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Fallout 4’s upcoming DLC will be bringing some changes to Survival Difficulty and some industrious Redditors detailed them. There’s a lot of interesting new challenges there, but there’s a few issues with how Survival Difficulty is going to fit into the overall gameplay of Fallout 4.

An important thing to note is this tweet by Bethesda:

Bethesda states that they are “still messing with [Survival Difficulty].” I hope to highlight some of the issues that come up with what we currently know about Survival Difficulty in these five points.

Although Fallout 4 has been out for over four months now, I’d still like to make the point that there will be story spoilers in the article. If you’re still playing through the game and you would like to remain spoiler free, it’s probably best for you to turn around now. 

Fallout 4 Perk Chart Portion Strong Back

Perk choices are going to be much different than non-Survival gameplay

The changes to the perk system in Fallout 4 have been equally lauded and derided for different reasons. I’m largely a fan of it myself. I think it makes planning characters a bit easier, and there are several complementary perk choices that can provide for interesting builds.

For example, one of the combinations I personally use is Strong Back 4, Action Boy/Girl 2, and Moving Target 3. Strong Back 4 gives me extra carry weight, lets me jog while overburdened at the cost of AP as if I were sprinting, and allows me to Fast Travel while overburdened. Action Boy/Girl refreshes my Action Points at a faster rate, and Moving Target 3 makes sprinting (or jogging while overburdened) use less AP overall. This combination of perks allows me to stay constantly on the move without ever having to worry much about carry weight because I am a terrible person who likes to pick up absolutely everything that isn’t nailed down.

However, these perks might not be as helpful in Survival Difficulty. For example, Strong Back 4 as it is would be rendered completely useless as you can’t Fast Travel at all. You run the risk of losing health and suffering limb damage while overburdened as well. This particular build may not be viable in Survival Difficulty.

Aside from some perks just outright not working anymore, other perks will likely need to be changed in some fashion. For example, will Cannibalism increase your Fatigue? Can you counteract the downsides of it with higher levels of the perk? There’s not really much detail in how some of the more game-changing perks are going to interact with the new mechanics and how they might be changed for Survival Difficulty.

Lastly, there’s the matter of builds. One of the nice things about Fallout 4 is that there are very few “essential” perks, at least in my eyes. You don’t strictly need to take something like Scrounger. However, the severity of the supply situation coupled with the lack of Fast Travel might make it a necessity for Survival Difficulty.

Mind, I’m not necessarily saying that certain perks being more or less important is necessarily a bad thing. I just think Bethesda needs to carefully consider how Survival Difficulty is going to interact with all of the perks and at least make an effort to ensure there’s no wasted space in the perk tree.

Fallout 4 Sanctuary Settlement

Settlement management will be much more frustrating and grindy than it already is

I have over 450 hours in Fallout 4. I’ve spent probably half of that time working on Settlements. I like building things, okay? It’s my jam.

Crafting and building in settlements requires a lot of junk in Fallout 4. Most people will loot a lot of stuff and Fast Travel back and forth, and some nutters like myself will just carry over 2,000 weight while they bounce from location to location stripping it of anything usable. This just won’t be feasible in Survival Difficulty.

Aside from the health risks while being overencumbered, you won’t be able to Fast Travel. What happens when a settlement is under attack on the other side of the map? What if you don’t have the resources to build and need to go collect them? It just might not be practical to source things locally.

To make things worse, Survival Difficulty also makes it so locations and enemies respawn less frequently. There is a very real possibility that you may just not be able to collect enough materials to build nice settlements. At the bare minimum it will be an extremely challenging task to have settlements operate to their fullest potential.

That says nothing of the merchants—we don’t know if and how Bethesda might change them for Survival Difficulty. As it stands now, merchants restock every 48 hours. Will they restock less often? Will they carry less caps or less goods overall? How regularly are you even going to be able to visit them anyway?

Survival Mode is supposed to be more difficult. Settlements are, by and large, an optional part of the game that isn’t strictly necessary to the story. But the way things are going, it seems like an entire facet of the game is going to be closed off from Survival mode and that just feels a bit off to me. Settlement management is pretty grindy as it is now, and the more difficult looting and lack of Fast Travel will make it so much harder to acquire materials that you may very well have to write off the idea of “Settlements” altogether.
Fallout 4 Brahmin

Supply Lines, though challenging, may allow some of the challenge to be circumvented

One potential workaround to the materials issue will be Supply Lines. Supply Lines let you link up multiple settlements through caravans relatively early in the game. You can reach a high enough level to get things started at Sanctuary without having to stray terribly far from the general region.

While it will almost certainly be more difficult to manage settlements in Fallout 4’s Survival Difficulty, they will also provide a potential safe haven. They can provide food, clean water, and a decent bed to rest in. They’re generously dotted all over the map, and you’re never more than a few minutes away from respite (assuming you’ve properly activated the settlement).

Defense of settlements relies largely on having more defense than food + water, and to do that requires either manpower or turrets. These logistical needs might be difficult to meet without the ability to farm locations for resources and constantly fast travel to all of the merchants. Either way, Settlements will paradoxically be very important in Survival Difficulty while simultaneously being underutilized to their fullest potential. Well, unless you’re a crazy person like me who will try to figure out how to make it work anyway.

Supply Lines work as a sort of “magic network”—all linked settlements share food, water, and other resources. If they remain in the game as it is, you can effectively have a handful of functional settlements that can comfortably supply the rest. You can also store most of your raw materials anywhere and have access to it everywhere. The implementation of Supply Lines as they currently are in Fallout 4 seems in direct opposition to the sort of greater realism Bethesda is shooting for in Survival Difficulty.

Fallout 4 Vertibird

Story quests will be a priority unless you like walking around all day

Let’s say you wanted to complete the story of Fallout 4 in the fastest way possible. Now imagine in your mind all of the places you have to visit and how much walking that actually involves. Nevermind stopping off for side quests or because yet another settlement needs your help.

When the Brotherhood of Steel first showed up in the Commonwealth I thought it was a pretty impressive entrance. After I got set up with them I was handed 10 Vertibird Signal Grenades that let me call down a Vertbird to transport me anywhere on the map. I thought to myself, “Why would I need this when I have fast travel?”

Now it makes sense.

Access to the special modes of transportation necessitate completion of some of the storyline. You won’t be able to access Vertibirds until the Prydwen shows up, and to get the Prydwen to appear you have to kill Kellogg. From there you have the choice between working towards Institute access or getting Vertbird Signal Grenades from Elder Maxson. The teleporter is the more useful of the two transportation choices, but the Vertbirds would probably be easier for most people to attain.

In terms of pure efficiency, messing around with side quests will take much longer when you don’t have a fast way to get about the map at hand. I think anyone who puts some thought into their Survival Difficulty playthrough will probably come to the conclusion that getting the next best thing to Fast Travel a priority. It feels a bit like some of the magic is gone in a sense.

This particular fact (along with the Institute’s teleporter) makes me think that Survival Difficulty was under development throughout the course of the game and just wasn’t ready in time for launch. The Vertibirds and Teleporter just don’t make as much sense in a game with Fast Travel (cool as they may be). However, in a game without Fast Travel they’ll be invaluable. And speaking of transportation…

Fallout 4 Institute Promenade

The Institute’s teleporter is just too darn convenient to pass up

A teleporter is the next best thing to Fast Travel. Actually, in many ways it’s better. You can bounce to the Institute and be teleported anywhere else pretty much instantly.

Fast Travel helps time pass. That can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. If you’re trying to go to a bunch of shops you’d want some time to pass so they have time to restock. (Even with the time cost of Fast Travel you’ll still likely end up using the Wait function a fair bit.)

However, Fast Travel might not be fast enough when you need to get to a settlement to defend it. I’ve had Settlement defenses fail while I was travelling to it. Granted, it’s mainly my fault for waiting too long, but I was able to reload an old save and remedy the situation by using the Institute’s teleporter instead.

Here’s the tricky bit. Three out of the four story endings will effectively let you keep Vertbirds as a travel option, but they just aren’t as good as the Institute’s teleporter. I’ve effectively halted the story in my current game of Fallout 4 because I want access to the Institute (which I intend to destroy) while I farm materials to build up a bunch of nice settlements.

There’s certainly plenty of jokes about players forgetting about rescuing their son to mess around with settlements and side quests, but Survival Difficulty may very well make that a sensible way to play. While you would arguably want to gain access to these transportation tools as fast as possible, you just might not want to give them up quickly.

All of this operates on the presupposition that the Institute’s teleporter functionality is unchanged for Survival Difficulty. I can imagine some kind of finagling they might do if they find the prospect of instant teleportation too convenient; they may require that you’re above the ruins of C.I.T., for instance.

Fallout 4 Medical Building Bumper

Fallout 4’s Survival Difficulty will be an interesting way to play the game, but there are a host of design issues that are going to crop up as a result of it. It remains to be seen how Bethesda is going to tweak the variety of interlocking systems like Perks, faction reputation, settlements, and merchants for the new challenges and restrictions of Survival Difficulty.

If Survival Difficulty were implemented tomorrow in the way it’s outlined in the Reddit post, it would probably be very clunky. Bethesda is smart to hold off on launching it until it’s ready, and I hope they manage to get this concept to work well within Fallout 4.

Would you rush story missions in Fallout 4 to get access to Vertbirds and teleportation faster for Survival Difficulty? What do you think of how Bethesda is implementing Survival Difficulty? Let us know in the comments below!

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Robert N. Adams

Senior Writer

I've had a controller in my hand since I was 4 and I haven't stopped gaming since. CCGs, Tabletop Games, Pen & Paper RPGs - I've tried a whole bunch of stuff over the years and I'm always looking to try more!