STALKER: Fool’s Ending

  By Shamus   Jan 3, 2008   27 comments

stalker_title.jpg
The “fool’s chamber” is something you use when constructing a treasure vault or other place you want to keep secure from enterprising hunters and grave robbers for great lengths of time. Neal Stephenson uses this concept in Cryptonomicon, where one of the characters must design an underground vault to contain a huge amount of gold. They realize that keeping the hoard safe forever is impossible, so they store some of the gold in an obvious, easy-to-find place. The idea is that at some point if the place is compromised, the looters will on stumble the lesser treasure and leave with it, thinking they have everything. If you make the path the the fool’s chamber obvious enough and make further digging difficult enough, you can bet all but the most dedicated raiders are going to be satisfied with the fool’s reward.

This seems to be the approach they took with the story in STALKER. If you follow the main quest without digging around, you’ll hit the fool’s ending. It’s obvious and a bit dumb. There are actually several fool’s endings, depending on your behavior in the game, and the befuddled player can hardly be blamed for walking away from the thing thinking they had beaten the game and gotten an odd and unsatisfying ending for their trouble.

You can have any number of open quests at one time. There are lots of little sidequests to help accumulate wealth and bolster your reputation with one of the many factions in the game. The in-game map always has a big fat arrow pointing you in the direction of your next goal, and once you complete a sidequest the arrow defaults back to the main quest, which seems to be “get to the Chernobyl reactor and get the big treasure”. If you blindly follow this arrow, it will lead you right to the fool’s ending and you won’t even realize you missed the meatiest parts of the story.

The game is set in the near future. The area around Chernobyl has had another, unexplained disaster (a result of the first disaster, we assume) and the surrounding area is now a place filled with dangerous anomalies, mutants, and strange artifacts. The place is called The Zone, and is mostly inhabited by men (and only men, no women in the game whatsoever) who inhabit the strange zone around Chernobyl looking for fortune.

The game starts off with your character on a truck which is struck by lightning. The truck is otherwise loaded with corpses. You are rescued and awakened to find out that – wait for it – you’ve lost all of your memories. Sigh. I guess we’ll never escape this plot device. I’m currently playing two games, both of which feature an amnesiac protagonist. It’s not a bad hook for a game, but it’s been done, and each subsequent game to tread this path has to work harder than the previous one to bring something interesting to the premise.

A ferris wheel in Prypiat, Ukrane.  The city is large and wonderfully detailed. This is near the end of the game.  The answers you’re looking for are here, but you’ll likely miss it if you don’t do the earlier sidequests.
A ferris wheel in Prypiat, Ukrane. The city is large and wonderfully detailed. This is near the end of the game. The answers you’re looking for are here, but you’ll likely miss it if you don’t do the earlier sidequests.
Your only link to your past is the note you’re carrying, on which is written “Kill Strelok”. Not having anything else to go on, you begin searching for Strelok in hopes that you’ll unravel who you are and what happened to you.

So far this is not the most sophisticated plot in the world, although it’s practically Shakespeare compared to your average first-person shooter. Looking for the mystery man Strelok is certainly more compelling than just “kill the bad guys”, which is what I’m used to in this genre. Even after I had it figured out, I was still curious about how it all fit together and how I ended up in a blown-up truck on the edge of The Zone.

But the Strelok plot isn’t really the main plot as far as the game is concerned. No, the main plot starts off with you going out into the Zone to rescue a guy who might know about Strelok. Once you save him you find he doesn’t know anything, but he can point you in the direction of the next guy to be rescued who also doesn’t know anything but who can point you in the direction of the next guy to be rescued who…

You get the idea. Fast-forwarding a bit, you stop chasing Strelok and someone sends you into a hidden lab to recover some “secret documents”. Once you get them and bring them back, you are told that these documents talk about another set of documents in another lab which will reveal the location of another lab which has some documents which…

Again, you get the idea.

At some point a small sidequest appears in your quest log. It just says “Talk to the Guide.” The location for the quest is on the edge of The Zone, where you began the game. I thought this was just another broken quest that I’d already completed but was popping up again due to some broken trigger. It certainly didn’t sound related to anything I was currently doing. My first time through the game (and my second, actually) I ignored this quest thinking it was another similar-sounding quest I’d done way back at the start of the game. From this point the game led me directly to Chernobyl and one of the four fool’s endings. I saw the oddball ending and shrugged, “What the hell was that?”

I finally read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia and realized that while I’d done most of the quests, I had missed most of the plot. The overlooked “Talk to the Guide” quest actually takes you to the real secrets and sets you on the path to one of the two Real Endings. (Although I noticed that the “quest arrow” still had a penchant for leaving this path and pointing me to the path to the fool’s ending. I had to keep re-setting this quest as my main quest.)

Once I saw the real ending the fool’s ending actually made sense.

Warning, spoilers beyond…

The fools ending:

At the center of the Chernobyl reactor is an anomaly which… grants wishes? When you reach the “wish granter” you get a cutscene where your character makes one of four wishes. Which one he chooses depends on your actions in the game, but none of them end well for you. They all end in a “deal with the devil” kind of shaftage.

The real ending:

The C-Consciousness greets you and promises to answer your questions.  This part was pretty satisfying, although I would have liked to have more dialog options, or at least a less linear conversation.  Still, I was pretty happy with the answers I got here.
The C-Consciousness greets you and promises to answer your questions. This part was pretty satisfying, although I would have liked to have more dialog options, or at least a less linear conversation. Still, I was pretty happy with the answers I got here.
The “wish granter” is an illusion created by the real threat in the game, which is a government mind-control project gone horribly wrong. The project is a collective that calls itself C-Consciousness. The so-called “Wish Granter” is an illusion. It’s a honeypot made by C-Con to draw in particularly strong and resourceful individuals (getting there isn’t easy) to be enslaved / dominated mentally.

As far as I can make out, this already happened to your character once. Whether he made it to the wish granter or not is unclear, but he made it deep into the zone and was caught by the C-Consciousness. They caught him and did what they usually did: They reprogrammed him with a task. In this case, they programmed him to take out a man named “Strelok”, who they recognized as a threat. Somehow they missed the fact that the guy they captured actually was Strelok. So, you eventually wound up on the edge of The Zone with no memory and orders to kill yourself, although you don’t know that until later.

(Someone on Gamefaqs pointed out that this means that every time you die in the game you’ve fulfilled your quest and have won. When viewed this way, this was the easiest game I’ve ever played. I won every five minutes or so!)

The real ending of the game leads you to the C-Consciousness, where you can have your questions answered. Afterwards, you can choose to join the collective or destroy the collective forever. This is a first-person shooter with an RPG style plot. The main plot – the fool’s plot – is obvious and stupid. The real plot is compelling and has some depth to it.

I don’t really fault the game for making the path to the “wish granter” the most obvious one. That’s the point of the thing, after all. But I do wish that the quest arrow would have stopped resetting once I determined to take the side-path to the good ending. The way this goal was added to the end of the list, and the way the list was already populated with broken and orphaned quests made this new goal easy to to overlook. Obscuring the right path within the story was fine, but leading me astray with the interface was kind of cheap.

Joining the C-Con is fairly easy, but I don’t know that I would call that the “ideal” ending. Destroying the C-Con means taking a long trek through bad guys and teleports to the C-Con inner sanctum. I didn’t enjoy this sequence very much, although I can’t really suggest anything more interesting for the player to do. It wasn’t very satisfying and it seemed like a bit of a let-down to just have another dose of “more of the same” for the final challenge. But what do I know? I’m an RPG player at heart. If they had taken away that last 20 minute firefight and given me a 20-minute conversation instead I’d have been happy.


20727 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Henebry says:

    interesting review. As a player of tabletop rpgs with none of the patience necessary for playing computer games, I really appreciate your plot summaries and plot analysis. Spoilers are, for me, the vital interest of your site.

  2. Blurr says:

    Wow. That’s actually really cool. After reading this, I want to play the game, but it’s too late because I read the spoilers.

  3. Dev Null says:

    Argh! Stuck in Limbo!

    Do I read your spoilers – which for now I have skipped – to find out about the plot, which for me is the kicker about whether a game was worth it and which it sounds like you’re _about_ to say positive things about, but which might ruin the plot for me… or do I stay unsullied but ignorant and still wonder if this game is worth the effort to play, given your review of its difficulty.

    I know you hate thumbs-up / thumbs-down / single ratings for games Shamus, but have mercy! Was it worth it? Or can I go back and read the rest of the post above, but avoid the game?

  4. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    “(Someone on Gamefaqs pointed out that this means that every time you die in the game you’ve fulfilled your quest and have won. When viewed this way, this was the easiest game I’ve ever played. I won every five minutes or so!)”

    Ah,but it wasnt you that killed yourself.You should only count the times you jumped of a cliff or something like that.

  5. Ozy says:

    Some background on Chernobyl: It actually is currently at risk of another disaster. Originally it was worried that another chain reaction could start, but scientists who went into the sarcophagus found that the fuel had been sufficiently diluted in melted sand that this isn’t a problem. What is a problem is that the roof of the sarcophagus will likely collapse, being built in a tremendous rush on top of the damaged concrete of the reactor building. If that happens, it will scatter extremely radioactive dust over a large area, and hence cause another disaster.

  6. slrtbrtfst says:

    (NOTE: first time poster, came here by way of DM of the Rings, love the site + games discussion)

    Dev Null:

    I can’t speak for Shamus, but to summarize the spoiler bits, Shamus seemed lukewarm-to-somewhat-approving to the “real” endings (i.e., non-fool’s chamber ones), but most of the spoily bits focus on nitpicks of how eccentricities/bugs in the interface obscure the way to the “real” endings.

    For myself, reading d20 I find I have many similar tastes and background to Shamus (hence what drew me to d20), but I was much more excited about the “real” endings (well, the longer one). I think the difference is whether you stumble onto it on your first play through the game, or whether you do so on a replay, or worse, find out about it from a 3rd party (IIRC, Shamus only encountered it on 3rd pass through game). I had something similar happen to me in one of the more recent Hitman games, where the game “ends” with your character’s funeral: had I stumbled onto the alternate ending by myself I’d been utterly ecstatic, “best game hands down”, and all that; alas, I only found out about it later, after scouring the web to see if others thought the (what I thought was the final) ending was rather disappointing. This “miss” left me somewhat bitter, but mostly with a sense of loss, that I have missed out on a great experience in the game (and “experiences” are, after all, the main reason for playing games, at least for me). So in the end I feel the game was only “good”, rather than “great”.

    In case you end up playing STALKER, Dev Null, the takeaway from Shamus’ post: pay attention to auto-generated secondary quests… skipping one of them will cut you off from the more interesting endings in the game.

  7. Cineris says:

    I’m not sure if it’s up your alley or not, but there’s also a Stalker movie, which is amazing. I’m a bit surprised to hear there are actually some major similarities between the Stalker movie and the game.

    Sounds like the movie is better, from your description of the game, though. Sometimes running around with guns and shooting people isn’t the best way to tell a story (shocking, I know!).

  8. Epizootic says:

    The ‘Guide’ character was mentioned in the manual as being one of the longest living stalkers in existence, and one who knew the zone like no other, so when I finally got a meeting with him, I didn’t think it was a random occurance or bug

  9. Shamus says:

    Dev_Null: I really did like the plot, once I uncovered it. I wish the ending dialog had been a bit longer or more robust, but given that this is an FPS and not an RPG, I can hardly complain.

  10. Dev Null says:

    Thanks for the summary Slarty – I _hate_ reading plot spoilers before playing a game (or reading a book, or watching a movie…) so I didn’t want to chance reading it myself after being warned.

  11. Vegedus says:

    Heh, I liked that commentary about dying being winning.

  12. Zerotime says:

    Spoiler:

    It’s mentioned by the C-Consciousness that you lost your memory after getting caught in a blowout trying to escape Pripyat with the rest of your group, after which you were captured and reprogrammed to hunt down Strelok, who they thought was getting too close to the truth at the center of the zone. Would have made more sense to just turn you into another Monolith drone, but I guess the game wouldn’t have happened that way.
  13. ryanlb says:

    Thanks to slrtbrtfst for making feel smart for discovering the ‘hidden’ end to Hitman: Blood Money. The cutscene and an earlier level made me think there had to be more than the funeral. It was really exciting to have more to do. I hope there’s a sequel in the works, I love the Hitman series, and each game is better than the previous.

  14. Zerotime says:

    Thanks for adding the spoiler tags, Shamus – I wasn’t sure if I needed them or not. :)

    Are they the usual <spoiler>&lt/spoiler>?

  15. LintMan says:

    I didn’t care much for STALKER. It wasn’t terrible, but the quests were buggy for me, resulting in me needing to replay hunks of the game. The reputation stuff was also bugged. The only real RPG element is that you can buy weapons and armor and you can get some side quests from NPCs.

    Spoiler warning:

    As for the alternate “real” endings – the “join ‘em” one was short and disappointing, and the “beat ‘em” one’s extended battle was a bore. I probably would have been happier with a 20 minute conversation as well. Regrettably, it seems that critics seem to universally hate FPS game dialog and cut scenes and kill games that use them extensively.

  16. Lanthanide says:

    Seems a bit planescape-tormentish. My favorite part in that game was ending up trapped in the maze, to discover a book made by a previous (mad) incarnation of your (immortal but forgetful) self. Made from your own bones, skin, and blood for the ink…

  17. Chevluh says:

    Cineris> Both Stalker-the-game and Stalker-the-movie are actually based on a russian sci-fi short story named Roadside Picnic, the reading of which I heartily recommend. The game’s actually a bit closer to said story, but it’s still quite different.

  18. A different Dan says:

    I’ll hazard a guess, Shamus: The other game is The Witcher?

  19. slrtbrtfst says:

    a different Dan:

    What? Did Shamus play The Witcher and I missed the reviews? Not that it would change my enjoyment of the game, but just curious how it stacks up to other RPGs, according to Shamus and in fact the rest of the d20 community. Personally, I really liked it, especially the storyline (again, based on books, which I should get my hands on soon). I should mention that I played (well, still “playing”, I haven’t finished the game yet, but on hiatus) the original, Polish version (“Wiedzmin”), and have also looked at the English one, and there is quite a bit lost in the translation. Same thing probably for STALKER; was even thinking of learning some basic Russian (it’s still Russian spoken in Ukraine/the game, right?) just to get more out of the game, all those fire-side chats the stalkers have.

    Mind you, the Witcher has a much better translation I think than STALKER (even though I played STALKER with a community mod which has fixed up most of the really bad translations and grammar), it’s just that the translations are rather dry, and the dialogue loses a fair bit of its… “flavour”.

  20. Shamus says:

    I haven’t tried the Witcher.

    I doubt my current rig could even run it.

  21. slrtbrtfst says:

    Hmm, that’s true, I have a rather powerful machine and in some scenes I had to tweak down an option or two (e.g., depth-of-field effect), so even with most options off I can see it still chugging a bit on older HW (AND sucking visually). For what it’s worth, Witcher uses the NWN2 engine, AFAIK, so if you can run that there may yet be hope (Witcher just makes better use of it). Otherwise put a note in your calendar to try it a year from now, or whenever you update your rig, it be a shame to miss out on a potentially highly enjoyable game… this game does do some very interesting novel, refreshing things (novel but simple combat system [timing rather than button mashing], actions & choices have significant long-term repercussions which become apparent only after some time [so can’t use “pickA-unhappy-reload-pickB-…”], unlike the Fable vaporware, etc.)

  22. Cineris says:

    @Chevluh: I haven’t read the short story, but I was aware they were both based on it. I’m sure I’ll get around to reading it at some point, but I’m a bit hesitant since I like the movie and hate the thought that it might compromise my enjoyment of the movie.

  23. Zerotime says:

    Cineris: There’s another movie based on the book coming out this year: The bad news is that it stars John Travolta.

  24. Smileyfax says:

    Of the two real endings, I was more fond of the bittersweet one. I didn’t even stumble upon the other one until a YouTube search; maybe if teleportation anomalies had been introduced earlier in the game, I wouldn’t have dodged it and subsequently died roaming around the grounds of the power plant.

  25. Namfoodle says:

    Cryptonomicon is a great book. I’ll have to read the stalker short story sometime.

  26. Mkserwer says:

    I made same mistake i didnt go to guide and winned and died same time after 5-10 days i played again and compleated all quests and went sarcofagus and winned in real end P.S i liked call of pripiat and shadow of chernobil and i didnt liked clear sky i didnt hawed good suit and gun i played all game with my first weapon “hunting rifle” it was the best weapon than i getted my faworyte weapon but unfortuatly i hawent be glad for long after 10 mins i winned a game xd

  27. Mrcl says:

    The game didn’t reset the quest pointer to the fool’s ending quest line. It was the C-Con that programmed you to do it yourself and to forget that you did it.

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