Illustration by: Angelica Alzona

Most players attempting Fallout 4’s Survival mode will just get their ass kicked. One player, however, has already managed to beat the entire thing on a single life. Funnily enough, the toughest challenge Kyle Hinckley faced along the way wasn’t something like starvation or damage, but rather a nearly catastrophic glitch.

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You may remember Hinckley from last year, when he completed Fallout 4 without killing a single person. Well, he’s back, and he’s raised the stakes even higher with a new challenge run of Fallout 4’s Survival mode. For starters, Hinckley played during the Survival mode beta, which was actually harder in some ways than the Survival mode that Bethesda ended up shipping. Hinckley also decided to do a run with an added death clause. If he ever perished, that would be it. No returning to his old save file, no do-overs. Permadeath.

To understand what makes beating Fallout 4’s Survival mode on a single life so impressive, you need to understand what the mode actually entails. In Fallout 4’s Survival mode, players have to deal with way more than they do in the normal game. There is no fast travel, which means that players can’t just avoid enemy encounters. Players can also only save after sleeping, and sleeping is required to maintain stats and the character’s immune system, as well as avoiding additional damage. Worse, the quality of restfulness gained from sleep is entirely dependent on the bed itself: makeshift beds simply aren’t as effective as real mattresses, and the wasteland is mostly full of shitty beds.

The tweaks don’t end there. Players also take more damage from enemies, and all healing happens at a slower rate than in the normal game. Hunger and thirst must be considered, and the player is also more susceptible to diseases and status ailments. Even companions aren’t as useful in Survival, thanks to decreased carry weight and lack of auto-heal. The list goes on, but overall Bethesda wanted to force players to make more interesting moment-to-moment choices in the name of grappling with the wrath of the Commonwealth. Judging from the mode’s reception online, Bethesda succeeded: the average player does not complete a Survival run on its own. Hinckley may be the first player to beat Survival on permadeath at all.

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Hinckley’s Permadeath run begins in this YouTube episode, with a Homer Simpson-like character named Dick Johnson:

Johnson is a character with a lot of HP, who is capable of using his environment to strategically out-regenerate his enemy. Spec-wise, he had a Strength of 3, Perception at 2, Endurance at 10, Charisma at 3, Intelligence at 3, Agility at 2, and Luck at 2. Perk-wise, Johnson was decked out with abilities such as Ghoulish (where radiation heals a character) and Solar Powered (which heals radiation damage).

At first, Hinckley’s playthrough was much like that of other players. He had difficulty juggling the bodily needs of Dick Johnson; water was hard to find, and, watching the video, it felt like he had to spend just as much time scavenging for survival essentials as he did actually exploring the world. Encounters were tough, and even simple battles, like finding a single raider or a few mole rats, turned into life and death situations thanks to the increased vulnerability found in Survival mode. Early on in the playthrough, you can watch as a mere Blood Bug poisons Dick Johnson and nearly kills him, when usually these enemies are just annoying, not deadly! And yet, throughout all of that, Dick Johnson still hadn’t seen the worst of what Fallout 4 had to offer.

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Hours into Hinckley’s adventure, he encountered a peculiar bug: for whatever reason, Fallout 4 wouldn’t let him dismiss companion character Preston Garvey from active duty. This meant that Dick Johnson was able to walk around with two companions, both of which could help him dole out more damage against his enemies.

“At first, this was amazing, as true survival companions are downed until you heal them and, like normal difficulty companions, run out of ammo,” Hinckley told me over email. “Preston acted like an essential settler, never running out of ammo and getting up soon after being downed without assistance.”

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For a while, this set-up worked entirely in Hinckley’s favor. Sure, Preston was a little overzealous sometimes, courting the attention of enemies that Hinckley didn’t want to attract, but these aggressive episodes were still manageable. That is, until he got to a locale known as the Atom Cats garage. That’s when everything started spinning out of control.

Randomly, an NPC at the Atom Cats garage made a comment about wanting to put a jet pack on his armor. In that moment, Dick Johnson was suited up with a Power Armor jetpack. He decided to show it off to the NPC, just as a joke. But the thing about Power Armor is, if your character falls from a high enough distance, the armor will slam into the ground and attack anyone who is nearby. Sure enough, the NPC in Hinckley’s game was smacked by the blast radius, which then pulled Hinckley into an unwanted battle against the Atom Cats.

The first wasn’t particularly tough or out of the ordinary, and Hinckley simply let his companions take care of it for him. Once that encounter was over, however, Hinckley found that he couldn’t actually rejoin his companions like he usually could. For whatever reason, in the wake of the fight Preston had suddenly become hostile toward Hinckley.

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“If Preston Garvey is against me, I’m gonna have real trouble,” Hinckley said in the video. The thing about Preston is, the game marks him as an essential NPC that cannot be killed. An essential NPC still has a lifebar, but once it is depleted, the character is just stunned temporarily, not deceased. So in this case, Preston became a hostile enemy that could never be killed, no matter how much a player shot him. And because the game glitched out in this run, Fallout 4 forced that murderous immortal Preston to perpetually chase Hinckley to the ends of the earth. Preston had become a mix of the Terminator and the monster in It Follows, with a big ‘ol mini gun to boot.

At first, Hinckley tried to throw Preston off by walking through bodies of water, or jetpacking into whatever high places he could reach. This would buy him time, but Preston wouldn’t let up—in the videos, you can always see him in the distance, lumbering toward Hinckley. And if Hinckley ever got too far, Fallout 4 would straight up teleport Preston to his location. There was just no escaping Preston Garvey, and this time, he didn’t want to talk about a settlement that needed saving.

To make matters worse, the game wouldn’t allow Hinckley to sleep with a hostile NPC nearby, and sleeping is necessary for keeping a healthy, fully healed character. All of these conditions came together to make Hinckley doubt if completing the game with a glitched out Preston was even possible.

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“Preston Garvey has just turned from my closest ally to my worst fucking enemy,” Hinckley bemoaned.

Instead of giving up, Hinckley kept playing. The glitch had turned Fallout 4 into a horror game where the most terrifying enemy wasn’t a Deathclaw or a Ghoul, but rather Preston Fucking Garvey. Hinckley couldn’t even speak to other NPCs without having Preston Garvey trying to tear him out of the conversation. Garvey just kept finding new ways to ruin Hinckley’s otherwise meticulously planned run.

For example, there was a moment during Hinckley’s trek across the Glowing Sea—which is one of Fallout 4’s toughest areas—when Preston downed Codsworth in a place where Hinckley couldn’t revive him. Normally, Codsworth provided some firepower that kept Preston busy while Hinckley ran away, but without the added companion, Hinckley lost his buffer against Preston. Hinckley had to get into the habit of perpetually downing Garvey temporarily, which helped a little bit, until Preston devolved even further. Eventually Preston glitched out so much that Hinckley couldn’t even temporarily stun him anymore. At this point, Hinckley’s character was starving, in dire need of sleep, and was running entirely out of ammo.

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“The problem is attrition,” Hinckley says in the video. “Eventually my [Power Armor] will break [from wear], and then I’ll be fucking annihilated.” He couldn’t risk getting out of the Power Armor to fix his problem, as he didn’t have the proper resources at hand, and with only 3 HP left at that point, he didn’t want to risk becoming even more vulnerable to Preston Garvey.

Desperate, Hinckley came up with a last-ditch plan: a settlement. He figured that there must be something in the settlement building mechanics that could help him in some way. First, he tried something offensive by erecting a ton of turrets. But for whatever reason, the turrets just wouldn’t shoot Garvey. So, Hinckley came up with more defensive measures. Hinckley started building staircases, one after another, all going up into the air. He deleted the staircases behind him as he climbed them, thus making it impossible for Preston to follow him. He then proceeded to build a sky fortress using the materials he had on-hand. Since the game always teleported Preston to Hinckley’s location if he got too far, Hinckley made sure that the sky fortress was close enough to the ground that Preston couldn’t teleport there.

Inside the fortress, Hinckley built the few things he had the resources for: a crafting table, a water pump, a Power Armor station. Then the question of a bed came up. Hinckley definitely needed to sleep before his character became too sleep deprived, but he wasn’t sure if the game would load differently after his character woke up. His fear was that the game would reset Garvey’s location after sleeping, thus bringing Preston into the sky fortress that he couldn’t normally access. In an effort to assuage that paranoia, Hinckley decided to build a bed on a plank in the sky. The idea was that if the game did indeed teleport Preston after all, Preston would just fall down to the ground. Miraculously, it worked.

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Slightly recharged, Hinckley descended his sky fortress and attacked Preston in an effort to stun him. That’s when he noticed that, after a few in-game days of pure hell, Fallout 4 had randomly decided to make Preston friendly again, out of the blue. The nightmare was over—but Hinckley came THIS close to starting it all up again with his habitual attack.

“This is fucking bananas,” Hinckley exclaims in relief. Hilariously, Hinckley decided to commemorate the event by building a robot companion named ‘Preston’s Wrath.’

“It’s great to have a higher level of immersion in a game like this,” Hinckley remarks in the video. “Requiring that a character sleeps, eats and stays hydrated is a very important step in that direction.”

Hinckley then went on to do what he set out to do all along: finish the game. Funnily enough, Hinckley sided with the Minutemen, of all factions—you know, the faction led by Preston Garvey.

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The entire playthrough took 36 hours, and Dick Johnson eventually destroyed the Institute at level 56 without dying a single time (though there were a few close calls in that final level.)

Oh, but don’t think that just because Hinckley sided with the Minutemen that everything was cool between him and Preston Garvey. Hinckley celebrated his amazing Fallout 4 run by gunning Preston down one last time.

Hinckley’s adventure was an intense one, and yet somehow, the typical challenges that came with a permadeath Survival run were not the most memorable part of playing Fallout 4. That’s because Fallout 4 was actually working as intended when Hinckley was grappling with things like hunger and thirst. In classic Bethesda style, the best part of the experience is when things go haywire and break.

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Illustration by: Angelica Alzona