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I'm about 10 hours into the game at the moment, so I figured I would let you guys know how it is.

Dark Valley
Sunrise in the Dark Valley

1st off, I installed the latest patch before I even fired up the game, as I heard that is fixes a lot of bad issues the release version of the game had, and I am happy (and relieved) to report that I have had a crash free 10 hours of fun with this game :)

Dark Valley
The fantastic sun rays in effect

From what I can tell the game levels are made up from 50% entirely new areas and 50% revamped areas from SOC, the new areas are fantastic and full of atmosphere, while the old areas have been brushed up and repolished to come into line with the new standard. Things do feel more polished overall with better animations, ai, sound and a vastly improved PDA system that shows your inter-faction standing / quests / map / etc.

Sunset at the Garbage

The new graphical options are very very nice, and the "enhanced full dynamic lighting" render is actually faster than the renderer in SOC despite all the new graphical features going on. Special mention must go to the "god rays" that the sun casts as it pops over the hill in the morning, these look absolutely fantastic and don't really hurt the framerate too much. Other additions are a depth of field effect that is activated when you reload or an explosive goes off near you. All good!

Red Forest
Hunting for artifacts in the Red Forest

Gameplay has been enhanced but is still faithful to the original SOC, enemies now throw grenades at you (there is a grenade proximity warning on the UI now too) and take cover behind objects, blindfire around corners and over boxes etc. Mutants now work in packs much better and are very convincing.

Red Forest
Forrester's hideout, in the Red Forest

Finding artifacts is now a little minigame in itself, and they are way more rare than in SOC, you have to equip special detectors to even find artifacts, and then strategically dodge into the anomaly holding them to retrieve them. You can buy better detectors as you make more money so that finding artifacts becomes easier, but retrieving them is still a tough job.

Red Forest
Assaulting the path into Limansk

The other addition is you can upgrade your weapons and armour at a technican npc. There are tons of mods you can make and it works in a little tech-tree kind of way for each weapon / armour type. For example if you upgrade your weapon to fire a faster bullet and reduce its recoil by 20%, then the option to increase its rate of fire becomes available for purchase.

Limansk, the new Pripyat!

It seems like you are fighting other factions of humans now rather than mutants, I would say around 70 / 30 if you want a percentage. This is mainly because of the new faction alignment gameplay. Joining 1 faction will make you an enemy of certain other factions and you will receive dynamic objectives to take opposing faction bases as your teams move up and get pushed back. Its very involving stuff and enhances the replay value as there are like 7-8 factions in the game.

Heading to the construction site in Limansk

Some annoyances do remain, night time is now almost pitch black, and a real pain to see where you are going until you get a suit capable of night vision, sometimes the ai screws up and enemies will wiggle on the spot and not really do much, and pointing at a friendly stalker will make them say something to you and after 100 times hearing this line you will start to go a little bit mad.

Shootout in the hospital

The initial weapon set is really really inaccurate, to the point where the 1st few assault rifles you get are basicly useless beyond 40 meters or so, and watching as your perfectly aligned headshot bullet flies 2 meters wide of the target is a real source of frustration, but the later guns feel much better and are fun to use.

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