With the dust of the recent wipe settled, now is a pretty good time to ask the question – is Escape from Tarkov worth it?
Calling Tarkov unique would be an understatement. As it stands, there are few games comparable to it, with none filling the hardcore survival looter-shooter niche quite like Tarkov. So, if you are itching for a fresh take on the genre, and are prepared to endure the harsh punishment this game metes out, the short answer is a wholehearted absolutely. For the long answer, I’d like to dive extensively into everything Tarkov has to offer, from the things that make it a joy to play, to what makes it a nightmare. Let’s definitively answer if Escape from Tarkov is worth it.
What is Escape From Tarkov?
Though Tarkov has recently had a large spike in popularity over the past year, it is hardly a household name just yet. Before jumping in head-first, I’ll acquaint you with what it is and what to expect from the gameplay loop. There won’t be anything ground-breaking in this section, so skip ahead if you already have an idea of the game.
It’s worth mentioning that Tarkov is not for the faint of heart. The war-torn environment is unforgiving, unfair, and almost always out to get you. You will die repeatedly, lose everything you brought with you, and have to piece together where you went wrong to avoid a similar fate in your next raid.
The gameplay is best described as “hardcore”, though not quite Arma levels of military simulation, and certainly nothing like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Specifics will be discussed later on, but suffice it to say, Tarkov is much more strategic in how it handles firefights. Charging through the map without a care will, more often than not, deliver your gear straight to the hands of a more careful player.
The gameplay loop
As it stands, the gameplay loop in Tarkov is very simple, essentially revolving around a single objective – escape. You will start by equipping your character with whatever gear you have on hand, which will not be much to begin with. Pick your map, load in, and get out alive. That’s it. Simple right?
On paper, it sure is. In practice, you will find yourself clutching to life in what is essentially a battle royale, where at any point a bullet can end your run and leave your wallet that bit lighter, whether you made a mistake, or simply got unlucky.
In general, the maps are huge, difficult to orient yourself in at first, and you have almost nothing to help you save for third party maps to use as a guide. You will be tasked with escaping through one of several exits in the allotted time limit, some of which may not be available, others requiring you to meet certain conditions. But Tarkov won’t let you simply stroll around and get your bearings.
Populating the maps are not only player-controlled PMCs always looking to fill their stash with someone else’s gear, but AI controlled “scavs” too. Scavengers, or scavs for short, are dotted around the map in clusters, steadily spawning in small waves every ten minutes or so. You, like I did when I started out, might think these scavs aren’t too big a deal. After all, they’re AI controlled, so they can’t be that difficult right? Wrong.
These scavs can be the very definition of aimbots, hitting you from absurd angles at absurd distances, often before you even have a chance to react. Fighting a scav unprepared can often be even more dangerous than fighting a player, as they feel no emotion, no fear, not even self-preservation. Only the desire to head-eyes you, wicked gremlin laughter being the last thing you hear before returning to the lobby.
If that wasn’t enough, many maps feature a series of scav snipers. They are just as deadly accurate as the standard gremlin, but this time with the weapons and ammo to match. You would do well to memorise their spawns, as getting caught without cover by these guys will quickly mean an embarrassing death as you try hopping and dashing to safety. Even worse are the bosses and their goons, having a small chance to spawn on all of the maps. If getting ambushed by a scav sniper was bad, getting surprised by a boss is infinitely worse. They are a challenge to put down at the best of times, if you meet one unprepared, you’d best just accept your fate.
It isn’t as simple as escaping though. Yes, survival is your main goal, but there are a variety of quests you must complete in order to progress, and you have to fund your exploration of the Russian wilderness somehow. This is where the second part of the gameplay loop comes in – looting. As you battle or sneak your way through the maps, there will be a variety of places to visit, with lots of loot to grab. Some of it you will need for said quests, others for upgrades or selling, and others still for personal use. The juicier the location, the more likely you are to have a fight on your hands.
Death around every corner
As you can see, Tarkov is a bit more difficult than it might seem at first glance. With death around every corner, it’s likely to get you more often than not, particularly in the early days of your time in Tarkov. However, as you improve your knowledge and understanding of the game, so too will your character. Tarkov blends an RPG-like skill system into the game, where the more you perform a certain action, the better you and your character will be over time. This manifests itself as quicker movement speed, faster looting, sharper ears, and stress resistance, to name a few. It often pays to actively raise these skills where you can, though you’ll improve them quickly enough passively.
The last major mechanic worth mentioning in this introduction is the player scav. They mostly function as a safety net for players struggling with their main character, providing an easier means to get loot and make a bit of money, though can be used for a fast and loose raid, as you lose nothing when you die as a scav. As a player scav, you will initially be friendly with the AI, with them even helping you against PMCs or rogue player scavs if they detect them, meaning your scav raids will often be easier than your PMC raids.
They spawn into a raid in progress, typically around 10 minutes after the start of a game with low quality gear, though sometimes a rare item like a labs card or a flash drive. Best of luck if you spawn with one. Note that this mode is limited to once every 20 minutes. This can be shortened somewhat down the line, though you will never be able to go straight from one scav run to the next.
That’s the gist of Tarkov. In short, it’s a difficult hardcore looter-shooter with RPG elements, deathly allergic to holding your hand or even remotely helping you, and has an awful lot to explore. If that sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably love the game as much as I do. If you need a bit more persuading that Escape from Tarkov is worth it, the details of what makes this game great are below.
Learn to listen
There isn’t a better place to start than the sound design. Escape from Tarkov has the most well-done and sophisticated sound design I have ever heard in an FPS. From the staccato of rifle fire at long range, to the crunching of leaves underfoot, everything in this game has a distinct sound, making it your most deadly weapon or staunch defence once you learn how to use it to your advantage.
As I have said before, Tarkov is not fast-paced. Though there are other reasons too, sound is a big reason for slower gameplay. Essentially, your character has a radius of hearing, with sounds being audible in a radius of their own. If the two meet, you may be able to hear something, with the volume increasing the closer it is to you. This encourages slower gameplay, as the first player to hear another has the initial advantage if a fight breaks out.
Of course, sound is often important in shooters, as hearing footsteps can save you the surprise of an ambush, or score you an easy kill. While the same is true in Tarkov, the information you can gather from sound cues is so much more valuable than in other games. For example, gunfire can tell you the weapon, calibre, rough distance, and direction, in addition to whether the gun is suppressed or not. Once you know the maps well, you will be able to place where the shots are fired from, something that can be quite advantageous.
But that’s not all. The key to Tarkov’s sound is in movement. You can hear distinct sets of footsteps, telling you how many people are sniffing around near you, their speed, even how heavy they are. You can hear them brush past foliage, crunch over glass, clang on metal, reload, check their inventory, aim, take medicine, eat or drink, the list goes on.
All of this can be used to assess what your potential enemies might have, whether they’re worth fighting, and exactly when to start if they are. Once you start actively using listening, it won’t take long for it to give you a leg up. Whether it’s listening for the telltale thunk of Interchange’s Rasmussen floorboards, or the subtle swish from a nearby bush, the more you pay attention, the more likely you are to survive.
As a side note, the music in Tarkov is fantastic. I have never before had a more intense game of Tetris, nor had I ever expected to. For anyone interested in metal, the CEO of Battlestate Games, the team behind Escape from Tarkov, doubles as the musician too. All the tracks are available under the name Geneburn, so give it a search if you want to find the tune you had your face melt to last time you organised your stash.
Escape from Tarkov has an amazing roster of maps, with several more to come in the future. Though there aren’t many, with only 7 maps available as of writing, there is something for everyone. Be it the dark and dingy close-quarter brawling of Factory, to the vast green landscape of Woods perfect for marksmanship, there will be a map that fits your playstyle.
You might think that with so few maps on offer, it mustn’t take long before you’ve seen all there is to see. Sure, if you want to breeze through each map at surface level, it may take you a few dozen hours to acquaint yourself with the exits and a couple of decent loot spots, but to the discerning eye, each map is a veritable treasure trove of exploration. From sniper nests to ninja routes, hidden items to death traps, Tarkov has plenty of surprises for you to discover, though not all of them are pleasant. Personally, I recommend researching as little as possible about the maps until you have given them a good go yourself.
Nothing beats a hasty retreat through unfamiliar wilderness, or skulking throughout the dark, labyrinthine innards of the Ultramall on the lookout for your next victim, or someone else looking for you.
Hail to the thief
Looting is my favourite part of Tarkov. Not just because you can make fat stacks of roubles, but because of the sheer selection of items and equipment available, almost all of it easy to find. Now, when I say easy to find, I mean you don’t usually have to fight some immensely difficult boss to score some rare loot.
Finding rare loot is still a low chance encounter, but there are plenty of interesting and useful items to find, many of which can change how you approach the rest of your raid. I’ve lost count of the number of times finding a CMS kit or Salewa has kept me in the raid longer, or finding top-tier ammo, armour, or grenades has tempted me to play more aggressively. There’s also the rush of finding loot that can fetch a high price or be put to good use, making escape your top priority. Finding a pack of sugar has never been more exciting, nor have I been so eager to shoot someone over a bag of croutons. Even bitcoin makes an appearance in Tarkov, though the price of which has plummeted after the inflation fiasco of yester-wipe.
In short, though the looting aspect seems secondary, it will quickly be what influences your raids the most. Specific items will quickly become either the overall reason for stepping out of the safety of your hideout, or the reason you want to hightail back to it. Just watchout for those exit campers.
Though I’m sure many were pleased to see the addition of the gunsmith in Call of duty, Tarkov’s modding system makes it look about as detailed as a range of IKEA branded furniture. The sheer amount of customisation you can do will make any gun enthusiast blush, either by making tacticool works of military art, or by the creation of cursed abominations.
The modding system works quite intuitively, leaving you free to create whatever you can think of. If your weapon system sports a few rails, you can slap whatever you like on there. Lasers, flashlights, scopes, canted sights, and so on. If it doesn’t, you only need to pull it apart, replacing bits and pieces with others that support the rails and fixtures you need to make your ideal gun a reality. Now get out there and build your SOPMOD II, or turn that ADAR into a 416, whatever your heart desires.
The extensive weapon customisation would be pretty useless if the combat itself was lacklustre. Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that the combat is about as customisable as your weapons. They were built for a purpose after all. You can kit yourself up for close range, long range, to be light on your feet, or a fearsome juggernaut. There are limitations to each approach of course. A well placed grenade will end a heavily armoured PMC just as easily as an unarmoured one, though they won’t be able to get away as easily.
Now for the fun bit. In my experience, all the good parts of Tarkov culminate into an immersive, tense, and deeply satisfying combat system. You will be rewarded for being the more attentive, knowledgeable, prepared, and tactical player more times than the fastest finger. This can mean that firefights are often decided quite quickly, though there are many times you will experience a prolonged siege, blasting out of windows, weathering hails of bullets and explosives alike. Other times you will dance about a field, jostling for the perfect position to catch your opponent unawares. This is to say, Tarkov has excellent emergent combat, with many cinematic experiences waiting to be had.
One final aspect to consider in Tarkov’s combat is the health system. It is quite the integral one, dramatically changing how a fight or subsequent fights might play out. For example, taking a shot to the helmet may well not kill you, but will leave you dazed, slow to react, and vulnerable to a charge. For another, a shotgun blast to the leg may well leave it fractured and bleeding, something you must have appropriate items to address if you want to make it out alive. As surviving a fight battered and bruised can often mean the same fate as not having survived at all, it plays a crucial role in how you approach combat, including if you even take a fight at all.
This aspect may not appeal to everyone. For the most part, progression is what you make it in Tarkov. The developers have made clear their intentions to implement a story, in addition to factions you can side with or against. For the time being, however, we must make do with a level system and a number of increasingly challenging quests, though there is the sort of base building aspect of the Hideout. Essentially, you will need to collect materials, or buy them from the player market known as the flea market, then cobble them together to create an installation. Doing so will confer a few benefits, like a shorter scav timer or more experience for skills, though all in all they aren’t terribly important.
The main progression the game gives you outright is through quests and reputation. Currently, there are eight traders offering you their services. By doing quests, you will raise, or lower, your reputation with them, with a high enough reputation granting you access to new stock.
The quests themselves often challenge your skill, making progression a more real aspect than just a higher score or rare in-game rewards, which may appeal to you. Other quests are ridiculous and will leave you keyboardless.
The last gameplay element I’d like to discuss is the atmosphere. Something you will often hear in conversation about Tarkov is how it is a horror game in disguise. I can safely say that this is bang on, I’ve had more scares in this Slavic shopping simulator than in Dead Space (not including the third one) or Resident Evil. While the game itself isn’t exactly scary, the tension it builds weighs down on you immensely, with the pressure mounting as your loot value rises.
It’s easy to be startled after five minutes of pure silence is ruined as the crack of a grenade echoes down the hill at Shoreline, or the roar of machine gun fire punctuates an otherwise silent night raid on Customs, especially when either are directed at you. What’s worse are the stray bullets or nearby gunfire. When you’re carrying some valuable cargo, all those bullets appear to be coming straight for you, and somehow seem even louder than usual. Not to mention encounters with a certain group of night owls, though I’ll let you experience that for yourself.
This is to say nothing of how the weather and sound (yes I can’t praise the sound enough) interact with the map, often changing how your raid plays out. A rainy day will dampen your hearing, strong winds drawing groans from the forest, or thick blankets of fog turning Tarkov into Silent Hill. While some despise the weather effects, the rain drawing particular hatred from some in the community, I think they add an awful lot to the game. Afterall, Tarkov is meant to be a survival game first, rather than a shooter.
Bugs and gameplay issues
I have sung Escape from Tarkov’s praises throughout this article, and while I believe it is a fantastic game, it isn’t without its faults.
Generally speaking, I have encountered very few bugs or issues through my several hundred hours of playtime. Most of them are simply frustrating, with the way sound carries through floors being one such example. While it’s clear that I love the sound design in this game, that only really applies to sounds on your level. Anything above or below you can very often sound odd, particularly if you are halfway up a flight of stairs. While not game breaking, it does make it quite difficult to place where a sound has come from, something that can quickly get you killed.
Other issues are more damaging, however. Tarkov is a very demanding game, something made worse by extensive RAM leaks. The best solution I have found for this is a simple restart, though when your screen starts tearing and sounds distort mid-raid, it isn’t a great experience. There have also been instances of players falling through the map, though this hasn’t happened to me personally and seems quite the rare problem.
The worst issue in Tarkov by far is the servers. It is not uncommon to disconnect from the server mid-raid through no fault of your own, have the servers crash entirely, or to suffer from desync. This is basically when you and those around you exist in different timelines, leading to you dying from a shot outside 30 seconds after you entered a building. Search for Tarkov desync videos to see what I mean. This is especially true on wipedays, when player progression is reset, and on the rare event day. Instances of server issues are uncommon, though happen far, far more than anyone would like, ruining many an otherwise fun raid. That I love this game so much despite this is either a testament to the gameplay, or proof of Stockholm syndrome.
The future of Escape from Tarkov
This could be either the most appealing or off putting aspect of the game so far. As it stands, Escape from Tarkov is currently in a beta, with many features not yet implemented, and many more subject to change. The developers have made many statements regarding what they have planned, with vehicles, in-raid traders, and some degree of open-world topping the list. Additionally, they have stated time and again that the current iteration of the game is meant to assess how players interact with Tarkov, how they progress, and performance. In all likelihood, this means the overall speed with which players progress, along with the approaches players can take in their raids, will be changed dramatically.
Two such examples of upcoming dramatic changes are in the next update, 12.12, and the Streets of Tarkov update coming (hopefully) sometime next year. For 12.12, a couple of important changes are expected to make their debut. First is the new map, Lighthouse, which is expected to be the home of the first in-raid trader, one guarded closely by soldiers and a sniper. Supposedly he will be killable, but how that plays out remains to be seen.
The second addition is the inertia system, something intended to change the somewhat arcadey movement elements. Sprinting, for example, takes you from a standstill to your max speed immediately, and vice-versa. The inertia system of 12.12 will make it such that you have to accelerate, more like you’d expect. Streets of Tarkov, however, is supposed to take a step towards the open-world vision the devs have in mind, acting as a hub for scav activity in the area. Details are quite sparse regarding this, as Battlestate are notoriously quite cagey with their information.
These are only a couple of examples regarding what’s in store, there are plenty more additions confirmed and plenty more to come in the future. Bear in mind that what you buy now is not a finished product, so consider whether you like the sound of what the game is supposed to like in the years to come before you commit.
As you can probably guess, I adore Tarkov, warts and all. I think that, despite its flaws, Tarkov breathes new life into the survival/shooter genre, offering a very unique and endlessly entertaining experience, though I admit it isn’t for everyone. If you like the sound of a hardcore survival/shooter with intense gameplay, and are prepared to lose everything on a regular basis, then I can safely say that Escape from Tarkov is worth it, without a shadow of doubt.
If you are still undecided, I strongly recommend checking out a few videos online. There are plenty that give a great overview of the game, plus loads of useful tips. I personally found Pestily and Gigabeef quite helpful, though you might find others more to your liking.
I hope to see you around in Woods, though do keep your distance.