It is not simple to make it in the Zone, due to its high dangers that lurk at every step you make, but with a few basic tips, you may survive as long as you follow them.
Attention: These tips are mainly for the vanilla game, but I have included a few advices related to Oblivion Lost playthroughs as well, which I have tried a few times.
1st tip - Lower the difficulty.
This could actually be a good thing for players that don't try shooters too much. On my first S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl playthrough, I chose the "Stalker" level. Of course, the realism is not complete when playing any difficulty that's smaller than the highest one. Oblivion Lost actually proves that, since there you have to quick-save AND normally save the game at every step if you play on "Master". Just try to make a save at key points in the campaign. For example, when you enter a new area. The point is to have a few backups just in case your game crashes and the save game becomes corrupted. (Thanks to litosns for pointing out this missing detail from here)
It is your decision whether you choose the lowest or highest difficulty, but I can tell you that the most realistic one is the highest. Obviously, there are a few tweaks to be made to the vanilla game in order to improve the realism even more. A few mods do that, but I don't want to go off-topic. Oh, and another thing...you can set the difficulty level at any time during your playthrough. This could be useful since if a real difficult situation that you just can't pass shows up, you can lower the difficulty just for that one thing. You have to go to the main menu while you play, then click "Options", "Game", and there you go!
2nd tip - Avoid fights that you cannot win.
This is a mistake done by many - getting into battles that they just cannot win. This is not Call of Duty or any other game where you instantly become a hero. This is a game of realism. I mean really, if the Zone would be real and you would be in it's territory, would you go ahead and act like Rambo around? No, you would be scared a lot. Even if it's a game, I still got scared a couple of times, in the beginning. Of course, that's why it's a survival horror game.
I even made a video sustaining what I just said. As you can see, I tried to act like Rambo and destroy the whole military complex, but...in the end, I died. Instead of using a medkit at ..., I just advanced and collapsed, even if I had very good equipment.
3rd tip - Read your PDA often.
Many players actually don't even check their PDAs quite often, to not say that not at all. That is an absolute mistake, since it can actually contain useful information about the Zone and its inhabitants. Also, it contains a map of your current position, and also of specific stash coordinates that you picked off a dead person. I'm not going to say anything more about it than the fact that it's very useful. The ones that played Priboi Story understand me here.
4th tip - Pay attention to any area you have to go to.
Shortly, just examine every location you're in. That thing might be useful since if any enemy shows up, you'll be able to take cover in a place you just saw. If you aren't careful in any area of the Zone, you'll surely end up running aimlessly from a tough enemy, and eventually die. If you're in enemy territory, try to count every foe you see, because it might be good to know with how many enemies you're dealing with. If there are too many of them and your equipment's not so good, then consider avoiding those enemies.
5th tip - Use your binoculars to detect enemies in your range.
Note that enemies are marked with these red lines when using binoculars. Neutral persons will be marked with orange, mutants with white and friends with green.
6th tip - Don't carry too much with you.
It's simple - just make sure you don't store your every piece of equipment in your backpack, since unlike other games, the character is able to carry 50 KGs before he tires slowly. And at 60, he cannot walk anymore. If you want to change your weight limit, check my tutorial that explains that. To be honest, I changed my weight limit to 30 KGs once, just to increase realism. And I tweaked it in a way that my character wouldn't be able to walk anymore once he carried over 50 KGs.
But anyway, if you cannot drop some equipment from your backpack due to its value, you can hide it somewhere in a stash or a box. The first blue box you'll encounter is in Sidorovich's bunker. And then, in the rookie village. So you might consider storing some of your equipment in different boxes, to not carry everything with you the whole time, but also not to sell everything just to lower the KGs on you. Since my character was able to carry only up to 50 KGs, you can imagine I immediately learnt to organise my equipment in LOTS of places.
Attention: The players of Oblivion Lost may also add a little ease to this operation...as soon as they store something in a box, they could drop a GPS next to it, to not forget the location of the stash. Note that NPCs don't pick up GPSs, so they're okay whereever they've been dropped.
7th tip - Unload every weapon you find.
As soon as you find a weapon, see if it's loaded by right-clicking on it. You'll see a couple of options there, and if the "Unload" option is there, then it means the weapon's loaded, obviously. So in that case, if you're in the middle of a battle, and you're slowly running out of bullets, and there's no more room for another weapon in your inventory, then once you kill a human enemy, pick up his weapon and unload it if you can. Then drop it. You might find this useful since you can win a significant number of ammunition if you do this on every enemy.
8th tip - Smash every crate you find!
This can prove very useful since they might hold valuable items. As soon as you spot these kinds of crates shown in the images, make sure to smash them. It won't make any sound "heard" by an enemy, although this isn't very realistic.
9th tip - Avoid venturing in the Zone at night.
This is pretty self-explanatory, although even your enemies don't see at night...well at least the human ones. Because I'm pretty sure mutants do, so unless you have nightvision or unless you really have to exit a dangerous area, then try avoiding venturing at night. Even if you have a flashlight, it isn't very helpful since it only lights a bit, and ALSO it makes you to be spotted easily by enemies. Yes, try to turn off your flashlight as soon as you enter enemy territory.
10th tip - Try not to venture during storms.
I know that storms pretty much happen all the time, but try not to venture during them, since it totally blinds you, and you won't be able to hear clearly gunshots from distance, that should warn you of enemy presence.
11th tip - Make sure to not let your character starve.
It is an important aspect that many ignore. As I said before, this isn't Call of Duty or anything, so you actually have to feed your character in order for him to survive.
12th tip - Always watch out for anomalies.
As soon as you hear the beeping from your automatic anomaly detector, just toss a bolt in front of you, to make sure you're not walking into a trap. Most of the anomalies can be seen easily, but if you're rushing to a place, you may just get into one and die. It actually depends on the damaging level of the anomaly. If it's an old anomaly that stayed in one place for a long time, then even if you have the strongest suit in the game, you still can idea instantly.
13th tip - Quicksave often!
Just do that unless you want to load an old save you made weeks ago because of some bug or anything... But not only quicksave, also save at times like..when starting a new mission and such. Believe me, it'll be worth it if any complication pops up.
Oblivion Lost tips:
-Oblivion Lost changes many aspects to the game, like the addition of emissions - often called blowouts. They basically are earthquakes...just to give a non-spoiling description. So as soon as you see one occurring, and you WILL notice when they do, try to get to cover immediately. Especially in underground environment, like in basements, rather than houses, because underground, you're completely unaffected. DO NOT stay outside during a blowout, unless you have dozens of antirads and medkits. The blowouts' power enhances once you venture closer to the heart of the Zone.
-Make sure to find out about the new stuff that was added to the game with the mod. Like the mutants...so you actually have to check your PDA since most of them will be shown in your Encyclopedia early in the game.
-Don't be sure that every mission will be the same once you switch to this mod. A few mutants were added or replaced from certain places etc.
-Anomalies are now mobile. They always change their position after a blowout, mostly at night. So if you're planning for a trek in the Zone at night, be very careful about the anomalies.
In my opinion, this type of tutorial is the best for any game, since it doesn't spoil anything. So I do hope it actually helped any of the Stalkers out there. I'll probably add some more tips over time, and will mark them that they are new.
Good luck in the Zone, Stalkers!
Oblivion Lost tip
A thing I forgot to mention is wandering around the Zone after blowouts. I gotta say that it's more dangerous to do that since new mutants have JUST spawned in most areas of any map. So unless you want to encounter hordes of mutants, then you'd better wait 2 or more in-game hours so that things will calm down.
Bandit camp assault demonstration
As requested, I made a video in which I complete the very first storyline mission. As you can see in it, stealth isn't very easy to perform in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. But still, I don't believe I alerted the bandits, since I heard gunshots that weren't even directed to me. But still, I started to act as soon as they detected something. The loner that gives you the mission will give you some details about how many bandits are in the camp. It's a good thing to know if you plan to take on a whole camp on yourself. I did that, since that loner lets you decide whether they will come with you or not. I believe they will just vanish from the game if you choose to go alone, but I'm not sure.
Anyway, here's the video:
14th tip - Get to higher ground once overrun by mutants!
As you can see in the images, I'm pretty much safe when on higher ground than down there. It's obvious that mutants cannot jump, well except the pseudodog, chernobyl dog and the...chimera I think. But they cannot jump 100 meters up to the sky either, so basically...whenever you are tired of trying to shoot the mutants that are pretty fast...like blind dogs, just get to higher ground and kill them, since they will be still trying to get you unless they are lonely. In that case, they might run.
I made a video showing a hunt of mine at the Bar area. It's basically the mission to purge the dog lair there, and as a reward you get a Meat Chunk. It's not really worth it since it has lots of negative effects on you if you equip it on your belt. But anyway, you can give it to the Barkeep at anytime by accepting his "Find the Meat Chunk" mission. That way, you give your Meat Chunk gained by killing some weak Blind Dogs for 2 scientific medkits and 2500 RU. It's better like that, isn't it? Rather than selling it for less money... I actually did that mission lots of times and received like 20 scientific medkits...
15th tip - Check your "Contacts" tab in your PDA once a number appears below your minimap.
As Sidorovich explains in his tutorial at the beginning of the game, your PDA can detect persons within 50 meters and show a small description of them...like their rank, their attitude towards you, the faction they're in... Well, once that happens, a number will appear just below your minimap. That number shows how many of these persons are within 50 meters. It is very useful to check the "Contacts" tab of your PDA in that moment, since you can check whether there's an enemy nearby or a neutral/friendly stalker. Of course, if that's the case, then they should appear on your minimap as well. So if they don't, then there's probably a foe nearby. But still, it's important to know your enemy first before trying to face him or to avoid him.
16th tip - Loot every locker, even the locked ones!
I found out recently that it doesn't matter whether a locker is locked or not...you can pick up everything inside it anyway. That is because when you get closer to it, you basically are able to see the icon of the items inside. And then, you have to simply pick them up, even though the locker might be locked. You probably wondered what the hell is in the two locked drawers in Sidorovich's bunker. Well, since you know this trick now, then you imagine there's nothing in it. Of course, some lockers might be opened as you advance in the game, but if they're full of items, you can still pick them up anyway.
17th tip - If you want artifacts, then look for them at night!
I know this contradicts the 9th tip, where I said you shouldn't venture at night, but if you have good protection equipped with nightvision, then you should survive in areas like the Dark Valley, Cordon...Garbage, and in the same time acquire some nice artifacts. As seen, in the screenshot above, I just found two Flash artifacts in the Dark Valley, at around 2 AM. Yeah, I know there's just one in the image, but I found another one further, near an Electro anomaly. Actually, they both were near Electro anomalies since that's where that type of artifact is born. I know that the Sparkler, Flash and Moonlight artifacts are created between midnight and 5 AM, near Electro anomalies. I don't know if this is available for the other types of artifacts, but you might try to look for the other ones as well after midnight.
Also, the Agroprom Underground area is a goldmine for artifacts like Sparkler, Flash, and even Moonlight. I once found two Flashes, one Sparkler and one Moonlight on my second trip in that map. There are lots of Electro anomalies in a small tunnel near the entrance of the area. Just be careful there, because you might die while running to the artifacts. Just make sure to visit that area between midnight and 5 AM.
18th tip - Try to observe some of the mutants' behaviours.
It is essential to know your enemy before you can hope to defeat it, right? You may have noticed this already, but weaker animals such as the Blind Dog, the Flesh and the Boar are mostly afraid of you and will not attack you unless assisted by a whole pack of four or three mutants in average. Though, I believe you still have to intimidate them by shooting a few bullets near or at them. If they're alone, they will most likely run. Of course, in the case of a more stronger mutant such as the Pseudogiant, Bloodsucker or Controller, the number does not matter, because they will try to kill you anyway. Try to check your PDA often in order to find out some of these mutants' strengths and weaknesses. For example, the weak point of a bloodsucker is it's head. If you shoot him in the head a couple of times, he'll surely die.
Oblivion Lost tip - Make sure a zombie is dead before approaching it.
This is not really a dangerous type of mutant that was added with this mod, but the zombie can really be annoying due to its high level of health and due to its high capability of destroying your armor. Once you shoot down a zombie, it is most likely to fake its own death and actually rise again after a small amount of time or as soon as you approach it. Of course, if you throw an F1 grenade a few inches from the monster, it is most likely to die instantly. Anyway, a fake death is when the zombie collapses a bit slower than a mutant would usually, and when, most of the times, the zombie doesn't scream as he would do when it's actually dead.. So either way, you'd want to shoot a zombie again once it collapses, just to be sure it's dead.
19th tip - Know how to survive against the Zone's invisible weapon
If some of you did not get the title, well...the "Zone's invisible weapon" is radiation. Radiation is an anomaly itself, but unlike the other anomalies available in Shadow of Chernobyl, you cannot see it at all. Keep in mind that you have a permanent anomaly detector that beeps once you are near anomalies. The faster the beeping is, the closer you are to that anomaly.
You might ask yourself this: "What if I walk into hazardous areas filled with radiation?" Well, it's simple really...you need to know there are five ways to avoid a death caused by irradiation:
1st method - Drink vodka!
Vodka - the Stalkers' favorite drink in the Zone... It doesn't only make you cheerful due to the drunkenness it provokes, which is obvious...but it is also a good weapon against radiation. The vodka isn't particularly expensive in the Zone, it is also carried by many Stalkers...and also a single bottle of this extraordinary drink eliminates 30% of radiation from your body. So if you walked in a highly irradiated area, then radiation is most likely to spread in your body almost instantly, incident which might kill you in a matter of seconds.
Some places or things are actually predictable of being overrun by radiation...like the wrecked UAZ-452 below.
Most vehicles around the Zone are usually FULL of radiation, so you should think about it before using them as cover. Anyway...if for example your character would reach the maximum amount of radiation available in his body, thing which you can see in your inventory (the bar with the radiation icon), then you'd need four bottles of vodka to get rid of all the radiation and survive. Of course, you could for example drink three of them...and then only 10% of your body would be filled of radiation. In that case, the health meter might not decrease at all, so you can actually wait for the radiation to decrease itself. But remember - it takes a LOT of time for the radiation to exit your body.
Also, I've heard of a bug available in vanilla Shadow of Chernobyl that basically maintains your body filled of radiation if you change maps while your body still has radiation inside. I never experienced this though, but still...you might want to get rid of all the radiation in your body before switching maps...of course, if you play the vanilla game.
2nd method - Use medkits!
The medkit above is the weakest that can be found in the whole game. It only eliminates 10% of the radiation from your body, increases the health meter by 60% and stops 30% of the bleeding. So...you'd need ten medkits to fully get rid of the radiation from your body. It also is a bit risky to use this medkit only to eliminate the radiation...because the other positive effects might be needed on a later time...
Another medkit available in the game is the Army Medkit, which is also one of the two most effective medkits in the whole game. It eliminates 10% of the radiation from your body, like the Standard medkit does, but unlike that one, it fully restores the health meter and fully stops the bleeding. So basically...you'd want to have this kind of medkit when you are about to pass areas that aren't full of radiation, but are full of other dangers like enemy Stalkers etc. Like in the Standard Medkit's case...you'd need ten Army Medkits if you plan to cure a body full of radiation.
This is the Scientific Medkit...very useful to defend yourself against most of the Zone's dangers. It is the other most effective medkit in the whole game. It cures a body FULL of radiation, fully restores the health meter and stops 30% of the bleeding. So...in this case, you only need one Scientific Medkit to eliminate all the radiation from your body, which is very good.
So, basically...you might want to carry both Army Medkits AND Scientific Medkits to have a very good medical protection in the Zone. Carry Army Medkits to fight human and mutant enemies, and use Scientific Medkits to fight the radiation.
3rd method - Carry artifacts that force the radiation to exit your body!
There are a few artifacts that actually make the radiation meter decrease, like the Fireball, but I won't go further into details here to not spoil anything. Basically, if you are unable to use any other method mentioned here, but have an artifact that fights radiation, then equip that artifact and just wait for the radiation to exit your body. Of course, if the radiation meter is really high...then you'd need a lot more than a SINGLE artifact so you can survive.
4th method - Equip a suit that is resistant to radiation!
There are a few suits in the game that are specially made to resist radiation. A notable example is the SSP-99 Ecologist Suit. Just buy or receive one to have a good radiation protection. Of course, none of these suits have FULL protection against this threat but, if you combine this method with the others, then you might find yourself almost immune to radiation.
5th method - Use anti-rads!
The name really explains everything... This drug is probably the easiest way to neutralize accumulated radiation from your body, because it actually eliminates ANY sign of it. Though, the problem is it's really expensive... Still, this drug is found on many Stalkers, so if you are a good adventurer, you might not need to buy a SINGLE pack of it in the whole game, like me. Since this drug is only useful against radiation, then you don't need to use a Scientific Medkit instead, which is also used for treating other injuries.
These are kind of all the ways to not die because of radiation...of course, you can also wait for the radiation to exit your body...but if the meter is VERY high, then you might die unless you have dozens of medkits... Anyway...good luck fighting this usual threat in the Zone, Stalkers!