As you may know, we went hands-on with Fallout 76 last week, and we didn’t need a trip to the Greenbrier Resort to tell you the game is set in the idyllic hills of West Virginia. But seeing as I grew up near Huntington, WV and know its area well, I was curious as to why the game was set there. Did the rustic, rural culture, country tunes, and enthralling folk tales steal the hearts of Bethesda Game Studios? Did they simply enjoy the sheer amount of green? Maybe they liked mountains?! According to a roundtable interview, it’s a solid mixture of all the above.
“If you remember, Fallout 4 was pretty flat, “recalled Jeff Gardiner, the project leader for Fallout 76. “We wanted an impressive vista in this game. We spent a lotta time upgrading our tech both in terms of the lighting model and the distant terrain rendering. We wanted to you come out [of the vault] and think ‘Wow that’s huge, and I can go there.'”
“When we choose a location, it’s almost like we look at what’s around and sometimes things just click,” states Emil Pagliarulo, the game’s design director. “With West Virginia, so many things clicked. ‘Oh we could do a prequel, we’ll have all these different areas. We’ve got the cryptids, all this local lore. It’s close enough to Washington DC that you’ve got the continuity of government [storylines].’ It’s perfect.”
Time to Make History
In a sense, that is the perfect storm of circumstances. The Greenbrier, the resort where the preview was held, is home to a now-defunct fallout shelter which was planned to house Congress in the event of a nuclear attack. The swanky resort with a government secret poses a strangely charming juxtaposition when compared to the surrounding sleepy villages, each of houses their own folktales and lineage.
That aura—of peaceful towns holding rich histories and secrets—pervades throughout West Virginia. As someone who holds a connection to the state, I can say that atmosphere is the exact reason residents are so attracted to it. It’s exciting to see Bethesda Game Studios actively recreate locations and stories within Fallout 76 in an attempt to express their newfound love for the coal state. For example, Camden Park and the Mothman (a small amusement park and fictional cryptid) are heartwarming touchstones many West Virginians hold dear, but citizens of the outside world have never known of them. Both are in Fallout 76 and incorporated into a few of the game’s storylines. It’s exciting to hear the developers discuss the measures they took to accurately portray the area and its culture.
“When we decided to use West Virginia as our home for this game,” Gardiner says, “we sent a handful of developers out here to spend time. So they came to places like the Greenbrier and other key locations, and that’s actually where they discovered a lot of the local myths like Mothman. West Virginia has such a unique character…. We let some of our other studios play the game early to give us feedback, and one of the gentlemen had grown up here. But he made a comment on how happy he was that we treated the place with respect. He talked a lot about the subtext of the story, which is how the government comes in and does things. It was actually a very interesting take, very helpful.”
“I personally absolutely hate most redneck post-apocalyptic [depictions],” adds Pagliarulo. “It’s very cliche, stereotype. That was important for us to not stereotype the people and the culture. Not go down that road.”
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A Smorgasbord of Small-Towns
Of course, this isn’t a 1:1 scale version of West Virginia. Fallout 76 does pick, choose, and rearrange real locations to become a sort of highlight reel. For instance, the virtual Camden Park is not accompanied by the surrounding city of Huntington. It is closely neighbored by Beckley, WV—in reality, the two are a two-hour drive apart.
Still, even with an adjusted geography, Fallout 76‘s world undoubtedly feels like West Virginia. There’s a certain atmosphere present throughout the state. Time moves slowly, and everything around you carries a story. You feel it when standing in the real streets of Huntington, driving through Beckley, or sitting in the Greenbrier. You also feel it as you step out of Vault 76, and when that atmosphere washes over you, you’ll understand why Fallout 76 is set in West Virginia.
Fallout 76 was previewed at an event in West Virginia. Accommodations were provided by Bethesda.