Many people have called Bethesda’s Fallout series, “just Elder Scrolls with guns.” However, while this skips over the atmosphere, tone, and a whole lot of other stuff involved with the series, it also forgets the V.A.T.S. or Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. V.A.T.S. takes what would be pretty standard first-person shooter combat and turns it into a fascinating affair of stats, percentages, and skill. The system has remained relatively unchanged from FO3 and Fallout: New Vegas, but for those unfamiliar with the system, here’s a quick guide to get you using V.A.T.S. the right way.
First, the basics. To bring up V.A.T.S. you just hit the LB button on Xbox, L1 on PS4, and Q on PC. This will slow down time, but not pause it completely. You’ll then see your enemies in front of you, with the system automatically focusing in on the closest one. From here you must choose which enemy you want to hit or fire at, and what part of their body to go for.
Percentages are displayed near each body part. These show the likelihood that you’ll actually hit it with your shot. By highlighting your target and selecting it, which can be done with the left analog stick and A/X, or clicking on it on PC, you will queue that up for one shot. This will drain your Action Points, or AP, by a select amount, so you can follow up with extra shots if you have more.
The key here is to weigh the percentage chance of hitting with the damage it will do. On the top of the screen you will see how much damage the shot will do if it lands, so if it will kill the enemy in one hit, and you have a 50% chance of making it, just queue it up twice and you’re good to go. Of course, going for the head will yield the most damage, but it will also drop your chances of hitting unless you have a high Perception and some accuracy perks. Figure out what is the best combo for the enemy and go with that, or you can try to disable them.
By hitting key areas of the body, you can disable that part, making combat difficult for them, and easier for you. If you have someone that is chasing you with a bat, you can shoot them in the legs, and if your weapon does the right amount of damage, it will disable them, making them hobble along slowly. This is especially valuable against Deathclaws, but you’ll need a powerful weapon to manage them.
Something else to keep in mind is that you can attack multiple enemies in the same set of actions. Pick one enemy, queue up a shot or two, then use the right stick, or the WASD keys to select a new target. You can then queue up some more shots and your character will switch to them as you ordered. Keep reloads in mind though, as they will be done quickly, but will eat up some AP in the process.
Finally there’s the one new item that Fallout 4 introduces. Critical hits aren’t new by themselves, but now you have a large amount of control over them is. Instead of Critical Hits happening randomly, you now build up a meter at the bottom of the screen. Simply engaging V.A.T.S. should fill this up pretty regularly. Hitting X, Square, or Space will trigger the Critical Hit. As long as it actually lands it should do a ton of extra damage, and probably disable whatever body part it hit.
V.A.T.S. is an important system, one which can determine how well you survive encounters with raiders, super mutants, and the like. Yet it’s also important to know when not to use it. If you’re low on AP, or the enemy is slow moving and easy to kill, you might not want to risk your life on the whim of the random number generator. Let your AP fill back up, and just go for the shot on your own. If you can’t take them out then pop into V.A.T.S. and finish them off with the tips above.