Don't worry, you're not missing out by boosting straight to level 20 in Fallout 76

Fallout 76
(Image credit: Bethesda)

Ah, so you watched the Fallout show and caught the Bethesda bug too. Instead of starting another Fallout 4 playthrough like half of my friends list, I've opted to give Fallout 76 a fair shake after noping out of it six years ago. If you're doing the same, then you'll notice a lot has changed. The main quest has been completely reworked with new branching storylines starring NPCs and factions, but one of the bigger changes comes as soon as you leave the vault. 

Before you've taken your first step in Appalachia, Fallout 76 asks you to make a big choice: Start as a fresh level 2 vault dweller, or boost immediately up to level 20 as a "battle ready" dweller. I was really hesitant to take the boost at first—I was worried skipping ahead was an option intended for long-time players making a second character, and that going down that road would mean skipping introductory quests. Turns out that's not the case at all. Choosing the level 20 option doesn't lock you out of any quests whatsoever, or even meaningfully change your challenge level, since enemies generally scale to your level no matter what.

What a battle ready loadout does get you is a big headstart on perk cards, Fallout 76's primary progression path. You can choose between five presets that immediately set you up with some pretty great beginner perks and gear:

  • Commando: Automatic rifles
  • Slugger: Two-handed melee
  • Gunslinger: Pistols
  • Shotgunner: Shotguns
  • Specialist: V.A.T.S.

I chose the Gunslinger path, which came with a few fully upgraded perk cards that make non-automatic pistols more accurate and deadly. Along with a free revolver, a pouch of 500 bullets, and a complimentary supply of stimpaks, I felt like I'd been catapulted past the monotonous beginning hours of other Fallout games—time I typically spend looting every that's not glued down and settling for crappy guns—landing softly at the 10-15 hour mark where I start to feel the impact of my perks and upgraded arsenal.

Fallout 76

(Image credit: Bethesda)

I can see why the level 20 boost option has a "best choice" sticker slapped on it. It's a more energetic start to a shooter-MMO with lots of grinding, though the influx of perk cards and level-up pop ups immediately after you choose it is a momentary sensory nightmare. Just know that leveling in 76 isn't like the mainline game: you can move around your cards whenever you want, and even respec your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points eventually (I'm not there yet). 

The preset loadouts come with different weapon specializations, but they all have a few useful perk cards in common: they all have Traveling Pharmacy and First Aid, for instance, which makes stimpaks weigh less and heal more.

It's also worth noting that level 20 in Fallout 76 is not the mid-game milestone it is in Fallouts 4, 3, and New Vegas. I pored over my cool perk cards and extended barrel revolver for all of two minutes before I was humbled by a level 408 passing player in decked-out power armor and legendary guns so beyond my meager station that all light appeared to bend around them like that super rich guy in Disco Elysium. Level 20 here might as well be taking short hop to level 5 in past games. Several game systems don't even unlock until level 50. Guess I should get to it, then.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.