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Stalker 2: Heart of Chornobyl — Everything we know

Stalker 2 - a mutated creature growls at the screen
(Image credit: GSC Game World)

Stalker 2 is coming. The long-awaited follow-up to the Stalker series, dearly beloved in spite of its jankiness, will return players to The Zone of Alienation, a heavily contaminated and extremely dangerous area between the borders of Ukraine and Belarus.

The first-person survival shooter series is known for its bleak atmosphere, terrifying monsters and mutants, and extremely unforgiving combat. Fans (including myself) have been waiting for over a decade for a sequel originally announced all the way back in 2010.

Here's everything we know about Stalker 2: Heart of Chornobyl.

What is Stalker 2's release date?

Stalker 2: Heart of Chornobyl is currently due to release in 2023. Initially, the sequel was set to release in April of 2022 before a delay into December. However, that was before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which forced GSC Game World to suspend work. Though development has now resumed, the ongoing warfare has understandably slowed the game's production.

Will Stalker 2 be on PC?

Yes! The Stalker series has always been on PC, but Stalker 2 is also a "console launch exclusive" on Xbox. That's a confusing phrase, but it doesn't mean PC players will have to wait. It just means PlayStation owners will be out of luck. Stalker 2's official site states the PC version will launch simultaneously with the Xbox version.

How has Stalker 2 been affected by the war? 

GSC Game World is based in Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine. When Russia declared war on February 24, it was one of the first game development studios to speak out, with a statement that read, in part: "Our country woke up with the sounds of explosions and weapons fire, but is ready to defend its freedom and independence, for it remains strong and ready for anything. The future is unknown, but we hope for the best, are ever sure of our armed forces and our belief in Ukraine."

In March, with the city under heavy bombardment and Russian troops massing outside it, GSC Game World paused development on Stalker 2. A video that had been intended to showcase the studio's mocap work instead became a powerful statement, showing how priorities had shifted. "Now we are striving to help our employees and their families to survive", it declared. "The game development shifted to the sidelines."

During the subsequent pause, the spelling of Stalker 2's subtitled was changed to Heart of Chornobyl, reflecting the Ukrainian rather than the Russian spelling of Chornobyl.

In late May, community representative Mol1t explained that development had resumed, saying on Discord that "it continues" and "the work is in progress." A delay into 2023 was announced soon after, owing to the invasion's continuing disruption.

GSC Game World released a dev diary video in June, which detailed how the war's disruption of daily life in Ukraine has affected the studio. In the video, GSC devs show their makeshift workspaces, the regular interruptions from air raid sirens or needing to evacuate to bomb shelters, and their efforts as community volunteers and enlisted members of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Here's the latest Stalker 2 trailer

This Enter the Zone cinematic teaser trailer gives us a look at what kind of mood will be waiting for us in the Heart of Chornobyl. From the recorded conversation that serves as narration for the trailer, it sounds like Stalker 2's plot will involve an effort to "venture forward to a new, better humanity" by harnessing the forces of the Zone. I'm sure that'll work out fine.

Let's watch the other Stalker 2 trailers

First, you can point your eager anomaly detectors (your eyes, I mean) at the Stalker 2 gameplay from E3 2021. It begins, as everything Stalker-related should, with a group of mercenaries sitting around a fire while someone plays the guitar. Then we get a look at some gunplay as a Stalker, named Skif, raids a camp. It's a bit more Call of Duty than we'd expect from Stalker combat, which typically involves being real careful and not rushing headlong into a group of enemies. 

We also see some on-the-fly weapon modding, some rather nice-looking explosions, and an encounter with a bloodsucker—a monster seasoned Stalker players are quite familiar with. Then there's an expedition into a bleak-looking swamp to find an artifact. It definitely looks very Stalker-y, as we see a headcrab-esque monster get sucked into an anomaly, and Skif uses a new detector and some thrown bolts to avoid another, followed by the acquisition of a precious artifact.

If you want to get a blow-by-blow explanation from the devs themselves, this Stalker 2 dev highlights video gives us some commentary on bits from the gameplay trailer above, where we learn there's a small detail that hints at a new (possibly military) faction. There's also a cameo at the end from Sergiy Grygorovych, founder of GSC Game World.

Finally, if you want to see some earlier footage from Stalker 2, there was also a teaser (opens in new tab) back in 2020 that "demonstrates the level of graphics and atmosphere we are aiming to achieve on release" as well as an in-engine teaser (opens in new tab).

Will Stalker 2 seriously have NFTs?

Well yes, but then no, and now hopefully it continues to be no. On December 15, GSC Game World announced a tie-in with NFTs—a sort of blockchain auction for players to be able to get themselves scanned onto the faces of NPCs, or have access to "unique" items. 

This did not last very long. The following day NFT involvement with Stalker 2 was retracted, proving that the answer to 'what are ya selling?' was not, indeed, NFTs.

So for now, it appears Stalker 2 will be safe from the scourge of the non-fungible token trend running amok on the internet.

(Image credit: GSC Game World)

What engine is Stalker 2 running on?

Though previously Stalker 2 was being developed for Unreal 4, it's now shifted to the hotly anticipated Unreal 5. A change in engine may be part of the reason for the initial delay that pushed its release into 2022

With this engine change comes a bevy of improvements, including some quite pretty characters and weapons. Now we can expect to see both the whites of their eyes and the not-so-whites of their teeth when confronting enemies in the Zone.

There's a true open world this time

The maps in the earlier Stalker games were big, but they weren't entirely open worlds. While sizable, they were broken up into chunks and you were funneled through a few specific access points to travel between them.

Stalker 2 will officially be a seamless open world game. "For the first time in the series, the Zone will be yours to explore as a post-apocalyptic open-world—one of the biggest ones to date," says GSC Game World.

(Image credit: GSC Game World)

A-Life has been upgraded

There's a lot of simulation happening in Stalker games. Members of the various human factions wander the Zone, same as you, and there are all sorts of mutants and creatures creeping around out there too. 

These different entities clash and interact, even when you're not around to see it. In the previous games, a system called A-Life simulated the world and its inhabitants, and now an upgraded A-Life 2.0 will do the same in Stalker 2.

What is Stalker 2 about?

Not much about the story has been revealed, but the scenario sounds similar to that of the previous games. "Bounty hunters delve deep into the Zone, driven by its treasures and mysteries. Some of them are running from their past, others are blinded by money, and some are obsessed with finding the truth behind all the mysteries."

The story will be non-linear, and GSC says, "Your choices will influence both short-term consequences and global outcomes."

(Image credit: GSC Gameworld)

Ray tracing and resolution

GSC has confirmed RTX support (opens in new tab) for Stalker 2 on the Xbox Series X and Series S, and 4k resolution for the Series X, which means we can safely assume the same features will come to PC. Expect to see a lot of reflections in those radioactive puddles.

Do I have to play the other Stalker games before I play Stalker 2?

Yes, you do. That's not official, that's just my personal directive to you because two of the Stalker games (Shadow of Chernobyl and Call of Pripyat) are excellent.

If you want a second opinion, GSC Game World has its own answer to that question: Yes, you do.

"Stalker 2 is a standalone project that can be enjoyed on its own," it said on GSC's site. "At the same time, we recommend to complete the previous games for the maximum level of immersion."

So, yes. You do. You'd better get started!

Will Stalker 2 support modding?

The original Stalker series is kept fresh by a passionate and dedicated modding community. And GSC plans to support modders with Stalker 2 as well. "We're fully committed to make modding as simple as possible on day one."

Hey, what does S.T.A.L.K.E.R. stand for again?

Yep, the game is actually S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, which is much peskier to type than Stalker 2. And the letters (supposedly, because the story is a bit complicated) stand for Scavengers, Trespassers, Adventurers, Loners, Killers, Explorers, and Robbers.

Which one will you be? Probably all of the above.

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.

With contributions from