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Bethesda has published a post that explains the character system for Fallout 4 on its official website. For the most part, the post goes over things we already knew, although even then, it's good to have official word on the system, given many outlets and journalists seemed to be a bit confused by how it works.
At the beginning of the game, it's possible to select the starting allocation of SPECIAL points and, at each level up, it's possible to either select a new Perk or raise one of the SPECIAL attributes by one point. There are 10 Perks for each SPECIAL attribute, and it's only possible to unlock one if the player character has at least as many points in that attribute as the ladder rank it's placed on. For example, it's only possible to take the Animal Friend Perk if the character has at least 5 points in Charisma. Almost every perk has multiple ranks too, making for 275 perks in total.
That said, Bethesda also discusses the rationale behind their decision to drop skills, the way Perk ranks are structured and their effects, the new skill book system, and more. They also announced that pre-ordered copies of the game will include a posted of the in-game Perk chart:
If you're a longtime Fallout fan, you'll notice that the Skills seen in previous games have been folded into this system. The previous Skill system had some confusing parts and ended up spreading your choices too thin. Some of you had questions like: (What's better, the Charisma SPECIAL, or the Speech Skill? Why are assault rifles in Small Guns?) Additionally many Perks simply raised associated Skills. The Gun Nut Perk in Fallout 3 increased two separate Skills. In Fallout 4, the ranks of Gun Nut act as gates for modifying and crafting weapons. Sneak was a skill in Fallout 3, and you simply increased its value. In Fallout 4 Sneak becomes a Perk that not only makes you harder to detect, but wraps in previous perks like Silent Running and Light Step into its ranks. By wrapping these systems together, it keeps the emphasis on your SPECIALs and the level-up choices more rewarding.
And on top of all that, you also get separate Perks from the many in-game magazines you can find (there are over 100). Some of these grant an individual Perk, while others up the rank of a Perk associated with that magazine. For example, there's a 10-issue run of Grognak the Barbarian comics that each give you an additional rank of the Barbarian Perk, which raises the critical damage of melee attacks.
PS - One more thing we really love the idea of putting the Perk poster on our own wall, and think you will too. So every pre-order copy of Fallout 4 will come with one!
There's also a video that showcases how the system works and how the related level-up and Pip-boy interfaces will look. From what I can tell, making the UI more animated was an important goal for Bethesda's artists: