Fallout 76 SPECIAL, Perk Cards, and leveling explained

Fallout 76 marks a bold new step for Bethesda's hit role-playing franchise, shifting from its single-player roots in pursuit of a shared-world multiplayer experience. Venturing into the state of West Virginia, players will explore its secrets and build a home among the wasteland.

As with many live-service titles, progression plays a major role in Fallout 76's long-term success. Bethesda is promising familiar progression backed by the renowned S.P.E.C.I.A.L. perk system, while perk cards bring a fresh, dynamic edge to skills.

Between official presentations and Noclip's Making of Fallout 76 documentary, here's what we know so far about these systems.

Fallout 76: Everything We Know

How Fallout 76 reworks the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system

Fallout 76 brings back the iconic S.P.E.C.I.A.L. perk ruleset of the series, which defines the assignable skill attributes of all players. In previous Fallout titles, players could invest perk points into seven fixed categories: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. Choosing how points were allocated carved a unique skill set around playstyles and increased proficiency in select fields.

The return of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. should make Fallout 76's core progression systems familiar to veterans of the franchise, yet its online edge also brings significant changes. Among these are new equipable "perk cards" that introduce a flexible approach to skill allocation tailored for emergent gameplay.

How Fallout 76 Perk Cards work

As you complete various tasks in Fallout 76, your character will be rewarded with experience points (XP). Every time you level up, you'll be granted a perk point, which can be invested in one of the seven categories. Three perk cards related to that category are then displayed before the player chooses one to keep.

Perk cards can be equipped in dedicated player slots and grant various in-game bonuses as listed on the card description. Cards will provide gameplay upgrades related to one of the seven S.P.E.C.I.A.L. categories, increasing statistics and granting new abilities. However, with only a limited number of perk card slots, players will need to carefully craft their card selection.

Fallout 76 Perk Cards complete list (so far)

Upgrade paths also lay within each perk card, including various ranks and abilities tied to them. For example, a level-one card may grant a 10 percent skill increase, while the next rank boosts this to 15 percent. Other cards like "Hacker" can improve your hacking abilities, while also decreasing lock-out time once upgraded.

The dynamic nature of perk cards allows players to switch out skills on the fly, without the need to reroll. Perk cards can also be shared with teammates or traded with other players, meaning teams should build card decks for improved team cooperation. This enables players to alter skills around situations, rather than being a fixed attribute of your character.

How Fallout 76 multiplayer changes skills

Although the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. ruleset has clearly defined the same seven skill categories throughout the series, their gameplay effect has evolved over time. Abandoning single-player interaction and ushering in dozens of new players, these skills have evolved again for Fallout 76.

Bethesda is yet to disclose the new S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system in full, but gameplay has provided insight into some of the changes. As shown in the Noclip documentary, Charisma now determines your ability to "lead and help others," with higher point perk cards to share, improved cooperative rewards, and better bartering prices. Although mostly unchanged, we also know Perception affects awareness and accuracy, while Intelligence aids hacking and crafting.

Strength, Endurance, Agility, and Luck are yet to be discussed but expect their core attributes to match previous games. The new real-time V.A.T.S. system, loot distribution, and multiplayer combat will likely reshape some aspects of these roles.

Pick your cards wisely

The official debut of Fallout 76 is still a few months away, with more information expected before release. Preorders are now available at all major games retailers, and the game should be released on November 14, starting at $59.99.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.