Critical Play: Is this game balanced?

Escape from Tarkov is an online multiplayer first-person shooter battle royale-esque game developed and published by Battlestate Games. The game is only available on Windows. The game’s target audience is adults 18+ due to the violent themes in the game.

The primary objective of the game is to survive. Players in groups of up to five can deploy to various maps, where they will spawn randomly and be assigned various extraction points. The players can then kill, loot, and complete quest objectives during their time on the map. Each one of these rounds is referred to as a “raid”, and outside of raids players have a hideout where they can manage their inventory; heal; and sell, buy, or craft items. Upon death in a raid, the player loses whatever they were carrying.

The three primary mechanics of the game are movement, gunplay, and healing. Inertia is implemented in the game so players move slower when heavier, slide a short distance when suddenly stopping, jump higher when sprinting, and have a stamina bar. Plays can switch stances between standing, crouching, and proning; with crouch height being adjustable. The gunplay allows players to hipfire, aim down sights, tilt left and right to peek at various angles, blindly shoot their gun around obstacles, and hold their breath for a steadier aim. There is also a separate stamina bar for aiming down sights. As for healing, players can suffer from a variety of debuffs that require different specific medications to fix.

The primary types of fun are challenge and competition, with fellowship and sensation being secondary. Due to the nature of players dropping all their items upon death, killing others is heavily incentivized so that you can loot their dead bodies. Some players’ challenge and competition comes in the form of hunting down other players and engaging in gunfights against them. For others, the challenge and competition comes in the form of sneakily navigating around other players to grab the loot and leave while they’re still alive. The mechanics of the game heavily emphasize map knowledge, aim, and movement strategy. Unlike many other similar games, Escape from Tarkov does not provide a minimap and allows for friendly fire. When playing with friends, it becomes imperative to communicate your positions to each other such that you don’t mistake a squadmate for an enemy and kill them. This necessitating of communication helps facilitate fellowship.

For game balance, I will be focusing on the gunplay in the game – specifically resources. In Escape from Tarkov, the ammunition you use is much more important than the gun you use. You can still win gunfights with good ammo and a bad gun, but it is nearly impossible to win gunfights with bad ammo and a good gun. To explain this, I will introduce the mechanic of armor. Players can purchase and equip armor primarily in the form of a helmet and a vest. Each piece of armor will have a tier and a durability value. Higher tier armors block more types of bullets, and higher durability armor blocks more bullets within that tier. Currently, the ammunition in the game is horribly unbalanced. Looking at the submachine guns, for instance, the two main calibers of bullets used are 9x19mm Parabellum and .45 ACP. The highest tier of .45 ammo that will penetrate most armor is easily obtained and can be bought from an NPC. The corresponding tier of 9×19 ammo cannot be bought from NPCs and must be crafted by players. The craft itself takes an exorbitantly long time to finish, limiting the total amount of 9×19 ammo a player can obtain, not to mention the resources used to craft it. Due to the difference in availability of ammo, .45 caliber submachine guns are heavily favored over 9×19 caliber submachine guns even though their performance is technically comparable.

Most of the widely used ammo types are relatively balanced with a transitive relationship. The varying types of ammo come with different stats including damage, penetration power, recoil, projectile speed, a chance to inflict a status debuff, etc. The more powerful ammo types are balanced by being more costly or more scarce in comparison to the less powerful types. The various calibers of ammo are balanced by the firearms that will take it: you can have a gun that shoots powerful bullets at a slower rate or a gun that shoots weaker bullets at a faster rate.

Although this mechanic is not completely balanced, I think it is a great success of the game. I can confidently say that from my personal experience, Escape from Tarkov has the most diverse range of ‘usable’ weapons compared to other first-person shooters I have played due to the ammo mechanic. The game’s aesthetic focuses on realism and customization, with players being allowed to modify their guns akin to how they would be able to in real life. Many players talk about how the experience of building a gun is just as fun as using it.

Other instances of balance in the game include the fruity balance of extraction locations. Some extraction locations are more convenient but require specific conditions to be fulfilled such as carrying a specific key or turning on the power.

One thing I would change to make the game better is to try and better balance the scarcity of ammo relative to the other calibers. As mentioned previously, the scarcity of 9×19 ammo has made an entire subgroup of submachine guns obsolete which reduces the amount of ‘real’ choices the players can make. Since the agency of players in weapon selection and modification is such a key mechanic, this imbalance is incredibly frustrating for many players.




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