Article #1 in a 4-part series.

This part reviews my goals for reworking combat. In Part 2 I list the mods I’ve selected, and in Part 3 I describe some of the changes I’ve made to perks, armor, and weapons.

swinging plastic swords and shooting bean bags

Fallout 4 by Bethesda Game Studios improves shooting combat over previous Bethesda titles in smoothness of control, accuracy, and the VATS is fairly user friendly, too. Unfortunately, the game shares much in common with TES V: Skyrim especially in making combat feel more like a passive, stand-up-and-take-hits fights. The difficulty choices multiply damage in and inversely damage out, but I find increasing difficulty more annoying than anything since the same tactics still win the fight. Better is to make weapons more deadly, limit health, increase stealth difficulty, and try to get the NPCs to behave more reasonably for combat.

Before I started modifying the game, I had a strong feeling others had already begun changing combat so I went looking for solutions coming up with a collection of mods to use as the groundwork. Then I went about calculating and charting damages to find a reasonable solution for a more realistic and challenging gameplay in Fallout 4 Survival.



Here I’m not going to go into detail on how I arrived at these assumptions. There are books and articles written by combat veterans, historians, and martial arts experts on effective use of weapons and armor. I draw upon some of these, but do not reference them here. We’re modifying a game with its set of restrictions, and we must work within those bounds. So, we don’t need worry about scientific accuracy. If you disagree with an assumption, you may adjust your game accordingly.

  1. sword combat: unlike in the movies showing several minutes of sword clanging, real sword fights end quickly
  2. handguns: it may take more than a single shot to slow an attacker down, but each shot increases that likelihood
  3. “critical shot” in the game means hitting somewhere vital and likely deadly
  4. the power of a gunshot helps define potential damage, but velocity and size factor (smaller high-velocity round may result in less damage than larger low-velocity round)
  5. metal conducts energy with potential to damage a person touching it including the wearer if not suitably insulated
  6. modern armor is designed to fracture or crumple so wearer takes less impact
  7. a marksman trains to increase accuracy, and better accuracy doesn’t necessarily result in more damage unless it’s a “critical shot”


  1. play Survival 1-to-1 damage (or 2-to-2) with weapon damage increased, more so for high-powered weapons
  2. armor protection leaning towards expected realism
  3. health point limits by creature type - no more spongy humans
  4. stealth more difficult
  5. tougher turrets, robots, and vertibirds
  6. AI should prefer to take cover instead of stand out in open, and more likely to flee when outnumbered
  7. shooting perks should emphasize increase in accuracy over damage
  8. explosives should make more sense (why does molotov cocktail have blast damage?)
  9. make energy weapons rare or more inconvenient due to huge power requirements

I want being one-shot a real concern even at level 100 forcing me take cover and plan my assault. Combat robots need to be scary tough, and vertibirds less of a joke.

Alternative goal to consider: remove laser guns for ballistic-only gameplay and perhaps keep the electric swords.

game difficulty

On normal difficulty, damage is 1-to-1 PC (player character) vs NPC. On very hard, player does 0.5x final damage and enemies do 2.0x final damage. This applies after the damage calculations are made multiplying the final result. I call this the dumb difficulty, because AI behaves the same and the weapons become unbalanced. For a good player, it seems annoying having to attack twice as often with no real increase in difficulty. Both PC and NPCs absorb hits turning the game into a bean-bag fight simulator.

Adjusting base weapon damage makes the enemy attacks more threatening, and also increases the apparent difference when using a small hand-made pistol and a powerful hunting rifle. Let’s not stop there, though, and also limit the health point range by creature. Together with adjusted weapons and reasonable health points, getting caught by surprise often results in a quick death. Adjusting turrets, robots, and creatures to be tougher means taking cover and using resources. Let’s have the enemies take cover, too, and better at spotting stealthy characters. Now we have more challenge with a more realistic feel.

Because of these changes, we’ll need a plugin to force Survival difficulty to a more realistic 1-to-1 or even a reasonable 1-to-1.2. Or go more dangerous with 2-to-2, but the idea is to keep it near even for realisim. We’ll go over this in Part 2.

ballistic armor

Armor, even a racing helmet, fractures internally or crumples to deflect and absorb the impact so the wearer takes less damage. If you’re in a crash in a race car or bicycle impacting the helmet then, even if no visible damage to the helmet, replace the helmet. The same goes for “bullet proof” vests and other ballistic armor. After taking some shots in combat, it’s time to replace the armor.

Armors in Fallout 4 include a health value such as power armor. When the health of the power armor piece is reduced to zero then it’s useless and must be replaced. Like power armor, I’m interested in doing the same for other armors in the game, and then I’d be all for high resistance having to replace the armor after a big fight. Without armor breaking I consider using lower resistance values to compensate for their assumed replacement or repairs over time. It’s only fair.

energy weapons

Even before researching, I imagined the amount of power required for an energy gun to do meaningful damage must be high. It would seem that power would be better put to use as an explosive. Also, with all the fusion cores and fusion cells scattered about the Commonwealth there shouldn’t be a power problem. Why bother using that energy for a gun when one could do so much more? Well, it’s a fantasy game. Let’s not get into the disintegrating an entire creature to ash bit.


  1. fusion cells and fusion cores are fairly small and quite common (cores are tougher to find in early game, but easily obtained later)
  2. a single-shot cell weighs the same as a .44 round
  3. It’s estimated that to provide similar ballistic energy as a conventional pistol (880 - 1000 J), 3 KW of power is needed using quick bursts (

So, we must assume a portion of the power required to shoot a round comes from the weapon, but it’s still impressive such small packages hold so much potential energy. Even then I believe the cores and cells should be heavier since they’re so common.

Checking balance: 500 shots from laser gatling using fusion core at 0.58x potential damage per shot compared to laser guns works out fair given the relative weight of the cell.

  • 500 x 0.58 = 290
  • 4 / 0.029 = 138
  • 290 / 138 = 2.1

If we assume the small cells have twice as much total combined packaging as a core then works out 1-to-1. Close enough for gaming.

Which is better defense for an energy attack: leather or metal? Steel vaporizes at a higher temperature than leather, but that higher temperature is a concern, too. Metal conducts energy much better than leather, so that armor is going to heat up and transfer energy to anyone touching it! The wearer better be suitably insulated when hit by a laser, plasma, or electrical attack. Robots without adequate fiberglass or plastic shielding may be extra prone to energy attacks.

Fallout 4 game rules say leather offers better protection against energy attacks, and for reasons above that’s what I’m sticking with.

game calculations and limitations

Ancient soldiers wore layers of different types of armor to protect against a variety of attacks. Steel plate protects well against clubs, but poorly from arrows or dirks. Unfortunately like Skyrim, Fallout 4 doesn’t differentiate bashing, slashing, or piercing attacks. The game also only considers the overall total resistance for damage calculation, not the placement of armor. So, we must compromise.

Damage calculations in game mean for every successful hit, no matter the armor rating, the target always takes damage. It’s scaled such that increasing damage resistance may offer a big reduction against high-damage shot, but a relatively smaller increase in resistance from a low-powered attack. The “Damage Resistance” page on fallout.wikia explains the calculations. When we make changes to the game we should consider the resulting damage, including from perks, of each weapon against each armor. It’s not as simple as one weapon being x-times more powerful than another weapon, but more important is actual damage potential against different types of creatures having different types of protection.

The game considers damage resistance of overall armor worn (total of all pieces) regardless of body part targeted. So, let’s assume a successful shot hits anywhere on the targeted body part. Critical hits have us covered for those improved shots.

hunting rifle calculations

For example, let’s look at using a hunting rifle at point blank range against target wearing light combat armor without helmet.

Bethesda Rifleman perk level 1 (20% extra damage):

  • Hunting Rifle Pip-boy damage (“PaperDamage”) = 38 * 1.2 = 45.6
  • Damage = Min (0.99, (45.6 / 50)^0.366 * 0.5) * 45.6 = 22.04

Bethesda Rifleman perk level 5 (double damage and 30% armor piercing):

  • Hunting Rifle Pip-boy damage (“PaperDamage”) = 38 * 2 = 76
  • Damage = Min (0.99, (76 / (50 * 0.7))^0.366 * 0.5) * 76 = 50.4

Instead of extra damage, let’s have the Rifleman perk grant improved accuracy. The updated rifle (DRO) does more base damage with the goal of doing twice as much damage to a Gunner wearing light combat armor. I’ve included two versions of scaled rifles both targeting same total resulting damage.

  • Alt Hunting Rifle damage vs Bethesda armor (50) = 125
  • DRO Hunting Rifle damage vs DRO-Adj armor (157) = 170

DRO Rifleman perk level 1:

  • Alt damage = Min (0.99, (125 / 50)^0.366 * 0.5) * 125 = 87.4
  • DRO Damage = Min (0.99, (170 / 157)^0.366 * 0.5) * 170 = 87.5

DRO Rifleman perk level 5 (30% armor piercing):

  • Alt damage = Min (0.99, (125 / 50 * 0.7)^0.366 * 0.5) * 125 = 99.6
  • DRO Damage = Min (0.99, (170 / 157 * 0.7)^0.366 * 0.5) * 170 = 99.7

Notice we could keep the original armor resistance and only scale the base weapon damage as shown below, same 125- and 170-damage rifle against heavy combat armor non-scaled and scaled:

  • Alt damage = Min (0.99, (125 / 101 * 0.7)^0.366 * 0.5) * 125 = 77.0
  • DRO Damage = Min (0.99, (170 / 317 * 0.7)^0.366 * 0.5) * 170 = 77.1

Why scale the armor? It gives us more wiggle room when we want to adjust armors relative to each other. These changes are also based on the work from “Difficulty and Realism Overhaul” (DRO) by Cruor32 with some adjustments which we’ll go over in parts 2 and 3.

various weapon-vs-armor damages compared

The following shows weapon-to-armor resulting damage increases, Bethesda -> DRO (percent of health player level 40), at close range with Gunslinger 2, Rifleman 2, Heavy Gunner 2, Big Leagues 2 with Strength 4. Unless noted these are base weapons without modifications, and no additional perks or bonuses.

target in light combat armor, no helmet:

  • Pipe gun: 7 -> 26 (3% -> 11%)
  • 10mm gun: 10 -> 35 (4% -> 15%)
  • Minigun: 3 -> 22 (1% -> 9%)
  • co-sword: 11 -> 34 (4% -> 14%)
  • c.shotgun: 40 -> 97 (15% -> 40%)
  • .308 hunt rifle: 26 -> 88 (10% -> 36%)
  • .50 rifle: 57 -> 300 (21% -> 100%)

target in T-45 Power Armor:

  • Pipe gun: 3 -> 7 (1% -> 3%)
  • 10mm gun: 4 -> 19 (2% -> 8%)
  • Minigun: 1 -> 12 (0.4% -> 5%)
  • co-sword: 5 -> 17 (2% -> 7%)
  • c.shotgun: 16 -> 53 (6% -> 22%)
  • .308 hunt rifle: 11 -> 45 (4% -> 19%)
  • .50 rifle: 23 -> 164 (8% -> 68%)

Yes, the minigun is more dangerous now! I find it crazy that a .50 caliber round fired at close range on someone in light armor only suffers 1/5th damage. It should outright drop a soldier like it does with DRO. One should try to avoid grenades, mines, missiles, and large caliber bullets at all costs.

Article #1 in a 4-part series.

Fallout 4 is a trademark of Bethesda Softworks LLC. All other trademarks belong to their respective owners.