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Fallout 76's Skyline Valley update strikes right at the heart of what you love about single-player Fallout

An electric new story quest.

A person in robot armour stands next to the blast door of Vault 63 in front of a red electrical storm in Fallout 76
Image credit: Bethesda Softworks

Fallout 76's Skyline Valley update certainly isn't short on sights and sounds to tempt you from the comfort of its six-year-old Appalachia map. Bolted onto the southern reaches of the Savage Divide running down the centre of the map, the newly added Shenandoah region has a giant, ominous vortex swirling up into the sky for starters, and on approach, the air itself starts turning a distinct shade of very evil-looking red. Lightning streaks constantly across the clouds, and as you descend into the valley proper, the earth has been ruptured and ripped apart by savage-looking earthquakes. It's your classic 'end of days hellscape', if I'm honest, but after spending two hours bombing through its new story quest last week, this isn't what sticks in my memory the most.

Rather, it's a little bunker that belongs to a timid man named Kevin. You meet Kevin in the Shenandoah Visitor's Centre, where the poor sod hasn't just locked out of his makeshift underground home, but has also managed to let in some Mothman cultists at the same time. Oh, Kevin. On dealing with said cultists and returning Kevin's lost key, however, he'll guide you to his humble abode, wherein you'll yoink a replacement part for a weather machine you're trying to fix. That eye-catching vortex of doom I mentioned earlier has been caused by an errant weather station gone haywire, you see, and working together with the (equally eyebrow-raising) residents of Vault 63 (more on them in a sec) to get it back under control again forms a major part of this update's main storyline.

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But back to Kevin. When you arrive in Kevin's bunker, you're greeted with a charmingly pitiful scene. Unlike you and other Vault Dwellers, it's clear Kevin's been on his own during this unsightly apocalypse, and the lack of human interaction he's had is immediately apparent. On the wall, he's fashioned his own 'Galerie de Kevin' of framed painted animal portraits he's created. A dead skinned squirrel lies rotting on the table next to it, bloodstains splattered everywhere while a small gathering of flies hover over a bucket of gibs and guts. To your right is a mounted bear head, whose jaw holds an unopened whisky bottle, clearly on hand for a timely swig during Kevin's nauseating food prep sessions.

Elsewhere on the wall, he's filled it with motivational slogan posters, which you can only assume he must repeat to himself every night as he clutches his teddy bear on his tiny cot. A netless basketball hoop and a dart board reveal what Kevin must try and do for fun when the TV in the centre of the room isn't showing a constant stream of snowy static. I can just see him now, settling in on his couch holding yet another bottle of beer that he'll inevitably discard on the floor along with the other dozen-odd empties on show, all while chatting away to the two clothes model dummies set up either side of his eyeline. Their brightly-coloured sunglasses and party hat accessories give his two buddies a real kind of good-time vibe, and you know Kevin's just waiting for the right occasion to crack out that large leg of meat he's got chilling away in the freezer.

A Vault 76 dweller stands in front of an ominous red sky in Fallout 76
Image credit: Bethesda Softworks

It's almost an absurd level of detail for a place most people will probably spend all of 60 seconds in while they grab their gizmo and go. But it was that beautifully sad Galerie poster scrawl that made me stop and take a beat with old Kevin, because as a place, his bunker stood in almost perfect contrast to the situation brewing over at Vault 63, which will almost become like a second home to you during the course of the campaign.

Vault 63 is clearly a much larger facility than the eponymous 76 you rolled out of at the start of the game, but you soon learn that its construction left a lot to be desired. In classic Vault-Tec fashion, this was yet another shelter that didn't go anywhere near according to plan, and its unfortunate Vault Dwellers ended up getting exposed to all the radiation outside, turning every last one of them into Ghouls. A teaser, perhaps, for the playable Ghoul you'll be able to turn yourself into at the start of next year, but not all of Vault 63 were so lucky. They may have dubbed themselves 'The Lost', but you'll meet dozens more of them roaming up on the surface who have truly checked out of their former humanity, frothing and fizzing at the mouth like electrified cousins of the main map's Scorched enemies.

Overseer Hugo Stolz sits at his desk in front of a large, circular window in Fallout 76
Vault 63's Overseer Hugo Stolz was born blind, but his new electrified Lost form allows him to see by sensing the world's electrical currents. | Image credit: Bethesda Softworks

The Overseer of Vault 63 looks like he's right on the edge of losing himself, too. Framed by glowing purple veins and scars, Hugo Stolz's searingly white, blind eyes certainly make for a striking first impression, and as you go about completing various errands for him (and his grumpy head of security James Oberlin), it's clear that he's completely fixated on the idea of selfhood and change. At one point he brings up the Ship of Theseus paradox, for example, which asks whether an object can ever truly be called the same object when every individual component of it has been replaced with something else. His train of thought frequently wanders down other philosophical avenues, too, and it was refreshing to see such nuanced and considered discussion of these themes inside a game where you can eviscerate comically overgrown rats and roaches with a big honking laser gun. (I'm not kidding, the main weapon I had as part of my preview build was called, and I quote, the 'Bloodied Rip Daring Multi-Shot Slow-Burning Cremator', and it did exactly what it said on the tin).

The blast door of Vault 63 lies in rubble in Fallout 76.
The interior of Vault 63 in Fallout 76
Two Lost attack the player outside a holiday campsite in Fallout 76.
Not all the Lost were so lucky, as many were driven mad by their transformation and now roam the Wasteland as hostile enemies. | Image credit: Bethesda Softworks

I'm keen to find out more about Hugo's relationship with his daughter Audrey as well, who's desperately working to fix the weather machine - a place whose interior corridors, laser security grids, constantly red flashing siren lights and strange buckets of rotting flesh definitely has 'mad lab' written all over it. She's a grouchy and conniving addition to Skyline Valley's generous ensemble, muttering how having another "helpful minion might be useful" to her. She's clearly got some connection to the leader of that aforementioned Mothman Cult who were terrorising poor Kevin, too, adding yet more stress to her already fractured relationship with her Overseer father.

Alas, my demo time came to a close before I could find out any more about them, but as an opening salvo to get you well and truly immersed in this newfound Appalachia heartland, I must admit that it well and truly hooked me in - and much more effectively, I might add, than the deluge of story quests you're now presented with at the start of Fallout 76. Yes, the meat and potatoes of what you're doing is still very much in that 'go to this objective marker, talk to this character, go back to another objective marker' mould that Bethesda's Fallout games have made their name on. But the set and character dressing around all that is a heck of a lot more interesting and enticing to me than anything else I've played in 76 thus far. I'm no six-year lifer, by any means. Rather, I'm one of the many millions who have been slowing nosing their way through 76 after the Fallout TV show aired earlier in the year, so I'm still relatively early on in my Appalachia adventures. But having seen a glimpse of Skyline Valley, I'm eager to hurry along there to see how the rest of its story plays out.

Players fight enemies outside a large manor in Fallout 76
A new Ghoul enemy attacks the player in a radiation suit in Fallout 76.
A giant robot attacks the player during a red electrical storm in Fallout 76.
A large electrical relay station in Fallout 76
Image credit: Bethesda Softworks

Admittedly, I can't say I'm all that jazzed about the other new additions being added with Skyline Valley. Its new horde wave group event Dangerous Pastimes is fun enough when you've got a hulking great Bloodied Rip Daring Multi-Shot Slow-Burning Cremator to reduce every Lost that comes raging toward the electrical relay you're defending into a smouldering pile of ash with a single shot, but the event I took part in didn't hold much lasting appeal for me. Ditto, too, for the upcoming Mile Post Zero update coming later this year, which will be adding bovine escort missions for its Brahmin caravan traders inside the new Shenandoah region. Avid base builders may well covet the special Brahmin-themed goodies you'll receive for completing them (including your very own dual-headed cow, no less), but that's another side of Fallout 76 that's, so far at least, left me slightly cold.

Still, I'm discovering that's kind of the neat thing about Fallout 76, as even for fair-weather players like myself (and especially those who just want to play by themselves like this was one big sequel to Fallout 4), there's something to enjoy and cling onto here. It's come a long way since its somewhat disastrous launch, and in 2024, it has that everyman quality that appeals to whatever kind of Fallout player you happen to be - and Skyline Valley in particular looks like it's really doubling down on those story-driven tentpoles that made me want to lift the curtain on this online Fallout game in the first place. I can't say for sure yet whether Hugo, Audrey, or indeed Kevin, can rival the likes of Fallout 4's Nick Valentine for best Fallout game companion just now, but I have a sneaking suspicion at least one of them may well come within spitting distance of him. And with Skyline Valley arriving for free in Fallout 76 later today, I'll be steaming through to get there in order to find out.

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