How Escape From Tarkov fulfills one of Destiny's failed promises

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

In my short time playing Escape From Tarkov, I've found and lost hundreds of guns. Most are worthless: busted AKS-74Us or MP-133 shotguns found on dead players long after they've been picked clean. In the eyes of the Tarkov community, I'm little more than a rat scraping by on the leftovers of more skilled and courageous players, and the weapons I use are just as worthless as I am.

I either lose these guns after dying myself,  or break them down to their constituent parts and sell them to Tarkov's NPC vendors for petty cash. The one thing they all have in common is that I have no emotional attachment to any of them. They're just tools, and not very good ones. Then I killed a player named Nachoking and looted his fully-modded Lone Star TX-15 DML carbine, complete with a 60-round magazine, expensive suppressor, and a hybrid holographic sight. I was finally going to fall in love.

Nachoking's Lone Star TX-15 DML is a thing of beauty. (Image credit: Battlestate Games)

Tell me a story 

Despite how often Bungie repeated its "become legend" slogan, I never felt like one.

When Destiny was first announced back in 2013, I was enchanted by the promise that guns and armor would tell a story. Though it wasn't a major part of the marketing, Bungie sometimes spoke about the idea that other players might gawk at my lavish weapons in the Tower, Destiny's central player hub, and ask me where I got them. The simple but evocative implication was that how I obtained some pieces of gear would be just as exciting as their stats.

That idea was never realized. Destiny's guns were certainly fun to use, but the stories of how players unlocked them rarely was. Part of that is because we live in an era where everything is datamined and meticulously mapped out on wikis, but Destiny's MMO-style approach to loot didn't help, either. "Well, I was shooting grunts on Earth and this gun just dropped from one of them" isn't exactly a compelling story, especially when three months later a new update comes out that invalidates that item because there's now newer, more powerful ones to grind. Despite how often Bungie repeated its "become legend" slogan, I never felt like one.

Destiny 2 stepped even further away from that old promise by introducing randomized perks that greatly affected the value of a weapon, forcing players to sometimes farm hundreds of the same gun in pursuit of the optimal perk arrangement. Its most exotic gear is more often a testament to how many mundane and arbitrary objectives I am willing to complete. But the idea that the equipment I own in a game would tell a story—my story—always stuck with me. And then I had the pleasure of shooting Nachoking in the face. 

Nice gun you have there 

Like most Tarkov newbies, I used to play pretty carelessly. I'd spawn, zip from one end of the map towards my designated extraction point, and typically catch a bullet or two along the way. But that changed after I read this handy guide for solo players, which encouraged me to play it slow, waiting for players to come to me instead of rushing to them. I was excited to put this advice to practice.

On the beginner-friendly Customs map, I'd almost always follow the same route, sticking to the dense forests on the northern edge where there was less loot but also fewer players. The dormitory that sits smack-dab in the middle of that forest is the one exception. It's the most popular spot in Customs and a death sentence for most players. Normally I'd quickly slip by it, wincing each time a muffled gunshot from inside signaled the death of another player, but this time I had a plan. I crawled around to the backside of the western dormitory, positioning myself just between its fire exit and the extraction zone a few meters away.

My hypothesis was simple: Unlike most extraction zones, this one required 7,000 rubles to use, but was so close to the loot-filled dormitory that high-level players pay the toll just so they can make a quick exit. With 20 minutes until my timer ran out, I figured I could spare 10 and hopefully ambush one of those players.

So I waited.

Ten agonizing minutes ticked by. I was squatting behind a tree, peeking out just far enough that the muzzle on my raggedy, bare-bones AK-74N wouldn't clip the trunk. Every few seconds, I'd quickly check to my right just to make sure no one was creeping up on me. Then I heard the door open.

Nachoking's dog tag, showing his exact time of death, is another one of my prizes from that day.

Nachoking's dog tag, showing his exact time of death, is another one of my prizes from that day. (Image credit: Battlestate Games)

For weeks I had made due with trash-tier guns, and now I was armed to the teeth.

Nachoking raced down the fire exit steps. He was sprinting toward the extraction point just behind me and to the right. It happened so quickly I almost choked, but my burst of gunfire caught him in the face and downed him instantly. Before he hit the ground, I could tell that Nachoking wasn't a rat like me. The heavy armor, helmet, and enormous backpack were all the telltale signs of a seasoned Tarkov Rambo.

Taking a few seconds to breathe, I crawled over to his body and began looting. That's when I saw Nachoking's primary weapon: the Lone Star TX-15 DML. Until then, I had been scraping by on rusty, broken AKs. Seeing this Lone Star—with all those expensive mods—spiked my heart rate. Then I heard a rustle behind me.

Tabbing out of the looting menu, I turned and saw a player just standing there, staring at me. I opened fire. It was only after I grabbed the Lone Star and crawled over to my second kill (his name was Cinobyte and he was only level 5) that I realized that Cinobyte probably mistook me for a corpse—or didn't even see me until it was too late. When I began looting their body and found a fully modded Vityaz-SN SMG, complete with its own silencer and sexy aftermarket handguard and tactical grip, I couldn't believe the odds. For weeks I had made due with trash-tier guns, and now I was armed to the teeth. The slow walk to my extraction point was so tense it made my stomach hurt.

Cinobye's Vityaz-SN has become my trusty sidekick. (Image credit: Battlestate Games)

Love at first iron sight 

I killed Nachoking and Cinobyte on January 20 and I still have both of their Lone Star and the Vityaz in my inventory. Though neither are especially rare (or expensive), they've become my favorite weapons because of how I won them. Each is a trophy of the moment I stopped being helpless prey and became a predator.

In the weeks since, I've taken both guns on countless raids and made it out with them alive—though I did accidentally drop the 60-round mag on the Lone Star during one particularly hairy engagement. When I extracted and got back to my main inventory and realized what I had done, I felt like Tom Hanks watching his volleyball drifting slowly out of reach.

Escape From Tarkov's guns are technically just as disposable as those I find in Destiny 2. There's an entire market of players buying and selling them just to make a profit, never caring for where they came from or where they're going. But my Lone Star is special because it's symbolic of my growth as a player.

I wish more games found ways to deepen the relationship I have with my gear. Even Tarkov could do a lot more. Years ago, EVE Online added a feature where ships started tracking player kills as special engravings on the hull, turning ships into a living testament of their pilot's prowess in combat. It encouraged players to think of their ships not just as tools but as extensions of their personal legacy, making it all the more devastating when a priceless ship with hundreds of kill marks was cunningly stolen.

Destiny thinks that calling something legendary and tinting its name a certain color makes it so. But that's not what makes a legend.

Right now, my love for this Lone Star is an effect of Tarkov's open-ended PVP and punishingly sparse loot, but I'd love an option to personalize it in some subtle way so that's future owners might know that this particular one was once mine. Tarkov's guns are changing hands all the time, and having some understanding of the journeys they make from one player to another would be fascinating.

I've never really cared that way about the dozens of guns I've found in Destiny—even those I earned from esoteric puzzles or daunting boss fights. That original promise of a special connection with your weapons didn't really pan out, and Bungie focused on what actually makes Destiny fun: wildly powerful guns and a satisfying grind.

If everyone earns that same gun the same way, there's not much of a story to tell. And if there's no risk to using that gun—no fear of losing it—there's also none of the tension that, over time, creates emotional attachment. That moment I killed Nachoking and took their Lone Star is my defining Escape From Tarkov moment. And as much as I love that beautiful gun, I know that one day some player will get the jump on me and take it for their own. I just hope that when that inevitably happens, that moment is as meaningful for them as it was for me.

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.