I didn’t mean to sound condescending or something (which reading back I could understand if it was taken that way), but if I came across as such I apologise. I do agree with you: I think the early game is “kind of” very slow, but once you get tools and books, you jump into “god tier” within a week or two in-game - and most of the end-game locations are either very trivial or have no reason to be explored anyway, because the game pretty much only incentivises players to do Science Labs and Military Bunkers raids.
To combat that, I often prefer to “balance” my characters to try and avoid that very same issue, but the problem seems to be that once you’ve done two or three “decently long” playthroughs, you already know where things are, which things you need and the usual early game rituals, which, once again, trivialise everything you might want to do to challenge yourself.
Personally I very much always opt into severely hampering traits - low healing rates, lower total HP or in some cases skill-progression hampering traits (slow reader, savant, etc). Although I believe that early game needs a lot more attention. There are a lot more things that are considered “mid/end game” (locations, armours etc), that are also very easy to get very early in game for someone that has a “decent” (not necessarily great) grasp of how the game works.
For instance, skilling is (still) very easy, and it will always be that way until we move from the “single digit stats and levels” to “double or triple digits”, which would essentially accommodate a more balanced development of a character and open the window for proper weapons/tools/combat balancing - and it would also allow the devs to fix the issue with bows being essentially painfully useless for bow oriented characters, but super effective for brain-handicapped meatheads with strength.
instead of having skill and stats for things ranging from 1 to 10 (skills) and 4-20 (Stats), make it from 1 to 50 or 1 to 100, so that several different items, recipes, etc can be spread out more evenly, giving more usefulness to items that we’d never even consider using because when we unlock access to them, we also happen to unlock access to the best item in its category.