Tarkov: Breaking the Rules

What is it?

Tarkov’s core game is a realism-driven multiplayer first-person shooter based in a near-future scenario around private military companies. Depending on the size of the area, 5–14 players are randomly distributed across the map in closed instances (“raids”). Their most fundamental goal: reach one of the exit points (“exfil”) that is available to them.

“Shoreline” is one of the maps in Tarkov. Players are randomly distributed across the starting positions and must reach one of the exits available to them. (illustrative representation)

A Meaningful Metagame

While the individual raids are self-contained 10- to 40-minute sessions, the equipment and goals of each player stem from the overarching metagame. On the one hand, players fulfill tasks for the NPC traders in order to gain their trust and unlock access to an increasingly more powerful arsenal of weapons, ammunition and equipment. On the other hand, players also upgrade their hideout with certain building materials to gain access to higher-quality crafting recipes. Or, at a much later stage, to outright generate money via their own Bitcoin farm.

Inventory management is part of everyday Tarkov life. Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular features from the recent past is the “sorting table”, which temporarily provides unlimited space to rearrange items.

The Multiplayer Roguelike

That is where the next puzzle piece of the Tarkov formula takes the spotlight: Everything you bring into a raid is at stake. When you die, your corpse simply becomes a container for other players to loot. Your equipment for the next raid has to be provided from your stash or by purchasing it from the afore-mentioned traders. The meta progress — especially concerning items and money supplies— is not a one-way street, but a full-fledged part of the game that generates interesting decisions and risk-versus-reward considerations.

One of the roguelike genre’s central questions: Persistent progress (and thereby long-term meaning of the time you invest) or not (thereby fully focusing on skill and learning)? Tarkov says: “Why not both?”
Tarkov does have persistent progress. However, it quickly pales in comparison to the depth of the other parts of the metagame.
  • Your avatar increases basic skills like stamina or strength over time. Experience points and hideout upgrades are also permanent.
  • Your equipment (and your money supply) is at stake and can be lost forever. Exception: Items placed in the “secure container” during a raid are preserved. (There is a mechanism to save you from truly going bankrupt by the way: You can periodically do “scav runs” allowing you to take the role of a random NPC scavenger and transfer any loot you find after escaping to your own stash. Probably Tarkov’s “friendliest” feature).
  • Completing tasks for the NPC traders unlocks permanent access to higher-quality (and more expensive) equipment.

Deliberate Unfairness

This softening of the traditional meaning of a “victory condition” is not just a side note in Tarkov’s design, but fundamentally required. Tarkov is not a fair game at all. Rich, high-level players with pimped rifles, the highest armor class and super effective painkillers are thrown into raids with newbies. Lone-wolves can run into duos or trios. The only thing that matters for the game’s matchmaking is that these players selected a certain map at the same time.

The basics, explained by one of Tarkov’s most prolific players.

Emergent Stories

However, when the paths of two players do cross after all, the complexity of their moment-to-moment decisions is also significantly enhanced by the metagame. The most fundamental consideration being: What do I have on my body or in my backpack (i.e. what do I have to lose)?

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