How Escape From Tarkov wiped out years of goodwill in one catastrophic week

Armed men from Escape From Tarkov.
(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

It’s a bad time to be an Escape From Tarkov fan. Developers BattleState Games announced this week the addition of a new $250 edition of the extraction shooter, which included a full PvE version of the game, bigger pockets for PMCs in the full version, and an equippable item that will make AI-controlled Scavs less aggressive to players.

A brutal survival-focused battle royale, Tarkov's special sauce is the mix of scarcity, danger, and rare opportunity. It's a game where finding a particular medicine can make half-a-dozen failed runs feel worthwhile, where a door key is worth its weight in gold, and where you'll go through long stretches of poverty, slowly building up your stash and eking everything you can out of sub-optimal loadouts. It's a shooter, sure, but a shooter where every single item matters a whole lot more than in any other game.

So, extra benefits didn't sit well with many owners of the existing top-tier $150 Edge of Darkness (EoD) edition, including myself. That version has been available for players to buy into the closed beta since August 2016, and for its considerable price promised  access to every future DLC coming to the game. The argument, coming from content creators, Reddit users and angry fans on the BattleState Games Discord server is that this PvE version of the game is a new DLC and therefore should be handed out to EoD owners for free. 

BattleState Games initially denied the new mode was DLC and tried to play word games, which went down about as well as you'd expect. The backlash was absolutely furious and, after a few days in the bunker, the developer half-admitted to getting it wrong, bowing to pressure in damage control mode and saying that all EoD owners will get six months of co-op play for free, with a rather substantial catch:  Battlestate can’t do this immediately, because they don’t have the server capacity for everyone who’s bought the EoD edition. As PCG's Ted Litchfield put it, this is an enormous unforced error. 

On top of that, in an effort  to try and appease these fans, EoD players are being given priority matchmaking and a series of new items. This means that players who haven’t bought the EoD edition before now (which is no longer on sale, by the way) are now going to be stuck in longer queues for their matches. To be clear, players who've bought the standard edition of Tarkov have paid $50 for the game, and are now being treated like second-class citizens. How’s that for enshittification?

A player looks at the landscape in Escape from Tarkov.

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

Money Money Money

I’ve always been forgiving of Escape From Tarkov, and bought the EoD edition all the way back in January 2017, when the game was essentially just the previous (and smaller) Factory map and a horde of players charging around with hatchets in a bid to find the one existing pair of night vision goggles on the map. The game's come a very long way since then and, while many players have bemoaned Tarkov's huge cheating problem, I've found most of the changes to be broad improvements to the core experience.

Not every change has been to my personal tastes, and the addition of new systems and maps introduced bugs and meta shifts along the way, but there was a sense that Battlestate Games had a good sense of the game they were trying to make, and Tarkov was moving towards that endpoint with each update.

After this, I'm not entirely sure that still holds. The introduction of the $250 edition, weeks after the devs also announced microtransactions to let players get their hands on additional space in the player's out-of-raid Stash and clothing options (previously earnt through in-game achievement), has left me wondering if really they’re not so sure about what they’re doing after all.

I'm not that annoyed about the addition of the PvE mode and the mess around who got access. It's clearly DLC that should be made available to everyone, Battlestate made a big mistake, and sure enough has begun rolling it back. Game director Nikita Buyanov started claiming that this feature would be available to everyone at the game’s 1.0 release, but such was the fury of the fanbase that, in a desperate attempt to change the narrative, Battlestate shortly afterwards announced that everyone was going to be allowed in, alongside a promise to get rid of the promised EoD priority queue.)

I'm actually more concerned about the deep pockets you’ll be rewarded with for your, er, deep pockets and the device that makes AI scavs less likely to attack players. Key elements of Tarkov are scarcity, the threat of losing items, and that even in the absence of other players this is a hostile environment. These additions fundamentally change these aspects of the game and tip the scales a little more against those that aren’t willing to spend $250 on the already-unforgiving experience.

As a game, Escape From Tarkov has never really felt particularly fair.... but it always screwed everyone over equally.

The new pockets essentially outfit your PMC character with cargo pants, turning the four one-slot pockets into a new configuration featuring two one-slot pockets and two two-slot pockets. Most magazines in the game are two-slots in size, and it meant that to run an assault rifle with decently sized mags you would need to equip a tactical vest to put your mags in. Several quests in the game put restrictions on tactical vests and other gear, meaning that challenge was manufactured to make quests more difficult. Now, Unheard owners could go into raids naked but for a gun and pockets full of magazines, minimising their risk and maximising the amount of loot they can tote from the raid. More importantly, if a player without these bigger pockets is doing one of these same limited-gear quests as someone with these bonuses, they're going to be at a significant disadvantage. This is a pretty open-and-shut case of pay to win.

It’s even worse with the new Mark of the Unheard item, a special trinket that can’t be looted from a player's corpse. Taking the form of a radio, those that wear it will find their insured gear coming back 30% faster, in-game cash services costing 50% less and players with over a 6.0 Fence Rep will find that scavs over 60 metres away will no longer shoot them unless provoked. There are some downsides, but none of them offset the fact that this item can make a player into a player vs player killing machine, able to hide in full view of AI scavs and pick off players.

The presence of calm scavs has long been the sign of a safe area for many Escape From Tarkov players, and so the idea that those who pay enough money to abuse that learned behaviour before picking off other PMCs who are trying to kill the AI themselves, is pretty gross. Snipers can now hide risk-free to pick off players killing and looting scavs in hotspots, without any real downside.

So to summarise, players who pay $250 will face fewer consequences, find the game generally easier, and be at an unmeasurable advantage over those players who have merely forked out $50 or even $150 for the game.

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

As a game, Escape From Tarkov has never really felt particularly fair. AI characters will sometimes headshot you as soon as they see you, a server disconnection could mean you reconnect five minutes later half-starved to death in a bush, or turning the wrong corner could see you instantly blown away by someone replicating whatever nonsense position StankRat has put out on TikTok. But the crucial thing is that Escape From Tarkov always screwed everyone over equally.

This wipe got off to an exceptional start when I found an ultra-rare LedX (a highly sought after item for quest progression) in a duffel bag on the nightmarish Streets map, before I lost it a few minutes later running up to a bugged armoured car which killed me instantly. "Tarkov gives, Tarkov takes," I said with a shrug as I queued back in. Sometimes it’s just not fair.

But now, it feels like Battlestate Games is changing the rules. While all of these situations will still be in the game, the fact I can buy an advantage in Escape From Tarkov makes me suspect Battlestate Games are not the Machiavellian geniuses I took them for, and more just guys chasing a quick buck as they prepare for Tarkov’s 1.0 release and their next project. After all, these are two changes so significant they’re going to change the flow of the game even for people who aren’t willing to drop $250 on the Unheard edition.

I've got my money's worth out of Tarkov and I’m not opposed to paying more for games I've really enjoyed. But, similar to Unity’s disastrous 2023, I'm now nervous about Battlestate managing to stick their 1.0 landing. I've been a zealous Tarkov stan for years, and played for thousands of hours since my character first got stabbed to death in a bathroom all the way back in 2017.

This isn't the first time Battlestate has got something wrong but, in how fundamentally this special edition messes with what makes the game work, this has been a catastrophic mistake, and one that seems to have cost the developer all the goodwill it's built up over many years: look at any Tarkov forum, Discord or on social media, and you won't find a single player defending this. I can relate. It's always been rough, it's always been unforgiving, but sorting players into haves and have-nots purely on whether they paid more up-front? It's starting to feel like I might finally escape from Tarkov myself, and never look back.