Fallout 76 Creative Director Jonathan Rush Talks Skyline Valley Expansion

Fallout 76 Creative Director Jonathan Rush talks making Shenandoah dark and mysterious for the game's first map expansion, Skyline Valley.

Fallout 76's first map expansion is on its way to the game, with Skyline Valley introducing the iconic Shenandoah National Park to the post-nuclear fallout universe that has been earning a passionate fanbase since the late 90s with the first franchise installment. In Fallout 76's Shenandoah, there is a mysterious storm swirling violently in the skies that is effecting every bit of the region from its wildlife, its human inhabitants, and the environment as a whole, creating another stunning and sinister area for players to explore in the Wasteland.

During a hands-on preview event in London hosted by Bethesda Game Studios, ComicBook had the pleasure of interviewing the game's Creative Director Jonathan Rush about the upcoming expansion and the process behind building Shenandoah into its post-apocalyptic representation in the game.

Note: There are minor spoilers ahead for some map features, but nothing regarding the Skyline Valley quest line.

ComicBook: Any map expansion is an important step in the Fallout franchise because it helps to fill in another piece to the United States as a whole. Why Shenandoah specifically for Fallout 76's first, Skyline Valley?

Jonathan Rush: We had Vault 63 closed up for a while, right? It was really mysterious towards the south of our map, so we thought it was time to open that back up. Looking at the real world map and seeing what lines up with that area...Shenandoah! So alright, let's bring Shenandoah into it – what are the unique qualities that we can express through our Shenandoah that makes it stand apart as its own region on our map? If I look at our map, it's kind of like a big theme park. Each organic region has its own distinct feel, its own unique flora and fauna, and things that players find. So how do we shape Shenandoah into something unique that feels dark and mysterious – kind of like all the uncertainty surrounding Vault 63 over the years.

Working with writers and concept artists, sketching out a lot of different ideas and asking ourselves, "What feels right?" The idea of this big electrical storm came about and everyone was excited, and we knew we had to put that in. But okay..."What's the story around that?" Having the relationship between the inhabitants of this space with the storm became electrified Ghouls being the inhabitants of that Vault. It just clicked. That's the thought that went into expanding southward.

But the intent...when Fallout 76 first came out my son was 10 at the time, and he was playing around by the Moth Man Museum – he was 10 and I probably shouldn't have let him play, but whatever. I left the room and I came back a couple minutes later and he's running around in this area that's just all grass and trees and bushes and rocks...no creatures, no buildings. So I'm like, "Dude, where are you?" He pulls open the map to show me and my immediate thought was, "Holy smokes, we've got a lot of places we can explore!" It really emboldened the decision and planted the seed early to expand the map somewhere. But Shenandoah seemed to line up with the story we wanted to tell in the best way.

ComicBook: Where do you and your team look for inspiration to turn Shenandoah into this post-apocalyptic setting in terms of the aesthetics of the storm, the creatures, the environmental effects, and the residents?

Jonathan Rush: The first place we draw inspiration from are the real world locations from the region, which there are some in the game. Then I suppose the evolution from that is looking at what would Shenandoah look like in a Fallout universe, in a post-apocalyptic universe like you said. What was going on in this park before everything hit the fan? Once we figure out what those aesthetics are, hinging them on what the key feature to the region was, which in this case is the storm.

The storm came through visual explorations – not from a specific place, through brainstorming. So once we latched onto that because it was cool and such a spectacle and experience, everything else around that storm evolves from what that was. The storm sort of drives everything. It's a very organic process.

ComicBook: It's not, "This is what I want and this is how I get there."

Jonathan Rush: Yes! It's not a sequence. Everybody contributed with a lot of exploration, a lot of 3D sketching.

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(Photo: Bethesda Game Studios)

ComicBook: I'm sure it's much more fun that way, going through the exploratory process. Player feedback has been a massive part of Fallout 76's development over the years – how did player wants or needs contribute to the game's first map expansion?

Jonathan Rush: Oh! Well, I've always said Bethesda Games Studios has the best communities – the best. We're always reading up on feedback on Reddit and other platforms like YouTube, I go through all of those threads. What we take from that are the broad strokes of feedback and impressions, so as the game has evolved over the last almost six years, we've learned that our players share one common thing and that's they're very interested in prestige.

If they're adventurers they express that prestige through the cool weapons they have, the Power Armor paints they've earned or bought. Or if they're builders they express that prestige by people coming by the C.A.M.P and the player throwing things down at their feet and showing them stuff. So looking at that and seeing how our players have shaped up, we came to the conclusion that players want more places to build. Not only do they want more places to build, but they want more interesting places to explore, and places to take cool backdrop shots of – this huge storm is great for that, and it ties into our story perfect. So using that player feedback to look at it with broad strokes and general impressions, and shaping it to the tone and feel of Fallout specifically.

ComicBook: Without giving too much away, what are you looking forward to Fallout 76 players experiencing in Skyline Valley?

Jonathan Rush: *laughs* Getting struck my lightning.

ComicBook: Getting struck by lightning?! Okay, that did not happen to me yet in my preview...

Jonathan Rush: I mean, I didn't say that!

ComicBook: Now I'm going to be super nervous going back into Shenandoah...

Jonathan Rush: I wonder if that Caravan Brahmin can get struck by lightning...

ComicBook: If the Brahmin gets struck by lightning I may not recover from that. Is there anything you feel players should know before diving into the expansion? 

Jonathan Rush: No! The less they know the better. They'll have no problem finding out how to get started on this quest line. I find that the best experiences – especially in 76 – are the ones that players go out and experience for the first time themselves. We tell our stories, they tell their stories, and we want to let them tell their stories. They know it's there, they'll jump in when they're ready.

ComicBook: They'll get there! One final quick bonus question born of the sheer curiosity in my brain – as a fellow United States native, is there a certain location that we haven't seen in the Fallout universe yet that you'd like to see eventually?

Jonathan Rush: Oh, that's good. I think Fallout: Fresno would probably be the scariest thing ever. Great question. Gosh, I don't know...there are so many great possibilities in areas we haven't explored yet...New Mexico, Michigan...Maine!

Skyline Valley is unleashed on Fallout 76 with the update including Season 17 in June. You can find additional coverage for the hands-on event on my page by clicking my name under the title of this article or in my pinned post on X @amazingspidrhan. Looking forward to seeing you in Skyline Valley!