Stalker Online – Enter the Zone
By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF), OnRPG Journalist
Stalker Online is a MMORPG set in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe that we have come to love thanks to games such as Shadow of Chernobyl and Clear Skies. The game is a third-person shooter with many RPG elements that help bring the Zone to life. Developed by Cybertime Systems, a team of young and talented Russians. This is a game that must be played if you have ever played any of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games.
In Stalker Online, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster acted as the catalyst to the creation of the Zone. The Zone is an area surrounding the accident site where the laws of physics and reality no longer rule. Within the zone, mutants are as common as the animals we know from the real world. Anomalies with the ability to kill a man in an instant are found everywhere. And within the Zone, the greatest treasure known to man – Artifacts – are born.
Anomalies and Artifacts play a large role in Stalker Online. Anomalies are found everywhere within the Zone. Chances are you will not walk for longer than a minute before coming across one or more. The anomalies in the zone have a chance to give birth to artifacts. Artifacts are items that have been imbued with special properties that will often benefit those that possess it.
This is where you come in. You come in to the world as a Stalker. Stalker is the name given to the artifact hunters that sneak in to the Zone. Labeled as outlaws and thieves, the Stalkers are on their own within the Zone. This has given rise to a special kind of law that exists within the Zone, similar to that which existed in the Old West of the United States. It is every man for himself in the Zone.
Life in the Zone
Life in the Zone is rough. It takes a special kind of person to withstand the hardships that are constantly thrown at you. From the constant onslaught of anomalies, to worrying about being murdered by your fellow Stalkers and the never ending threat of being attacked by vicious mutants, you will rarely have a break.
Stalker Online stays true to the world we became familiar with in the original single player games. The maps are big and fun to explore. The world tells a story with its inspiring landscapes. There are plenty of possibilities that make for a rich experience not easily forgotten. I usually do not role play, but I often found myself getting in to character whenever I came across another player and they were happy to oblige, doing the same.
It is possible to buy Golden Rubles with real money that you can then use to buy items from the cash shop. The cash shop features powerful weapons and a large selection of cosmetic items. There are also scopes and flashlights. The good news is you can get just about every gun from the cash shop via the in-game shops as well. By going to the special artifact trader located in bases, you can buy weapons and armor on par with that of the cash shop. These items require artifacts to buy, which are not hard to farm. It may take you a week if you do it lazily. Maybe two days if you do it actively.
Not everything in the Zone is great. The biggest issue I came across was the poor translations that make it very hard to understand some quests. At times this gets to the point of being completely incomprehensible. There are even parts of the game that have not been translated at all and are still in Russian. Despite this, it’s still an amazing experience.
Right now, there is not much customization while making your character. I believe you are limited to just choosing between two skin colors. Outside of that, there are lots of clothes and armors for you to wear to give your character its own personality.
Stalker Online is skill based, and you are given a lot of freedom in your choices. The skills are split into three trees: Combat, Survival and Support. Combat is pretty self-explanatory. Survival ranges from giving your character more damage resistance and health, to making him better at spotting anomalies. Support is for increasing your ability to repair items or craft new ones, making you better able to carry stuff, and making you better at using medkits. And if you decide you want to change things up, you can do it easily. Every few days, you have the ability to reset your skills for free.
The world is beautiful with very few flaws. The landscapes were very nice and leave most players in awe. Combined with the atmospheric effects, such as fog and rain, this made for a very pleasant experience exploring the land. There are a few bugged textures, though. And the occasional tear in the world.
The user interface, while not perfect, is not hard on the eye. It works well and is designed to fit with the game’s theme. Not a thing I can think of to change, really. Maybe the ability to re-arrange it more freely?
All-in-all, the world in Stalker Online is one of the best I have seen. It may not have graphics on par with Skyrim, though it definitely has its own charm. They get the job done while providing the proper mood for a game focused on survival.
Stalker Online has your traditional RPG stuff. There are keys to open up your equipment, inventory, skills and quest. The 1-9 keys can be used as hotkeys to use items. Nothing new there. However, due to the uniqueness of the game, there are a few new things. An example being the ability to throw stones with the Q key to test for anomalies, which can sometimes be invisible until it is too late. Everything is pretty simple and easy to understand without requiring much tutorial.
The over-the-shoulder aiming works well and is quite smooth. Combined with the fluid movement and easy transition to scope view, this makes for superb combat. Not a bad thing to say about this game in the area of controls. It did everything well and there is nothing to complain about.
Your Fellow Stalkers
It is a dangerous place, the Zone. There are very few places where you will find safety. Most places are full, open PvP areas. You are more likely to stop and exchange greetings with your fellow Stalkers, rather than start shooting. There is an unspoken code between the players that you do not kill each other unless you have to. Of course, there are some bad apples. Fortunately these are few and far between.
There is a lot of content that will encourage you and your friends to work together. Such as the awesome beasts that populate portions of the map. You won’t feel like a true Stalker until you and five of your friends get together to hunt down a massive bear.
There were a few areas that had me scratching my head, though. Such as allowing Game Masters to play as regular players. The Senior Game Master for the English server runs a clan that is at odds with most everyone else, including newbie clans. There are even claims of players being banned for no apparent reason, other than the Game Master not liking them.
Another thing I was confused about was the forums rules. You are not allowed to post new threads unless you send an administrator a personal message beforehand and get an OK. If you do not get permission, you will be banned for a day without warning. I could not understand why this rule exists.
It does appear that the developers do not care much for the English community. This is most likely due to the language barrier, as all the developers are native Russian speakers and very few of them appear to speak English. This is bad because anyone in a position of power seems to use google translate to communicate with the players. This means it is very hard for players to relate problems to the developers.
Death is Not the End
When you are killed in Stalker Online, you get two options. You can choose to revive or you can rest. Reviving will instantly teleport you to the last fire you visited, with the chance of having one of the items in your inventory drop on to the ground. Resting will make you wait for a period of time and then bring you back to life where you fell. During this time, players can come up to you and use a medkit to instantly bring you back, or they can murder you. Murdering a player, much like using the revive options, has a chance of them dropping one of their items.
If you rest, you will get a special debuff that limits you to 1/3rd of your health until you visit a fire to rest. These debuffs will continue to stack until then, each one adding an extra ten seconds to the thirty second timer. So, if you have three stacks of the resting debuff, you will have to wait one minute to rest. It is not possible to get your health past 1/3rd with this debuff, even while using medkits.
Clans and Factions
Just like in the single player games, factions play a big role in the Zone. They control territory and offer benefits to their members. There are both NPC factions, and player-made clans.
A big part of the clan side of the game is bases. Bases are locations that can be controlled by player-made clans that offer special benefits to whoever owns it. These benefits are a place to respawn that is near good locations, a localized storage, and an NPC that offers special items that cannot be found elsewhere.
Base warfare happens every Saturday. For two hours, every base becomes vulnerable to attack and can be taken by enemy clans. Included are fortifications, smaller versions of bases that can only be taken if you already own a base. The fortifications are on a separate timer than bases, so they are vulnerable at different times. It is a planned feature to give clans the ability to develop and upgrade their bases and fortifications to offer further benefits.
The one gripe I have in this area is the completely overpowered NPC guards. These NPCs protect bases and must be killed if you want to capture them. The NPCs will always hit you as long as you are within range and line-of-sight. This can be very annoying and has been known to cause mass genocide of newbies.
Stalking Online is a game with a lot of potential. The biggest negative about it is the lack of communication between the developers and their English speaking players. I have been having a blast in this game ever since I downloaded it and I cannot wait to see how it develops in the future. Cybertime Systems has done a great job with this game so far; let’s hope they keep it up. I fully recommend that fans of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, or anyone who enjoys a big open world, give it a try.