I spent a little time with Fallout 4's new survival mode beta this morning, and I'm here to report that it's pretty good, and it's pretty hard, and it makes every human character in the game completely bald. I assume the first two are intended and the last is probably not.
Here's the basics of the new survival mode, which is in beta: no more fast-travel, no more manual saves, and even most auto-saves are disabled (which I personally think is stupid, but we'll get to that). If you want to save your game, you have to find an available bed and get some sleep. Your adrenaline increases the more kills you get, but sleeping lowers your adrenaline levels. You need to eat, drink, and rest or suffer fatigue which lowers your immunity and eventually damages your health. You can read all the details here, and I'll go over more of them as they come up.
I haven't played Fallout 4 in while, so I experienced the old "Where the hell am I?" feeling when loading up my last save. Turns out I'm at The Castle, one of Preston Garvey's many, many, many goddamn settlement locations. With me is my companion Curie, in human form, and she's apparently in the mood to flirt with me. I'm fine with that: I like Curie. It's hard not to notice that for some reason she is completely bald, however. When I climb out of my power armor a bit later, I notice my character is also bald. I'm afraid to go look for Dogmeat as he might be hairless as well. I hope this weird bug remains part of survival mode, though. Being bald myself in real life, I'm happy to inhabit an entire world of baldies.
Apart from Curie's curious chrome-dome, the other I thing I pick up on is that I'm way over-encumbered, far too much to run, even in my beefed up power armor. Carry weight in survival has been cranked down, and most formerly weightless items like Stimpaks have been given mass so you simply can't take everything with you. In fact, if you're over-encumbered for too long, you'll actually begin to damage your legs. So, I take a leisurely jaunt through my inventory, discarding the things I don't need, then the things I probably won't need, then the things I most likely will need, and finally, stuff I really, really do need. Having dropped 200 pounds of loot on the ground, I'm still over-encumbered. Ammo! That's the problem. Ammo has weight now too, and I've got hundreds of rounds of ammo I never use. I call Curie back over and stuff as much as I can into her pockets—which isn't much since companion carry weight has also been nerfed—but I still have to drop tons and tons more loot. Maybe I should have started my game back at my main settlement, standing in front of a big box.
Speaking of which, I think a nice test of survival mode will be to travel from The Castle, on the far east coast of the map, back to my main settlement at the drive-in theater. It's a good distance away, almost across the entire map, and with both fast-travel and manual saves disabled it could very well be a harrowing one. I find a bed at the Castle and sleep until morning, when I discover I'm both parched from lack of water and peckish from lack of food. Luckily, I have a little of both.
Curie and I head out, and worried about the increased combat damage and the fact that enemies are no longer marked on the radar, I crouch-walk for the first ten minutes. This a very dense area in terms of buildings, and it doesn't take us long to run into trouble. A super mutant and his super-mutated dog first hear us, then charge us. Luckily, I'm armed with my .50 sniper rifle with enemy tracking scope and incendiary rounds. Survival mode hasn't lessened the impact of my deadly bullets of death. In fact, the survival update makes combat damage greater for both you and your opponents, which may be why the head popped off this super mutant so easily.
I'm still a little edgy as a result of the encounter. I have no interest in dying and winding up back at The Castle again, so when I hear some shots nearby and spot someone at the end of the street I just fire without thinking. Turns out the person I kill is Parker Quinn, now known as The Charred Remains of Parker Quinn. I look him up and discover he's the credit card con man, so no great loss there. The shooting was coming from some raiders fighting ghouls around the corner.
Ghouls! We run into lots of ghouls. I already found them scary to deal with: when they hit top speed they're lightning quick, and when I encounter a pack they're all over me and Curie. We also run into some raiders—we literally turn a corner and bump into one. Red enemy dots no longer appearing on the radar is more trouble than I would have thought, and I definitely feel the increased damage as a couple shots from the goon knock my health down to 60%. Stimpacks heal much more slowly in survival, restoring your health in such a leisurely manner that you can barely see the needle move.
I didn't see this in the patch notes, but I think using Stimpaks also dehydrates you. It seems like just about every time I use a syringe, I have to follow it up with a bottle or two of water. Hoping to avoid combat for a bit, since creeping along is taking forever and not really making me stealthy, we spend some time just flat-out running. We make it to Diamond City as I'm down to my last fusion core (I went through four cores already, and I'm wondering if their duration has also been adjusted) so I purchase a couple more, each which weigh 2 pounds now. Also: the baldness bug is real. Everyone in Diamond City is bald. I'm liking it.
When I leave Diamond City the next morning, Curie vanishes. Companions in Fallout 4 have a habit of doing this, but it's more worrisome now because if they're wounded and you don't give them a Stimpak, they won't ever get up, they'll just eventually reappear at their home base. I'm not sure what happened to Curie, but she's vanished.
Without her to act as a spare target for enemies, I get in a bit of a jam with some Gunners and an Assaultron as I get close to the drive-in. I wind up backpedaling and hip-shotting the bot, and take the Gunners down with headshots from a safe distance. I'm almost out of Stimpacks and water. Food seems much less of an issue: I've only eaten twice, but I feel like I need to hydrate quite often. Too often, I'd say.
I finally arrive (sans Curie) at my settlement, to find it in a state of not having been completely generated by the game. My fort is half-built, with some items hanging in midair. There's no sign of my settlers, of which there about 15. I wait for a minute, but the town doesn't fill itself in. I pause the game for a bit and when I come back it's finally populated everything. Not sure if it's something about the beta that made it take a while, but I've never had to wait so long for objects to materialize. I get some rest, but in the morning Curie still isn't there. Where did my beloved baldie go?
I think survival mode is pretty cool. You can really feel the increased damage. A well-placed shot will definitely make a mess out of an enemy, and if you stumble carelessly into a fight, your health will get slashed away in a hurry. The amount you have to eat feels reasonable, though I think hydration is a bit top-heavy (though to be fair, running around in a giant suit of armor would probably dehydrate you pretty quickly). I unfortunately didn't contract any illnesses, but here's hoping I will in the future.
I really don't like the no manual saves thing, though. Bethesda RPGs aren't really known for being particularly stable, and anyone who uses mods knows they can cause a crash sometimes. Lost progress due to a crash is irritating, and I've never been fond of checkpoint saves simply because sometimes you just want to stop playing even if you're not near a convenient place to save your game. I think it'd be great if Bethesda rethought the no manual saves idea: it feels like fabricated difficulty to me rather than real difficulty. And, if they let you manually save, there's nothing saying you have to. The hardest of hardcore can simply choose to not save their game until they find a bed.