Last week, extraction shooter Escape From Tarkov performed one of its twice-annual wipes, sweeping away stacks of accumulated gear, skills, and hideouts, forcing players to start fresh.
Wipes are an important part of Escape From Tarkov’s lifecycle. A few months after each wipe, players will have every piece of gear in their stash they could possibly need. Deadly weapons are so commonplace that even sniper rifles with thermal sights will sit, gathering dust on weapon racks as they wait for their chance to shine.
Usually, by this point, I’ve stopped playing, because end of wipe Tarkov doesn’t really scratch an itch for me. When you already have anything you could ever want, what could you possibly dig out of a rusty box at the back of a warehouse? When your character lives in a post-scarcity society of his own making, why would you fear death when you can just go - like a kid in a sweet store - into your stash and come out clad in a whole new high-tech loadout? At this point, Tarkov starts to feel like playing Poker for chips instead of real money. Sure, it might look like the real thing, but that familiar frisson - equal parts terror and excitement - just isn’t there.
So, each wipe day I like to come back and get stuck in. Sadly, developer Battlestate Games seem to always time the wipe to come at the worst moments. One wipe dropped on Christmas Eve and saw me up till 4am trying to get bags of cash early doors. Another dropped just after Boxing Day (December 26). In this most-recent case, the wipe dropped shortly after Baldur’s Gate 3, a roleplaying game I can’t stop playing even after 110 hours of play and a five-star review.
I was so invested in getting my loot in the Forgotten Realms, that Escape From Tarkov’s wipe caught me short. Instead of the usual pre-wipe agenda, which sees me jumping into the game for a couple of weeks to get up to scratch with Tarkov’s brutal combat, I went into Tarkov’s wipe unprepared. I actually didn’t play much on wipe day either, meaning I was starting late, out of practice, and had neither the mechanical skill nor technological means to get an edge over my opponent. I was, to use my friendship group's affectionate term, 'getting dumpstered'.
Tarkov is about confidence. I’ve been playing the game for about four years and embracing the chad lifestyle, bullying players because - again with the Poker metaphors - when you have the biggest stack you can afford to take bigger risks. Start late and you’re the player with the smaller stack. It does not make me feel confident. With power in Tarkov coming from the barrel of a gun, it’s better to ensure that yours is the biggest.
This leads to a lot of embarrassing deaths. Now, trying to get quests involves a lot of delicate work. Late last night, armed with just a Mosin sniper rifle, I let a group of four enemy PMCs (a term for private military contractors, which is the name for player characters) move past me, skulking in long grass as they walked over me so that I could get to my real target: a fuel tanker that I was looking to slap a marker on.
I’m still winning a lot of firefights, but it’s not about winning fights in Tarkov, but about getting yourself and the bulging bag of loot you’re hopefully carrying to an extraction point. Killing everyone you meet and then dying inches from an extraction means you’ve done nothing but accumulate a tasty collection of loot for the person that kills you. To get ahead in Tarkov, you need to survive.
As a result, my experiences with Escape From Tarkov this wipe have largely been about the vibes. I’ll take things easy, take safe loot, engage in safe fights, and listen to my gut. If the vibe is off, as it so often is, then I'll hit the bricks. This means scarpering to safety, no matter the potential gain.
My relentless commitment to cowardice has created a different opening to the wipe. Whereas I’m usually charging around in these early days with a half-broken MP5 and a dream, now I'm strolling around like it’s Silent Hill, every dark corner containing untold horrors.
After playing through the game’s opening missions several different times, this has made for a novel way to keep things interesting. I’m not a rat player - the term given by the community to those that usually go for a stealthy approach, putting players down while hiding in bushes, scurrying out to collect loot when they’re sure no one else is around - and I’ll likely get a few raised eyebrows for admitting I’m playing like a giant baby. But it’s been bloody fun, and it’s getting me back into Tarkov’s unending arms race.
So maybe we’ll see each other out there in Customs? Or I’ll see you, from my hiding place beneath this truck.
For more high-stakes action, our list of the best FPS games is sure to satisfy. But, if you're looking to play something with your friends where a little less is on the line, the best multiplayer games on PC might also be of interest.
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Jake Tucker is the editor in chief of TechRadar Gaming and has worked at sites like NME, MCV, Trusted Reviews and many more. He collects vinyl, likes first-person shooters and turn-based tactics titles, but hates writing bios. Jake currently lives in London, and is bouncing around the city trying to eat at all of the nice restaurants.