Update 7/29/2022: Updated with details on STALKER 2's development, gameplay systems, release date, and preorder opportunities.
The STALKER series has always been a popular choice for PC gamers looking for a strong non-linear shooter that features horror elements, but the franchise hasn't aged particularly well. This had left many hoping for a more modern STALKER experience that offers quality graphics, refined gameplay systems, and a more detailed and rich open world. STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl is the answer to those desires — and this time around, STALKER is coming to Xbox, too. Here's everything you need to know about the upcoming title.
STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl development and reveal
STALKER 2 was initially revealed back in 2018 on GSC Game World's Twitter account. Since then, the developer has been working hard on the game, developing it in Unreal Engine and using photogrammetry for environments and motion capture for animations, according to a Q&A.
During the Xbox Series X July 2020 event, we got our first look at STALKER 2 in a new trailer for the game. Following this, the developers at GSC Game World then shared a preview of STALKER 2's outfits and weapons in 2021, giving fans a closer look at the gear they'll be using while exploring The Zone.
A few months later, a gameplay trailer for the game was released during the Xbox and Bethesda 2021 Showcase. This vertical slice showcased combat with enemy stalkers in The Zone as well as with several mutants, and also demonstrated the power of anomalies — vicious supernatural energy phenomena that have the power to rip living creatures apart on a molecular level, burn them with intense roaring flames, fry them with devastating jolts of electricity, and more. At this time, STALKER 2 was also officially renamed to STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl.
Development of the game has been interrupted by Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine that began in February 2022, as GSC Game World's headquarters is located in the capital of Kyiv. Many of the developers at GSC Game World have been able to move to Prague in the Czech Republic to escape the conflict, though a number of the studio's employees are still in Ukraine for a number of reasons. Some are currently unable to safely leave the country, with many serving as volunteers or as defenders of their homeland within the Armed Forces of Ukraine. During the Xbox and Bethesda 2022 Showcase, GSC Game World shared a dev diary that provides a harrowing look at the Ukraine conflict, as well as a new trailer that showcases STALKER 2's opening cutscene.
STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl's story and setting
STALKER 2 is set in a fictional version of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in which the power plant mysteriously exploded again in 2006, causing strange supernatural events that defy all scientific reasoning and spawning horrifying mutated beasts that began to roam. According to a trailer's video description, the protagonist is named Skif.
As a result of the second explosion, special items called artifacts were created. These artifacts provide special effects to the people who hold them, such as protection from radiation or increased natural healing. Due to how valuable these artifacts are, many have made a living sneaking into the Zone to collect them to sell to the outside world. Some have formed factions within the Zone as well, such as Duty, which is a group comprised primarily of ex-Ukrainian military soldiers who want to protect the world from the dangers of the Zone. All of the people who operate within the Zone's borders are known as stalkers.
In the aforementioned Q&A, GSC Game World stated that the game will feature an "epic, non-linear story" that will be driven by player choice in both the short term and long term. This is on-brand for the STALKER series, as the three previous games — Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky, and Call of Pripyat — all had stories that were influenced heavily by player choice. GSC Game World also stated that you won't need to have played those games to enjoy or understand the story of STALKER 2.
STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl gameplay and presentation
The STALKER series is characterized by its horror-shooter gameplay blend. In the original STALKER games, encounters were designed to feel intense and nerve-wracking. Whether you were fighting scary supernatural mutants or squads of heavily armed mercs, you always felt like you could die at any moment because of how dangerous the Zone was. Therefore, properly using cover and maintaining your guns and armor were critical to success.
There were also some light survival elements, such as hunger and radiation levels that you had to keep in check with food and drugs. In terms of structure, the games were non-linear, as the world consisted of smaller maps connected together to form an open world.
Based on what we know of STALKER 2, it will follow in the previous game's footsteps and deliver a similar type of experience. GSC Game World describes the game as "a unique blend of FPS, immersive sim and horror with a really thick atmosphere" and states that it will offer "one of the biggest open worlds to date." Additionally, the game has also been described to have "fast-paced change of scenery, ominous landscapes and the ever-present feeling of an inevitable danger accompanied by a barely-distinguishable guitar soundtrack." Notably, according to details provided in the PC Gamer UK January 2021 issue, STALKER 2 will have more of an emphasis on survival mechanics, and players will be forced to deal with stamina and weapon handling penalties if they don't properly take care of their character.
GSC Game World also confirmed that, in addition to everything seen before in the older games, new locations, mutants, artifacts, and anomalies would all be coming to the game as well. One such mutant is a deadly irradiated mutant deer that will use its bones as both armor and weapons against stalkers, and will also possess the power to control other nearby mutants and create illusory copies of itself. There are plenty of new weapons, outfits, and factions available for players to interact with and use, too, including Ward, a faction that aims to police and control The Zone. GSC Game World is also committing to making STALKER 2 as mod-friendly as possible, which will please the PC gaming community.
STALKER 2 is also getting PvP multiplayer in a free post-launch update, with the developers confirming that it will include a Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch mode. Players will be able to customize their character's cosmetics, though no other details about the experience are currently known.
The trailer shown for STALKER 2 at the Xbox Series X July event in 2020 is said to be indicative of how the game will look at launch. We also know that STALKER 2 will support ray tracing. Additionally, the developers are aiming to make each and every stalker in The Zone look unique with tools that allow them to give NPCs distinguishable features. For example, many of the stalkers you encounter will have missing teeth or dental crowns.
STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl release date
The release date for STALKER 2 was originally April 28, 2022, but it was delayed to December 2022 in January 2022, and then delayed again to 2023 following the start of the conflict in Ukraine. Currently, the game is still slated to launch at some point in 2023, though there are no specific details about when STALKER 2 will release next year.
Notably, STALKER 2 will be available on Xbox Game Pass day one, giving fans another option if they'd prefer not to pay the flat $60 price for the game. Also, STALKER 2 is coming to both PC and Xbox as a console launch exclusive. This marks the first time that STALKER has come to a console, which is no doubt exciting for Xbox fans.
STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl preorders
Ahead of STALKER 2's launch, GSC Game World has made multiple editions of the game available for preorder on both Xbox and PC. There are four retail editions and three digital editions for sale, with the most advanced edition being the retail variant of the STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl Ultimate Edition. In addition to the base game, it also offers tons of collectibles, including a statue of a stalker holding an artifact, a STALKER-themed lamp and backpack, a physical map of The Zone, a STALKER poster, and more. It also provides access to extra pieces of in-game content, including an additional side quest, cosmetics for outfits and weapons in both single-player and multiplayer, and a Season Pass that provides guaranteed access to all post-launch DLC.
The Ultimate Edition costs about $357, but it's currently very hard to find. Another excellent edition we recommend is the retail Collector's Edition, which doesn't have the STALKER-themed lamp and backpack, the Season Pass, or some of the extra multiplayer skins, but is also much less expensive at $180. It's also much easier to preorder, as it's more widely available right now.
For a full overview of each edition that's available for preorder, as well as details on STALKER 2's preorder bonuses, make sure you review our STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl preorder guide.
STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl Collector's Edition
The Collector's Edition offers numerous small collectibles like faction patches and a keychain, a physical art book, a stalker statue, and additional content. This content includes a new side quest, weapon and costume skins for single-player and multiplayer, and a digital copy of the STALKER 2 artbook and soundtrack.
STALKER 2: Heart of Chernobyl trailers
Looking to watch some trailers? We've rounded up every one released for STALKER 2 so far here.
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