Anti-Valentine reviews PC games and writes about the video game industry.
Researching, purchasing, and organizing your mods can be tiresome, which is why standalone mods are so great. One mod is all you need to have a completely new game. Here are 10 great mods that have been created to enhance your S.T.A.L.K.E.R playthrough.
1. Call of Chernobyl
When it was first released in 2015, Call of Chernobyl placed 9th in the Player's Choice category and received an Editor's Choice award. In 2016, it won Mod of the Year on moddb.com.
A Vanilla Mod at Its Core
Vanilla CoC is quite boring, and that is how I played it when it was first released. It's the addons for it that is where the interesting bit comes in. You have addons for weapon replacement, to make it look prettier, to add quests in, and more—virtually anything you can imagine.
Also, vanilla CoC tends to behave a little too similarly to Clear Sky. Not only does it look the same, but factions interact with one another similarly as well—so some modding might just take the bad CS taste out of your mouth like it did mine. I'd recommend Desolation or a similar mod that decreases spawn times.
All the Maps in One Place
CoC is by no means the biggest mod in terms of the number of maps—Stalker Soup and Solyanka are bigger in that respect, but it does combine all maps from the three Stalker games into one. I personally am inclined to subtract marks for using Clear Sky versions of maps like Cordon because I prefer the SoC ones.
Setting and Backing Things up
It can take some time to set up everything, and then, of course, there's the painstaking issue of having to backup and check whether mods conflict with one another. This is about the only thing I chiefly don't like with CoC, and whenever it is suggested that they combine a bunch of these mods into one pack, or perhaps even include them in the base game, I always heartily agree.
"Technically" Not a Standalone Mod
Despite, the title of this list, CoC isn't technically standalone either, at least not by the usual definition. You can install the game to a separate directory as long as you own a legal copy of Call of Pripyat (retail, Steam, GoG, etc.). Then once this is done, you can do whatever you want, even uninstall CoP completely.
It can take quite a while to get your copy of CoC to be just how you want it. It is highly customisable with the addons, but compatibility is an issue. Some of the addons are not only recommended but even necessary in my opinion. I found that vanilla CoC crashed quite often, but with the installation of mods (although I couldn't tell you which one), I, in fact, had fewer issues. I can get through a playthrough now without a single CTD. My only thought here is that an asset in vanilla CoC, even a patched, up-to-date version, that was causing problems was overwritten and effectively fixed.
As Good as It Gets
Still, if you're looking for a S.T.A.L.K.E.R mod, this is about as good as it gets for now. With the addons, it can be as pretty as you want it to be, and it can also be as difficult as you want it to be with the addition of new mutants, increased damage (even wound scaling depending on body parts damaged which is something most mods/addons don't really take into account), and more. CoC also boasts something that most mods can't—you can even install an addon that has HD model replacements for NPC characters, and even the player character too. This is one of its best features in my opinion, because while having prettier environments and weapons is nice, the old character models really do need some work.
2. Old Good Stalker Evolution
Old Good Stalker Evolution boasts the most polished stalker experience. It supposedly has fewer bugs than most other stalker mods, and it is highly customisable from a launcher menu that you can fiddle around with before playing. It makes it a breeze to change things like carrying weight and other variables that would otherwise require you to edit the game's config files—which not everyone, including myself, is comfortable doing.
It follows more or less the same story as the original SoC, except there are some additional quests. It has new weapons that are decently modeled, although the combat has been criticized by some as being a little weak overall.
There are features present in OGSE that I haven't witnessed in other mods, such as animals or mutants being able to devour corpses—eventually, there's literally just a skeleton left. Call of Chernobyl's developers tried something similar, using a zombie model (cut from the original game, it was meant to be a basic enemy) to depict a decaying corpse that couldn't be looted. It was ugly and didn't work too well.
You can also get a preview of what is in each stash on the map when you hover your mouse over it. The original games did this at times, but not in detail, and mods like CoC give you no heads up of what is in a stash and whether it is worth going after in the first place.
One of OGSE's most impressive features is driving. The vehicle handling is rather good and fuel economy is more realistic too, unlike, say, Lost Alpha, which requires you to refill your tank every mile. Petrol is also uncommon in the game.
Some enemies have received an upgrade, too. The controller is the most noticeable. Controllers are a force to be reckoned with, and even being too close to one can have dire consequences for the player. A player will begin to experience a swirling screen when one is nearby and if they spot you, they can even make you into a zombie! Turning into a zombie is a gradual process that takes days, and is nearly incurable, at least by most conventional methods. In fact, it was enduring this early in the game that cut my overall playtime of this mod down considerably. I was exhausted after going through that, and I'll need to replay it at some point to make up for it.
Too Vanilla for Some
I can't help but feel that despite the little improvements, OGSE is kind of boring, like vanilla ice cream with chocolate sprinkles. In a way, it's only slightly different from the original, just less buggy. The maps are virtually the same, except Cordon, which has a pond in it which wasn't there before, and some of the character models are different. If you want to play S.T.A.L.K.E.R but don't feel up to slogging it through the vanilla original game, perhaps this will appeal to you, but to veteran stalkers looking for something more radically different, you are unlikely to find it here.
Note: OGSE is no longer being updated, so the latest Version 2, with its 2.10R patch, is the last one. The team is now moving on to develop OGSR, or Old Good Stalker Remastered.
This mod represents the peak of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mods. Based on Call of Chernobyl, Anomaly is basically a huge mod pack for CoC, but it is presented in such a polished manner and is of course completely standalone, so no S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game is needed to play it.
Stability Is Key
It is said to be the most stable mod around, with very few crashes, freezes or errors. It runs off a custom-built XRay-Monolith engine, an x64 version of the X-Ray engine, so that means that there is inherently more stability with fewer restrictions on RAM usage. This is one of the pitfalls of the original game and virtually all other mods, as they were not designed with modern operating systems and hardware in mind.
Extensive Menu Options
What I like about Anomaly is that it has a menu option for everything, taking cues from OGSE If you don't like something in the mod, you can tweak it or take it out altogether, and make it as easy or as hard of an experience as you want.
Other than that, it is basically the same Freeplay sandbox experience as CoC, with only a few new quest types, with limited focus on story, mostly set in the zone after Call of Pripyat.
4. Dead Air
Dead Air represents the logical progression or evolution of the original Misery mod for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. From Misery, Call of Misery was built based on Call of Chernobyl. From there came Last Day, and finally Dead Air—a completely standalone game.
What attracted me to Dead Air is that it explores more extreme scenarios of the zone, sometimes in the form of supported third party game modes addons, such as faction wars but with a much higher degree of finality, as in factions completely annihilating one another, which leads to the ultimate conclusion: "Last Stand." This is a mode which has you as the last stalker alive in the zone, against mutants, zombies, anomalies, radiation and whatever other dangers the environment can throw at you.
A Survival Mod
Many people complain about features of other mods, like the economy being too hard or too easy. Last Stand removes it entirely, forcing you to rely on hunting, scavenging, and salvaging to stay alive. There's no one to rely on but yourself. It's the core S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience I've wanted for years.
Note: This isn't updated as regularly, but development on the mod continues, as newly redesigned maps and new features are being added.
5. Stalker Soup
Have you ever wondered what the ultimate S.T.A.L.K.E.R game would look like? I think Stalker Soup had good intentions to try and achieve just that. It takes content from Narodnaya Soljanka, a Russian S.T.A.L.K.E.R mod, as well as several other mods, basically making Soup a mega mod, and then attempts to translate it into English.
Lots of New Stuff
It adds new maps, most of which are kind of empty looking, with not much going on, new weapons (lots of them) and more. The story mode has new additions too, which give Soup a strange kind of feeling in the end, complete with dream sequences and the like. If it were a film, chances are David Lynch would have directed it. Collector Freeplay mode is more up my street so I tried that, but it must be said that the game is buggy and so crashes are inevitable. I couldn't get through a section of Rostok (or bar to most people) without it crashing.
This forces you to take other routes to get to areas, and the textures, particularly in areas like the X-Labs, are so awful. It's clear they wanted to implement ideas from something like Lost Alpha, but the end result is ugly looking—all underground lab sections blend together, and the textures/lighting is really bad. Out of all the places I visited, it's really telling how unfinished this place is.
For the most part, topside, the environment graphics and such look good, but the character models, particularly enemies, are rather terrible. Some of them bear virtually zero resemblance to anything out of the original games.
A Good Challenge
On the upside, the game is challenging. Most enemies die with one well-placed shot, and the same can happen to the player as well. The prone feature comes built into the game and is often requested in other mods (it was an addon for an earlier version of CoC, for example), and you will truly use it all the time while playing this game.
More Content = More Bugs
I like some of Soup's content, which is often based off of ideas that other mods have tried to add in to their game, like a decoder that takes money off stalkers that you kill (or from their PDAs, to be exact), but sometimes it can mean that a game becomes oversaturated, because for every good idea, there are plenty of ones that aren't so good, and I think that is in essence why Soup is so broken and unstable, because with more content is just more stuff to go wrong. The creator of Soup is helpful and always available (something I don't see with most mod authors), but it seems as though TecnoBacon is trying to plug leaks in a ship, and when one leak is plugged, water just springs from another hole.
A Challenge—But Overly Frustrating
For those looking for challenging gameplay, lots of new content, and new areas to play around in, Soup may be the mod for you, but in the end, the experience may prove too frustrating as your game will likely crash often, and on top of that, you cannot sprint anywhere in the game—I mean, you can actually sprint, but you likely wouldn't want to, because you'll just run into yet another anomaly which will kill you forcing you to load another quicksave (which, if you aren't in the habit of doing so, will be somewhere around 15 minutes ago).
6. Lost Alpha
It became an obsession among many fans of the series to see what the zone was originally supposed to look like, and Lost Alpha was the ticket to experience just that.
Graphically, the game doesn't disappoint, at least as far as lighting effects and environments go. There are few other mods that can stand up to it in this regard. Cranked up to maximum settings, the game place does at least look gorgeous, and the maps are larger than what you'd be used to if you've ever played Shadow of Chernobyl or perhaps even Clear Sky. This, of course, is mired by the ugly looking character models and especially old weapon models. Some criticise OGSE for its combat, but in my experience anyway, the shooting mechanics in Lost Alpha feel somewhat strange, sluggish even.
The story is also supposed to be like the original, but I think I share the same sentiment as many others out there when I say that it ultimately is rubbish, and it is plagued by inconveniences, just outright strange plot directions, like driving through the massive (and beautiful) countryside map only to wind up in the concrete factory (which you may recognise as Yantar in SoC and Clear Sky or any other S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mod) and then you have to backtrack to find your vehicle in the aforementioned countryside map (if you walked or ran through it, that's less bother for you, but I don't envy you as it must have taken forever).
Vehicles and Driving
Speaking of which, one of the highlights of building a game based on the original Oblivion Lost is that you can drive cars, but most of the vehicles in Lost Alpha handle so poorly that it makes it damn frustrating to go anywhere in them. On top of that, you have to refuel them every mile or so, and early on in the game when you are low on money, you might find you have no choice but to resort to free-wheeling everywhere just to save petrol.
And to add to the utter disappointment, driving is plagued by other weird physics bugs like getting out of the car only to find your Jeep has turned into a rubber bouncy ball, only to watch in horror as it skyrockets before plummeting back down to earth in a huge fireball. Driving through anomaly fields is also virtually impossible, as springboard will launch your car into the air like this as well—although I think it's meant to happen. I'd feel much happier if the game allowed you to carry a parachute.
Sometimes the one side of the car lifts up off the ground while driving—I tell you, it's plain awkward, driving in this game.
If you want to give Lost Alpha a try, keep in mind that it might be better to wait for the director's cut edition, which the developers, Dezowave, assure us they are working on.
Installation and Bugs
The game takes ages to install, it's clearly unfinished and full of bugs. There are mods for it like the SLAM pack which will add new weapons and such to at least make up for the poor weapon models that were carried over from the old game's code.
All in all, Lost Alpha is, I would imagine, kind of like a very pretty supermodel. It looks great, but is boring and ultimately frustrating to deal with. Ultimately, it's not worth the effort. Those maps though. Some say a Freeplay version of would be great, and I have to agree, because the story mode just doesn't work really work.
7. Oblivion Lost Remake
For those who found that Lost Alpha strayed too far from the original game's plot, Oblivion Lost Remake might just be the thing you're looking for. It too uses maps from the old game, and while they might be as pretty as Lost Alpha's maps, the mod does at least stick to the original OL's story.
I admittedly haven't given this a try yet, but it is on my to-do list. They are teasing the version 3.0 release which might happen this year or sometime soon anyway. There's still the 2.5 release but it might be a little challenging to set up seeing as it isn't in English as such. I believe it's in Russian, although an English translation for it does exist.
As I may have stated earlier on, OLR might just be your best bet if you want an original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience without the rubbish plot that came with Lost Alpha, and you're not too fussy about how it looks as regards to the maps and environments. Lost Alpha is prettier, but OLR may just win it in the gameplay stakes. I'll have to give it a try sometime once I can break away from CoC.
8. Wind of Time
This is another one that I've yet to try out. Wind of Time was released in 2017. The mod boasts a story modification for Call of Pripyat, new locations and modified versions of existing ones, features that were supposed to be in Shadow of Chernobyl (a favourite thing that modders like to include in their projects), old NPC, character and enemy models, new weapons with the included STCoP pack, and it comes bundled with Atmosfear 3 and Absolute Nature 4 to make it look pretty. You can also install SWTC (or Weather Total Conversion) as well as the brilliant HD Models pack that was originally made for Call of Chernobyl to make it look even better.
This mod is great because it's not as big to download as some of the other mods on this list.
All the Best Bits
The goal of Wind of Time is to take all the best bits from every S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game (and even other mods) and put them all into one experience. So if that's what you were looking for, this might be it.
I would think that if you want to spend less time modifying your game—like with Call of Chernobyl and all its separate addons—has more content as part of its base package, and if you want a game that has an actual story instead of the extensive, fun, but at times aimless Freeplay approach, then you might want to look into this one. It might be destined to become the new Stalker Soup or a similar project, but it already seems to be a more polished product overall.
It also seems to emphasize better translation for multiple languages, as a lot of mods, particularly those that cater to a more Russian audience, or those that borrow from said mods, tend to lack this as a standard feature. This seems the intelligent choice seeing as Wind of Time also tries to implement a more interactive dialogue system, so it helps to know just what the hell is going on when speaking to someone.
9. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Goldsphere
Looking at S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Goldsphere, it seems to be quite different from the usual affair. You have some very old weapons that are one-shot affairs and take ages to reload. There are also some weird plot devices; like finding a talking doll that actually has its own dialogue options and you can converse with it. There are other changes like new characters, new inventory items that you can pick up, and a more isolated experience in the zone—there aren't that many stalkers around so it kind of feels more like the original Shadow of Chernobyl in that sense.
Apparently this is billed as being the most popular Russian S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mod, meaning that it comes from the infamous "Slav Zone," so beware. You can get a standalone version of it, and you can apply an English translation too.
10. Last Fallout Overhaul
Most standalone mods out there seem to be for Shadow of Chernobyl, but
Last Fallout Overhaul is for Clear Sky. It's a combination mod, featuring the well known STCOP weapons pack favoured by many. "Absolute Nature 2" and "Absolute Structures" for Clear Sky are included among several other models, high-resolution textures, items and maps from the original games, and more.
It has yet to be released as far as I can tell, but it does look to have some rather epic lighting and weather effects—perhaps one of the best looking S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mods I've seen in some time.
It may or may not be foreign language only when released, but translations do inevitably end up being made for the most popular mods for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. anyway.
© 2017 Anti-Valentine