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Struggling with Fallout hacking? Here’s how it’s done

Fallout hacking can be tricky, and is never fully explained in-game, but there are a few hints and tips that will help you break into any system.

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Fallout hacking guide

Fallout hacking – and lockpicking, but more on that later – are entirely optional components of the Fallout series, yet if you don’t know how, you’re missing out on so much.

Being under-endowed in Fallout hacking ability could prevent some really simple things, like pilfering additional ammo or explosives from locked crates, or it could prevent you from accessing new areas or stumbling upon secrets.

Unfortunately, the game never really teaches you how Fallout hacking is done. It seems simple – a guess-the-word game where it tells you how many letters you matched – but there are a few nuances to it that make the difference between it being a breeze, or throwing darts at a board blindfolded. They probably could have dropped a few tips in the loading screens, but here we are: so here’s how to get ahead with Fallout hacking.

Understand the basics of Fallout hacking

Fallout hacking is, in its most basic form, a question of guessing the right word from a selection of incorrect ones. You could legitimately guess the word on the first try and not have to worry about it, but the chances of that happening are somewhat slim (around one in twenty).

As with any good IT system in the real world, RobCo terminals are designed to prevent brute force attacks – in which a hacker tries every password under the sun until they get in – in two ways:

  1. A system will lock, preventing any further hacking attempts, after four incorrect entries.
  2. The available words will scramble to prevent a hacker from whittling down the options.

So in order to avoid freezing out a system, you’re going to want to cancel the hacking attempt after your third attempt. You could try that fourth guess if you’re absolutely certain, but it’s not really worth the risk. When you cancel a hacking attempt and then subsequently retry the same terminal the tries count will be reset, but so will the selection of words to choose from, so you’re not really any further on.

Matching letters and positions

When you make an attempt at a word while hacking a terminal, and assuming you don’t guess correctly on the first try, two things are going to happen:

  1. You’ll use up one of your four available tries.
  2. It will list the letters that are in fact correct in the incorrect word you’ve selected.

And here’s where most people go wrong with Fallout hacking: the count of matched letters refers to the position of the letter within the word, not simply whether the letter is included or not. You can waste a hell of a lot of time working under this falsehood, and at no point anywhere in-universe does an NPC or an instructional note tell you otherwise.

Fallout hacking likeness

The number of matched letters within an incorrectly guessed word refers both the inclusion of the letters in the word, and their position. Now you know that, it’s going to make Fallout hacking a whole load easier. Here’s an example, with annotation for illustration purposes:

Words: MARIO LUIGI PEACH DAISY WARIO SONIC TAILS

Guess 1: TAILS – Likeness 1 – This could be the A in MARIO or WARIO, or the I in LUIGI or DAISY.

Guess 2: LUIGI – Likeness 0 – This means it’s not the I in position 3, and rules out DAISY.

Guess 3: MARIO – Likeness 4 –This makes it fairly obvious…

Guess 4: WARIO – Exact match!

Picking ‘PEACH’ as the first guess, because it shares no letters in the same position as any other word in the list, is a poor first option. If you pick a word that shares one or more letters with others in the list – words ending in ‘ING’, for example, are great starting points – then you’ve got a chance of ruling out, or ruling in, several words at once. If you try words with lots of shared letters and aren’t having any joy, then it’s time to try the unique words.

Fallout hacking: Advanced techniques

Now you know the basics you’re well-equipped to take on Fallout hacking. Unfortunately as you get to higher perks, and consequently locks with higher degrees of difficulty, you’ll find that the length and complexity of the words will increase; where you might once have been choosing from a dozen five-letter words, you might now be choosing from twenty nine-letter words.

This means the trial-and-error approach – and remembering to quit and reset everything before the fourth attempt – will still work, but it could take you a little while and might take numerous resets. Thankfully there’s a way you can gain an edge, by looking for special patterns in the selection of words; it all comes down to brackets.

There will be groups of special characters buried among the garbage that, when selected, confer different benefits:

  1. You may find that you’ve removed a dud word from the available options.
  2. You may have your tries reset to zero, meaning you can continue with some words already eliminated.

And generally speaking, they look like this:

< > { } ( ) [ ]

Although sometimes they’ll have other characters in the middle, but they still count as a pair, and that looks a little like this:

< | > { , # } ( – – @ )

If you’ve ever done any programming or development you’ll probably find these bracket pairs familiar, but it’s not immediately apparent that they would do anything. You also don’t know which sets of brackets are going to do what – generally there’s a handful of dud removals but only one reset tries in each hand dealt – so you take a bit of a chance on when you use them. If you take them all at the beginning to minimise duds then you might accidentally waste the tries reset, but if you wait until later on for the tries reset you may find it annoyingly removes duds you’ve already eliminated.

When you choose to tackle them is entirely up to you, as there are pros and cons to either approach.

Fallout hacking dud removed

Really advanced Fallout hacking

So you know about the brackets, and you know about when to take them, but the order in which you pick them can be very important too. There are sets of compound brackets – that is patterns of special characters contained within others – that can be rendered unavailable if you’re careless. Consider the following example:

< > ; . . ; { ( ) ; } ] ] ;

There are three sets of bracket pairs contained within there:

  1. < >
  2. { }
  3. ( ) – Contained within the { }

So you’ll probably grab < > first, as it’s at the beginning of the line. As you move across the line from left to right you’ll find the bracket pair { } – highlighted next as { ( ) ; } – and the temptation is to grab it, but if you do then the ( ) pair contained within it will be removed from play as a result, without conferring you its own benefit. In order to be able to select all bracket pairs available on a hacking attempt, you must make sure you select ‘small’ bracket pairs contained within a ‘larger’ pair first.

Understanding Fallout lockpicking

In contrast to Fallout hacking, lockpicking is dead easy. Rotate the bobby pin into a position you fancy – there’s no real guidance we can give you here, just pick anywhere to start – and apply some torque with the screwdriver to attempt to open it.

If you’ve got the position of the bobby pin just right then the driver will spin the lock chamber freely and without resistance, and the lock will spring open. If you’ve got it wrong, then you’ll feel resistance to the torque on the screwdriver, and if you continue to apply torque then the bobby pin will snap. Thankfully unlike hacking, there’s no chance of irreparably damaging a lock with failed attempts.

Fallout hacking - lockpicking is easier

If however you’re deft and gentle with your attempt, then you can wind back the torque on the screwdriver without snapping the bobby pin. The more resistance you feel, the further out from the lock’s sweet spot you are, so you’ll be able to get a good feel for how close you are to picking it with a little practice; pretty soon you will be able to pick most locks with breaking nary a bobby pin.

See? Dead easy!


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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.