I’ve been playing a lot of Escape from Tarkov recently. Actually, it may be more accurate to say I’ve been learning Escape from Tarkov recently. The learning curve is so steep that I don’t think I’m actually playing yet. Or at least, I’m not playing the same game as the streamers I throw on to try and learn the game. As a progression-based game, knowledge and money transform the experience as you play, so a lot of the guides that say “use this super armor and this perfect ammo” are a little useless for a brand new player surviving on scraps.
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I love the depth and complexity of the systems in Tarkov. I love the risk and reward present in the loot system. But it is an uphill climb to parse all of the information required to be successful. Memorizing the maps and extraction points. Getting comfortable with the complex control options. Movement vs noise for positioning and enemy awareness. Recognizing loot of different values. Learning about ammo, and not only what guns accept which kinds, but then the various grades of ammo and their effects. Leveling up your stats, leveling up your hideout, etc.
It’s a lot. If Call of Duty is at one end of the shooter spectrum, Tarkov is just about the polar opposite. If Call of Duty is fast food, Tarkov is a 6-course meal at a black tie establishment and you’d better take it seriously and remember which fork is for which dish.
Learning the game is no small task, either, because dying in a Tarkov raid means potentially losing any gear and equipment you brought into that raid. That right off the bat makes it a game many people can’t get on board with. But for those who enjoy the idea of big risks equating to big rewards, the exhilaration of successfully extracting a tense raid with a bag full of loot justifies the lessons painfully learned to get there. And of course, success breeds success, so once you start escaping with loot, you make money, which lets you buy better gear, which makes surviving easier. It just takes an effort to get that ball rolling.
Tarkov isn’t wholly sadistic, though. You can play the maps in offline mode, which is priceless for learning each new map. And in live matches, the maps are populated by NPC characters called Scavs. Every twenty minutes, Tarkov offers you the option to play as one of the Scavs instead of your primary character. You hop into their body in a match-in-progress, complete with whatever gear they had on them.
If you survive and extract, you get to keep everything they had, plus whatever you looted on your way out. If they die, you haven’t risked any of your own gear and hopefully you learned something. At the same time, you can’t gain experience as a Scav. So as a risk-limiting tool to learn some fundamentals and build your stash of gear, its invaluable, but there is a limit to its overall effectiveness. A part of having an easier time in the game owes to leveling up your character stats, and leveling up your contacts so you have access to more amenities.
Tarkov can be intense, and if I’m being honest, sometimes I find myself having to silently hype myself up, to get into the right mind state before I can even queue for a match. A casual game it is not, and though some streamers breeze around maps, sweeping rooms and always getting the drop on others, I am nowhere near confident enough in my skills to play that way. Slow and steady is my comfort zone, but it means playing in an eerily suspenseful stealth mode, quietly scanning every pixel for signs of an opponent. Having that quiet punctuated by the sudden, loud crack of a bullet you never saw coming can be thoroughly unsettling.
But once my heart has stopped pounding, and I’ve stopped cursing myself for making too much noise or rushing to loot before clearing the surroundings, I inevitably start feeling the itch to jump in and risk it all again for another chance at to get just a bit more acclimated.
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