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Fallout New Vegas Best Starting Stats (SPECIAL), Skills & Traits Guide
With this guide you’ll learn the Fallout New Vegas best starting stats (SPECIAL), skills and traits for your specific build to ensure you get the most from your Courier character. While your ultimate choice of starting SPECIAL is heavily influenced by your choice of broader Fallout New Vegas build there are some important cut off points for SPECIAL to be aware of when designing your character for a fresh run through the Mojave Wasteland. These SPECIAL thresholds can either give you important utility or a significant jump in power that is simply too large to ignore and could hamper your build effectiveness if not utilised appropriately. While skills and traits are also an important decision that is selected on character creation they work differently and won’t hurt your character effectiveness as much within a playthrough.
Whether you want to play as melee, unarmed, stealth, guns or energy weapons you’ll find useful tips in this Fallout New Vegas SPECIAL guide to help with your selections across SPECIAL, skills and traits. With this knowledge you’ll be equipped to make informed decisions about starting selections with the intent of this guide to focus on guidance and tips rather than hard rules so that you can maintain the sense of creating your own RPG character for your tastes. This guide also covers the best skills to start with and best starting traits which combined provide an additional boost to your playthrough although have less of an impact compared to your SPECIAL choices.
This article covers the mechanics in order of character creation (SPECIAL, skills and traits) and accordingly includes spoilers for character creation and general gameplay elements.
Fallout New Vegas SPECIAL Stats Overview
Your Fallout New Vegas starting SPECIAL (S.P.E.C.I.A.L.) are permanent decisions that players make in regards to their character strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck. When starting a new character players have a total of 40 points to spread across the seven different attributes. With each impacting your playthrough in different ways this is a difficult but important initial decision that should be based on your objectives and specifically intended playstyle. While there are some ways to boost your SPECIAL stats in Fallout: New Vegas during your adventure these also require you to plan ahead if you wish to use them effectively. For Fallout New Vegas (and the applicable New Vegas DLC) this includes:
- Implants obtained from the New Vegas medical clinic (limited by your endurance stat)
- Selecting the Intense Training perk
- Completing Lonesome Road DLC
- Four Eyes or Small Frame trait
- Starting and finishing Old World Blues DLC
Note that unlike other games in the Fallout franchise there is no Bobblehead like mechanic that gives you a rare collectable item to chase around the Wasteland for SPECIAL stats. Instead players will need to rely on the Fallout New Vegas implant mechanic which limits the number of implants you can acquire to your endurance stat level. There is an implant for each SPECIAL along with a damage threshold boost and a regenerate health option. The damage threshold option is a decent option and actually adds a reasonable amount of survivability to the player while the health regeneration is utility based given there are other methods available to heal your character.
Importantly these implants are not available if players are already level 10 in a SPECIAL and while the endurance implant does not allow you to take another implant for free all of the implant boosts to SPECIAL is a factor in determining your eligibility for perks that have minimum SPECIAL requirements. For this reason the more endurance you can fit into your Fallout New Vegas starting stats the more overall SPECIAL you’ll be able to have in total at the end of your journey. The trade off being that players will sacrifice some of that SPECIAL to invest in endurance at the start of the game until they unlock the medical clinic and the required caps to purchase the implants.
The recommended numbers shown on this page are referring to what your goal for ending SPECIAL should be AFTER IMPLANTS and so players should consider this in determining their starting endurance. Note that these recommendations are focused on perk requirements and do not take into account the NPC conversations impacted by particular SPECIAL stats given these are fairly minimal in appearance and impact.
Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Strength
Strength primarily provides a boost to your melee damage (and associated skill) and carry weight. A smaller amount is also required to properly utilise ranged weapons without a penalty to your accuracy.
This makes strength an obvious investment for players attempting a melee based playthrough as the additional damage is an effective option to boost damage from start to end while also allowing you to obtain some appropriate strength based perks to buff your best melee weapon damage. The carry weight is also a nice quality of life and ranges from 160 at level 1 strength to 250 at level 10 strength with players that like to hoard items going to want some investment. For characters doing a ranged weapon playthrough you’ll find that the vast majority of weapons require a strength of 6 to use effectively although there are definitely a few popular weapons like the anti-material rifle that requires 8. Note there is also perk (weapon handling) to factor in that reduces strength requirements for all weapons by 2 though.
Notable perks with strength requirements (base game and DLC) include:
- Strong back (5 STR) – 50 additional carry weight
- Stonewall (6 STR) – Damage threshold boost against melee or unarmed attacks
- Super Slam! (6 STR) – Knockdown chance on your melee or unarmed attacks
- Heavyweight (7 STR) [Dead Money] – Weight of all weapons over 10 is cut in half
- Burden to Bear (7 STR) [Lonesome Road] – 50 additional carry weight
Recommended strength level (after implants):
- 4 to 6 for ranged weapon builds based on your weapon strength requirements (factor in the -2 strength requirement weapon handling perk)
- 6 for unarmed builds
- 10 for melee builds
Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Perception
Perception in Fallout New Vegas boosts the skills of lockpick, explosives and energy weapons. There is also an impact to the distance at which your character detects enemies which only has an extremely minor gameplay impact.
Perception is nice for a character that intends to specialise in energy weapons given the boost to that skill although is not a requirement given that a lack of perception doesn’t stop you from reaching max energy weapons skill. Players who intend to fight from long range or utilise sneaking will benefit from investment in perception given it makes several perks available that can significantly boost your damage in these situations although for other players perception represents an opportunity to remove SPECIAL points and place them elsewhere.
Notable perks with perception requirements (base game and DLC) include:
- Sniper (6 PER) – Increases headshot chance in V.A.T.S.
- Light Step (6 PER) – Footsteps don’t trigger floor traps
- Hobbler (7 PER) [Dead Money] – Increases leg shot chance in V.A.T.S.
- Better Criticals (6 PER) – Increases critical damage by 50% (critical attacks are automatic when in sneak mode)
Recommended perception level (after implants):
- 1 for characters who do not intend to utilise stealth or long ranged weapons as their core weapons
- 6 for builds that focus on stealth or long ranged weapons
Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Endurance
Impacting on the players ability to survive the harsh world of Fallout New Vegas endurance is also an important SPECIAL as it drives the number of implants the player character can have. Endurance modifies your health, resistances to poison and radiation, healing rate and boosts the survival and unarmed skills.
Endurance is one of the hardest SPECIAL decisions to make given it influences your implant options which means that every point in endurance can be turned into a SPECIAL of your choice or combat boost. Characters that expect to take significant damage from their build playstyle or are attempting hardcore mode will benefit from higher endurance in particular.
Notable perks with endurance requirements (base game and DLC) include:
- Strong back (5 END) – 50 additional carry weight
- Toughness (5 END) – Gives players 3 damage threshold
- Old World Gourmet (6 END) – Improves health bonus from food
- Lead Belly (6 END) – 50% less radiation when consuming irradiated drinks and food
- Stonewall (6 END) – Damage threshold boost against melee or unarmed attacks
- Long Haul (6 END) – Fast travel while being over encumbered by weight
- Atomic! (6 END) [Old World Blues] – Character buffs to run speed, attack speed, strength and damage resistance when your radiation level is above 0. Players will also regeneration Action Points while irradiated.
- Rad Absorption (7 END) – Radiation decreases over time
- Burden to Bear (7 END) [Lonesome Road] – 50 additional carry weight
- Implant GRX (8 END) [Old World Blues] – Offers players an alternative to Turbo that is non-addictive with limited daily uses that refresh
- Irradiated Beauty (8 END) [Lonesome Road] – Sleeping removes all radiation (flat 100 in hardcore mode)
Recommended endurance level (after implants):
- 6 for most character builds, particularly where you expect to take significant amounts of damage while playing (e.g. melee, unarmed or short ranged guns)
- 7 to 8 for players attempting to complete Fallout New Vegas hardcore mode
Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Charisma
Charisma in New Vegas provides a boost to your followers armour and damage at 5% per Charisma level while also giving your barter and speech skills a boost.
While it can be a fun idea to maximise this to create a deadly Fallout New Vegas companion they are already quite strong at a base level and limited more by their AI than raw stats in their combat effectiveness. Similarly the boosts to barter and speech don’t have a dramatic gameplay impact in the early game and can be obtained without the investment in charisma through skill point investment that you gain on each level up instead. This leaves charisma to be one of the weakest SPECIAL stats of Fallout New Vegas and an easy first choice to steal away points to place them into other SPECIAL stats that you desire.
Notable perks with charisma requirements (base game and DLC) include:
- Ferocious Loyalty (6 CHR) – When your character health falls below 50% your companion gains damage resistance
Recommended charisma level (after implants):
- 1 for the vast majority of Fallout New Vegas builds
Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Intelligence
Intelligence boosts the number of skill points that players gain upon level up which can have a large impact on your character’s growth as you adventure through the Mojave Wasteland and your final character power level that make it the best SPECIAL stats to acquire.
Intelligence is a staple of most character builds with many opting to go with 10 intelligence from character creation or 9 intelligence while grabbing the early implant to boost it up to 10. This is because much of your character power is driven by skills in Fallout New Vegas which you’ll be able to build up significantly faster with extra skill points on level up. Given each point of intelligence provides 0.5 skill points per level and with 49 level ups (with all DLC) the difference of each intelligence point is 24 skill points. Despite this maximum intelligence is not necessary to complete a character build and average intelligence values such as 5 or 6 can still complete a focused build supported by skill books acquired along the way although a high intelligence build lets you be a master of everything by the time you reach your Fallout New Vegas ending. For players without all the DLC though the value of intelligence does increase as you’ll acquire less skill points due to the lower level cap in the game without DLC.
Notable perks with intelligence requirements (base game and DLC) include:
- Swift Learner (4 INT) – Bonus 10% experience gained
- Comprehension (4 INT) – Gain an additional skill point when reading skill books
- Educated (4 INT) – Receive 2 extra skill points per level up
- Entomologist (4 INT) – 50% bonus damage to mutated insects
- Pack Rat (5 INT) – Carry weight for items that weight two or less is cut in half (includes ammunition in hardcore mode)
- Lessons Learned (6 INT) [Lonesome Road] – Gain +1% experience rate per character level
Recommended intelligence level (after implants):
- 10 for most character builds to optimise your skill point gains to turn you into a deadly master of all Courier
- At least 5 for players looking for an alternative to running high intelligence builds in Fallout New Vegas for difficulty or role playing reasons
Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Agility
Agility offers a range of gun focused boosts in Fallout New Vegas with bonuses to Action Points (V.A.T.S.), weapon equip/holster speed and reload speed. Points invested in agility also modify the gun and sneak skills which gives characters focusing on these skills an early head start in terms of power.
As a result agility is designed for gun based builds (which are the vast majority of character builds) and for those players that want to do some sneaking around the world. If you prefer to use V.A.T.S. for the bulk of your fighting you’ll also want to consider a healthy investment in agility given it can translate to an additional attack or several (weapon dependent) in this pause mode and it gives you access to key action point themed perks. The added utility of gun reload is also a quality of life improvement to save time in firefights and make lower magazine weapons stronger overall. The Gauss rifle reload time for example goes from a ~4 second reload at level 1 agility to a ~1.5 second reload at level 10 which is a substantial reduction.
Notable perks with agility requirements (base game and DLC) include:
- Rapid Reload (5 AGI) – Boosts reload speed by 25% for weapons
- Quick Draw (5 AGI) – Equip and holster weapons 50% faster
- Light Touch (6 AGI) [Dead Money] – Gain 5% critical chance while reducing enemy critical chance when wearing light armour
- Silent Running (6 AGI) – While in sneak you can run without a penalty to your sneak success
- Sniper (6 AGI) – Increases headshot chance in V.A.T.S.
- Light Step (6 AGI) – Footsteps don’t trigger floor traps
- Action Girl/Boy (6 AGI) – Bonus action points per rank (2 ranks with 15 points each)
- Slayer (7 AGI) – Increases attack speed of your melee and unarmed attacks
- Nerves of Steel (7 AGI) – Boosts the regeneration speed of action points
- Tunnel Runner (8 AGI) [Lonesome Road] – Improved movement speed while sneaking with light or no armour
Recommended agility level (after implants):
- 5 for most gun based builds (6 if you plan to wear light armour in your equipment build)
- 7 for any build or playstyle that is reliant on the use of V.A.T.S.
- 7 for melee or unarmed builds
- 8 for stealth based builds
Fallout New Vegas Starting Stats – Luck
Luck gives players a small modifier to all their skills which improves the all rounder effect of your character (although is only plus 5 at level 9 or higher Luck). Luck also boosts your critical chance with each level adding +1% although the usefulness of this is also dependant on your choice of weapons. Note that once luck is at least level 7 you’ll have a reliable method to earn caps by visiting the locations at The Strip as your odds are improved by this SPECIAL stat.
Luck investment is ideal for someone who wishes to have a consistent method to acquire caps which with some time investment can remove the need to loot and sell items to merchants for the rest of the game. Stealth or critical focused builds should also have a healthy investment in luck given the limited sources of critical chance they want to maximise. These critical builds generally utilise melee, laser weapons or specific traditional guns (rifles or shotguns).
Notable perks with luck requirements (base game and DLC) include:
- Fortune Finder (5 LUK) – Improves chances of finding bottle caps in containers (and Sierra Madre chips in Dead Money)
- Scrounger (5 LUK) – Find more ammo in containers
- Better Criticals (6 LUK) – Increases critical damage by 50% (criticals are automatic when in sneak mode)
Recommended luck level (after implants):
- 10 for builds that prioritise stealth or criticals
- 7 or more for players that want to earn their caps from The Strip
Fallout New Vegas Skills Overview & Best Starting Skills
When creating your Fallout New Vegas character (after SPECIAL selection) players will undergo an interview by Doc Mitchell to determine three game skills to be boosted by 15 skill points based on your responses and can be changed by the player to any of the available options after the interview is conducted. These 45 potential skill points represent a significant amount of power in your early adventure allowing you to approximately double the starting value of selected skills given your previous SPECIAL choices only provide a slight boost to these skills.
As you progress in level your starting skill decision is less impactful because the 15 skill points gained from tagging a skill makes up a smaller proportion of your overall total skill points available. For this reason your choice of starting skills is often weighted towards activities that are vital to early game progression in Fallout New Vegas and may not be directly tied to your intended final character build compared to SPECIAL selection. Note that if you are playing the base game only (without DLCs) the value of these starting tagged skill points does go up given skill points are not as abundant without that additional level cap that DLC content provides.
The available starting skill options to tag in Fallout New Vegas are: Barter, Energy Weapons, Explosives, Guns, Lockpick, Medicine, Melee Weapons, Repair, Science, Sneak, Speech, Survival and Unarmed with the notable choices being:
- Guns: One of the best default options for a starting skill to tag given the prevalence of gun type weapons in the early portion of your Fallout New Vegas adventure. This skill will give you a strong initial start even if you don’t plan for guns to be part of your final character build and players should take at least one combat focused skill given how central combat is in the game. If you want to challenge yourself or roleplay as a character that only uses a single weapon type for the entire playthrough (such as melee weapons) then you should ensure you tag the respective skill instead.
- Lockpick or Science: Taking one of these skills on character creation can help players reach the important cut offs that these skills demand for lock or terminal difficulty (25, 50, 75 and 100). Commonly players will encounter a locked door that you can lockpick alongside a terminal that can hack the door open so selecting both of these skills to tag is unnecessary. Personally I would suggest lockpick given this is generally faster than hacking to complete and there are slightly more instances where only lockpicking is available near the starting game area.
- Repair: Repairing gear is a staple of your Wasteland existence in Fallout New Vegas and important to ensure both your armour is able to protect you and that your weapons are effective against enemy encounters. Starting with a boost to repair from tagging the skill is a great quality of life option and also helps with your early game cap economy as your equipment will simply go further.
- Survival: For players tempting fate in a hardcore mode playthrough of New Vegas boosting your Survival skill with one of your three initial skill tags can be a viable option given the boosts it provides can help you survive the harsh environment. Outside of this particular situation though you will be better served by the options noted above.
While the above are some of the most effective generalist choices in terms of best starting skills to set you up for success players should not discount the benefit of tagging a skill for their build if you wish to play that style from the beginning. For example acquiring sneak, speech or melee weapons if players want to sneak around assassinating enemies and talking their way out of trouble from level 1.
Fallout New Vegas Traits Overview & Best Starting Traits
Traits in Fallout New Vegas bring an additional layer to players ability to alter their gameplay and provide a trade off to consider if you choose to activate them. Unlike the other character customisation so far (SPECIAL and skills) players do not need to activate any traits and you are also capped a maximum of two. The base game includes several trait options with the Old World Blues DLC adding several additional choices at the start of the game (although these additional traits are not particularly noteworthy). This DLC also provides players the ability to alter your selected traits once through the Sink Auto-Doc that is found when completing the add-on game content. The majority of traits are not particularly useful in New Vegas for a generalist playthrough although do unlock some potentially unique methods of altering the game. For most playthroughs you’ll want to limit your choices to the following for best starting traits selection:
- Built to Destroy: With critical chance being a fantastic source of damage and the sources of critical hit chance being few in New Vegas this is a trait that is hard to pass up for a vast majority of builds. The penalty is also not a significant drawback with additional repair a minor inconvenience overall and even becomes less relevant the further you advance in a playthrough and your available character resources grow.
- Four Eyes: With glasses relatively easy to find and equip the penalty to perception from this trait is rarely a factor and essentially a free point of perception for your playthrough that means there is little reason not to take it.
- Good Natured: Given players are gaining +5 in several useful skills while only losing -5 in overlapping combat skills (players are unlikely to need both gun and melee skills for example) this is net gain in skill points overall for the vast majority of character builds that should be strongly considered.
- Small Frame: Providing the benefit of an extra agility can open up the potential for an easier SPECIAL build from the free point while the penalty of higher limb damage is generally not a serious issue with players able to stock up an abundance of healing items to counteract it.