With Skyline Valley, Fallout 76 Is Proving There’s Still Plenty Of Room To Grow

Six years later, Fallout 76 is just hitting its stride.

We currently sit at the second-longest waiting period for the announcement or release of a new Fallout game. The first, occurring in the time when Bethesda purchased the Fallout franchise from Interplay, meant there were ten years between releases – and delivering some significant controversy with a pivot into the action-RPG genre. With Fallout 3 launching in 2008, Fallout: New Vegas in 2010, and then the much-awaited Fallout 4 in 2015, fans were spoiled for choice when it came to exploring the Wasteland and its charismatic inhabitants.

But gaming was evolving, just like the irradiated animals of Fallout’s scarred landscapes. While games were seen as complete packages with the possibility of add-on DLC adventures, the next title would be something that took the series in a new direction, allowing the ability to play with friends or strangers and to deliver narrative and event-based content over time; and we were greeted with Fallout 76. Being Bethesda Game Studios’ first online multiplayer title, there were always bound to be teething issues – and hot off the back of Fallout 4, there was also bound to be pushback and heavy criticism.

Six years ago when Fallout 76 launched, even I was quite harsh on the game at launch but could see glimmers of hope, quoting “Underneath the extremely rough and laggy exterior, Fallout 76 has the makings of a great and entertaining game.” People demanded refunds in droves, with Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission even releasing a statement advising that customers were eligible for refunds due to the game’s numerous bugs and issues.

But even with this negative press and a swathe of issues, the game pushed through, building a community of players who eventually would bring order to the Wasteland and help shape the vision that Bethesda had sought to create. We sit here six years later off the back of some significant triumphs – the first being the Fallout television show on Amazon Prime bringing in over one million players in a single day, and the other being the largest map expansion the game has seen in its run with the launch of Skyline Valley.

“As we release updates, our excellent community is so great at giving us feedback – so we take that and see how it weighs in against the future of developments that we want to do. It’s been a learning experience for us along the way; learning what our players like and what they expect, and so using that to shape our roadmap and seeing the commitment that our community has towards the game, I knew the game was going to continue to be successful down the road.” – Jonathon Rush, Creative Director

To say that we should return to West Virginia off the back of the television show’s success would be to minimise the successes of the game itself, however. Since launch, Fallout 76 has received fifty-two patches and content releases over its lifetime, with Skyline Valley being its 19th major update as well as the first time the game has pushed beyond its current map boundaries. Set before any of the existing Fallout games, it not only serves as a prequel to the games set to come, but allows the developers to explore more historic content from those releases too – the origins of the Brotherhood of Steel and the Forced Evolutionary Virus, as well as cameos from locations in other games such as The Pitt from Fallout 3.

“I think what I’ve come to realise with the game, and what we’ve come to realise as a group is when our players get new locations and places to explore, they really want it to be a part of their Appalachia. The “Expeditions” content was fun and good – The Pitt, Atlantic City, people go in there and they want to have fun, but they want to be able to build and influence the space, so giving them the opportunity with Skyline Valley is the right way to go.”

Built on a map nearly four times bigger than Fallout 4, there was always a chance to push the boundaries of what was out there. It was every kid’s dream playing a sandbox game to go beyond the imaginary boundaries, and now we get an opportunity to do just that. The game uses existing assets that had kept players wondering for the longest time, giving everyone the opportunity to find out more about Vault 63 and the strange inhabitants that reside within. It’s a testament to the evolving nature of the game as well. Alongside Vaults 94 and 96, Vault 63 was set to be opened with the Vault Raids feature that has long since been discontinued in-game.

Through this we encounter the enigmatic Hugo Stolz, and we learn about the Lost, electrified Ghouls with otherworldly voices, glowing eyes and a penchant for violent psychosis. It was bad enough encountering Feral Ghouls before, but this just raises things to a new terrifying level, in true Fallout fashion. But we also get two new public events with this release, one of which brings upon us the Storm Goliaths, giant robots with immense physical power and a knack for spouting historical literature quotes. Fighting these is no easy task, and so you’d do well convincing your friends to return to the wasteland with you. The more the merrier as you take down these giant machines.

Where the dedication from the creative team really shines is the inclusion of more notable locations in West Virginia – venturing into the Shenandoah National Park, and seeing the now-arid vistas of Skyline Drive. This version of Appalachia, full of history and myths, is a character in and of itself, playing host not only to the Wastelanders and Vault Dwellers within, but various urban legends and folklore tales that have come to life.

“The cryptids are definitely one of those – when we first started development, I didn’t know what a cryptid was in terms of the name. I knew what Bigfoot was and the like, but I didn’t know they were referred to as cryptids. So looking into West Virginia cryptid lore, there’s a whole bunch of them, like some really weird ones, so we’ve got a lot to play with.”

With the knowledge that this game still has so much to offer to both new players and existing fans alike, it’s almost hard not to get excited about what the future of Fallout 76 will hold. I still remember jumping in for the first time, fresh off the back of spending so long in Fallout 4 only to be extremely disappointed, like so many other players. But now with renewed interest, I stand at the precipice of my Vault, ready to step back out into the Wasteland and shape my journey in the hope that I can capture that glimmer of a spark that I saw when the game launched. I see the excitement from the creative team, and the effort that has gone into this game over its lifespan, and it’s clear that this game is only just hitting its stride. Now, more than ever, is a great time to be a Fallout fan.

The author was a guest of Bethesda with travel and accommodation covered for the purpose of these interviews and editorials.