Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Surviving your first 24 hrs in the standalone Anomaly mod for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat is often the most difficult part – at least until the late game large scale assault on the Brain Scorcher. This veteran Stalker is here to show you rookies how to survive and thrive in the Zone.
My first piece of advice is that if you have not already played the retail S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games - Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat - then do so before starting Anomaly. Anomaly serves as a fan-made semi-sequel that is set after the events of Call of Pripyat, and it builds upon the gameplay mechanics developed in those games. If you go into Anomaly without playing the retail games first you may struggle to work out what is going on, and may well become overwhelmed by its near-vertical learning curve - perhaps even with this guide.
However, if you are impatient, then I recommend at least watching the video below as it will give you the basics of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R universe.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lore: The Zone
Video by Into The Zone
The Agony of Choice
One of the best aspects of Anomaly is its plethora of game modes and a vast array of configurable gameplay options. Secondly, there are a LOT of optional addons for Anomaly, and that number seemingly grows daily. Some of these are minor tweaks, but some of them are major overhauls that can alter the game significantly. Since the possible combinations of game modes, gameplay options and addons are near limitless, it’s possible many players’ individual ‘builds’ and playthroughs will be unique. This makes creating a guide that covers all of them virtually impossible.
Therefore, this guide will assume a ‘vanilla’ build, but it will attempt to highlight when using certain addons may require a different approach. It will also assume you are playing the Story mode, that your starting faction will be ‘Loner’, and that your starting location will be the ‘Rookie Village’.
PS – Although this guide is for Anomaly, some of it may also be relevant to the other standalone S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mods that share some of its ‘DNA’, such as A.R.E.A., Road To The North, Dead Air, Escape From Pripyat etc. let me know in the comments or message me if you would like to see specific guides for these too. With that out of the way, let’s begin.
Threat Guide: A Million Ways to Die in the East
There are many ways to become ‘Lost to the Zone’ (i.e. dead) in Anomaly due to the sheer number of threats present in the game world. To go through every single threat individually would require a guide all its own. (Again, let me know in the comments or message me if this is something you would like to see too). So, for now, I have broken the threats down into categories.
The Zone is populated by many human NPCs, or ‘Zoners’. Some are friendly, some neutral and some are hostile. Hostile NPCs will often shoot at you, your companions, and any other NPCs they don’t like the look of on sight. Pay attention to the faction relations tab on your PDA - shown below - as this will show who is your friend, and who is your foe. Note that NPCs from rival factions will often start shooting at each other if they happen to run into one another, so try to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.
If you kill an NPC from a formally neutral or friendly faction the faction as a whole may turn hostile, so be mindful of who you shoot at, and what assassination missions you accept. For your first day in the Zone, your main enemies will be Bandits and the Military - although the Military can be rendered neutral(ish) - in the Cordon map only - if you use the ‘Combat Ignore Military Fix’ addon.
NB this is recommended and lore-friendly as the local trader supposedly bribes the military in that map to look the other way. Just don’t get too close to them or they will open fire regardless.
NB – If using the ‘Dynamic Faction Relations’ option (Settings - The Zone - General) then factions can change allegiances on a whim, meaning former friends will become your enemies until they change their minds again.
The level of threat posed by an NPC is largely dependent on what weapons they are carrying, what armour they are wearing, how many buddies they have nearby and the particulars of the landscape - such as what cover and concealment are available, who has an elevational advantage, how far away they are etc. The Bandits you will be facing on your first day, such as the one in the image above, will generally have low tier weapons and armour. This will make them easier to fight, but also limits the value of the weapons, ammo and suits you can loot from them.
Be aware that some bandit outfits, such as the one shown in the image above, look very similar to some of the Loner's outfits. This can make positively identifying them at a distance a challenge, especially if you lack binoculars or a scoped weapon. They, on the other hand, will have no trouble telling if you are friend or foe, so they will start shooting on sight. Note that Bandits sound different from Loaners and have terrible noise discipline, so you may be able to identify them by ear. You may also be able to ID them by the company they keep. If the other NPCs in their group are wearing more distinctly bandit attire, then you can safely assume they are all Bandits.
Vehicles do not play a large role in Anomaly, and you are unlikely to encounter any on your first day in the Zone. With one exception - the Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship that patrols around the map overhead if the ‘Helicopter Patrols’ option has been enabled. (Settings - The Zone - General.)
It generally won’t attack you unless you attack it or the military grunts on the ground. Since you lack the weapons to take it down (such as an RPG) I highly recommend not antagonising it as it is lethal and relentless.
The zone’s ill-tempered and always hungry fauna. They come in all manner of shapes and sizes. The ones you are most likely to encounter during your first day include mutated dogs, wolves, pigs, rodents, and wild boars. Most of them can run faster than you, but they tend to be rubbish climbers.
If you must face hungry mutants then jumping up on top of an abandoned car or structure is often your best bet as they will have greater difficulty reaching you there. Better yet - climb a ladder, since most mutants can’t climb vertical ladders. Shotguns loaded with buckshot tend to be your best defence against mutants.
NB - mutants tend to become more exotic and dangerous the further north you travel. Some advanced mutants possess ranged attacks, telekinesis and one - the aptly named ‘Controller’ - can cause harm by its mere proximity. With the Arszi’s Controller OverhaulI addon, they can also mind-control other mutants and even NPCs - including your companions. Thankfully, you are unlikely to encounter such terrors down in the Cordon.
NPCs that have sadly fallen under the influence of the Brain Scorcher or the various other ‘Psi’ effects in the Zone are said to have become ‘zombified’. They are generally a minor threat as they are slow and do not use cover, however, they will shoot at you and pretty much anyone else on sight. (Yes – S.T.A.L.K.E.R.S.’s zombies have guns!)
Shots to the body will put them down, but be aware of them writhing around, as this means they will get back up, forcing you to have to put them down again. They may repeat this cycle several times in a row, which can deplete your ammo reserves. If they are writhing on the ground shoot or stab them until they stop. The quickest and most ammo efficient way to dispatch them is a head shot from a scoped rifle at long range, which will usually kill them outright in one hit.
You may also encounter more ‘traditional’ Zombies. These are supposedly zombified Stalkers that have mentally devolved even further due to prolonged exposure to psi energies. These do not use guns and so present far less of a threat. Note they have a habit of playing dead when shot in the body. If you down a Zombie be sure to stab and smash away at it with a melee weapon or shoot it in the head to make sure it stays down for good.
The quickest and most ammo efficient way to dispatch them is a load of 12 gauge buckshot to the head from point-blank range. This will usually kill them outright in one hit. For some reason, headshots from pistols and rifles are far less effective.
Anomalies are localised areas of warped physics created by the Zone. Some are static, some are mobile. Some cluster together to form anomaly fields, whereas some will be found in ones and twos. They come in various categories, such as thermal, electrical, chemical, gravitational and psi. Some are easy to spot whereas some are almost invisible. What unites them is that nearly all of them are deadly should you blunder into one.
Many anomalies go through looped animations, often with a very brief pause between loops, during which they become completely invisible, yet remain just as deadly. It is easy to run into Anomalies, especially during their invisible pause, and this is just one of the reasons why sprinting around the map isn’t recommended.
Anomalies can be revealed and activated by throwing bolts at them. Some enter a very brief dormancy period after being activated, which can be used to get past them. Note this lasts about a second at most so it is extremely risky.
Mutants and Zombies will trigger anomalies if they enter them. You can use this to your advantage by luring mutants into them. This can save both your hide and your bullets.
NB - Spatial anomalies can only be used for transport when using the Spatial Anomalies addon.
Anomaly introduces the pulse anomaly. These resemble the discharges from psi-storms. They can start overhead in seemingly random locations. If you hear something odd try looking up, and if you should see one forming close by, sprint away ASAP!
NB – if you are using the ‘Dynamic Anomalies’ option (Settings - The Zone - General) then additional anomalies will spawn in, and the locations of these will change after each emission. Therefore, do not assume that anomaly free areas will remain anomaly free after an emission has passed. On the plus side, some areas infested with anomalies may become relatively anomaly free after the next emission. As you play the game and become more familiar with the maps you will learn which anomalies are dynamic, and which are permanent fixtures.
The Zone’s ever-present invisible killer. In vanilla Anomaly, it is contained within distinct patches. Entering these will cause you to start soaking up rads which will start to sap your health (HP) until you can clear the rads from your body.
You will need a Geiger counter to know when you are in radioactive areas and to determine the intensity of your exposure. If you currently lack adequate protection from radiation then you can assume you are soaking up rads any time you hear the Geiger counter ticking. You should retreat from the field ASAP and rid yourself of those rads before they significantly reduce your HP.
To remove said radiation from your body you can - in descending order of effectiveness; consult a medic, take anti-radiation pills, drink vodka*, drink other liquids, or smoke a cigarette*. Taking radioprotectant medicine before entering the radioactive area can reduce the amount you receive and is highly recommended - prevention is better than cure.
* This is a reference to the allegedly popular folklore belief that drinking vodka and smoking cigarettes can protect against radiation. PSA - They Don’t!
Once you DO have adequate radiation protection the ticking of the Geiger counter can be a little deceptive. This is because the radiation in the environment may not reflect the amount of radiation your body is soaking up. To check this, equip your Geiger counter and set it to Dosimeter mode (explained later). This will show how many rads are getting through your protection and are building up in your body. Armed with this knowledge you can act accordingly.
NB – if you are using Arszi's Dynamic Radiation Zones and Radiation Overhaul addon be sure to read its description thoroughly, as it diverges from vanilla Anomaly’s implementation of radiation significantly.
Blowouts and Psi Storms
These are the most dangerous events in the Zone. If you are caught out in either of these it's game over. As soon as you realise one is starting - the ‘connection lost’ alert is a good indicator - head for suitable cover immediately. Your PDA will show what structures provide shelter. If you are far from a shelter then this is one of the few cases where sprinting is recommended; granted, you *might* run into an anomaly on your way and become injured or die, but if you are caught out in the open when the blowout or psi-storm hits you will *definitely* die.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Emission Zombifying an NPC
Note the NPC becoming zombified at the end of the video
Video by Lost To The Zone
Since speed will be important, it would be wise to dump any equipment that will weigh you down and thus slow you down. The backpack quick release system is ideal for this, as your backpack will turn into a stash containing most of your gear. Just remember to find and retrieve your backpack once it is safe to do so. It will appear as a stash on your PDA’s map. The ‘Unique Player Stash Icons’ addon will help, as it will highlight the stash in a different colour to regular stashes so you will know which is yours.
There is one way to survive outside if caught out in the open – this is by taking the experimental ‘Anabiotics’ pills. When you move on to larger maps with fewer and more widely spaced apart shelters it is recommended to always carry at least one of these.
Note that depending on your game options settings (Settings - The Zone - Events - Stalker's fate) emissions can affect NPCs in various ways. The most insidious is 'turn to Zombie'. This will turn any NPC caught out in the open into zombified stalkers, who will then be hostile even if they were friendly before.
Anomaly has a simply staggering array of items and equipment. Knowing what does what, what you will need and when you will need them can seem daunting at first. For now, we will concentrate on the two important categories of items, that I call 'Survival Essentials' and 'Wealth Creators'. Weapon attachments, ammo types, crafting and repair items, drugs, zone produced food and drink etc. will be covered in future guides.
To survive the Zone, you will need to be properly equipped for it. The essential equipment, and how it will look in your inventory, is shown in the screenshot below, followed by a breakdown of what each item is and its uses.
PDA - needed for receiving missions, communications and it serves as your map
Gas mask – to help protect you from radiation and harmful gasses
Suit – for general protection, using artifacts and with some addons – carrying ammo
A gun and compatible ammo (and compatible magazines if using the Anomaly Magazines Redux addon) for shooting enemy NPCs and hostile mutants
Knife – for breaking open boxes, skinning lower-tier mutants, stealth kills (if you have enabled the stealth kills option) and melee fighting.
Bolts/shell casings – to locate anomalies
A light source – to see in the dark
Binoculars – to help spot threats and identify NPCs at a distance. A scoped rifle can substitute for this.
Geiger counter– to see how much radiation is in the environment and how much you have been exposed to.
Backpack – to carry stuff
Backpack quick release system – so you can drop your backpack and run in an emergency
Bandages – for treating minor wounds
First Aid kit – for treating more serious injuries
Food and drink – so you do not become weak from hunger and thirst
Matches – for lighting campfires. This is essential if using the ‘can only save at lit campfires’ gameplay option. Also needed for smoking anti-radiological cigarettes and…er…'other medicinals'
(NB – if you are playing the similar but unrelated Road To The North standalone mod then add gas mask canisters and air bottles to the list, ‘al la Metro.)
The second category of equipment you will need are those I describe as ‘wealth creators’. These are not essential to survival, but they are key to making money and soon pay for themselves, and so should be acquired ASAP. As before, the screenshot below shows these in the inventory, followed by a description of their uses.
Multitool - will allow you to disassemble weapons for their parts.
Swiss knife - will allow you to disassemble suits for their parts.
Hunting knife - will allow you to skin larger mutants for their higher value pelts, meat, organs etc.
Hunter’s kit backpack - will allow you to harvest more pelts, meat, organs etc. from mutants when equipped.
RF Receiver - will allow you to take on ‘find the missing stalker’ missions.
Artifact Detector and LLMC (Lead Lined Metal Container). The detector is needed for locating the valuable artifacts spawned in anomaly fields. The LLMC is needed because the artifacts tend to be radioactive, and so should be placed within the LLMC to prevent the artifact from irradiating you.
NB - If playing Road To The North then add ‘shovel’ to the list, as it will allow you to dig up buried treasure.
Note that the items shown in the screens shots are only the most basic versions of these. It is highly recommended to invest in better versions when possible. In particular, a full-face gas mask, a decent suit, a better detector, a shotgun and a rifle or Sub Machine Gun should be high on your list of things to get.
In Anomaly you are granted a certain amount of starting gear for free as standard, and you are awarded points with which to select other items for free. You will also be given 1000 Ru (Roubles) to spend as you see fit once you start the game. The harder the progression difficulty (Tourist < Scavenger < Survivalist) the fewer points you will be granted. At Survivalist difficulty, you will not have enough to obtain all the essential starting gear, and the 1000 Ru will probably be insufficient to purchase the rest. Therefore, you will need to be selective regarding what to choose.
NB - Some addons will grant you more money and points to start with and a wider selection of starting items to choose from.
Assuming a vanilla survivalist playthrough, I highly recommend selecting the equipment shown in the image above. If the hunting knife is available and you have enough points then select that too, as it will come in handy after the first Training Day mission - more on that later. If playing on an easier setting then additional clean food, bandages and ammo would be a wise investment.
Tricks of the Trade
There are several controls and features the game does not make entirely clear and are easily missed, so I will quickly run through them below.
Tapping the PDA key will bring out your PDA in the low position, tapping it again will put it away. Right-clicking when you have the PDA out brings it up to your face making it easier to use, although you won’t be able to see anything else of course.
In the lowered mode it serves as a handy real-time map, especially useful if you have disabled the game's minimap in the game options (Settings - Visual - UI/HUD.)
Turning off ‘PDA simple mode’ from the controls section of the main menu will allow you to control the PDA while it is still in the lowered position as well. To use it in the lowered position tap the under-barrel grenade launcher key to toggle between controlling your avatar and controlling the PDA. In either mode, pressing a weapon key will automatically put away the PDA and draw your weapon - very handy if you get attacked when distracted by your PDA’s map.
Geiger Counter and Dosimeter
Your Geiger Counter (grey calculator looking thing) has two operation modes; Dosimeter - which shows how much radiation your body has received, and Geiger counter - which shows how much radiation is present in the environment around you.
To change modes, ensure the Geiger counter is equipped and held in the hand by pressing the detector key. Now Hold Shift and press the Geiger counter key to swap between modes.
NB - the Geiger counter key really should be called the ‘check radiation’ key, so I will refer to it as such from now on.
The RF Receiver will allow you to take on the ‘find the lost squad / find the lost Stalker missions’. Upon accepting the mission, you will be given a location and a frequency. You will need to match the frequency of the RF receiver to the frequency of the RF transponder you are looking for. To do this equip the RF receiver and get it out via the detector key. Ensure there is nothing in your other hand, as you will be unable to change frequency if your other hand isn't free.
You can now decrease the frequency to a minimum of 30 MHz, or increase the frequency up to a maximum of 300 MHz, in various increments via the following key presses;
1 MHz by Left-Click or Right-Click
10 MHz by Shift + Left-Click or Right-Click
50 MHz by Alt + Left-Click or Right-Click
Once the frequency is matched the receiver will beep more rapidly the closer you get to the signal source, which will usually be a dead Stalker. Retrieve his PDA then return it to the quest giver to complete the mission. This is a lot easier in smaller maps for obvious reasons.
The RF receiver is also needed for the ‘TB's RF Receiver Hidden Package Sidequests’ addon.
If you have multiple grenade types you can swap between them by first selecting the grenade key so a grenade is in your hand, then pressing the ammo change button.
Note that 'defensive' grenades such as the pineapple-shaped F1 have a notably larger kill radius. This makes them more deadly, but also increases the risk of self-injury. As with real-world defensive grenades, it is advisable to use these from a position of cover.
Inventory Quick Exit
Pressing the use key again when in an inventory screen or conversation screen will exit it. There is no need to press escape, click on ‘close’ or the option to end a conversation.
Pressing the crouch and low crouch/walk keys at the same time will make you go prone - this is very handy for hiding behind low cover and squeezing into tight spaces.
If you have a spare backpack in your inventory, you can create a stash by right-clicking on it and selecting create stash from the dropdown menu. This is extremely useful for creating supply caches in remote areas or at the few trader stations that appear to lack a nearby stash by default (Such as the Clear Sky secret base).
NB if you wish to pack up the stash you created simply select ‘take all’ from the stash inventory screen. This may not work if the stash is empty. To remedy this, simply place an item (any item will do) in the stash then click ‘take all’. The backpack will now appear in your inventory ready for reuse.
Phew - you made it! There was a lot to cover, so don't be surprised if it takes a while to absorb all the information. But this is just the start, as all it has covered is what you need to know before starting the game. In part two we will cover how to survive the game proper as we enter the Zone. See you all there.
If you enjoyed the style of this guide, then you may also like my free alternate-reality PDF book 'The Chernobyl Zone Survival Guide' which does something similar, but with one big exception - it assumes the Zone is real! To find out more, and to download your copy, please visit its page on this site.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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