Fallout 76’s Jon Rush On The Game’s Resurgence, Skyline Valley And West Virginian Cryptids

Talking all things Appalachia with the Creative Director.

It’s wild to think that six years has passed since the release of Fallout 76. I don’t need to remind you what has happened since, but what I do need to flash back to is how the game was received those many years ago – filled with bugs (the non-shootable kind) and feeling as empty as the Wasteland itself. I was pretty harsh on the game at launch, and I’d like to put my hand up and say that I went too early, and that it really needed a chance to evolve.

And evolve it did! After fifty-two patches and swathes of content released over the years, Fallout 76 is almost an entirely different version of the same game. But it’s what we should be expecting from online-only experiences in this modern age of gaming. With one of its biggest content releases about to launch with Skyline Valley, we sat down with Creative Director Jonathan “Jon” Rush to talk more about the influences and changes around Fallout 76’s latest expansion.

So the game launched in 2018, it’s hard to believe that Fallout 76 has been around for six years. As you navigate the highs and lows of the online landscape, is this what you had envisioned for the game six years on?

Jon Rush: 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.

Compared to traditional games where there’s a release supported by DLC, Fallout 76 is a continuous experience living online. Have you seen the game’s content take different turns to what you would have expected?

JR: Kind of, I mean way back towards the beginning there were definitely some surprises. For one, I didn’t think everyone in our Wasteland were going to be super-friendly to one another. So there’s been surprises like that, that we’ve kind of adopted the game around – ‘oh, we have a community of builders that love to build and love to show off what they’re building to other players, and love to invite people to their camps’ – and so underlining that with upcoming features, or features that we’ve already put in is definitely at the forefront.

It’s wonderful to see you have such a sense of engagement yourself with the community. As you are so active on X (formerly Twitter) during Fallout 76’s events, do you get a lot of feedback from players through this as well?

JR: I don’t really use that for feedback, I just use that to have some fun and hop in and play with our great community. As far as feedback from players, we have a really great community team that’s able to parse through the Reddit threads and YouTube videos and whatnot. But I myself am on there everyday, and I’m reading those threads, and watching those videos; I go through every Reddit post, and scour the threads on my own to get feedback. Engaging with the community I just do for fun because I love playing the game.

Skyline Valley is the first major map expansion, going beyond the existing map boundary for the first time. Could we potentially see further map expansions in other directions?

JR: Possibly! I mean it’s amazing how much space is on the borders of our map. For instance; when the game first came out I was watching my son, who was 10 at the time, and he was playing and he was at the Mothman museum. I thought ‘Oh neat, he’s having fun’, and I walked out of the room – I came back five minutes later and he’s running around in this hilly terrain, just trees and rocks and bushes; no buildings or creatures. I asked ‘Dude, where are you?’, he brought up the map and he was way off the map! I was like ‘Wow, we have a lot of space to play with! So I think that’s definitely a possibility of us expanding the map further.

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.

RELATED:  We Spoke To Star Wars Outlaws' Narrative Team About Shaping Kay's Journey

West Virginia is home to a lot of history which you’ve incorporated into the game, including Cryptids and creatures of local lore such as the Mothman. What kind of location-based research do you do to discover what content to include?

JR: We want to keep the game feeling distinctly like West Virginia, like bringing in the Fastnacht event. Before this game I hadn’t really heard of Fastnacht before, and now I’m like Captain Fastnacht! *laughing* So any region-specific traits that we can bring into our Appalachia I think makes it more of a genuine experience for players, even if they’re not outwardly familiar with it, there are unique qualities that they latch onto right away.

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.

Whether friend or foe, Ghouls have been a mainstay in the Fallout universe. With the introduction of “The Lost” in Skyline Valley, we see a unique take on Ghouls and their abilities. Tell us a bit more about how you developed them for Fallout 76.

JR: So I think of our map as the main character of our game, and so looking at the new region, it’s using the qualities of that region and what that region offers, using the traits of that region to shape the new faction and their abilities. Ghouls are very popular, and we wanted to find a way to bring them into the new story but have them also fit in that environment.

An amazing surprise and a long-requested feature by Fallout fans, we finally get the chance to play as a Ghoul in Fallout 76. What was the influence behind allowing players to become Ghouls?

JR: We wanted to come up with more features for our in-game players. A new player comes in and opens up their in-game map and it’s like a theme park – like Disneyland, where there’s always stuff to do and things to go and see. While there is still plenty for our in-game players to do, we wanted to offer more ways that they can upgrade their characters’ power or play in alternate ways. So bringing in Ghouls which are very popular with players to mainly serve as a vessel for alternate playstyles was the influence here.

The Amazon Prime show Fallout, set in the same universe, was released earlier this year. Could we see any character cameos or tie-ins in the near future?

JR: All I can say is stay tuned!

When the show launched, Fallout fever took over and suddenly everyone became excited about Fallout again. What was it like seeing players returning or picking up the game for the first time?

JR: That was great! I hopped into the game, and I had all these Level 20s and 30s following me around, and they all just want stuff! I’d drop loot at their feet and they’d keep following me around, and I’m launching nukes everywhere which they think is funny – it was good. You know, the show was great, which pretty much goes without saying, but the show really kind of cast a light onto 76 and it reminded people ‘Hey, look, they’re still working on this!’, as we’re about to release our 52nd patch. And so it showed people just how far the game has come, and how great of a game it is now; with people returning that had started at launch who maybe wanted something that just wasn’t there, and came back now having a blast.

I will admit I was one of those players myself, off the back of Fallout 4 I enjoyed my time to begin with but fell out of love after a while with it, to find now that it’s worth getting back into.

JR: It’s fun, yeah! People that have come back and noticed all the additional life on the map – when the game first launched, people coming out into the post-apocalyptic West Virginia to discover the people that used to live there, very open and allowing them to make their own stories. Then we slowly brought Wastelanders in as people are intrigued with the space and the unique things the land has to offer.

Skyline Valley drops for Fallout 76 on June 12th, where you’ll get to explore more of Appalachia and the Shenandoah, including new enemies and events. Be sure to check it out the console or PC of your choice!