long as the NCR is neutral or friendly to you. Conversely, if you make the NCR hostile to you early in the game, you will probably need to wait until level 20+ before you'll be strong enough to fight your way through lots of NCR to the only location for this armor in the entire game. The same is true of gear that might be located in Caesars Legion territories.

Why the specific two traits recommended at character creation?

The game itself doesn't make it obvious that at character creation, it's entirely optional whether you choose any traits. And most of the traits are actually terrible: they might seem useful in early levels, but as you reach mid-game and have access to pretty much any good gear you like, the downsides of most traits far outweigh the advantages. The two traits recommended in the TLDR summary above are recommended primarily because they have no significant downsides yet some good upsides:

  • Access to an Alien blaster is always useful and fun. Despite being less powerful than in Fallout 3, it's still got an extremely high crit modifier so it's still essentially a one-shot-kill gun for those enemies you simply must kill fast for whatever reason.
  • +3% crit chance at all times is very helpful, and the 15% faster weapon deterioration is negligible, easy counteracted through repairs, and pretty small considering that using V.A.T.S makes your weapons deteriorate at 4x normal speed, yet that doesn't stop most of us from making liberal use of V.A.T.S.

How much intelligence do I need to max out important skills?

There are 13 skills, so to attain 100 in each skill requires a total of 1300 skill points. This was easily achievable in Fallout 3, but impossible in FNV.

  • You start with a base of 195 skill points at character creation (level 1).
  • Your three "tag" skills at character creation add another 45 points to the total.
  • You rack up the following skill points by level 30 just from level-ups from levels 2 through 30, depending on your investment in Intelligence:
    • INT 10 = 421 points
    • INT 9 = 406 points
    • INT 8 = 392 points
    • INT 7 = 377 points
    • INT 6 = 363 points
    • INT 5 = 348 points
    • INT 4 = 334 points
    • INT 3 = 319 points
    • INT 2 = 305 points
    • INT 1 = 290 points
  • If you take the Educated perk as early as possible (level 4), you can rack up 52 more points by level 30.
  • If you find and read all skill books, you can gain another 153 points.
  • If you invest in the Comprehension perk before reading any skill books, you can gain another 51 points.
  • If you can take the Tag! perk at some point, you can gain another 15 points.

Add up the numbers and you can acquire at the very most a maximum of 932 skill points, with the total growing smaller as you invest fewer points into Intelligence, don't buy all three listed perks (or buy some perks later rather than sooner), and don't read all possible skill books.

How far does 932 (or fewer) skill points go?

  • If you invest equally in all 13 skills, that brings each of them to 71 or 72 points.
  • If you keep all skills at at least 50 each, then you have enough left over to max out 5 skills to 100 each and a 6th skill to 82.
  • If you keep all skills at at least 60 each, then you have enough left over to max out 3 skills to 100 and a 4th skill to 82.
  • ...and so on, noting again that these hypothetical numbers are based on investing 9 points into Intelligence at character creation and somehow getting a +1 Int implant very very early in your character's life. (Or simply investing 10 points into Int at character creation.) The numbers go down quite fast if you invest a more typical amount of Intelligence between 4 and 7.
  • As you can see, the designers want to force characters to specialize and make hard choices about their character development and playstyle. No more uber characters running around with all skills maxed like in Fallout 3.

So the technique to calculate how much Intelligence to rank up at character creation requires you to work backward by:

  1. Adding up the total values of the skill point totals you'd like to have in all 13 skills by level 30.
    • Stop at 80 points for any skill that you think you'd need infrequently enough to just pass some "100 skill required" a dozen times or so throughout the game. For example, how many "100 Science-required" terminals will you want to be able to hack? You'll easily find enough skillmags for Science to bump you from 80 Science to 100 Science to pass the skill check when needed. Bear in mind though, that you'll probably use up most of your available skill mags in early levels to pass some enticing skill checks for early terminals and safes, so realistically you might need to plan on having a native 100 skill in things like Lockpick, Science, etc., because all the good stuff is usually locked away somehow.
    • Go all the way to 100 points for your core skills that you need all the time, such as Guns or Lockpick, etc.
  2. If the total from step 1 is higher than the skill points generated by the total Intelligence you're willing to invest and the perks you're willing to buy per the above data, then redo your ideal skill point values and/or grant yourself more Intelligence at character creation and/or plan to buy more of the three above-listed perks, etc., until you can get all the numbers to balance out the way you like.
  3. Now you have a game plan for how much Intelligence to assign at character creation, where to put your first three "tag" skills, which of the three perks to buy and when, and what your target values are for each skill.