Escape from Tarkov is a “hardcore” first person looter shooter/survival game developed by Russian company BattleState games, which attempts to emulate real combat with it's first person shooter experience but also cater to the addictive game play loops of loot gathering, hoarding of gear and base building. The core game play is reminiscent of most first-person shooters, you join a raid as your PMC (main character) or Scav, solo or in a group and run or silently creep around the map trying to shoot and loot other players or AI. The difference in Tarkov, is that regardless of whether you are a PMC or a scav, when you eventually die your raid is over and anything on your person is lost. In Escape from Tarkov the weapons, armor, rigs, backpacks, meds, magazines, bullets, basically anything you take into a raid is something that you have invested in and brought from your personal and persistent stash and can be lost if you die or fail to extract. In a raid the goal for any player can vary; an individual may be looking to complete tasks (quests), find loot to improve their loadouts or sell for precious rubles, or to PvP, but mostly every PMC’s primary goal is to try not to die.
Your PMC: (from wiki)
The PMC is your main character and they are aligned with either the USEC or BEAR factions. Currently the only notable difference between the BEAR and USEC factions is Russian (BEAR) or English (USEC) voice lines, some cosmetic differences and a few quests that require kills on specific factions. When you choose to play as your PMC you start at the beginning (with the most time available) of a raid instance on a map of your choice, carrying items and gear you have equipped to your character from your stash. As a PMC operator, you may engage and kill other PMC operators and Scavs. In order to survive the raid and escape with any items you are carrying, you must locate and move into an extraction zone. Each map has a variety of extraction zones and which ones are available to you in each raid is dependent upon the location you spawn, whether you are a PMC or a player Scav or in some cases have requirements such as certain items (e.g. paracord, ice pick or keys), cash or having power turned on or a switch being flipped in another part of the map.
In summary when playing your PMC:
You have full control over your loadout, configurable in the stash
You may engage PMCs and Scavs
You must extract to keep any items you earn
Upon death or timeout, you will lose everything you brought into the raid except for your melee weapon and the contents in your secure container.
Insurance allows you to retrieve any items that have not been extracted from the raid, after a delay.
Experience points you earn in raid will count towards your level progress
You may complete quests.
Player Scav: (from wiki)
When playing as a scav you play as a member of the scav faction. Player scavs have randomized gear and equipment, often low quality or unbalanced, and will spawn midway through a raid session. Playing as a Scav is also on a 20 minute cool down. This means that once you have completed a scav run (died or extracted) you must wait 20 minutes before you can queue again as a scav. The time remaining when you spawn as a scav is a fixed range and dependent on the map. For example, Player scavs on Interchange begin to spawn with around fifteen to ten minutes left in raid (PMCs spawn in with 45 minutes on Interchange). Unlike PMCs, by default player scavs have the advantage of AI scavs being friendly unless the player scav has initiated combat with another scav, (AI or Player). Scavs are also given some additional unique extracts depending on the map. While Player Scav raids have some advantages, you cannot progress your PMC's stats or quests while playing as a Scav with the exception of finding and extracting with non-quest items. This means a Player's scav character levels their skills independently from their PMC. Any gear extracted as a player scav can be moved to the players stash upon completion of the scav raid.
You have randomized gear and loadout, re-rolled for every Scav raid
You spawn midway through a raid with limited information around you
You may engage PMCs and Scavs, but AI Scavs will not aggress you first
You must extract to keep any items you earn
Upon death or timeout, you will lose everything you had on your Scav character
Experience points you earn in raid only benefit your Scav character
You cannot complete any tasks except for finding certain items in raid
An additional game mode is available for a players PMC character and this is the ability to go into a raid in offline mode. In offline mode any gear brought in to a map is not lost on death, however, any experience earned or loot found is not kept on successful extraction. In offline mode AI enemies can be turned on or off, the quantity of AI and the difficulty can also be modified. Offline mode is useful for learning maps or in raid game play mechanics without other players and the fear of losing your gear.
Map of Tarkov and playable areas: (from wiki)
As a new player the majority of early quests take place on Customs. It is a decent map to learn early but can have a fairly high number of geared players looking for PvP at some of the loot hot spots (mostly dorms and construction). If you can navigate around these areas you can usually avoid fights with players using meta weapons and ammo. Unfortunately, a fair few early quests require you to find items in various rooms of dorms.
Factory is a good map for getting a handle on the FPS gameplay as it is quick and close quarters. My recommendation is going offline Factory with horde mode for AI and hard and practicing head shotting the Scavs.
As a new player I would avoid Shoreline and Reserve unless you plan to Scav those maps. If you make it out alive they can be very lucrative and generally has the highest concentration of high value loot spawns. But this means these two maps attract high level players with high level gear.
My favourite map currently is Interchange. It has good loot and a decent amount of PvP but if you know the routes and map you can avoid the geared players and make really good money.
Customs, Reserve, Shoreline and Interchange also all have Scav bosses that if you are able to kill can provide a really large amount of good loot.
Below are some brief overviews of the core mechanics of the game. The more in-depth explanations of the mechanics can be found on the wiki which is linked at the end.
The key take away regarding the ballistics in Tarkov is that the type of bullet more than the gun is the important factor in damaging an opponent. Each bullet has unique armor penetration values and flesh damage values. This means using a high flesh low penetration ammo against an opponent wearing tier 6 body armor is going to end up with your opponent eating most of your shots and still standing. There are exceptions like damaging unarmored areas (legs/arms or face) that means you could win with low pen ammo against high armored opponents but it is unlikely.
In raid, a characters hydration and energy must be kept above zero. Health loss occurs if either reach zero. Food and drink can be brought in from a players stash but can also be found and used in raid.
A player model is also comprised of several hit boxes that have differing heath values and damage consequences. The hit boxes are left and right arms, left and right legs, stomach, thorax, and head which is further sub-divided into the eyes, jaw, nape. Each hit box also has its own health pool that contributes to your characters overall health pool. If the head or thorax reaches zero health your character will die.
Character skills level up passively by performing the associated actions while in a raid. For example, your endurance will gradually get better as your run around during a raid. Your strength will increase because you are carrying lots of heavy items. Your ability to control the recoil on certain weapons will improve as you use those weapons etc.
Vendors are one of the two places you can sell your loot and buy equipment. Vendors also provide tasks (quests) that reward lots of xp and loot. Generally, early game leveling is best accomplished by completing tasks for the vendors. As you complete tasks with the vendors you also earn reputation that unlocks access to higher tiered gear, weapons, meds and ammo. The fence is a unique vendor that sells items in real time that have been sold by other players.
The hideout is a persistent base building mechanic in the game. Eventually, you can outfit your hideout to perform a variety of semi automated things for you. These include ammo production, health and medication production, passive out of raid health regeneration, bitcoin farm, a shooting range for testing weapon builds and several other stations. Building up the hideout requires vendors be at specific levels for different tiers of the hideout stations as well as significant cash and material investment.
The flea market is a player driven market place. The flea market does not unlock until your PMC has reached level 10. Once the flea market is unlocked you can have up to 3 active offers at once. The number of active offers increases as you successfully sell items on the flea market and improve your reputation. Once an item has been posted to the flea market it cannot be removed and if the item does not sell in the allotted time the deposit placed when offering the item is lost, additionally you also suffer a small reputation loss. A lot of under cutting happens on the flea market.
Weapons and weapon mods:
You can change just about every component of a weapon (gas tube, dust covers, barrels as well as add stocks, grips sights etc). I'm not at all knowledgeable about real life firearms so can't speak to Tarkov's complete accuracy but the weapon and weapon modding system is the most in-depth and comprehensive I have ever seen in a video game. The full ability to mod weapons doesn’t unlock until you have built the workbench in your PMCs hideout.
Secure containers are an item unique to PMCs that provide you with limited space on your character during a raid that is safe from loss. Anything you bring in or put into your secure container will be safe if you die or go MIA. There are several different secure containers ranging in size from 2x2 spaces all the way up to 3x4 spaces. 3 of the containers are available based upon the edition of the game you purchase: the alpha container (2x2) with standard edition, the beta container (2x3) with Prepare to Escape edition (also available from peace keeper vendor lvl 2), and the gamma container (3x3) with Edge of Darkness edition. Two other containers can also be earned through quest completion: the epsilon container (4x2) is earned on completion of the punisher part 6 quest and the kappa container (3x4) is earned on completion of the Collection quest.
That is probably the core info of the game, however, the wiki contains more detailed explanations of everything mentioned above and other systems in the game that I didn't include. If you play the game the wiki is definitely something you should look at. The fun of this game is how all these systems interact to create such a compelling and tense game play experience.
Tarkov market is a site that gives you the prices that items are selling for on the flea market. This is useful pre-level 10 if you find something and are unsure whether you should vendor it or hold on until you unlock the flea market you can check here.
I also highly recommend the app Battle Buddy. It has all the stats for bullets and armor built in so you can test how certain ammos perform against different levels of armor. It is quite useful when trying to figure out what went wrong in a fight. It can be downloaded for iOS or android.
The youtube playlist below also really helped me wrap my head around a lot of the systems in game and is just really excellent information for new players:
The game can be purchased directly from BattleState games. There are multiple packages that start you with varying amounts of gear and stash space and range in price from $45 to $140. I started with the basic $45 package and later upgraded to Edge of Darkness.
Technically the game is still in BETA testing. There are bugs and de-sync can be an issue at times but the devs roll out changes and updates to mechanics fairly regularly. One major caveat is that periodically (usually every 4 – 5 months) they do a game wipe that resets everyone back to square one. This usually coincides with major overhauls to game play systems. When wipes occur, you are reset to the edition of the game you currently own and aby gear that edition comes with.
The game is currently on version 0.12.7, with rumours circulating that a new update and wipe is around the corner. The devs also recently showed off a video of a new map Streets of Tarkov, that is also rumoured to be coming soon (though Streets is a bit of a meme in the community at this point since it’s be rumoured to release with each major update).