Fallout 76’s lead producer on the game’s Skyline Valley update and the long journey since a rocky launch

The deluxe key art for the Fallout 76 Skyline Valley update.
(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Fallout 76 has come a long way since its launch back in 2018. The first multiplayer installment in the traditionally story-focused Fallout series, many long-time fans were initially disappointed by its countless bugs and largely empty open world. Almost six years later, Fallout 76 has been completely overhauled. A string of major updates have added non-playable characters (NPCs), reworked story content, addressed all manner of technical issues, and ultimately transformed it into an enjoyable online experience.

With the game currently experiencing record-high all-time player counts on Steam, it seems as though the arrival of new content isn’t going to stop any time soon. The game’s latest free update, Skyline Valley, introduces an all-new region to the Virginia setting inspired by the real-world Shenandoah National Park. On top of a fresh area to explore, the update brings additional story content centered around the recently unearthed Vault 63 and its sinister overseer.

I sat down for a few hours with an early build of the update at the London HQ of developer ZeniMax Online Studios and was able to chat about my experience with Fallout 76 lead producer Bill LaCoste.

The only way is up

A screenshot showing a character looking at the sky in Fallout 76.

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

First and foremost, I was interested to hear what the game’s rocky release and recent resurgence have been like for the development team. “I think for the team, even with a rough launch, there was a roadmap to success and everybody just stayed on that,” he explains. “It was like, ‘No, we know where we're going and we know we're going to get there and we know that players are going to continue to support us in this effort.’”

“As we continued to roll out those updates, players started to come back in and they were like, 'Oh, this is getting really good.'” These comments certainly ring true for me as one of the many players who have recently rediscovered Fallout 76 thanks to the popularity of the Fallout TV show. As a big fan of Fallout 4, I’ve been particularly impressed by just how similarly engaging the world of Fallout 76 now feels despite hailing from a different developer - and it seems that I’m not alone.

“I think the biggest compliment I've heard from just listening to people play in area chat is that, 'hey, this actually feels like a Bethesda game now because I have an intention to go do something and I get sidetracked by all this other stuff, and I come back eight hours later and go, ‘what was I doing?'” LaCoste says. “To have Fallout 76 be that now is really amazing.”

While countless other live service titles have failed to recover after rocky launches, LaCoste argues that the growth of Fallout 76 has been driven by a continued sense of progress: “Every time we've released a new update, people have felt the game getting progressively better and better. [...] For a lot of people who left at launch, they had very valid reasons to leave. It wasn't a game for them and it had a lot of issues, but for us, we always knew where we were going and that we were going to fix those things.”

Growing the world

A scenic abandoned industrial area in Fallout 76.

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Skyline Valley stands apart from previous updates as the first to increase the size of the map. I spent some time wandering around the new location and wanted to know why now was considered an opportune time to expand the world of Appalachia. 

“One, because it hits all of our players. You're able now to go explore a new area, there's new points of interest, and there's especially more places to place camps now which feeds a huge section of our player base,” LaCoste explains. “We've got a new vault, we've got a new story, and a new overseer that you're interacting with. There's a great branching storyline [...] and there's something for all of our players.”

“There's going to be daily events, there's going to be random encounters, there's going to be bosses,” he continues. “Other content that we've released in the past hasn't been for everyone, it's been for an isolated group of players, whether it’s new players or whether it's older players. This type of content, everybody can engage with even from level 25 all the way through to the highest level players.”

Although it is still recognizable as a location within the Fallout universe, the lush forests and beautiful vistas of Skyline Valley definitely feel like a breath of fresh air compared to the more downtrodden locations that have come to characterize the series. I was particularly keen to discover what kind of work went into its creation. “We spend a lot of time doing research, we go in and take pictures, we get textures, you know, that are representative of those areas,” LaCoste says.

If it's going to make players upset, if it's going to anger them, there's got to be a really good, valid reason for us doing it.

“We really do try to recreate the style and the look of those areas. I think that's what makes the Shenandoah National Park area so unique as well, because it doesn't look like an ash heap, you know. It's its own kind of unique biome in a way, its own unique space.”

As with any successful live service title, the community is always a consideration for the development team. “We have a great community of people," he begins. “We are always thinking about what the sentiment is going to be regarding releasing something like this because it's important. If it's going to make players upset, if it's going to anger them, there's got to be a really good, valid reason for us doing it.”

LaCoste gives one example of an update that upset the community but was ultimately necessary for the game. “Way back in like update 12, we had to remove all the mods off power armor for everyone because of a technical issue. We knew that was going to upset people, but we had to do it. With content, it's a little bit different but we get it tested, we get feedback from the community through the public test server, we get feedback from Discord, Reddit, things like that.”

The Skyline Valley update is live right now and if you’re a new player who is eager to get to grips with all of its brand-new content, Fallout 76 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in addition to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S via backwards compatibility.

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Dashiell Wood
Hardware Writer

Dash is a technology journalist who covers gaming hardware at TechRadar. Before joining the TechRadar team, he was writing gaming articles for some of the UK's biggest magazines including PLAY, Edge, PC Gamer, and SFX. Now, when he's not getting his greasy little mitts on the newest hardware or gaming gadget, he can be found listening to J-pop or feverishly devouring the latest Nintendo Switch otome.