Escape From Tarkov doesn’t fit into a defined genre. It takes pieces of several and blends them into a multiplayer game that feels fresher than anything I’ve played since the start of the Battle Royale craze. It’s one part survival, one part loot, and one part intense tactical PvP all mixed together. Sprinkle in some MMO elements like a partially player-controlled economy and Escape From Tarkov is unlike anything else out right now.
While it doesn’t play out like a traditional loot shooter, it fits that genre the most since loot is the primary focus of the gameplay.
Here’s a quick rundown of how a match plays out. You play as two types of characters. Scavs, which can be real or AI players, come with a random loadout of loot. Or a PMC, which is your personal character and where all the progression is focused. You get upwards of 50 minutes to play a round as you make your way from one side of the map to the other with set extraction locations. Successfully extract, and you keep all the loot you found. Die, and you lose everything (unless it was insured and not looted by other players).
Escape From Tarkov is the best loot shooter in a modern setting I’ve played. It doesn’t try to take mechanics that work in Diablo, Destiny, or Borderlands and force them into a modern setting. Games like The Division falter because typical loot features don’t work in a realistic setting. Damage numbers and gear scores don’t give the same thrill when it’s an M4 that deals more damage. Sci-fi games can get away with it because it makes sense within that setting. Art teams get to go crazy designing pistols that shoot rockets or swords that summon skeletons.
In most of these games, finding better loot is the draw. The golden pillar of light when a legendary drops in Diablo. Or, an engram in Destiny. Or, when dozens of guns spill out of a boss in Borderlands. In Escape From Tarkov, finding loot period is the draw. Every weapon is a precious commodity that can be upgraded to something better, or sold off to build a better kit for your next match. There’s no such thing as bad loot, the only limitation is how much you can carry. And whether you survive long enough to keep it.
The other night, during long matchmaking times plaguing the game since its surge in popularity, my buddy and I were talking about what other games should take what Escape From Tarkov is doing and try to do it better. I thought of Ghost Recon instantly. I enjoyed Wildlands but didn’t like Breakpoint at all. It tried to shoehorn in a loot system similar to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and it didn’t work.
Ubisoft already has a popular tactical shooter built around more traditional multiplayer with Rainbow Six: Siege. A Ghost Recon game that takes inspiration from Escape From Tarkov could be incredible. They can still let loot be a focus like they tried to do in Breakpoint, but shift the approach to more like Tarkov. Let the risk of losing loot be the driving force behind finding more. An M4 gets to be an M4. Nothing more. No damage numbers. No slight changes in stats. Let an in-depth customization system handle all that. Tarkov even has multiple ammo types to drive this customization more.
Genre popularity comes and goes, but it does feel like Escape From Tarkov is something special. Even after its Twitch promotion, it’s still one of the top games on the live streaming service. Now, I wonder if developers and publishers will try to piggyback off its success.
Remember, H1Z1 was the first Battle Royale game to really get popular. Then PUBG came along, did Battle Royale better, and ended up killing H1Z1. At its peak, H1Z1 (now called Z1 Battle Royale) had 150,000+ players. These days, it’s lucky to get 500.
PUBG was soon followed by Fortnite, Call of Duty (Blackout), Apex Legends, and many more.
I don’t believe a similar fate is in store for Escape From Tarkov. But there’s more than enough room for multiple games in this genre to co-exist. Ghost Recon would be a perfect fit. It retains the tactical shooter gameplay it’s had since its inception while also adding in features that help extend replayability.
Escape From Tarkov has found a way to make loot work for realistic shooters. I hope we see games like The Division and Ghost Recon pay attention to what the folks at Battlestate Games are doing.