It is very rare for a game franchise to receive 3 great 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 great games, but when you include new story/total conversion mods, it’s as if it has no fewer than 10 great 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
- Old Good Stalker Evolution (OGSE) 0693
- New Arsenal 6 plus its database files and machine translation
Clear Sky Overhaul Mods
Call of Pripyat Overhaul Mods
Total Conversion Mods
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Anomaly with Dynamic Relations Addon and Shotgun Variety
- Dollchan 7: Inception and update 816
- Oblivion Lost Remake
- Narodnaya Solyanka Cumulative Pack 2.1 (OP2.1), patch 8.2k, hack pack/fix pack
- Narodnaya Solyanka 2016 – Hand translation is in progress, a good bit of it is translated already.
- NLC 7 Build 3.0, its two patches, spawn menu and save anywhere mod, machine translation (currently only machine translated but nobody is working on a hand translation, so might as well play it like this)
- Valley of Whispers
- Spatial Anomaly
- Goldsphere (currently only machine translated, recommended to wait for hand translation)
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 Evolution (OGSE) 0693
The ultimate version of Shadow of Chernobyl, top 2 best story experiences in the series with the best world building in the series, and excellent gameplay
This is the ultimate overhaul mod, one of the most impressive of all time for any game. The most ambitious and feature rich overhaul (not total conversion mod) for Shadow of Chernobyl. Then again, it is a completely standalone modification like most of the total conversions listed later in the article. It is only an overhaul in concept.
OGSE 0693 now uses OGSR engine (which is 64-bit) with a fancy launcher. The launcher lets you configure many gameplay parameters, such as enabling/disabling offline A-Life, enabling dynamic HUD, changing drop rate for armor, changing FOV, and more. OGSE 0693 also has far more graphics options than any of the base games, and explains each one and even shows which console command controls each one! Amazing stuff for anyone who tweaks their games.
There are too many new gameplay features to count in this mod. It adds multiple new maps, namely such as Darkscape, a unique Dead City, Generators, and Clear Sky’s Swamps. One of the strengths of this mod is that it doesn’t try to rewrite all of SoC and its dialogues, instead it leaves much of what’s there untouched and just expands upon it, taking elements from the original design documents.
OGSE 0693 is filled with new mutants and items (especially weapons), new anomalies, new artifacts, and most of all new quests. It has some of the best quest design elements in the series. It also has the best graphics of any SoC mod (not counting Lost Alpha as an SoC mod anymore), having many of the features from X-Ray’s DX10 renderer except for MSAA. Ultimately this mod just strikes a perfect balance (with my work in progress rebalancing addon) of new and old, of adding things from AMK and Soup mods without going overboard, still keeping the identity of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
I am working on an addon for OGSE 0693 that implements around 80 guns (and many accessories and some new ammo) from other mods, as well as rebalancing to remove some traces of synthetic difficulty, and perhaps other changes as well like NLC 7’s inventory (if this is possible). This article will be updated with the link once it is done.
ModDB Page – Download and install the 6 parts, run it and configure your settings in-game. Then download and install 0.6.9.3 Final 2.0 Standalone Patch 2.10R, and finally install STALKER OGSE 0693 Patch 2.10 Revised_fix2. Then run the Configurator, close it, and install OGSR x64 1.0007 Engine Update. That’s right, 64-bit engine for this bad boy! Once again this mod is standalone and doesn’t require any of the games.
New Arsenal 6
Only machine translated (broken English), asinine quest design but awesome gameplay, not to be taken seriously
This mod uses OGSR 64-bit engine like OGSE 0693 does now, so you will see some similarities. Unlike OGSE 0693 however, it isn’t quite designed to be a perfected version of SoC. It is fine with changing more, and it does. It adds many new maps, being comparable to Call of Chernobyl/Anomaly and NLC with its map count. This mod is almost a total conversion, not to be played instead of vanilla or OGSE. It’s its own thing, and has a lot of flaws so make it lower priority.
As the name implies, the focus is on guns. New Arsenal 6 has over 100. The shooting mechanics are impressively improved much like OGSE 0693, as the two mods contain some of the same improvements. On the other hand, it is full of frustratingly bad quest design and awful writing, so don’t take it too seriously. Play OGSE 0693 first, especially if you’re new to the game, then try New Arsenal 6 with the machine translation. This means it is broken English, which is another reason why non-Russian speakers shouldn’t take it seriously. It’s about the GUNS! And gun customization. It even has picture-in-picture scopes! It also has multiple new maps, but you can explore those same maps in other mods with proper translations like OP2.1 listed far below. Play it, shoot things, move on.
This mod is standalone and doesn’t require any of the games. You will need all of the files which are listed below. I will also be rebalancing this entire mod at some point, but haven’t done so yet.
English machine translation – Follow the instructions, then customize and run New Arsenal 6 using loader.bat to use the translation.
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.
Clear Sky Mod Pack 2019
The ultimate version of Clear Sky, but still somewhat of a work in progress
As with the other Mod Pack mentioned in this article, Mod Pack 2019 is an amalgamation of many other mods, more specifically these:
- Sky Reclamation Project 1.1.2 – The latest and greatest unofficial patch. It needs this otherwise the game is too unstable to play.
- MYSTERY – This is a graphics overhaul that contains Atmosfear and Absolute Nature. Also contains A-Life enhancements.
- Complete Mod – Other graphics enhancement and sleeping bag.
- Gnomus Scopes – New, more authentic scope textures.
- Additional guns and other content from Misery and other mods, and totally rebalanced to remove synthetic difficulty.
So once again you get better gameplay with more content, better graphics, and more stability. Art style is changed a bit with this mod, removing the bad design choices from Clear Sky (primarily excessive gloss and bloom) and making it more like Shadow of Chernobyl art style. This mod is not fully tested however, patches are still being released.
Call of Pripyat Overhaul Mods
We suggest these two options for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat. You’ll have to choose one or the other.
STCoP, Absolute Nature 4, Absolute Structures, and Atmosfear 3
Prettier version of the base game with many new very high quality guns, impressive animations, and even picture-and-picture scopes
Everyone first playing Call of Pripyat should at least use the STCoP weapons addon (lots of new weapons of excellent quality, far better quality than standard weapons) and the aforementioned graphics mods. It makes it beautiful; the graphics mods for Call of Pripyat are far better than the ones for the other games. STCoP also brings much better balance for weapon stats than the standard umodded game. Ultimately this is the safest pick and our most recommended selection of mods for first timers.
The links for these mods can be found below. Install them in the order they’re listed.
Absolute Nature 4 – Choose your preferred season!
The reason we explicitly recommend Atmosfear 3 but not SWTC is due to easier compatibility as a compatibility patch for STCoP and Atmosfear 3 is readily available.
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.
The most polished and refined mod with the most feature rich gameplay and best freeplay, pretty good but not the best from a story perspective
This is the ultimate free play mod, but it also has multiple storylines (one of which is just Shadow of Chernobyl’s partially implemented, I’d say don’t bother as it’s going to be removed anyway). Anomaly is completely standalone; no need to own any of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games to play it, but again, you should only play total conversions AFTER playing the originals.
Anomaly is in itself an amalgamation of several mods and addons: Call of Chernobyl and Misery primarily, although much of Misery’s synthetic difficulty has been dialed down. ‘Call of Misery’ (Misery for Call of Chernobyl) was once a thing, but has been depreciated and led to several forks, such as Last Day (a direct continuation), Dead Air which takes its own direction, and Anomaly which is the pinnacle and most feature rich.
As such, Anomaly has the richest gameplay in the series. It has Misery’s survival and squad gameplay, Call of Chernobyl’s configurable open world gameplay, Warfare, disguises, and more. It is one mod/game that serves many purposes.
Like Call of Chernobyl, Anomaly includes every map from every game plus more. It (and other CoC based mods) has the absolute best A-Life in the series, thus the best open world simulation AI in gaming by far. There are many new ways for NPCs and the player to interact with The Zone, things that should be in the game but aren’t. On top of that, it is supremely customizable: you can adjust the A-Life population factor (controlling how many mutants or humans are in the game), enable/disable and tweak the disguise system, configure the survival mechanic parameters, configure what happens to NPCs during emissions and psi-storms, you name it.
Anomaly also includes Warfare by default. The following gameplay modes are available in Anomaly:
- Story – Self-explanatory, story mode pushes you into any of its storylines. You can still create your own character, even though this contradicts with SoC’s story implementation, but like I said don’t bother playing SoC’s story in Anomaly (it will be removed in 1.5 full release).
- Warfare – Transforms the game into a dynamic war game, like a strategy game except an FPS. The emphasis becomes faction warfare; create your character and select the faction of your choice, then try to conquer The Zone dynamically, capturing territory and defeating the enemy. Warfare is incompatible with Story mode. This is a work in progress and not fully stable or finished.
- Azazel – Named after a demon, on this mode when you die, you take on the role of another Stalker, first someone from your squad if you have one, otherwise it is random.
- Survival – Replaces all monsters with zombies, a joke mode.
- Accessible Zone – Removes all restrictions on traveling between levels, so you can access any level at any time. Compatible with all modes, recommended for all modes.
- Ironman Mode – When you die, you lose a life. When you run out of lives, it’s game over and all saves are erased. I only recommend using it with Azazel mode and 1 life; so when you die you take on the role of another stalker, and when he dies the cycle continues. Compatible with all modes.
- Campfire Mode – You can only save your game at campfires. Compatible with all modes. Not recommended.
- Agony Mode – You cannot save your game when in combat or in any sort of danger (including being wounded). Compatible with all modes.
- Timer Mode – Every time you save your game, the timer is triggered and you can’t save until time runs out. Compatible with all modes.
So S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Anomaly is a free single player mod, yet it has more game modes than most modern AAA multiplayer games! This mod really embarrasses many big budget game studios out there. I recommend some addons for Anomaly as well, the links to everything are below.
Main Download – Yes, version 1.5 beta 2.4 is the one to play right now. Despite being a beta mod, it is more stable than most games on launch and most other mods. But 1.5 release will have so many new, awesome features. This mod continues to innovate. Keep in mind you have to download the previous versions and install them in order.
Dynamic Relations Addon – Dynamic faction relations were removed in this beta, this addon restores them.
Shotgun Variety – Adds additional 12 gauge ammo types.
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. The upcoming Dollchan 8: Infinity will have a new story set in 2012 right after Marked One disables the Brain Scorcher. It’s also going to have vast gameplay improvements, so keep an eye out for it.
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.
Oblivion Lost Remake 2.5
Top 2 best story experiences for English speaking players, most atmospheric S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience for English speaking players
This is NOT Oblivion Lost. Oblivion Lost is an overhaul mod for Shadow of Chernobyl, while Oblivion Lost Remake is a fully standalone total conversion mod. Its goal is to try and restore GSC’s original vision for Oblivion Lost, before it became Shadow of Chernobyl. This means it is more ambitious than Shadow of Chernobyl, and is almost entirely new maps. The old, cut maps from Shadow of Chernobyl were replaced by smaller, less realistic, less atmospheric inferior maps in the final game, which are also in Clear Sky and mods like Call of Chernobyl and Anomaly. The maps here however are much better made and infinitely more immersive.
So immersive is Oblivion Lost Remake that I consider it the most atmospheric S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience to date, and the most atmospheric shooter to date. This mod really tries harder not only to emulate the original greatness seen in alpha builds of Shadow of Chernobyl, but it shows influence from Tarkovsky’s masterful Stalker movie, and the atmosphere is at times similar to that.
Oblivion Lost Remake also happens to have better default balance in weapon statistics than most other mods, it doesn’t even need tweaking really since guns generally perform like they should. A-Life in this mod isn’t quite Call of Chernobyl/Anomaly tier, but it’s fantastic. It only has a few significant shortcomings, and those are a general lack of guns (only about the same amount as unmodded Call of Pripyat), and weapons are not properly distributed among traders and NPCs, making it so the only sustainable rifles are 5.45×39 caliber. In other words, you will be using a very small selection of weaponry throughout the game. Still a far bigger selection than Metro: Exodus though.
I also don’t like a few story elements in it that reek of fan fiction, but luckily there are very few, in fact it’s limited to one small location (X-18). Mutant spawns can also be too high at times, especially in X-18. Also note there will be a version 3.0 in the future, with full A-Life and many other improvements.
Narodnaya Solyanka Cumulative Pack 2.1 (OP2.1)
Most content rich Soup mod, number one in ridiculous quest design and synthetic difficulty
This mod is also known as Joint Pak 2.1 or OP2.1 (O.P. referring to the Russian acronym for “Cumulative Pack” which is “Объединенный пак”). The mod with many names, I simply refer to it as OP2.1. It is one of many forks of Narodnaya Solyanka, which translates to “People’s Soup” which is why all of these forks are collectively known as “Soup mods”. Of all the Soup mods, OP2.1 has by far the most content and most stability, although it must be run on static lighting mode (DX8) in Call of Pripyat maps and late game, due to memory leaks caused by the 32-bit limitations of the engine.
All of the Soup mods are megamods. OP2.1 easily has 500+ hours of content. In fact, the developers say it’ll take the average player about a year to beat. A realistic expectation to achieving 100% completion of OP2.1 is certainly over 500 hours!
All Soup mods serve as a re-imagining of Shadow of Chernobyl’s story. They have unique, innovative mechanics, endless content in every facet of the word, and at least OP2.1 uses OWR 3 for good measure. But these mods, especially this one most of all, have some noteworthy downsides: ridiculous synthetic difficulty (AI one-shot killing you with impossibly good aim, near-invincible elite human enemies who can survive countless headshots), ridiculous content from other games like Metro and Doom 3 monsters and other non-serious elements. Quest design is largely terrible, involving huge fetch quests like gathering 40 zombie hands. Do not take them seriously. OP2.1 goes one step further and has an anti-cheat system in place so file tampering would be ineffective.
But some of us don’t take no for an answer. The last download link provided below is a patch that breaks OP2.1’s anti-cheat and removes the synthetic difficulty, so it can be enjoyed without all the BS!
Hack Pack or should I say Fix Pack? It removes the synthetic difficulty that plagues this mod (you know, getting one shot killed through tiny holes in buildings, and near-invincible NPCs), translates character names into English, and of course removes the anti-cheat. It also includes lichku’s spawn menu.
Narodnaya Solyanka 2016
The original Soup mod, pioneer of ridiculous quest design and synthetic difficulty, but less ridiculous than the other two Soup mods featured in this article
Narodnaya Solyanka is the original Soup mod as mentioned above (it translates to People’s Soup). This version on ModDB is being translated by hand into English, and has various gameplay and significant visual enhancements, so it is the definitive version of NS2016. It doesn’t have as much content as OP2.1, but is less extreme with its synthetic difficulty and fetch quests.
NLC 7 Build 3.0
The most different Soup mod out there, still utterly ridiculous in synthetic difficuly and to some extent quest design, but none of the over-the-top elements from other games
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; it is not typo’d above, it is actually ‘Version 7 Build 3.0’, and to make things more confusing there is an NLC 7.5, but that one is out of date. NLC 7 Build 3.0 is the latest.
In fact, it’s another Soup mod, but the most different one. It might as well not be one. It has a totally different global map than the other Soup mods (less maps in fact), and distinguishes itself through its side quests and other quests besides the ones from Narodnaya Solyanka. The main quest is very different than every other Soup mod, so it serves as yet another reimagining of SoC’s story.
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. Fetch quests are still present but are less ridiculous than OP2 where you’ll need to fetch extremely high numbers of things, but NLC still reeks of synthetic difficulty and the quest design can be ridiculous in other ways like solving anagrams/word puzzles. Follow YouTube playthroughs for moments like these. There’s also no automatic quest logging at all.
Note this mod is only machine translated if you download the translation below. So don’t take it too seriously unless you understand Russian.
NLC was originally the worst mod ever created as it had microtransactions and required account registration to play. Luckily that’s gone now, this is an open version of NLC 7 Build 3.0.
Patches – This download contains two patches. Install them in order.
Spawn menu and save anywhere mod – Normally you can only save at camp fires in NLC 7. This makes it so you can pause and save anywhere, any time. It also features a spawn menu.
Machine Translation – Machine translates the mod so it can be somewhat playable for English users. I will also be rebalancing this mod to remove the terrible synthetic difficulty; this link will be updated to include both the machine translation and my rebalancing.
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.
A totally different perspective of The Zone, known for its atmospheric prowess
Okay, Goldsphere (also known as Golden Ball) is not yet ready for people who don’t speak Russian, but it will be in the near future. It is known as one of the absolute most atmospheric mods for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., ranking up there with Oblivion Lost Remake. It tells a brand new story and is filled with brand new gameplay mechanics. I haven’t even played it yet since I’m waiting for a proper translation (the only one available is an unusable machine translation). So don’t download this yet, but keep an eye on it for when the translation finishes. Sure, you can play NLC and New Arsenal with machine translations, but not a more serious story driven mod like Goldsphere.