Fallout 3 Perks
This is a guide on all of the Fallout 3 perks. Perks are gained at each level, and some have special requirements all of which are listed in the descriptions. Perk descriptions by bling56789. Note: Some perks are clumped together with other perks because they essentially do the same thing, but at different levels.
Investing in Perks: I've read some other people's guides as to what they consider a good character. Their input on the value of perks seems sorely misplaced, in my opinion. They often write-off many perks not because they aren't good perks, but because they are not useful to the author because of the way they've built their character. While I consider many perks worthless for my style of play, I would be a fool to say they are simply no good just because they don't suit the way I design my character.
INTENSE TRAINING: This perk can be either very useful or completely worthless, based on how you play. I've used it a little, and I've used it a lot. If you're too lazy or don't have the time to get bobbleheads (or you just plain old don't want to) then you can find a use for this. Since several SPECIAL stats have a considerable amount of value, increasing them holds an equal value. Obviously one of the more versatile perks, since the benefit directly relates to which SPECIAL stat you increase (i.e. better resistance and HP from END, or better critical rate from LCK, etc.).
COMPREHENSION/EDUCATED: These are similar to Intense Training in the fact that they can be very useful or very worthless. If you have a high INT or don't plan to invest in many skills then you won't need the skill point bonus from educated. If you have a low INT or plan to invest in a lot of skills then the opposite is true. Comprehension's usefulness depends on how thorough you plan to be when looting. Obviously if you don't find many skill books then comprehension won't do you any good. If you know you'll find a lot of skill books (assuming they are books that benefit the skills you actually use) then comprehension can be one of the best perks in the game.
SWIFT LEARNER/HERE AND NOW: The EXP bonus from swift learner is not that great, and there is plenty of EXP to go around in Fallout 3. Considering you'd have to invest in Swift Learner 3 times to get a decent boost from it makes it pretty useless when accounting for the level cap of 20. In addition, the numeric value of EXP you get means that a 10% bonus doesn't amount to much (20-40 EXP for killing some enemies means only a bonus of 2-4 EXP per kill). Here and Now can seem appealing to some, but you'll probably regret it in the end, since you'll have no problem hitting the level cap without this perk. If you're playing on Very Hard you ought to know the value of patience... so excercise it. It's not often I'll say something has no real practical use, but this is one of those times. I recommend not investing in either of these perks. Ever.
DADDY'S BOY/DADDY'S GIRL/GUN NUT/LITTLE LEAGER/THIEF/SCOUNDREL/SIZE MATTERS/TAG!: These are either good or terrible, depending on your character build. If you have a low intelligence then the skill point bonus can be pretty nice. If you have a high intelligence then these perks will be a waste of your time. If you think most the perks in this game are terrible (for you) and you have a low INT then these perks can be a real gem.
GUNSLINGER/COMMANDO/SNIPER/ACTION BOY/ACTION GIRL/CONCENTRATED FIRE: I lump most of the VATS perks together here for one big reason: If you don't use VATS, then you will find these perks to be the most useless ones in the game. Gunslinger, Commando, and Sniper have a very specific effect which can either be a good thing for you or a bad thing for you. For example, if you always use an assault rifle and go into VATS mode as often as you can then Commando will be a great addition to your perks list. Gunslinger and Sniper can also be summed up the same way. If you use a versatile range of weaponry then you'll want to skip Gunslinger and Commando, though Sniper can still be useful to you. Action Boy/Girl could be nice for you if you want to get off more shots in VATS mode, or use VATS a lot but don't want to invest points into your AGI. Concentrated Fire is iffy, at best. When I do go into VATS mode (which is almost never) I always aim for the head with intent to take out one of several combatants just to clean up the battlefield. While I don't go into VATS often enough to make this perk worth it, it could be used in that sense with some efficiency (assuming you aim for a body part other than the head, since sniper would probably be a better bet for you headshooters AND you would have to be using a weapon that can get off a lot of shots in VATS to maximize the usefullness of this perk).
MYSTERIOUS STRANGER: I haven't tried this myself since I'm a VATS hater, but it sounded interesting enough. Based on Absolute Steve's description of it though, I would venture to guess it has little value. The conditions for this perk to actually execute are pretty narrow (enemy below 150 HP, and only a 10% chance on top of that) for it to be overly useful. I can see how it would be nice though if you have bad luck finishing enemies off in VATS. Other than that I can't see any other real uses for it (unless you find it extremely entertaining [don't forget playing games is supposed to be about having fun]).
GRIM REAPER'S SPRINT: From what I read on various FAQs this is without a doubt the most over-rated perk in this game. There's no doubt in my mind that it would be great for console gamers since VATS is probably really useful if you're using a controller, but if you've played a lot of first person shooters you'll have no need for VATS. Which basically means this is just as useless to you as anything in the two paragraphs above. However, if you don't want to actually aim this can be a very useful perk for you. Enemies die easily enough when you have the right hardware, so get close enough, activate VATS and roast one, move on to the next enemy and repeat. If this is your kind of style, I'd recommend grabbing other VATS perks like Action Boy/Girl, and Sniper as well as having a high AGI to maximize it's efficiency. On a side note, this would probably be really entertaining when coupled with Bloody Mess, if you're looking to revel in the gory glory of brutal amusement.
PARALYZING PALM: Absolute Steve had some good advice in one of the FAQs around here. Paralyzing palm can help you paralyze big nasties who get too close for comfort (i.e. Deathclaws) and then choose your next action carefully. Whether you plan to flee, slice them up or maybe give them a bullet makeover or laser surgery, you'll have plenty of time to do it. It should be noted though that by level 18 you should be able to get along without this perk; however, if you have low END it can still have great value (those damned Deathclaws can really dish it out).
ENTOMOLOGIST/IRON FIST/DEMOLITION EXPERT/PYROMANIAC/ROBOTICS EXPERT: Even though some of these perks are quite a bit different they all land in this grouping. Adding damage can be really nice in Very Hard mode. There aren't many insects who are hella bad, so I always advise against Entomologist. Robots, though few and far between, can be pretty troublesome from time to time. Regardless, I recommend you just tough it out and stick it to them hard (try the Shocker, or a shotgun, or maybe a minigun if you've got one handy). If you hit them with some serious hardware you won't have a need for Robotics Expert (keep in mind you can usually disable their targetting sensors or combat inhibitors to frenzy them, which isn't as good as de-activating them but it's a good substitute). Demolition Expert is not for me, but if you use a lot of explosives and want to increase the bang they make then go for it. Iron Fist is questionable since it's pretty much all or nothing. It takes three levels of investing in it for any real pay-off, but if you're really into hand-to-hand combat then you'll probably be addicted to the Iron Fist. Pyromaniac is either great or terrible. I like the cut-cut, and since the Shiskebab is easy to make and benefits from Pyromaniac I consider it a good call (works great for conserving ammo at the low cost of one level of investing). The flamer isn't that great and ammo is kind of hard to come by, so if you don't use the shiskebab then definitely pass up Pyromaniac. In summary, extra damage is always good in Very Hard mode. Go for any of these perks if you know you'll get the use out of them. Additionally, if you don't enjoy fighting insects/robots then the proper skill can save you a hassle, even if you don't find it necessary (it's all about having fun).
BLOODY MESS: Questionable, but entertaining. Extra damage is always good, but 5% isn't really that great. If exploding corpses really cracks you up then I say go for it, but as far as it's practicality goes it really isn't so fantastic.
FINESSE/BETTER CRITICALS: Criticals are one of the most powerful things in the game, since they apply to any weapon under any conditions. More criticals is always nice, and having more powerful criticals is even better. No matter what your character build you just can't go wrong with these perks. They're especially useful if you go for a lot of sneak attack criticals.
NINJA: For level 20 perks you'll probably either want Grim Reaper's Sprint or Ninja. Like the above paragraph, more criticals and stronger criticals is never a bad thing on Very Hard mode. Anyone who does a lot of melee/unarmed killing or sneak attacking will find this skill to be very useful. If you don't sneak or use melee/unarmed skills then this perk will be completely useless for you. By level 20 you should have plenty of ammo, so melee/unarmed killing by this point in time is really a matter of preference. Sneak attacking will always be useful.
NERD RAGE: In most games I'm a real fan of redlining (my handle used to be WolvieBerserker, go figure), but in Fallout 3 I don't think it pays. Especially on Very Hard. 20% of your health goes away really fast, regardless of your DR, so this is dancing with destruction. The bonuses are great, but whether it's worth the risk or not is your call.
LEAD BELLY/TOUGHNESS/RAD RESISTANCE/ADAMANTIUM SKELETON/CYBORG: Damage resistance is a good thing if you use light armor, but I don't think radiation or poison are any sort of a real threat. I recommend passing up Lead Belly and Rad Restistance every time. Toughness can be good, but sometimes not worth investing in. If you wear heavy armor I recommend not investing in Toughness (unless there is nothing else you want). If you wear medium/light armor you might consider getting either Toughness or Cyborg, or both. Adamantium Skeleton is a perk that's under-rated, in my opinion. It's uses aren't many, but depending on how you play it can either save you time or hassle. If you don't want to worry about taking flak from missiles (which can cripple you even if it isn't a direct hit) or stepping on landmines (looking for them can slow the pace of gameplay) then go for it. Otherwise I recommend passing on Adamantium Skeleton. Cyborg is just hands down useful in my opinion. 10% to all three resistances is great in itself, and if you use energy weapons then the extra 10 points in it is a nice bonus. The only way I can see Cyborg being worthless for you is if you use heavy armor and don't use energy weapons (10% to rad/poison resistance very good by itself).
FAST METABOLISM/CHEMIST/CHEM RESISTANT: These are pretty much medic perks. If you pop a lot of chems then you might find Chemist and Chem Resistant to be useful. If you don't pop chems ever (or do pop them, but very very rarely) you shouldn't waste your time on these. Fast Metabolism isn't really fantastic, but can help you out in a tough spot. If you have a lot of money for stimpaks then there is only one time that this perk will help you: When you're taking damage faster than you can heal. Even then it's hard to say that 20% is really worth it, depending on you medicine skill. Whether you think 20% is worth it or not is your call.
LADY KILLER/BLACK WIDOW/CHILD AT HEART/IMPARTIAL MEDIATION: If you really get into dialogue in RPGs then you might be interested in taking any of these perks. That's pretty much it though. Speech isn't that great, but if you really like it and don't want to spend skill points on it then go for Impartial Mediation. Just keep in mind that you have to have neutral karma. It's not that hard to have neutral karma, just always be nice to people to get good karma, but once you pop out of the neutral range you'll just have to whack some civilians to bump it back down to neutral (I recommend killing the bigots at Tenpenny Tower if you're done with their quests or don't care about doing them). The Lady Killer/Black Widow perk has the 10% damage bonus vs. the opposite sex, which can be useful. As others have noted though, there are far more male enemies than females, so female characters will get more out of this perk than male characters. There aren't many child interactions in the game, so only take Child at Heart if you really get into dialogue (it might enhance your gaming experience) and aren't having trouble killing enemies.
FORTUNE FINDER/SCROUNGER: There's plenty of booty in this game, so I wouldn't worry about either of these perks. Even if you're not a thorough looter, getting a full inventory shouldn't take long if you just loot enemy corpses. So I really see no reason to invest in either of these perks.
CONTRACT KILLER/LAWBRINGER: These aren't really useful at all. The money you get from them is inferior to what you get from actually looting the corpses most the time. The only reason I see taking either of these perks is if you enjoy collecting severed fingers or ears and decorating your house with them. They don't have any real practical application though.
MASTER TRADER: Another money affecting perk. By level 14 you probably won't have much of a need for this perk, especially if your barter skill is high enough to invest in this perk. This is a perk I would never recommend investing in. Not only is it not good, the requirements for investing in it were not thought out very well. To be fair, though, it might be useful if you loot the least amount possible in the event that you only want to kill things.
NIGHT PERSON/SOLAR POWERED: Night Person is iffy. I'd say the conditions of it being night time make it worthless, but since you can wait to pass time that shouldn't be an issue. It's the bonus that bothers me. The bonus isn't very good, especially considering the time constraints. Unless you're anal retentive about playing at night and you really don't want to invest in INT and PER (I don't imagine anyone fits that mold) then Night Person is not worthwhile. Solar Powered must have been a designer's oversight. I can't see any other explanation for it being level 20. The mere fact that it is a level 20 perk means it's going against two other good perks, all of which you can only pick one of. The bonuses are great, no doubt, but the time constraints and the fact that it's a level 20 perk negate any appeal that this perk has. The only way I would recommend taking this perk is if you never use melee/unarmed attacks, never sneak, and never use VATS. Even then I would still say that there are other good perks to pick from since all perks should be available by this point.
COMPUTER WHIZ/INFILTRATOR: These are not good perks. Unless you're extremely impatient and absolutely detest hacking/picking locks AND don't care about failing at either action permanently, then I recommend passing up both of these. Especially on Very Hard.
LIFE GIVER: This can be good if you get hurt an excessive amount. Being level 12 and having 6 END means you'll have a decent amount of HP though. Still, if you can't seem to live long enough in firefights or against multiple melee assailants you might consider investing in this perk. I'd personally suggest getting Intense Training and sticking your point into END instead, but Life Giver can have it's advantages (such as if your END is already maxed out).
STRONG BACK: This is great if you have low strength and are greedy as hell when looting. It seems like you can't go wrong by having 50 extra carrying weight, but last time I invested in this I regretted it. With 10 STR you will only need this if you are excessively greedy.
SILENT RUNNING: If you sneak a lot when in close proximity to enemies then definitely don't pass this one up. Being able to move faster without compromising your stealth is invaluable, let alone the bonus of 10 to your sneak skill. If you don't sneak, or only sneak to get long range sneak criticals then you should probably pass on this one.
LIGHT STEP: If you have problems with traps (probably due to impatience or hastiness) then you might consider this perk. It's not overly useful, but can help with the pacing of the game if you're the type of person who can't stand poking around looking for traps. Alternatively you might consider taking Adamantium Skeleton (though it won't protect you from swinging and projectile traps). Either way there aren't too many traps in Fallout 3, so I recommend you just take the damage and stick yourself with a stimpack.
ANIMAL FRIEND: In all honesty, the best thing about this perk (in my opinion) is the picture it shows. It's nice for saving yourself time while roaming the wastes, as well as avoiding adds during combat in the wastes. The second investment sounds enticing, but investing in this twice means you've spent 10% of your perk investments on something that will only work while you're exploring/travelling. In addition, the only real use your animal companions can be comes in the form of distributing damage evenly between them and you. That's not really worth it, in my opinion.
MISTER SANDMAN: You won't see many sleeping combatants in this game, so I wouldn't even consider this perk. The only reason I see anyone ever investing in this is simply because they are amused by killing people in their sleep. Not practical, but definitely amusing.
CANNIBAL: An amusing concept, but not a useful perk. There will be a lot of corpses to feed on, but 25 health is pretty insignificant, especially by level 12. Like Mister Sandman and others, only take this if you find the entertainment value of this perk to be in great excess.
EXPLORER: This is a cool idea, but too little too late. In addition to the huge drawback that it's a level 20 perk, you can always invest in this and save on a different file. That way you'll always have a map to look at (simply by loading the file and locating your destination, then resuming your actual file). Other than that I don't see any reason to invest in this perk.
As you can see, almost every perk in Fallout 3 has at least one advantage or group of situations where it can be useful. Depending on how you play your character, certain skills will be supreme and others will be useless. If you play the game through again with a different style you'll notice some of your favorite skills and perks no longer have any value for you, and what you once considered useless becomes invaluable. Being a versatile player is more valuable than making a versatile character. If you're having trouble in Very Hard mode then try to remember that.