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Fallout 4: 5 things to know before you start

This article is a spoiler-free zone. 

Fallout 4 is a giant, wonderful, complicated and sometimes confusing game (check out our full review here) with so many different moving parts that it can be hard for new players to know where or how to begin. To help you get off to the best possible start in the Commonwealth, we've put together five tips we wish we would have known when we started playing the game. 

1. Your companions can't permanently die -- and you should use this to your advantage

Though this particular aspect of game play has been known for a while, it's easy to forget in the heat of battle. This is especially true if you choose Dogmeat as your adventuring pal, because DAMN is it ever hard to ignore the whines and yelps of pain coming from your canine friend. But despite these sounds Dogmeat, as well as the other traveling partners you can pick up along the way, won't ever permanently die. What happens instead is that your companions will fall to the ground after taking too much damage, dropping out of the fight until you're able to kill the remaining foes. Or you can just run away and leave them behind, and they'll catch up to you eventually without any trouble.

What this means in practice is that certain companions -- Dogmeat and Codsworth being the two prominent early game examples -- are champion tanks. Both will happily charge into danger again and again, allowing you to stay at range and pick off enemies for as long as your companion can stay on their paws or robot jets, respectively. You can bring a companion back into the fight immediately by giving them a Stimpack, but that's rarely a viable option in the middle of a fight.

Your humanoid companions are generally less willing to play the tank role, but they'll still draw their share of fire. Make sure to toss them some decent armor (and equip it for them via the Trade dialogue option) to keep them in the fight for longer.

2. You should keep your mind (and options) open regarding factions

As discussed in our review, Fallout 4 does some interesting things with factions and the game's main story. As you progress through the world it's very likely you'll develop some early views on who the "good guys" and "bad guys" are, but don't be too hasty. This is a more complex and shades-of-grey world than that of New Vegas.

You don't actually have to make any final choices about which faction to support until near the end of the game's story, and you can have access to multiple different quest lines and characters who can argue each faction's case up until these final decision points (unless you start killing faction members indiscriminately, of course). Hear the different sides out, if only to get a better idea of who to support on your inevitable second playthrough.

3. You have a flashlight

Maybe I'm just an idiot, but I played a LOT of Fallout 4 before I realized there is actually a flashlight in the game. Hold down the Pip-Boy button to turn it on, and your handy device will light up any dark corners you might find.

4. You should have a scavenging goal and actually pick up junk

More so than any Fallout before it, Fallout 4's world is PACKED with junk. It's everywhere, in every container and on every shelf, and you can even scrap cars, trees, and whole buildings to get more of it. And, kind of shockingly, this is actually one of the best parts of the game.

Whereas in previous Fallout games junk was little more than vendor trash (unless you had one of the special weapons which turned your trash into high-speed projectiles, of course), here it becomes essential fuel for the game's deep crafting and settlement system. Hunger and Thirst may be gone (at least until modders add them), but the needs of your settlements can provide an even more compelling kind of post-apocalyptic resource management.

The best intro to the settlement system involves traveling a bit down Preston Garvey's Minuteman quest line. Improving Sanctuary runs you through the basics of what you need to form a settlement, and you'll soon realize that things like aluminum, circuits, and gears are critical for some of the most useful improvements. Use the Workshop interface to tag resources you need and they'll show up with a magnifying glass next to them whenever you run across them on your journeys. This will help you decide what to pick up while on the road and what to leave behind, and will save you time later when you want to get down to some serious settlement crafting.

The new role of junk in Fallout 4 also means you'll need to get out of the habit of selling all your odds and ends to merchants. Tagging resources you need will make it easy to distinguish between critical components and stuff you can ditch for caps.  

5. Don't neglect Charisma (or at least pick yourself up some fancy clothes)

This last tip will really depend on the way you want to play Fallout 4, but consider it a friendly reminder that choosing Charisma as your "dump stat" can make your life in Fallout 4 more difficult than it has to be. Putting a few points into the stat which governs persuasion will up your odds of talking your way out of problems, and can allow you to breeze through some challenges that can otherwise be very tricky. 

If you don't have points to spare for Charisma though, you should try to find a tuxedo, sequin dress, or other Charisma-boosting item along the way, and make sure to carry it with you. Fallout 4's new cinematic conversations mean you can walk away at any time, so if the color-coded dialogue options indicating a Charisma challenge pop up and you aren't suitably dressed, just back up without answering, exit the conversation, change into your fanciest duds, and then give it another try. Just try not to think of how totally insane that kind of behavior would look in real life.