Escape from Tarkov - 12 Essential Tips for Beginners

January 29, 2020
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Escape from Tarkov is notoriously brutal, with a steep learning curve that will drive you to insanity unless you are properly prepared for what you’re letting yourself in for. There is no tutorial, the game doesn’t tell you how or where to “escape” from said Tarkov, and that bush will one-tap you — causing you to lose all that expensive gear you’re wearing, and leave you muttering about cheaters. Fear not, this guide will get you on the fast-track to success with some helpful beginner tips.

1. The Basics

Pay attention to where you need to go.

A looter-shooter at heart, Escape from Tarkov is all about, well, escaping from Tarkov — a fictional region and city of Russia. Following a conflict in the area, its borders were sealed off, leaving scavengers and members of private military companies (PMCs) to duke it out. Upon starting the game, the player selects either BEAR (a Russian-sponsored PMC group) or USEC (a Western one). This is the faction your PMC will fight for.

Like most looter-shooters, you have a stash to store your loot, and a flea market to sell it. The aim of the game is to get more money, buy more containers which expand your stash size so that you can horde even more loot, and eventually escape from Tarkov (coming in a later update). 

You equip items, load into a raid on one of the various maps in the game, and have a set amount of time to get out. This is usually approximately forty-five minutes, give or take. You get out by reaching an extraction point. There are multiple on each map, and when you first load in the game tells you which extractions you can escape from. These extractions are always on the opposite side of the map to where you spawn, meaning that players inevitably cross paths.

2.) Scav runs are your bread and butter

Getting ready for a Scav run.

“Scav” is short for the word “scavenger,” and refers to the people who are left in the war-torn Tarkov region. They are AI-controlled for the most part, and they wander around levels saying creepy Russian phrases and giggling; however, some Scavs are player-controlled. 

Every twenty minutes, you can select to play as a Scav from the main menu. You will be spawned into a level of your choice with random equipment and weapons. From there you operate the same as a normal PMC, except other AI-controlled Scavs won’t attack you — beware other player Scavs though, they can and will shoot you for your loot. If you attack another Scav, player or AI, all the Scavs in that area will turn on you. 

There is a downside to playing as a Scav, though. You normally spawn with subpar equipment and weapons, meaning that you are at the mercy of the Tarkov gods as to how well you can defend yourself. Saying this, as a new player you should be using your Scav every single time they are available. You might be tempted to want to play that shiny new PMC with all the fun stuff, but EFT is about money and loot at heart, and spawning in as a Scav – with no risk if you die – can yield some amazing results. I once spawned as a Scav, shot someone in the face, and got out with 1 million roubles in loot at level 4. It works.

3.) Offline mode is your friend

Stranger danger doesn’t exist offline.

You can enter a raid with your PMC in offline mode. This allows you to load into a map with all your equipment, and just run around. You can choose whether AI Scavs spawn or not, allowing you to either take them on for the experience, or just run around learning the map and its extraction points. Anything you use or lose in offline mode will be returned to you like nothing happened. So if you want to test out the recoil or damage of that new gun, this is the place to do so.

4.) Pistolero

When your Scav spawn is on cooldown and you want some PMC action, take only a pistol at the beginning. This allows you to defend yourself against Scavs and players, but you won’t really lose much when you die. Some players only take a hatchet for maximum value (they are dubbed “hatchlings”), but this doesn’t teach you how to play the game. Taking a pistol will build good habits, and you will learn how to use your gun. This will pay off later when you start taking more expensive gear into raids with you.

5.) Start with Customs

The Dorms on the Customs level have lots of loot, but lots of players too

You will likely be overwhelmed with open-ended nature of Escape from Tarkov, and it doesn’t exactly tell you what map is the best for beginners, but the map Customs is the best place to start. The layout of the map is one of the most complicated, there are a lot of extraction points to learn, and it is full of choke points that force player conflict. It isn’t the easiest to learn (in fact, the opposite), but once you’ve mastered Customs the rest of the game will seem easy in comparison.

It might seem boring at first, but you need to play Customs until you no longer need a map to navigate. You will know when it’s time to move onto another map if you can spawn into Customs and immediately know where you need to go to extract. Until then, play Customs until you master it because there are very good reasons to do so.

Firstly, most of the early level quests are located on this map. They give XP, money, and weapons as rewards, providing a healthy boost to your stash early on. Secondly, Customs is one of the most diverse maps. It has a lot of areas with good loot: the Dorms, the customs area itself, and the various warehouses in the industrial area are all chock full of goodies. Lastly, the map has many different area types. There are woodland areas for sneaking and sniping, there are urban areas to practice more tactical movement, and there are close-quarters areas for up close and personal player-versus-player combat. In short, you will hone a variety of skills on Customs, allowing you to find out your strengths and weaknesses, and what kind of play style suits you the best.

6.) Use an online map

Don’t judge my bush camping

You can buy maps in-game, but they don’t actually have any locations or extractions marked on them. You’re better off going on the Escape from Tarkov wiki and finding the relevant map. Keep this up in a browser while you play, then you can dive into a bush and Alt + Tab out of the game to check the map if you need to. This is great when you are learning where the extract points are. You’ve likely spent the better part of an hour creeping around with all your new loot, and need reminding.

Disclaimer: we take no liability for any losses incurred due to bad people finding the aforementioned bush you have now made home.

7.) Research, research, research

Streamers, YouTube, and the wiki will all help you learn, but it cannot be overstated that this game requires you to be an expert on many different things. That silly looking pair of pliers you just picked up might be worth 30k on the Flea Market, enough to buy an actual gun. The only way to learn these things is through experience. Look up the solution to any question you have, then in the future you will already know the answer — this is the key to learning everything in Escape from Tarkov. 

Watching people stream the game is a great way to learn the maps when you aren’t playing. YouTube can also provide valuable information not only in the form of tutorials, but for finding those pesky extraction points. Sometimes you can follow your map to the extract but not find the specific radius you need to stand in, a quick Alt + Tab and YouTube search with the name of the extract point you want to locate will bring up footage of the precise location you need to find.

8.) Become a gun nut

Should you be able to see that big spring?

If you don’t know much about guns — learn. This game has a complex ballistics system that takes into account the weapon calibre you are using, the type of bullet, and the type of armour, if any, your opponent is wearing. Some bullet types have high penetration yet low damage, others have high damage but low penetration. This means that if you’re opponent is wearing high-level armour and you shoot them with a low-penetration bullet, you might as well be throwing rocks. They will calmly turn around while you are dumping a magazine into them and send you back to the main menu humiliated. This is why most new players think Tarkov is unfair. 

When you are first starting out, you only have access to really bad ammunition. Most players will fire wildly at anyone they see, but if you see an enemy covered head-to-toe in the latest gear, you need to take that Frankenstein rifle you’re holding and get out of there. Once you’ve built up experience, money, and weapons, you will be able to take that tank down in one shot. Until then, focus on becoming a good player. Learn how much recoil weapons have, learn what kind of weapons you like, and learn what the bullets you are firing actually do. This isn’t Call of Duty, and those who treat it as such will not enjoy Escape from Tarkov. Here is a handy table on what every bullet in the game does. Study it.

9.) Wear headphones

Expect this screen a lot.

This goes for both in game and in person. A decent pair of headphones for playing games is almost a requirement these days, so if you don’t already have a pair, get one. It will allow you to hear the nuanced noise of footsteps and rustling, and let you know exactly which direction they are coming from, and how close.

With that out of the way, your PMC should wear a set of headphones in-game as well. There are various different sets, and they all have a different sound signature, but the most important fact is that they all cut out useless noises and amplify the most important ones. Wind, rain, and ambient sounds all get lessened, but footsteps, gunshots and footsteps all get amplified. Once you wear a pair, you also become abundantly aware of just how much of a racket you yourself make charging through bushes and opening filing cabinets.

To provide an anecdote from my own experience, I was waiting outside the Dorms on the Customs map when I heard a low rustling coming from some bushes around 15 metres away. I turned to see a player’s face appear through a bush — he had been crawling, thinking he could get the drop on me. With all the self-control of John Rambo, I sprayed a whole magazine into him. If I hadn’t been wearing headphones, I wouldn’t have heard him.

10.) An army of one

If you’re playing solo, like many of us do, the following pointers are for you. 

Playing solo means you are outnumbered. Stealth, then, is your greatest advantage. This means that you should always use a suppressor when you can afford one. They only cost around 30k roubles, and they stop players locating your position once you’ve fired your weapon. 

Reposition after engaging is a strategy that you should master. Once you’ve taken a few shots with your suppressed weapon, move to another bush/room/tree. It doesn’t have to be far. Adrenaline-fuelled players/Scavs love to home in on the action, so when they sprint to your last location thinking they’ve got one up on you, they’ll be in for a nasty surprise.

Once you’ve killed some people, you want to loot them, right? Have patience. Stay in cover for a few minutes just watching. More than likely someone will turn up like a vulture, and try to loot that person you just killed. Now you will have even more loot to pick through. 

11.) Insure everything

This is my stash. There are many like it but this one is mine.

Before you enter a raid, you can choose to insure your items. You should insure everything with Prapor. He is the cheapest, and, providing no one leaves the raid with your items, you will get them back within 36 hours. You might be tempted to think it’s a waste of money, and that nobody will leave your loot — but they will. 

Most body armours are too big to fit in backpacks. A lot of players will also already have better armour, or yours might be so shot up that it isn’t worth the space if they can get it out. The same goes for weapons. The more basic your weapon, the more likely people will leave it on your body. It’s the shiny late-game guns they want.

Most of the time your stuff will come back to you if you insure it, and it’s much cheaper than buying it again.

12.) How to combat gear-fear

This is the most important advice on this list. Gear-fear is infectious, and permeates every strata of EFT player. It is a term used to identify the anxiety that comes with using expensive, high-level gear and weapons, and the fear of losing them. 

If you have the good fortune of scoring some great loot, and escaping with it, you probably haven’t thought about what you will do with it. You could spend hours agonising over it, or, worse still, you could take it into a raid and spend the whole time terrified. Thankfully, the solution is simple — sell it. 

Sell your goods on the Flea Market to alleviate that anxiety.

If you are just starting out, the money you get for selling good gear is far more valuable than using it and losing it. For example, one SA-58 rifle with modifications is worth 4-5 normal AKs on the Flea Market. With those AKs you increase your chance of getting more and better loot. Use only what you’re comfortable with, and what you can afford to lose. Before you know it, you will have the money and confidence to use those items that gave you gear-fear in the first place, and at that point it won’t be a big deal if you lose them. 

Final thoughts

There is no easy way to succeed at Escape from Tarkov. The game is still under development, but it is also the creator’s intent for it to be obtuse and punishing. You will have to learn from experience to a great extent. Following this guide, however, will give you the fundamentals, and lessen your suffering on your way to the top. Stick with it, and soon enough you will be one of the players you were cursing while you were learning the ropes. 

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Jesse Gregoire

Starting with the Sega Mega Drive, I’ve been playing those video game things for what seems like an eternity. Anything with a good narrative is my passion, but you can also find me clicking the heads in FPS games, living a second life in a sim, or looking for those elusive objects in adventure games. I’m still trying to workout what happened in Metal Gear Solid.