Fallout 76 just got bigger to make way for an extra vault, 12 new quests, and more Vault-Tec scheming

Fallout 76
(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

The opening of the vault door is the most iconic image in Fallout – a Biblical rolling back of the stone that signifies rebirth into the changed world outside. Typically, though, the door stays on its hinges. It isn't usually blasted across 100 miles of West Virginian sky at high velocity, like the cap from a shaken-up bottle of Nuka-Cola.

When the flying door finally comes in to land, it's far from home. Like a steel meteor, it has plowed into the Interstate 59 near Flatwoods, searing a deep gouge into the road from south to north. Approaching on foot, we see two yellow digits – a six and a three – still emblazoned in nuke-proof paint on its front. Since the popping of a new vault is always a cause for celebration, whatever the circumstances, we trace the door back to its origin point, deep into the southernmost part of the map. There, we begin to discover the fate of Vault 63's dwellers, and explore the surrounding Skyline Valley.


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Skylines and turnstiles

Fallout 76 Skyline preview

(Image credit: Bethesda)

This significant area expansion is the first of its kind to come to Fallout 76, which has previously sent players out of state to see new places via vertibird, from Pittsburgh to Atlantic City. Released today, the Skyline Valley update adds around 20 new points of interest and 12 new quests to an open world that was already enormous by Bethesda RPG standards. While the game's friendliest regions are generally found further north, Skyline Valley is an exception, designed to be viable no matter what level your character is.

In fact, Skyline Valley's story seems perfectly tuned to satisfy newcomers obsessed with the Vault-Tec machinations of the Amazon TV show. The main quest puts you in direct contact with a Vault-Tec board member: one Hugo Stolz, the ghoul overseer of Vault 63. He's a fascinating figure. A rare central European in Fallout's world, he made his fortune pre-war in the exports business, and ordered the building of a vault directly beneath his manor home. Yet its construction was so ambitious that Vault 63 was unfinished when the bombs fell; exposed to the unfiltered air, the vault dwellers who survived became ghouls.

You might think living through a parable of greed and ambition might give a man pause, but not Stolz. The vault's experiments in weather control have since wreaked further havoc in the region, stirring the sky above Shenandoah National Park into a swirling, angry vortex, and turning many of the surviving residents into electrified hostiles, fizzing with an incurable madness. 

The playable ghoul in Fallout 76

(Image credit: Bethesda)

In the aftermath, Stolz solicits your help, looking at you as a kind of living R&D project. His optimism and curiosity are infectious, even when the consequences of his mistakes are written across his fractured face – which appears to crackle with a barely-contained charge. Of course, you're free to draw your own conclusions about Stolz, and ultimately to befriend or betray him as you see fit.

The aforementioned vortex makes the central portion of Skyline Valley somewhat oppressive to explore, as I discovered in a preview session. As I zipped above the broken earth in a jetpack on my way to Stolz manor, I was struck by a bolt of lightning, instantly contracting radworms. Not the souvenir you might hope to bring home from a national park visit. But as I pushed outward from the eye of the storm, Shenandoah became more welcoming and recognisable as a beauty spot. 

I particularly enjoyed poking around the Slumber Mill Motel, which features an enormous rooftop lumberjack mascot, and some legitimately funny environmental storytelling. While somebody has painted the words 'NOTHING IS REAL' on the storage room wall, others have chimed in with eye-rolling commentary – and one note even offers a cap reward for hunting down the tedious edgelord responsible.

War never changes, but Fallout 76 has

Fallout 76 Skyline preview

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Skyline Valley's story seems perfectly tuned to satisfy newcomers obsessed with the Vault-Tec machinations of the Amazon TV show.

The Skyline Valley update lands right as a clutch of low-level players will be finding their feet in West Virginia, having been turned onto Fallout 76 and its single-player counterparts by the Amazon show.

"They've always been really popular games," creative director Jon Rush says. "What the show has done is cast this turbocharged light on it, so now it's become a cultural phenomenon in its own right. We anticipated more folks coming in, and we were right. Folks came back and they were like, 'This place looks completely different. This is cool.'"

Many of these players had been disappointed by the launch of Fallout 76 in 2018. Back then, the open world was empty of NPCs. While Rush points out that there were still characters, represented by robots or speaking through holotapes, the initial launch saw not a living soul remaining in West Virginia. In response to that early feedback, the development team diligently transformed Fallout 76 into something more closely resembling a traditional Fallout game. Today, it's a unique hybrid of survival shooter, cooperative construction sim, and conversational RPG.

It would be easy to credit the Amazon show with re-energizing Fallout 76. But really, it was both healthy and popular before the TV phenomenon came along – no longer a struggling MMO, but a game that was already meeting the wants of its community. "Over six years, all that work, we know it's been awesome and it's been fun," Rush says.

Fallout 76 Skyline preview

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Evidently, though, Bethesda is ready to capitalize on the sudden boost to its playerbase. More than half a decade in, its team is making "smarter decisions that affect the game more broadly, rather than decisions that are focused on small things that take up a ton of time." Skyline Valley is a result of that kind of thinking, not only bringing new exploration opportunities to the game, but lots of potential building sites for campers too.

Beyond the new quests, Bethesda has more plans for Skyline Valley coming this Fall. With the Milepost Zero update, you'll be able to join the Blue Ridge Caravan Company as a guard. In that role, you'll protect Brahmin and the goods they’re carrying from attacks along the trade routes of Skyline Drive. "What's great about these is they don’t take a lot of time," Rush says. "It's something that can be done in between events while you're waiting. And it does open the door for a lot of those random elements." If you’ve ever traveled with a caravan between camps in Fallout 4, you'll know they're the perfect way to trigger unplanned interactions out in the wilderness. What's more, as Rush points out, "it’s so thematic to Fallout. Caravaning has been in Fallout since Fallout 1."

Successfully running missions will see you unlock a caravan outpost of your own. The space is analogous to Skyrim's houses, and can be decorated and populated with specialty vendors from outside West Virginia.

Speaking of: the open world of West Virginia is right next door to Washington DC and the setting of Fallout 3. Might the MMO team take us back there sometime in the future? "We’re real close to the Capital Wasteland," Rush says. "I think the catch there would be how to make it part of the map. It's something I would like to do. There's something interesting about that, because we're so much further back in time than Fallout 3. I certainly love Fallout 3, so you never know."

It’s been a rough caravan ride here for the Fallout 76 team, figuring out the identity of an experimental multiplayer game that was once maligned by series diehards, and is now at last appreciated by audiences from many different camps. If, one day, the noughties nostalgists and the TV show converts could meet up on common ground in DC to celebrate everything Fallout 76 has become? Well, that would be capital.

Check out our list of the best Fallout games and see where your favorites line up.

Jeremy Peel

Jeremy is a freelance editor and writer with a decade’s experience across publications like GamesRadar, Rock Paper Shotgun, PC Gamer and Edge. He specialises in features and interviews, and gets a special kick out of meeting the word count exactly. He missed the golden age of magazines, so is making up for lost time while maintaining a healthy modern guilt over the paper waste. Jeremy was once told off by the director of Dishonored 2 for not having played Dishonored 2, an error he has since corrected.