When you fire up Fallout: New Vegas and create a character, before it lets you out into the world the game will ask you one very simple question: are you a man, or are you a little baby who needs his mommy to save him from the big bad game? More diplomatically put, you'll be given the option of playing in Hardcore mode.
What's Hardcore mode, and are you hardcore enough to play it? Don't jump in blind: read our guide to the five big differences, and tips for how to survive the increased deadliness of the Hardcore Nevada wastes.
This is the biggie - all the rest of the changes combined won't affect you as much as one. In normal mode, you're basically invulnerable until you run out of stimpacks. Those syringes full of magical juice, both the normal and super varieties, can stimulate your body from battered bones and shredded flesh back to Isaiah Mustafa -like condition in the blink of an eye, meaning that your health bar is basically infinite until you've exhausted your supply. But Hardcore mode changes all that: now a stimpack will take several seconds so to work its magic, and in the heat of battle you're almost certainly going to take damage faster than you're healing. In effect, your health bar is diminished from near-immortality to frighteningly finite.
First off, when you're creating your character, you might want to crank up your endurance to increase your health point pool. Every extra point you put into this stat means you'll start with more HP and gain more every time you level up.
Second, don't wait until you're almost dead to start healing! You can't use a stim when you're at full health, but the moment you take a hit in what looks to be a rough fight, start pumping stims into your system. That way you'll be healing for the entire fight, before it's too late to do any good.
Above all, pick your fights carefully. You might laugh in the face of a Deathclaw in normal mode, but in Hardcore you'll want to make sure you're tough enough to survive a couple of whacks before you venture into the beasts' territory.
Recommended Perks: Toughness (x2), Lifegiver
In the normal game, shooting a stimpack directly into a broken limb or concussed skull will fix it on the spot. In Hardcore, you'll have to either travel to a doctor's office, use a doctor's bag or shoot up some Hydra (a new drug) to restore your busted bodyparts to working order.
This isn't as big a deal as you'd think. Thanks to fast travel, a crippled character can be back in the Goodsprings doctor's office with no wait, and for 50 to 100 caps, you're patched up good as new. However, to avoid frequent trips, and when entering an indoor area full of enemies where fast travel is blocked, it's a good idea to pack some doctor's bags and Hydra. Pick those up wherever you find them.
Recommended Perks : Adamantium Skeleton
In the normal game you're a walking ammo supply depot. Every bullet, flamethrower gas canister, energy pack and missile you pick up gets thrown into a magical bag that weighs nothing, so a well-prepared character might never run out of ammo. In Hardcore, each and every bullet has mass, and your character can only carry so much before being weighed down.
To avoid the problem entirely, create a melee character. If you're using a power fist or a super sledge, you'll never have to worry about ammo at all. However, if you like to kill things far away, you'll want to be discriminating about what you pick up. Choose a favorite weapon and only pick up ammo that works with it (or be ready to discard incompatible rounds). If you have an affinity for rocket launchers, though, you're in a lot of trouble: rockets weigh three pounds each, so carrying a handful will really eat into your carrying weight capacity quickly. There's also the Recharger Rifle, a low-powered energy weapon that regenerates ammo.
Naturally, you'll also want to increase your character's strength as much as possible to increase your carrying capacity, and have two companions with you to carry non-essential belongings so that you can fill your pockets with ammo.
Recommended Perks: Strong Back, Pack Rat
In the normal game, food, water and sleep only serve to heal HP, and give a few temporary stat boosts here and there. In Hardcore, going without any of them for long enough will cause your stats to degrade, and eventually you'll die a nonviolent but terrible death.
You don't have to do much. This aspect of Hardcore mode is disappointingly un-hardcore due to the abundance of tasty food, fresh water and comfy mattresses. You can't swing a dead iguana without hitting something to eat - and even if you could, you could eat the iguana. Whenever you get a notification that you're suffering from minor starvation, just eat something. The worst that's likely to happen to you is getting irradiated due to drinking dirty water and eating too much Radroach meat, but a quick fast-travel trip to the doctor's office will fix you up lickity split. As for sleep, you don't exactly need the recommended eight hours a night. Just an hour or two of shut-eye every day or so keeps you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as you can be.
Recommended Perks: Cannibal, Ghastly Scavenger
In normal, your companions might get knocked out in a fight, but they'll get back up again once combat's over (assuming you survived). Hardcore reverts back to Fallout 3's harsh system, in which a Deathclaw's first swipe will send your beloved companion's head sailing - and it's not as funny when happens to one of your guys.
Get a good grief counsellor. If you take your companions into combat, unless you're very, very careful, they gonna die. Their AI isn't smart enough to turn tail and run when in trouble, so most fights are going to be to the death. If you're not into quick-saving before every significant fight and reloading until everyone makes it through alive, your best course of action is to park them somewhere safe by telling them to “Wait here,” go into battle solo and then return to collect them when the coast is clear.
Recommended Perks: Spray & Pray