Escape from Tarkov Gameplay (How it Works) – Top 10 Facts You Need To Know

Escape from Tarkov gameplay explained
We demystify Escape from Tarkov with this short but very informative list!

So, What Is Escape From Tarkov?

Escape from Tarkov is gathering a lot of buzz lately, both from new players and veterans alike, but if you’re thinking of trying your luck on the murky streets of Tarkov, you should do your homework first, here are the top 10 facts we think you need to know before buying Escape from Tarkov.

10. It’s not a Battle Royale game

We see a lot of comparisons between Escape from Tarkov and games like PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, H1Z1, and Fortnite. But while it shares a lot of similarities with Battle Royale games, it’s fundamentally different in that you don’t actually have to kill anyone to be successful, and progress is persistent across matches.

Each match (or raid) drops you into one of five maps where your main objective is to make it to one of the exit locations, alive and with as much loot as possible. In the match you can encounter both AI enemies and other players, both of which will try to kill you. If you die you lose all the loot you entered the match with, and any you gathered along the way.

Depending on which map you select, there can be anywhere from 4 to 14 enemy players on the map, and they all have the same goal as you; gather as much loot as possible and make it out alive. Even if you don’t fire a single shot or see another player, making it to the exit and extracting alive can be seen as a victory in and of itself, especially if you got out with some valuable loot.

This fundamental difference becomes incredibly important as it builds a persistent progression between each match. You don’t just get better in terms of gameplay skill, but also in actual RPG style leveling, resources, and gear quality. Because of this, Escape from Tarkov can actually be compared to games like Destiny or World of Warcraft, more so than purely skill based e-sports friendly titles like PUBG or CS: GO.

This has the effect of increasing the tension in each match, as success or failure can have real -- long-lasting consequences for your character, and what was gained over the course of 10 hours can be lost in 10 seconds. This mix of frantic nail-biting tension coupled with incredibly rewarding victory, makes Escape from Tarkov a hugely addictive game that can leave you playing for hours into the night.

9. Play as a Scav or a PMC

Escape from Tarkov offers you mainly two different modes of play, either as a Scav (short for scavenger) or a private military company (PMC) operative. From there the game is structured around raids, dropping you into a random location on the map of your choice and tasking you with making it out alive.

The PMC is your main player character, and when you first start the game you’ll have to choose between two PMC factions. The Bears are a Russian based PMC that specialize in Russian weapons technology and they all speak…you guess it; Russian. The USEC is a US based PMC that specialize in typical NATO weapons technology and they all speak with a distinct American accent.

PMC mode sees you risking your own gear in the raid, but allows you to complete quest objectives, gain experience towards a higher player level (which will unlock more gear at traders), and higher attributes. This mode lets you put loot in your secure container (which has limited space), loot stored there guarantees you won’t lose it even if you die.

Playing the Scav mode can be seen as a secondary option, as you don’t get to choose your own loadout, and you also don’t gather any experience points for your main character. You do, however, get to keep whatever loot you make it out with, and since you didn’t bring any of our own gear, the risk of losing it is removed.

Lastly you can enter a raid either as a Scav or PMC in offline mode, this is basically just a test/sandbox mode where you won’t encounter any other players and can even turn of the AI enemies. But you also won’t get to keep any of the loot you find, and you don’t gain any experience. It’s good for learning the map and the loot spawn locations free from danger, but that’s about it.

8. The game is still in beta

It’s important to remember that Escape from Tarkov is still in beta, yes you can buy the game, and yes there are even special additions that give you significant in-game rewards. But the game is still in an unfinished state and in constant change. By the time the final release comes out there are supposed to be 10 different zones (or raids) available, right now only 5 of them are playable. If you chose to play during this beta period, expect to see a lot of bugs and at some point; lose all your gear and progress to server wipes.

7. It might look and play like an FPS, but it’s actually an RPG

Don’t be fooled by the realistic weapon models and gun animations. If you’re looking for a pure, player-skill based shooter akin to CS: GO, then Escape from Tarkov probably isn’t for you; because at its heart it’s an RPG. You level up in various attributes like Strength, Intelligence, Vitality, Health, Covert Movement, Perception, Charisma, and even affinity for weapon types as well as each individual weapon. These attributes manifest in things like lower chance of bleeding, faster sprinting, better hearing, less mobility reduction from heavy equipment, less recoil and better handling with specific weapons, better prices with the traders, and a whole host of other advantages.

Because of this, sticking to a single playstyle can be very beneficial over the long run. If you sneak around a bunch in crouch mode; you’ll level up your covert movement attribute, but this also means you won’t be running around much, so your endurance will be lower.

The RPG roots of Escape from Tarkov also manifests in the way the ballistics system in the game works; armors have a ranking (0 to 6) and reduce the damage received from bullets by a certain percentage (less so with armor piercing rounds). This can mean that a low-level SMG with low-level ammunition will have to empty several magazines into someone’s chest to kill them if they’re wearing high level armor. To compensate for this, the gameplay “meta” is to aim for arms and legs that aren’t covered by the armor, and of course (if they aren’t wearing a full cover helmet) the face.

6. It’s a loot game

Unlike other shooters where everyone starts with relatively equal load-outs, in Escape from Tarkov your beginning lead-out is entirely dependent on what you had saved in your stash. You can equip yourself with a backpack, a tactical rig/vest, body armor, a ballistics helmet, an earpiece (for better hearing), a face cover/mask, glasses (for less sun glare), a melee weapon, a sidearm, and two main weapons (rifles, SMGs, or shotguns). In addition, you have a secure container with you that is anywhere form 2x2 to 3x3 spaces big and guarantees you don’t loose whatever you store in it.

Inventory management is a big part of the game, and the order in which you store your magazines or grenades determine the order they’re used in. Backpacks and tactical vests come in different shapes and sizes, some being much more valuable due to their ability to store larger magazines or long barrel weapons.  As we’re about to tell you in point 5 however, don’t get too attached to your stuff.

5. Escape from Tarkov is the Dark Souls of multiplayer shooters

Escape from Tarkov isn’t your typical survival game, nor is it your typical competitive FPS. The game is structured around raids, each time you go out on one, you run the risk of loosing everything you had in your loadout if you die. On the other hand, if you make it out alive, everything you gained is permanent (unless you bring it out on the next raid and die). This means that it’s fundamentally a game of risk and reward. If you kit out your character with full body armor and expensive weaponry, you’ll have a higher chance surviving and killing enemy players, thus getting more loot. But at the same time, a skilled player with nothing but a pistol using armor-penetrating large caliber rounds can steal all your hard-earned gear with a single headshot.

Understanding this risk can make some adopt a slower and more careful playstyle, but with little risk comes little reward, and you might find that all the good loot locations have already been picked clean by the time you get there.

As a plaster on the wound of mortality you can insure your items for a scaling price (depending on the value of the items insured), this means that you get the items back after 24-48 hours when you die…if other players don’t pick them up and take them out of the raid. No matter what, don’t be afraid of death, learn from it and get back of there.

4. There are quests and a story

That’s right, those traders we mentioned earlier aren’t there just to stock up on ammunition or offload redundant gear onto. Each one (except the Fence) has several quest-lines to follow and a reputation/loyalty system.

The quests typically include a short written introduction that tells you more about the world of Tarkov and exactly how it all went so wrong, as well as give you vague details and hints on how to complete the task. Don’t expect Tarkov to spoon-feed you the answers though, you’ll have to do some digging yourself and follow the clues (or “cheat” and look it up online), there is no way-point system here. Once a quest is completed, you’ll be rewarded with valuable items, currency, and increased loyalty with that trader.

Once you’ve reached a certain player-level, loyalty level, and bought and sold for a required amount; that trader will then “level up”. This in effect means that he’ll now have a lot more high-level equipment for you to buy, and some items that could previously only be traded for using various “junk” items will now be purchasable with currency. By level 3 with most traders, gear you would’ve previously treated as holy relics now suddenly become affordable and even disposable, and you’re much more willing to risk it going into raids fully equipped.

3. Junk isn’t junk

Apart from very few items, most loot you’ll find in Tarkov can be deceptively valuable, either because they’re actually quest items in some future quest you haven’t received yet, or because they can be traded in to one of the traders for much more valuable items (14 packs of Wilston Cigarettes can be traded for a M1A SASS sniper rifle). Because of this, provided you have space for it in your stash, we highly recommend checking what something can be traded-in for, or if it’s a future quest item, before selling it off.

You’ll eventually discover that your stash can’t quite cope with all the loot you’re hoarding, this is where specialized cases come in handy. The various traders will start selling all manner of specialized containers once you reach the higher levels. The Therapist for example has a case just for medical items that rooms 36 slots, while only taking up 9 in your stash. Similarly, you can get cases for “junk” items, weapons, ammunition, money, keys, and more.

2. You can make millions on the Auction House (Flea Market)

Recently Battlestate Games introduced an auction house to Escape from Tarkov. In the Flea Market players can buy and sell items from other players, finally solving the problem of the RNG curse when that last 3M Bodyarmor you need for a quest, just won’t drop no matter how many Scavs you kill. Gamers who are familiar with auction houses from MMORPGs will feel right at home here.

The Flea Market is a welcomed addition that makes doing farming runs a lot more interesting, it’s just too bad you can only sell a maximum three stacks of items at a time. Just like with the last point, you should make sure you check what junk items are worth on the Flea Market before selling them for a few measly roubles at one of the traders, could be you’ve got a diamond in the rough just sitting in your stash. 

1. Don’t underestimate the AI

Oh, and did we mention the Scavs? This is the games third faction, they patrol the maps shooting at any PMC on sight, and they usually carry low to mid-level gear (with the exception of the Scav boss and his minions on the Customs map). They don’t have the most sophisticated AI, but can be pin-point accurate if you get careless and easily end your life with a single headshot if you aren’t wearing a full-cover helmet (they tend not to have armor penetrating rounds).

Because of their relatively dumb AI, it’s easy to become complacent and treat them as a non-threat, but you never know when they’ll suddenly engage “beast mode”, so tread with care. If you kill them, they can usually provide some easy loot. If you entered a raid with nothing but a pistol or melee weapon; Scavs can be a good way to go from rags to riches in a single raid, using the gear looted of them to kill the more formidable enemy players.

As previously mentioned, you can also spawn into a raid as a member of the Scav faction, this starts you off with whatever gear the AI would have (so randomized low-level loot), and all the other Scavs friendly too you. In this mode you don’t gain any experience on your main character and you can’t complete quest objectives, but you do get to transfer everything you take out of the raid to your main stash, so if the quest requires commonly found items this can be a way to acquire them.

‘Scav runs’ isn’t something we’d recommend getting in the habit of playing too much with, since you don’t gain any experience or complete quest milestones, and matching the Scav loadout is cheap enough that it will always be worth it (a TT pistol and a couple of magazines can go a long way). But if you find yourself penniless and with a weaponless stash, a quick Scav run can be a good way to stock up.

We hope this list has given you an idea of what playing Escape from Tarkov is like, if you have any questions or if there’s anything else you’d add; please let us know in the comments below.

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Heiling from the frozen tundras and howling fjords of Norway, Mats swings a battleaxe better than most men who've never swung a battleaxe. Also he plays games...but in a totally manly viking way!
Gamer Since: 1994
Favorite Genre: FPS
Currently Playing: Escape from Tarkov
Top 3 Favorite Games:The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Mass Effect 2

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TheColdVein 5 years 1 month ago

One correction. The game is not based on looting. Looting is a means to an end. In the release there will be the storymode which will need to be completed, in parts, in each of the 10 maps. The story objective is to help explain the situation, with mysteries unknown until they are played at release, to help you finally escape the city. Each map will be harder than the last but upon completion of all 10, you will unlock free roam mode. This will remove all borders, have no load screens between the different locations, for up to 64 players. You will experience all the other areas, the full map, with those areas being in no way inferior to the main ones. There will also be replayability of the 10 raids by way of secret quests that you will have to discover with no clues given. During the story mode, there will be live events like mortar strikes and attacks from the REL. (Religious Zealot faction) There will be secret caches of weapons and supplies that can only be accessed with keycards or other prerequisites for you to discover and or obtain. There's a lot more to this game than meets the eye. Great Article!

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