Escape from Tarkov: PC gaming's latest breakout hit, explained

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

Hardcore online survival shooter Escape From Tarkov is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the beginning of 2020, as many people are just discovering this game that launched several years ago. If that includes you, and if you were a big fan of games like PUBG, then Escape from Tarkov is worth a close look.

Here's everything you need to know about PC gaming's latest surprise hit.

What is Escape From Tarkov?  

As mentioned above, Escape From Tarkov is likely to draw in fans of games like PUBG because both games are hardcore player-vs-player first-person shooters. However Escape From Tarkov is not a battle royale game, and it does not use the shrinking force field mechanic that you’ll find in games like PUBG, Fortnite or Apex Legends. Instead, Escape From Tarkov emphasizes realism and survival mechanics, requiring you to pay attention to hunger and thirst meters, tend to bullet wounds with the appropriate items and rewards cautious gameplay.

Another big difference is a persistent loadout. As you play, you’ll collect gear and items that can be taken to a stash accessible between raids. At present, you can buddy up with up to four other players online.

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

Games like PUBG came from mods based on the military sim ARMA. Escape From Tarkov seeks to emulate ARMA’s control basics, including small things like choosing between multiple levels of crouching and different walking speeds. The game features no on-screen information, like bullet counts or player health outside of the inventory screen. Looting in Escape From Tarkov is a very slow and deliberate process, where searching a cabinet in a house or the backpack of a defeated player triggers a loading bar as your character discovers what items are present.

You’ll also need to manage thirst and hunger meters as you continue on your raid, and if you’re injured you’ll need to pay attention to a bevy of other character parameters like blood pressure and exhaustion. You’ll need to share crucial inventory space with restorative items like food and medical supplies if you’re going to remain prepared.

Everything in Escape From Tarkov needs to be earned, including basic things like a map. On your first raid, unless you use help from sources like the official wiki, you won’t even know the general layout of your surroundings until you find a map.

Escape from Tarkov PS4, Xbox One: When are console versions coming? 

Escape from Tarkov is still in early access and is only playable through the developer’s own launcher on PC. Before exiting early access, Escape from Tarkov developer Battlestate Games mentioned a release on Steam initially for PC and eventually for Mac. As for a console release, Battlestate Games stated in 2015 that they’re “considering it, but it’s too early to talk about that” with no update on the matter since then. 

Escape from Tarkov Steam release and beta access 

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

There are two ways to play Escape from Tarkov during the early access period: you can pre-order the game on the official website which grants you instant access to the beta or you can simply create an account on the site and subscribe to their newsletter for a chance to be given access while the game is still in beta.

The pre-order will grant access to the full game after the early access period ends with plans for integrating your account into the full Steam release. Pre-order pricing starts at $44.99 with deluxe editions that grant more starting gear going as high as $139.99.

Does Escape From Tarkov have microtransactions or loot boxes? 

Escape From Tarkov’s developers have stated repeatedly that there will be no in-game purchases of any kind. The only money spent will be on the initial purchase. 

Escape From Tarkov tips: How to survive your first raid 

When starting out, you pick either a PMC or a Scav character to begin your raid. PMCs are your main character that you can equip with the gear you’ve found from playing or earned from pre-ordering the game. If that character dies, and if another player extracts from the map with your stuff, those items are lost for good. Scavs have a pre-set loadout with minimal storage for collecting new gear, which means you don’t risk anything from your stash but you’re limited to playing as a Scav about once every 30 minutes.

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

After you’ve picked your character, you’ll pick from one of seven currently available locations, each with a different raid timer that represents the maximum time you can remain deployed on the map before extracting. Timers range from 30 minutes up to an hour and presently player maximums range from 6 to 14. Locations vary between the size of a large warehouse to a sprawling Russian rural countryside, but so far locations are never as big as anything you’ll find in PUBG. Initial player spawn location on each map are fixed among several points, which means your first moments are probably your most perilous. 

If you survived that, your next steps will be to keep an eye out for other players and AI-controlled Scavs while attempting to loot your surroundings.

The last step on your first successful raid will be extraction. Extraction points are located in various places on each map, are not always in the same place each time and may require special conditions to activate.

Escape From Tarkov quests, flea markets and what to expect in the future 

Once you’ve gotten your feet wet and survived an extraction or two, and maybe come home with some new gear to boot, you can start to shift your focus to Escape From Tarkov’s Quests and Flea Market systems. 

Quests are handed out by NPCs and net you experience which can boost your character’s stats and gain reputation with that NPC to unlock better items for sale. Quest objectives can be as simple as handing over specific scavenged items or as difficult as taking down 10 player PMCs as a Scav. Quests for each of the game’s seven NPCs unlock linearly to reveal harder quests with better rewards.

The Flea Market is an AI and player-driven market where you can trade the game’s many valuables back and forth for in-game currency or gear. 

On each map, you’ll also encounter very difficult Boss NPCs which of course can be picked over for some top-shelf loot if you manage to kill them, avoid detection from other players and make it to an extraction point.

Down the road a full story mode is planned, an open world mode and at least six new locations will be added to the game. Mod support is possible for limited cosmetic purposes but “mods that alter gameplay will not be allowed” according to the developer.

Andrew Melcon is a freelance writer who specializes in covering games and gaming hardware. He's tackled everything from PC game controllers to Pokémon and PUBG and his work has appeared on sites including Tom's Guide, Tom's Hardware, Laptop Mag, and more.