It is very rare for a game franchise to receive 3 good games. Even 2, no even 1 is quite rare, since gaming is in such a sorry state these days. Then there’s the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise, which is now a twelve year old franchise. It has not only 3 pretty good games, but when you include new story/total conversion mods, it’s as if it has no fewer than 10 good entries in the franchise!
Mods have kept the series alive for twelve years. Had the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games been unmoddable like most games today, the series would’ve died out and lost its fanbase a very long time ago, shortly after the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat which finalized in 2010. This serves as an excellent example as to why all games should be moddable.
In this article, we will list what we consider the must-play mods for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series for English speaking fans, from overhauls (mods that improve and expand upon the base game without totally changing it) to total conversions (mods that totally change the story, although they may use assets and mechanics from the base game). Note that many of the total conversions are completely standalone free games! Yet GSC Game World, the company that owns S.T.A.L.K.E.R., does not send Cease and Desist letters, instead they encourage them and are working with modders on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2.
But by all means, don’t limit yourself to just these mods. Go and see what’s out there on websites like Stalker-worlds, AP-PRO, and ModDB. Note many of the best mods are only on Stalker-worlds and AP-PRO and not on ModDB. Also keep track of my modding and mod tweaking progress here.
First we will list overhaul mods for each game, which should be used on your first playthrough since they are universal enhancement mods, adding back cut content too, without changing the quests.
Table of Contents
Shadow of Chernobyl Overhaul Mods
Clear Sky Overhaul Mods
Call of Pripyat Overhaul Mods
Total Conversion Mods
- Vector of Alienation
- Goldsphere plus the hotfix
- SFZ Project
- NLC 7 Hard Edition 2.3 (scroll down below for all the links)
- Valley of Whispers
- Spatial Anomaly
- Dollchan 7: Inception and update 816
- Dollchan 8: Infinity and the translation
- Under the Guise of Death – Klondike 2.0
- Lost World Origin
Upcoming Total Conversion Mods
Shadow of Chernobyl Overhaul Mods
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl is the first game in the series, and the best one unmodded. It is the only one with a good all around story, although Clear Sky has good world building and dialogue in some places. Skipping over the earlier games and going straight for the newer ones is nonsensical, so don’t skip this game! Don’t play the franchise backwards either, play it in order. Use common sense.
But all of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games are quite flawed, so much so that I cannot recommend playing them unmodded. Not only do mods improve stability, they make necessary gameplay improvements and often add back cut content, and many even improve graphics without seriously changing the art style, therefore there’s no need to play unmodded (aka “vanilla”).
There are various great, universally improved overhaul mods, such as Autumn Aurora 2.1, Mod Pack 2013, Oblivion Lost, and Old Storyline Restoration (also referred to as RMA), but one mod really outshines the rest, and that is the one covered below.
Old Good Stalker Remastered (OGSR) Gunslinger
The ultimate version of Shadow of Chernobyl. Only a slightly expanded plot, infinitely more side quests, and the best gameplay mechanics in the series along with NLC 7 Build 3.0, and Gunslinger to ensure the very best shooting mechanics and weapon customization in all of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (Tarkov inspired though not quite that in-depth).
Sorry, but I can no longer recommend plain vanilla+ mods. OGSR is simply too superior. It is the ultimate version of Shadow of Chernobyl: it is to Shadow of Chernobyl what XCOM: Enemy Within is to Enemy Unknown. The caption above sums it up but if you want details, check out this list of its noteworthy mechanics:
- Gunslinger – the most weapon customization outside of Tarkov (and tied with the best mods for Garry’s Mod), some of the best weapon models and animations in the industry
- Aim sway, weapon bobbing, first person movement inertia.
- Separate slot for night vision goggles or thermal vision goggles. Using night vision/thermal vision and then aiming down a magnified optic will force night vision/thermal vision to disable.
- Artifact detectors.
- AMK repair kits (all you need is a repair kit and a similar item to the item you want to repair).
- Exoskeletons are ATTACHMENTS that work with existing outfits.
- Mask slot for outfits without an integrated helmet, but there are only two gas masks available.
- 40mm grenades and RPGs don’t detonate at short range, safety precaution.
- Can fire both barrels out of breach action sawn-off shotguns at the same time.
- Emissions, which move anomalies like in the lore.
- Companion/squad system.
- The hand radio item has an actual use now: it can be used to give orders to companions.
- Vehicles with fuel tanks and a very nice trunk system with item filters. This is one of the only mods that improves vehicle handling too.
- Cut mutants and some new mutant variations.
- The best Controllers in the series. They emit a psy-field and up close they really disorient you and spin you around so that you can’t just blast them, and they can easily make you kill friendlies if you’re not careful. They also zombify NPCs.
- Can ignite light sources.
This mod is one of the best written S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experiences after NLC 7 (which blows everything else away), really capturing the mysterious and eerie nature of The Zone. It also has lots of very authentic Russian slang if you play in Russian. OGSR expands on the plot near the end, lengthening it a bit, and also generally gives you more ways to complete quests.
Clear Sky Overhaul Mods
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky is the second game in the series, and the most neglected one. It is perhaps the least enjoyable by default due to how insufferable the weapon balance is. Pistols are inaccurate at 20 feet, while even $20 airsoft pistols are accurate at 20 feet. Rifles are less accurate than $150 airsoft electric rifles, it can take four shotgun shots at point blank range to kill an unarmored person. It’s stupid.
Luckily, all those things are EASILY fixed. For this game, we only recommend one overhaul which is comprised of several mods.
STCS Redux + Atmosfear
The ultimate version of vanilla Clear Sky
STCS Redux is the best weapon overhaul for Clear Sky, and this version includes SRP 1.1.2 for stability improvements. SRP is an absolute necessity to play Clear Sky reliably, otherwise you run into crashes and save game corruption. Clear Sky’s gameplay is also intolerable by default, with your bullets disappearing at short range (artificially reduced weapon range to the point where they are outperformed by airsoft guns in range/accuracy, not even exaggerating) and unarmored NPCs being able to survive up to and including 3 shotgun blasts at point blank range (partially due to invincibility frames). STCS alleviates that.
Atmosfear 1.3 is a wonderful graphics overhaul made by Cromm Cruac who makes perhaps the best weather mods for the series. This also reduces the bad design choices from Clear Sky (primarily excessive gloss and bloom).
Install in the order they’re listed below:
Call of Pripyat Overhaul Mods
GUNSLINGER, Absolute Nature 4, Absolute Structures, and Atmosfear 3
Prettier version of the base game that has some of the best shooting mechanics and animations ever, better first person animations than modern AAA FPS games, and even picture-and-picture scopes
Call of Pripyat is the weakest game in the series and needs all the help it can get. The best way to experience it is with these mods which makes it one of the best FPS games ever mechanically, and much prettier.
The links for these mods can be found below. Install them in the order they’re listed.
Absolute Nature 4 – Choose your preferred season!
INSTALLATION INSTRUCTION VIDEO HERE. GUNSLINGER goes first, Atmosfear 3 has to be installed a certain way shown in that video. Then for Absolute Nature 4, install it into its own separate random folder and copy only its gamedata folder to the gamedata folder in your GUNSLINGER folder created during Atmosfear 3 installation, and then delete gamedata\shaders.xr.
If this doesn’t work, just sacrifice the graphics mods.
Total Conversion Mods
Each of these mods amounts to its own game. There are countless total conversion mods, this list only includes what we consider “must plays” due to their quality and/or innovation and creativity. Only play these AFTER beating all three games.
Vector of Alienation
An authentic “build mod” like Oblivion Lost Remake with even better writing.
Vector of Alienation was once an addon for Oblivion Lost Remake but is now optional. The story is a bit different than that of Oblivion Lost Remake, but the writing is deeper. Due to the differences, it is vital to play both. The downside to Vector of Alienation is that it is limited to static lighting. The download includes tons of optional addons, and there is a separate weapon replacement pack which uses OWR 3 guns which is highly recommended since like with Oblivion Lost Remake the default gun models are 2003 quality.
A totally different perspective of The Zone, known for its atmospheric prowess
Goldsphere (aka “Golden Ball”) is known as one of the absolute most atmospheric mods for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Made by renowned S.T.A.L.K.E.R. modder Jekan (who also did writing for OGSE/OGSR), it tells a brand new story and is filled with brand new gameplay mechanics. It is… weird, as Jekan mods are. But weird in a good way. A very unique version of the Zone.
An innovative mod inspired by Silent Hill with an intriguing premise and much needed updates to the engine and UI
SFZ Project is a work in progress mod, but Episode Zero is currently available. It takes place after another massive emission that changes The Zone as we know it. During Episode Zero, the entire area of the Cordon is occupied by a strange space-time anomaly and is covered in fog, which along with the Silent Hill menu sounds are direct Silent Hill references. The next release will be the rest of the mod and its story. SFZ Project makes use of OGSR engine so it is filled with modern graphics features and fast loading times thanks to multithreaded texture loading.
Ultimately the very best S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience one can have, but the only English localization is machine translated.
The naming for this mod is confusing in two ways: NLC stands for New Level Changer, but that just makes it sound like all this mod does is add new levels. Then there’s the versioning in the name: NLC version 7 Hard Edition 2.3, which is a fork of the main mod. To make things more confusing there is an NLC 7.5, but that one is out of date. We recommend Hard Edition since the main branch, which is currently up to version 3.8, has some nonsensical changes. Don’t worry about the name – it’s easier overall than Build 3.8.
In fact, it’s another Soup mod, but the most different one. It might as well not be a Soup mod. It has a totally different global map than the other Soup mods (less maps in fact), and distinguishes itself through its own quests, writing, and gameplay. The main quest is very different than every other Soup mod, so it serves as yet another reimagining of SoC’s story. It is often hailed as the most mature, professionally made S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mod.
There are more ways to approach quests, with more cascading effects later on down the line based on how you do them, than most RPGs. Its quest design is utterly unmatched in the series, and so is its character development, as it makes it a point to make every NPC, even less significant ones if you do business with them, actual people instead of just obstacles for your gun.
It also has uniquely good shooting mechanics in the series; the best aim sway, the ability to switch on/off reticle illumination on scopes (and change reticles on the Kobra red dot sight), it’s one of few SoC based mods that lets you mount more than one optic on guns, and a one of a kind inventory that shows real gameplay evolution. It takes a bit of a “tacticool” approach, and it has the best economy in the series which involves artifacts in the process. Every single area of this mod is exceptionally well thought out and integrated into the game, while every other S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mod except perhaps Goldsphere has some traces of inexperienced modders just trying things for kicks. No, NLC 7 is truly professional and creative.
NLC was originally the worst mod ever created as it had microtransactions (which supposedly went to charity) and required account registration to play. Luckily that’s gone now; all current versions are released in a fully open, unencrypted state. Be sure to download the open version below, which can be modded further with the addons listed below. In the “Full Download” link below, first extract the following file: “NLC Hard Edition 2.3 Unpacked.rar” and then overwrite with the Патч dd.mm.rar (Patch dd.mm) download and finally the HD Интерфейс 02.04.rar (HD Interface 02.04). To run the mod, run launch.bat. Note that when loading a save game, the game pauses automatically and two red vertical bars appear on the center of the screen. By default, pause is bound to Backspace so press that to resume.
Patch 23.05 (this is the only one fully compatible with the English translation for now)
HD Interface 02.04 (required for the translation, also one of the best UIs for any S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game/mod, actually fit for larger resolutions like 4k and even ultrawide)
Optional Addons – Many addons made by the Russian fanbase, so non-Russian speakers will need to translate the folder names to figure out what they do. Of these addons, I highly recommend the ambient music addon – Эмбиент (музыка). Others are entirely personal preference.
Optional Graphics Addons – I recommend object textures HD, asphalt 8k, either of the weather addons (if you use the one with ReShade then ignore the other ReShade download), and stalker Two-K’s grass.
Additional Addons – Includes spawn menu+save anywhere addon, headbob disabler, movement speed+carrying cap increase, 75 FOV (increased from 67.5, equivalent to 100 FOV in most other games), and more.
Glove Retexture – Much more detailed first person gloves.
Manual and FAQ for Build 3.0 (mostly applies to Hard Edition too).
Complete Build – if you don’t want to customize the installation yourself. This includes the following addons: ambient music addon, music radio addon, EFT footsteps, SWTC+Atmosfear 3 weather with reshade, object textures HD, asphalt 8k, normal Two-K grass, glove tetexture, 75 FOV, spawn menu+save anywhere, headbob disabler, movement speed+carrying cap increase, and weapon rebalance.
Fun fact: there’s a version of NLC 7 being made on Call of Pripyat’s engine that adapts build levels (e.g. Lost Alpha, Oblivion Lost Remake). Follow that mod here. It might be dead though.
Valley of Whispers
A short and sweet mod that feels like an official expansion to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat with only improvements
The caption above says it all. This mod takes place only on a single map that’s very well designed. It is a story driven mod and now has improved gameplay since this version comes with Original Weapons Renewal 3, and graphics are enhanced by Absolute Nature 4.04 and Absolute Structures. This is not standalone and requires Call of Pripyat 1.6.02, and is only in English. This doesn’t seem to work on DX10 or DX10.1, at least not with the Absolute Nature extended grass distance (I haven’t tried DX9).
Spatial Anomaly is a fairly recent but popular mod for Call of Pripyat. Here’s how the mod creators describe it: “Spatial Anomaly tells the tale of the notorious mercenary Beast and his attempts to survive inside a mystical place dubbed by stalkers as the “spatial anomaly.” Inside reign completely different laws, and everything is in short supply: cartridges, medicine, drinking water, food, and even bolts. This, however, does not stop the mercenary from searching for a way out of the death trap.”
I have yet to play it, but from what I understand it is pretty short (no more than about a dozen hours), mostly excellent except the ending is universally said to be a letdown. It is not standalone, it requires Call of Pripyat to be installed.
Dollchan 7: Inception
A very different Call of Chernobyl fork with some of the best level design in the series. Very good gameplay but incomplete story currently.
While it doesn’t have a great name, Dollchan 7: Inception is one of the more different Call of Chernobyl forks, implementing its own takes on the vanilla maps; expanding them and significantly redoing them. The end result is some of the best level design in the series, right up there with Lost Alpha. It lacks all the freeplay customization of Anomaly and Call of Chernobyl, it is destined to be a story driven mod instead, although version 7 here has an incomplete story set in 2008.
Download Repository – First download everything here and run setup.exe. This will get the outdated version 643 up and running.
Version 816 Update – Apply this update by merging the database folder with the one in your install directory, and overwriting. Note the mod will default to Russian, you’ll have to change it from “rus” to “eng” in the game options.
Dollchan 8: Infinity
The real Dollchan, a much bigger and more complete mod than Dollchan 7. A freeplay mod with amazing new maps and an actual story!
Under the Guise of Death – Klondike 2.0
A very well liked but only machine translated story driven mod for Call of Pripyat 1.6.02.
Under the Guise of Death is another mod about finding a fabled artifact klondike. I haven’t played this to completion yet, but it is a well liked story driven mod. However, the English machine translation is sadly incomplete so broken string references are common. Just one of many mods that make you want to learn Russian.
Note the DX10 renderer instantly crashes for me and I have to use DX9, so be warned (there is no DX11 oddly enough).
A rather well known story driven mod, weird but mostly well liked.
People have been telling me to play this mod for years, but reading about some of its really peculiar quest design made me hesitant. Well, I’ll be getting around to it soon enough, and if you want to then see below for a version with a very extensive weapon mod, shown in the video above.
Lost World Origin
This mod takes place in the early days of The Zone, and showcases level design from the old builds making for a very interesting world to explore
Considering this mod is only machine translated, its strongest attribute for those who don’t understand Russian is level design and exploration. But it certainly does impress there, and has a very immersive upgrade system for the “Stalker Suit” (also known as Sunrise Suit) outfit and other interesting gameplay features including vehicles. It requires SoC 1.0006 which is what you get from GOG and Steam.
Install the files below IN ORDER!
Upcoming Total Conversion Mods
The mods below are either promising upcoming total conversion mods, or mods that are already out but awaiting either a new version to be worth playing or an English translation.
True Stalker is one of the more anticipated mod. Built for X-Ray 1.6, the lead developer is WolfStalker, whose YouTube channel is famous for covering mods and he runs AP-Pro, the number one modding website for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. True Stalker is a story mod that introduces a brand new story with a new protagonist, and significantly redesigns original levels. It is looking very impressive. It’s also going to be fully voiced.
And now it includes Gunslinger mod!
Edge of the Emerald Dawn
Edge of the Emerald Dawn is an upcoming total conversion mod that will be available in Russian and English. It is one of few mods that looks to change virtually every aspect of the game: it is no longer GSC’s version of The Zone, it is their own. It does not reuse any official locations, the layout of the game world is totally unique. The UI is completely revamped to have a modern neutral aesthetic like DayZ. The premise is intriguing and it uses Call of Pripyat as a base. Certainly a promising mod.
Farthest Edge is a story focused mod built on top of Call of Pripyat, using new areas and heavily reworked old ones. The UI aesthetics have been modernized like many other upcoming mods, and it uses GUNSLINGER as a base. It releases in July 2021.
Another upcoming story mod for Call of Pripyat featuring GUNSLINGER. The world needs more of these. Official description:
“The S.C.O.P.E. modification will be released as soon as the first chapter of the story is completed. This was revealed in the May development report. The authors have decided to divide the mod into parts, so that it does not go into long-term development. In addition, only three people are working on the project. From the news about the development it became known that the work on optimisation, finalised graphics, sound and new 3D models is in progress, as well as the realisation of the plot. It is assumed that it will include a voice-over for the characters. The game world will consist of 23 locations. Some of the developments are demonstrated in the current trailer.”
Choice is a story driven mod based on Call of Pripyat’s engine. Not much is known about its story, but what is known is that it’s going to have some of the most weapon customization in the series courtesy of Escape from Tarkov content. This is also problematic since Battlestate Games is coming down on the mod hard. EDIT: Development seems to have ceased due to Battlestate Games.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. New Project is a funny name. It is from the creators of Lost Alpha, which is a mod that lied about what it is: it said it was going to be like the unreleased S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Oblivion Lost, but ended up being something new (and terrible) instead. It ended up being a new project. Well, now it looks like they’ve accepted this and are dubbing their expanded version of it New Project.
It is based on Lost Alpha Developer’s Cut, which does have the best level design in the series at least. They’re adding a boatload of new technology to it that makes its graphics look impressive even today, and rumor has it that multithreaded rendering will be a part of it as well. Video demonstrations of it are supremely impressive technologically.
But considering that it’s from the guys who made Lost Alpha, don’t get your hopes too high. They really aren’t capable of good writing, Lost Alpha remains unstable in its latest state, and they make many questionable design choices.