Over this past weekend there was an enormous surge in both players and livestream viewers for the new shooter/survival/battle royale/looter/rpg genre-bender Escape from Tarkov. Developed and self-published by Battlestate Games, EFT has been available as an Alpha and Beta for over two years now. It’s great to see the game finally get its due with some very serious exposure from popular Twitch streamers. What surprises me most, however, is how familiar this new game is. To discuss why it feels nostalgic, though, we’ll have to go back to the Fall of 2016.
Where It All Began
E3 2013 brought with it many surprises and delights, but none of the announcements gained more hype than one. Ubisoft’s trailer for Tom Clancy’s The Division set the world of gaming ablaze with its post-apocalyptic, frozen New York setting. Teammates calmly called out enemies and casually used high-tech gadgets of war to help keep the broken city together.
Upon release, The Division was the highest selling new IP ever with over $330 million in sales over the first week and 1.2 million concurrent players over the first weekend. The Division was a monster.
Unfortunately, this tidal wave did not last long. What players got when they logged in was a far cry from what the trailer advertised. Textures weren’t as crisp, many gadgets had been removed, and the experience overall was much more shallow than expected. Thankfully, developer Massive Entertainment had some major cards up their sleeve.
Over the following year, The Division introduced a respectable volume of new content including a raid-esque style “Incursion”, a new procedurally generated dungeon mode called Underground, and my personal favorite DLC: Survival.
Survival was different. It was not just more PvE content, nor was it strictly PvP. It was not a survival mode, but it also was. It was kind of a battle royale, but it absolutely wasn’t. Whatever it was, it was new. And players loved it.
Players were dropped into the FULL Division map and given the objective of extracting from the Dark Zone before a sickness could overtake them. In the meantime, agents would fight off cold, hunger, thirst, AI enemies, and even other players. Through the course of a single round, players would scrounge for resources and materials in hopes of crafting gear that would help them survive longer and kill faster.
Once players were ready and had all the materials they thought they needed, they could enter the Dark Zone and craft a flare gun to signal extraction. Let the games begin. With Survival came a new enemy type, one that would ring fear in the hearts of all players looking to succeed: Hunters. These well-equipped enemies came with high health, great AI, and all of the gadgets our Agents would normally use against them. In order to extract players had to survive an onslaught of enemies including Hunters and hope to make it out alive. Dying at the end meant failure, and since rounds could last an hour or longer, this could mean heartbreaking defeat.
A Familiar Formula
With Escape from Tarkov now becoming more popular, it’s exciting to see this survival/extraction formula gain a resurgence. While the tempo of the games may not be exactly the same, many elements seem to have been brought forward to a modern form. Escape from Tarkov still has the loop we know and love from The Division. Drop in, find loot, extract. Only now, this loop has been given an even greater sense of risk and reward.
With every round, players can start with loot that they have collected from previous runs, but if they cannot extract successfully, that gear along with everything found during the round is gone. Poof! This makes the player start to question themselves and their choices. They start to wonder if it’s worth using this new cool gun that they just found. What if they die? What if the gun is gone forever?
Taking Steps Forward
In addition to these familiar feelings of Survival, Escape from Tarkov has also introduced a large number of advancements, namely the RPG mechanics. Every round that players extract they can gain XP and currency. These can be used to level up their character and improve stats such as Strength, Perception, Health, and more. Historically we haven’t seen the large scale multiplayer games use player stats like this before.
It’s clear that Tarkov isn’t a battle royale in the traditional sense like Fortnite, PUBG, or Apex Legends, but the similarities shouldn’t be ignored either. A large volume of players dropped onto a single map to duke it out for survival and progression. Sound familiar? Imagine how different Battle Royales would be if players could earn more health, better aim, and faster looting. Game changer.
For now, we don’t know if this huge bump in popularity for Escape from Tarkov is due only to gear drops on Twitch or if it will stick long term. It was a great opportunity to showcase where the game is at from a technical perspective. Even now, after the promotion is over, there are many thousands of viewers still watching across the different livestream platforms. I don’t think it will overtake the likes of Apex Legends and Fortnite yet, but it’s still great to see competition.
New Life, Old Genre
With Takrov ringing true for so many, it’s possible that we might see more games of this genre appear soon. Survival was a wildly popular DLC and even now, years later, players are asking for developers to bring it back in some way to The Division 2.
Battlestate has something very special on their hands. They also have the power to steer the boat when it comes to “extraction royales” for the foreseeable future. Perhaps we’ll see Call of Duty take a chance on this style of game to replace their Blackout mode? Maybe other games may dip their toes in with a seasonal event that mimics some of these mechanics.
Either way, it’s great to see new games and new genres at the top of the charts. It doesn’t happen often, but every time it does, life gets a little bit more interesting.