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Fallout 76 was bad, but Bethesda and the community have made it great

Speaking to PCGamesN, Bethesda and Fallout 76 producer Bill LaCoste explains how despite its rough launch, the RPG deserves a second chance.

Fallout 76 Skyline Valley update interview: A robot suit from Bethesda RPG Fallout 76

Forget what you know about Fallout 76. Forget the memes, forget the drama, forget all the glitches and the crashes – what was once the most controversial game in Bethesda’s history has become a thriving and successful RPG with a devout player base and a seriously committed development team. Six years, 19 expansions, and 52 updates later, Fallout 76 is a deserving member of the apocalyptic open-world series’ family. The latest update, Skyline Valley, which expands the Fallout 76 map for the first time, launches today, Wednesday June 12. In Fallout 76, you’ll also, in the near future, be able to play as a Ghoul. Speaking to PCGamesN, Bethesda and FO76 producer Bill LaCoste discusses the studio’s long journey through the wilds of Appalachia, and how the game’s community helped bring it back from the brink.

As well as being the 19th expansion overall, Skyline Valley marks a spiritual milestone in Fallout 76’s redemption arc. Back in 2018, bringing substantive new material to the RPG was a distant, perhaps even unattainable dream. It was everything Bethesda could do just to keep the game alive, battling high disconnect and crash rates, game-breaking bugs, and the waves of criticism that followed. Now, with the technical side under control, the studio is finally free to realize its design dreams and make the West Virginia Wasteland into the teeming, brutal, and bizarre world it always wanted.

 

“Back then, there were a lot of bugs,” LaCoste explains. “There were a lot of things that we had to knock out, because they were getting in the way of any of the content we wanted to build. When we released, server-client problems and disconnect rates and crashes were pretty high. It was a brand-new game. It was pretty tough. There was a period of time from the beginning of launch to maybe Wastelanders [the expansion that launched in 2020] where you could call the updates ‘patches.’ We know there were a lot of challenges at launch.

“But even then we knew there was a roadmap, and where we would be after a certain amount of time. Now, past Wastelanders, that’s when I would consider the updates real updates. We are still fixing issues along the way, but the focus has completely changed. Crash rates are under control. Stability is under control. The game client is under control. Now we can spend the majority of our time wondering what we can add to the game. The foundation wasn’t complete. But now it is, and we can carry on and build the house.”

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Skyline Valley adds a new region to Fallout 76, based around the real-life Shenandoah National Park. There are new characters, new quests, new weapons, and new enemies. It also expands the shelter customization system – if you like building and shaping your very own home in Skyrim, Fallout 76’s revamped system feels very close.

So, how did Fallout 76 get here? How did Bethesda take the most infamous game in its entire history and transform it into a hit?

“It’s really just working with the community,” LaCoste says, “taking all the feedback that they have for us, and not only putting out new content but taking a lot of the systemic problems that they noticed with the game and fixing them – making sure it’s more stable. Every time we launch something new and there’s a new problem people are being affected by, we knock it out for the next patch.

“Also, this roadmap has been in progress for a long time. It’s the content that players want to see – more weapons, more armor, more story, more bosses. I think consistency is very important, too. From update 18 up to now, update 52, we haven’t missed a release date. Every six or seven weeks, you get an update. Every 12 weeks, you get a huge piece of content. And I think that’s contributed to the more positive sentiment.”

In the world of live service and ‘forever’ games, there’s always the possibility of conflict between players and game-makers. The community has its wants, its requests, and the things that it believes will make the game better. The developer meanwhile has, perhaps, a more long-term or subjective vision – designers, writers, and directors are planning years ahead, and, naturally, they want to work on their own ideas.

Fallout 76 Skyline Valley DLC interview: A survivor in Fallout 76, the RPG from Bethesda

If you’re part of a big studio working on a live-service game, you have the advantage of instant player feedback – if something is going wrong, especially at the technical level, you can know about it and respond right away. But you may also find yourself overly beholden to your players. You know, from an insider perspective, what’s good for the game, but the community has a different idea.

“There are some things that technically we can’t handle or even thematically we don’t want to put into the Fallout universe,” LaCoste says. “There are some things that are, long-term, not great for the game. Some people wanted us to keep all the legacy weapons. We can’t do that. That ruins the experience for a lot of players that were in the game. We have to clean that up. The community isn’t going to give us everything. But we kind of know what they want.

“Is the community always right? They play this game a lot. They know what they want to see fixed. So yes, most of the time. There are going to be times when we butt heads with the community, but 99% of the time, we’re in line. When we’re developing features, the community sentiment is heavily involved in that.”

Fallout 76’s resurgent success is also the product of Bethesda’s own processes. Along with hitting the deadline for every update, the studio wants to keep new ideas coming at a rapid tempo.

Fallout 76 Skyline Valley update interview: A huge monster in Bethesda RPG Fallout 76

“One of the bonuses is that we don’t have a development timeline of more than a year and a half,” LaCoste explains. “It keeps people fresh. On some big games, you might be isolated to a small portion of a game for two or three years. I think that starts to eat away at – not necessarily the creativity – but it gets monotonous. I also know a lot of people who don’t play their own game. That’s not us. We’re players, too. I even do it with our Atomic Shop stuff. I go into it asking ‘would I pay five bucks for that? Would I pay 12 dollars for that?’ And I’ll go back to the team and say ‘I think this is overpriced’ or ‘I think this is about right.’”

As Skyline Valley arrives and the new playable Ghouls are shown to the world for the first time, Fallout 76 is entering its next phase. At launch, it was all about firefighting and recuperation. After Wastelanders, the game has been steadily winning players over and earning some better faith. Now, FO76 feels fully formed, upright, and ready to thrive. Bethesda is free to focus on design work, fresh ideas, and new material, and the community has the online RPG it always wanted. Nevertheless, there is more to be done.

“I think it’s just constant iteration,” LaCoste concludes. “They’re not even bugs anymore. It’s just like ‘here’s the intended release’ and ‘here’s the actual functionality,’ and we’re asking how we can boost those up a little bit. We have more people supporting it. It’s going to be more and more content going into the future. There’s no end in sight for Fallout 76 at all right now.”

Speculation continues around the Fallout 5 release date, but while we wait, you can also take a look at some of the other best games like Fallout available on PC.