STALKER Trilogy guide: 7 beginner tips for Xbox players from someone who's been a fan on PC for years

STALKER: Clear Sky
(Image credit: GSC Game World)
What is STALKER?

STALKER: Legends of the Zone Trilogy

(Image credit: GSC Game World)

STALKER is an open world first-person shooter series developed by GSC Game World. The games are set in a fictional version of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in which a mysterious second disaster at the nuclear power plant occurred in 2006, resulting in the creation of mutants, the formation of nature-defying anomalies, and artifacts with magic-like powers. Multiple factions and hundreds of explorers called stalkers have settled in The Zone's non-linear levels, and interact with the player and each other dynamically thanks to the series' ambitious A-Life AI system.

It's been assumed for years that the first three games in GSC Game World's cult classic open world FPS franchise STALKER would never come to consoles, so seeing the studio shadow drop the trilogy on Xbox and PlayStation during Microsoft's recent Xbox Partner Preview event was quite the shock. 2007's Shadow of Chernobyl, 2008's Clear Sky, and 2010's Call of Pripyat are all available to play on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, and PS4 now, complete with a Series X|S "high-fidelity mode," user interface refinements, and reworked gamepad-friendly controls.

These are some of my favorite shooter games of all time, and I've been playing and enjoying them for years on PC (along with STALKER Anomaly mods). So, as you'd expect, I was ecstatic when I saw that console users can experience them now, too — and with all these rookies jumping in for the first time, I wanted to offer some helpful guidance as a veteran player.

Below, I've put together a list of seven essential tips and tricks that every stalker should know and keep in mind as they venture into The Zone. Note that all of these apply to all of the STALKER trilogy's games, so you'll benefit from following the advice no matter which one you're playing (I've included some bonus game-specific tips and other small, miscellaneous pointers at the end of the article).

1. Play slow, and stay alert

A heard of "Flesh" mutants. (Image credit: GSC Game World)

The biggest, most valuable piece of advice I can offer to new STALKER players is that these games punish you for attempting to rush through their environments — and do so quite severely — so a slow and patient playstyle is highly recommended. Sprinting everywhere in straight lines will likely run you right into anomalies, which are pockets of hazardous supernatural phenomena in the environment that can burn, shock, dissolve, or rip apart anything or anyone that wanders into them. 

All anomalies can be spotted, but some are much harder to see than others, especially when you're running. Therefore, you should be very cautious when exploring places you haven't been before; once you know where the anomalies in each of The Zone's levels are, you can speed up. 

Unsure if the spot in front of you is safe? Throw a bolt (you have an infinite number of them) and see if it triggers an anomaly. If nothing happens, there's no danger. Note that using bolts to check for safe routes around anomalies is essentially required if you plan to collect the useful artifacts that occasionally spawn near them.

Another reason to be careful and avoid constantly sprinting in the open is that you might stumble across a pack of mutants or roaming stalkers from a faction that opposes yours, but will be left without helpful high ground or cover to use. Admittedly, this isn't really a big deal with mutants, but you'll likely be gunned down fast by enemy stalkers if you're exposed. Make sure you've got your head on a swivel, too, because hostile stalkers that see you but haven't been spotted yet will often try and silently crouch-walk behind you to land point-blank headshots.

2. Adapt your tactics to different situations

Against mutants, you should move and strafe constantly. (Image credit: GSC Game World)

Throughout all three STALKER games, you'll either be up against mutants or other stalkers during combat engagements. Both are equally dangerous, but to fight them as effectively and efficiently as possible, you'll need to approach them with very different tactics.

Though there are a few exceptions to this, the vast majority of mutant enemies will attempt to rush or leap at you and slash or bite. In addition to dealing damage and causing bleeding, this slows you down temporarily, making it harder to get away from swarms of weaker mutants like blind dogs or follow-up attacks from deadly threats like bloodsuckers. 

Thus, you'll want to constantly move around, backpedal, and strafe when battling mutants, and ideally use a good shotgun. You can also try jumping onto nearby props and objects in the environment, as many mutants won't be able to get to you if you do. Oh, and if there's an anomaly close by, stand behind it and let the mutants run into it; depending on which anomaly it is, they'll either get severely wounded or killed outright.

Unlike mutants, stalkers fight with firearms, and that means you'll need some solid cover to fight from. By crouching behind it and taking advantage of STALKER's leaning mechanic, you'll protect yourself from most incoming fire while also making it easier to line up your own shots. If necessary, you can also fully retreat into your cover when you need to heal with bandages or medkits.

Enemy stalkers use cover as well, but you can flush them out of it with grenades — if they don't move, they'll die or be wounded mortally, as explosives are very potent in STALKER. Just keep in mind that in Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat, your adversaries will throw grenades at you, too, so watch out for telltale grenade indicators and temporarily abandon your cover if you see one (Clear Sky in particular is infamous for its enemy grenade spam).

3. Always aim for the head

Going for headshots is the best way to take enemies down quickly. (Image credit: GSC Game World)

Combat in vanilla STALKER has a reputation for being bullet spongey, especially when you're fighting Military or Monolith stalkers that wear quality body armor. I expect some mods that address this will release once mod support comes later in 2024, but in vanilla, there are two ways to solve this problem.

The first is to use armor-piercing (AP) ammunition, which you can buy from traders or loot from corpses and stashes. This is a reliable method of dealing with tough-armored stalkers, but AP rounds are expensive and rare, and they're not available for the pistols and shotguns you'll be using towards the start of each game.

Going for headshots is the second way to kill enemies — both stalkers and mutants — faster, and I can't overstate how much better the games will feel to play and how much ammo you'll save if you do this. They're tough to land with inaccurate early game weapons, but as soon as you get a decent rifle and put a scope on it, you'll be in business.

The console versions of the STALKER games come with adjustable and toggleable settings for sensitivity, aim assist, and aim assist tracking, so I recommend playing around with these and seeing what feels best to you. Once you've got a setup you're comfortable with, you'll be able to land headshots consistently.

4. Do tons of side quests for money and gear

Sidorovich is the first trader you'll meet in Shadow of Chernobyl, and offers plenty of early game side quests. (Image credit: GSC Game World)

Ammo, food, medical supplies, weapons, suits of armor, and gear repairs/upgrades all cost money, but it's difficult to get enough of it if your only source of income is selling what you find or loot off of corpses. That's why I strongly suggest taking side quests whenever you can, as completing one will, in most cases, net you a few thousand rubles. Often times, you'll also get helpful items like boxes of ammo, consumables, or common artifacts. Some particularly challenging or lengthy side quests may even give you valuable gear like advanced weapons, high-tier armor suits, and rare, powerful artifacts you'd have a hard time getting otherwise.

Most side quests are offered by important NPCs like traders, faction officers or leaders, and uniquely named (not randomly generated) stalkers in batches of up to four at a time. Objectives typically range from killing squads of mutants or specific stalkers to bringing the client a specified item, though a few have more unique requirements. Notably, some are repeatable and will become available after a set amount of time, while others are locked behind progression of each game's main questline.

Something important to be aware of is that some quests given by faction leaders will require you to assassinate stalkers from the group that opposes them, even if that group is neutral towards you. Carrying out the mission may turn that faction hostile unless you're able to kill the target without anyone seeing, so I would avoid doing those quests specifically (I explain why trying to be on everyone's good side is advantageous in a below section).

5. Hunt down stashes (and keep some yourself)

This stash in the Garbage level is easy to find, and even had several cases full of ammo next to it. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Outside of running side quests, another great way to get extra gear and supplies that you can either use or sell is to hunt down stashes. You'll occasionally learn the coordinates of these item caches when you loot a corpse — in Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat, you can also buy them or get them as mission rewards — and when you do, their location will be marked on your PDA's map with a purple (or green, in Call of Pripyat) icon. Hovering over this icon will give you some extra details about where the stash is hidden on-site.

You can find everything from vodka bottles and anti-radiation drugs to rare artifacts and suits of body armor in these caches, with stashes that were owned by more experienced stalkers or sold for a higher price generally containing better loot. Just be aware that some stashes are located in spots with high radiation, so make sure you've got anti-radiation supplies and gear at the ready before you attempt to kife the goods from one.

You should also keep a stash for yourself, as you won't be able to carry all the different weapons, ammo types, armors, and artifacts you want to keep at once without overencumbering yourself. Any cache you find in The Zone can be used for a personal stash, though you'll need to remember where it is since there's no way to mark locations on your map. For that reason, I recommend using one of the blue or green metal chests often found in memorable locations like faction bases.

6. Stay neutral, make lots of friends

There are plenty of folks you can help in the Skadovsk in Call of Pripyat. (Image credit: GSC Game World)

Though each of the STALKER games start you out as a neutral stalker, or "Loner," you can join other factions like Duty, Freedom, and even the Bandits (in Clear Sky). However, I would avoid doing this, at least for your first playthroughs.

While swearing allegiance to a faction unlocks a few exclusive side quests and gives you access to new items and/or better prices at its trader, it also instantly makes any groups they're at war with hostile towards you. This can make traveling through certain levels in The Zone more difficult and dangerous, as faction squads that were previously neutral will now shoot you on sight. This can work both ways — joining Freedom in Shadow of Chernobyl will make Mercenaries neutral, for example — but overall, joining a group will make things more challenging. Faction roleplay is fun, but it's something I don't recommend unless you're an experienced player.

What I suggest doing instead is working for everyone you can while still remaining neutral. Sure, you'll miss out on a few special quests and some faction-specific rewards, but that's arguably better than losing the opportunity to work with a faction entirely or to pass through their territory safely by siding with a group they're fighting. Also, by doing quests for neutral factions until you've built up enough goodwill that their members appear as Friends (green) on your minimap, you'll still be able to take advantage of lower trader prices.

7. Save, save, save

Sometimes stalkers will just...walk over a campfire and burn to death. If a quest NPC did this, I wouldn't blame you for reloading a save! (Image credit: Windows Central)

STALKER is an amazing series, and a sizable portion of its charm stems from its "eurojank." Sometimes, though, the trilogy's glitchy silliness can lead to some frustrating situations where genuinely unfair moments occur. Enemies occasionally spawning behind you and instakilling you after you travel to a new level is a big one, but I've also seen stalkers shoot through walls by clipping into them and mutant spawns break to the point where I've had close to 100 hounds sprinting at me at top speed.

For this reason, I strongly, strongly recommend abusing STALKER's generous saving system, which allows you to save your progress whenever you want from the pause menu. I wouldn't "save scum" — the deaths of certain characters can lead to interesting consequences, none of which impede progression — but definitely make sure you're saving regularly. You can have 25 saves at once, and can delete old ones if you need room for newer files.

Bonus: Other STALKER quick tips and tricks

The above sections cover all the big stuff, but I've also included some smaller bonus tips here as well, along with a few tidbits of game-specific information that every stalker should know.

  • In Shadow of Chernobyl, you can get a free Merc Suit — the best early game armor — in the Rookie Village with some careful crouch-walking and roof-hopping. I posted a video showing the route to take here (you can watch it with the embed above, too).
  • In Shadow of Chernobyl, you can compete in the Arena in Rostok to earn some relatively easy money. The fights aren't too tough, though many of the later ones require you to rank up a few times by completing quests. In total, you can get 44,000 rubles by fighting here.
  • In Shadow of Chernobyl, it's not possible to repair your gear normally, though you can fix your armor suits with a glitch (tested and working on Xbox). It involves finding and wearing four Pellicle, Battery, or Spring artifacts and then intentionally stepping into an acidic, electric, or gravitational anomalies respectively. More info on where to find these artifacts is available on the fan-made STALKER Wiki.
  • In Clear Sky, you can use your Detector to find a Jellyfish artifact during the tutorial mission Lebedev sends you on. In this game, the Jellyfish gives you a +2 counter to radiation, and is enough to deal with any radiation you encounter in the early game.
  • In Clear Sky, bleeding is more severe than it is in the other games, so you'll want to bring more Bandages than you would in Shadow of Chernobyl or Call of Pripyat.
  • In Call of Pripyat, you can make lots of money relatively quickly by carefully investigating the anomalies in Zaton with your Detector, collecting any artifacts you find, selling them to Beard at the Skadovsk, and then sleeping until an emission occurs before repeating. Emissions have a 15% chance to respawn artifacts in anomalies, and you can "farm" them over and over. Just make sure you use some of your earnings to buy food, or else you'll starve to death by sleeping so much.
  • You can see how many stalkers are within your minimap's radius by checking the number next to it. When up against hostile groups, this is a great way to quickly see how many enemies you're dealing with.
  • If possible, sell unwanted artifacts or mutant parts to Ecologist/scientist traders. They pay more than regular traders like the Barman do.
  • You can save and then reload to refresh a trader's inventory, which is useful if you're trying to buy something you know they offer but don't currently have in stock. This also makes it easy to buy large quantities of ammo that's often in low supply, like 7.62x54mm rounds for the SVD sniper rifle.
  • Weapons dropped by enemies may still have ammo in them, which you can take for yourself by picking the weapon up, pressing X while highlighting it in your inventory, and selecting "Unload."
  • Some missions encourage you to be stealthy, which often feels borderline impossible in STALKER. One way to improve your chances of staying hidden, though, is to approach objectives at night when visibility is low and crouch-walk so your footsteps are quiet. Also, avoid pulling out your guns or binoculars, as other stalkers can hear this and will be alerted to your presence. You can pull out your knife silently, however.
  • If you're too encumbered with loot to move but there's a corpse nearby, you can move your items into the body's inventory and then drag it around to get around the carry weight limit. It's not possible to drag bodies between levels, but you can bring the corpse as close to where you're trying to go as possible and use it as a container while making trips to a trader or a personal stash.

Many said this day would never come, but the original STALKER trilogy has finally arrived on console thanks to the recent shadow drop on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, and PS4. Some of the best PC games are now amongst the best Xbox games, too, and they're a must-play for shooter fans or for folks interested in checking out STALKER 2 later this year.

STALKER: Legends of the Zone Trilogy | $39.99 at Xbox (Digital)

STALKER: Legends of the Zone Trilogy | $39.99 at Xbox (Digital)

One of the biggest open world shooter franchises in PC gaming history has shadow dropped on Xbox and PlayStation. Get all three of the amazing STALKER games for $40 and play through them ahead of STALKER 2's launch later this year.

Also see: STALKER Trilogy Bundle (PC, Digital, $10)

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.